Dr. Sheldon Greaves does a good job briefly explaining ancient covenants in his podcast, Discovering the Old Testament. Listen to his podcast titled, “Part 2: Organization and Sources of the Old Testament” here. The following is a brief synopsis in his words:
Ancient Covenants = System of obligations bound with conditions. Those conditions include blessings or favors for compliance and curses for non compliance.
Two kinds of ancient covenants:
- Parody Treaty = Covenant between equal parties.
- Vassal Treaty = Covenant between unequal parties.
Covenants are usually enacted in some kind of ritual … frequently food and eating is involved. Cementing a covenant with a meal between the two parties is a very old, old ritual.
Dr. Stephen Ricks makes an amazing connection between ancient treaty-covenant patterns and the modern day sacrament. Read about it here.
King Benjamin’s speech in Mosiah 2–5 had the desired effect: the people of Nephi were willing to make covenants with the Lord to keep his commandments (see Mosiah 5:5–6). In his discourse, Benjamin used the same pattern of covenant making that Moses and Joshua employed for the children of Israel, most likely during the Feast of Tabernacles. This chart highlights some of the similarities between Benjamin’s pattern and Old Testament covenant making conventions. It is also interesting to note that Hittite treaties composed in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C. also exhibit the same six characteristics listed on this chart: the preamble, antecedent history, terms of the covenant, formal witness, blessings and curses, and recital of the covenant and deposit of the text. (In the chart the designations a and b in the scriptural references refer to the first half of a verse and to the second half, respectively.)Dr. Stephen D. Ricks, “Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom,” ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998), 256-60.