Contracts of Kings ... and Shepherds

Sidebar to: Good as His Word

Shepherding agreements such as those between Laban and Jacob would have been very familiar to the ancient writers and readers of the Biblical text. Such arrangements were part of a larger system of legal codes that regulated labor agreements. In the case of shepherds, the owner of a flock would contract a shepherd to care for the animals. Sometimes the owner would be an individual, but ownership could also be held by a temple or palace.1

At Tell Ali, a Middle Assyrian site (16th–10th centuries B.C.) located along a tributary of the Tigris River in Iraq, examples of these ancient contracts were discovered. On one of the cuneiform tablets from Tell Ali, a portion of the text reads “162 ewes, 35 female lambs, 63 wethers, 26 male lambs, 15 male goats belonging to the palace have been given to Takbaru for pasturing ...”2

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