It can be seen that the foundational treaty form which was adopted in the Mosaic covenants anticipated in its composite pattern the subsequent development of the Old Testament. The treaty form was a remarkable documentary epitome of the whole covenant relationship.
One of the prominent features of contemporary historical criticism is to dissect the bible into discrete units which are taken to represent the earlier historical sources and literary traditions which underlie the biblical text. Having identified these historical sources, critical scholars then analyze how they are pieced together into the various books of the bible. As an example, critical scholars argue that the Pentateuch is a compilation of four originally independent documents: the Jahwist (J), Elohist (E), Deuteronomist (D), and Priestly (P) sources. According to critical scholars, the Pentateuch did not originate with Moses (~1400 BC), but were finally complied by some unknown redactors during the Jewish Babylonian exile (~400 BC).
Presumably, this critical historical exercise would enable scholars to gain insights into the literary intentions or ideological biases of the final redactors of the presently preserved biblical text. This exercise may enable scholars to speculate on the history of the composition of the text. But one wonders whether the critical approach may lead scholars to miss the forest for the trees, that is, to be so focused on the discrete and artificially constructed fragments of the text that they overlook the meaning of the bible which becomes evident when one reads the books of the bible holistically.
An alternative approach to the historical-critical reading of the bible would be to take the bible on its own terms, that is, to read the bible holistically. Meredith Kline argues that such a holistic reading is necessary because the bible is in its literary-formal form a covenantal document, and that biblical canon must be read holistically as a treaty-canon.
Excerpt from Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Eerdmans, 1972)
To sum up thus far, canonical document was the customary instrument of international covenant administration in the world in which the Bible was produced. In this treaty form as it had developed in the history of diplomacy in the ancient Near East a formal canonical structure was, therefore, available, needing only to be taken up and inspired by the breath of God to become altogether what the church has confessed as canon. And that is what happened when Yahweh adopted the legal-literary form of the suzerainty covenants for the administration of his kingdom in Israel.
It is necessary to insist constantly that the scriptures, whether the Mosaic covenant documents, which constituted the nuclear Old Testament canon, or any other Scripture, are authoritative – uniquely, divinely authoritative – simply in virtue of their origin through divine revelation and inspiration. Certainly, then, their authority as such is not to be accounted for by looking beyond them elsewhere. As divinely authoritative revelation, documentary in form and with unalterable content, they possess the essential components for a definition of canon properly conceived. Nevertheless, it is legitimate to inquire into the precise literary brand of canonicity in which God was pleased to cast his authoritative words, for this is an altogether different and purely formal matter. In this respect biblical canonicity does have an earthly pedigree. And what has become clear is that it was the treaty brand of canonicity inherent in the international treaty structure of the Mosaic age that was adopted by the earliest Scriptures along with the treaty form itself. Biblical canonicity shows itself its inception to be of the lineage of covenantal canonicity.
The beginning of canonical Scripture thus coincided with the formal founding of Israel as the kingdom of God. In the treaty documents given by Yahweh at the very origins of the nation Israel, the people of God already possessed the ground stratum of the Old Testament canon. Only by resisting the accumulating evidence can the modern critical dogma that the concept of canonical document did not emerge until late in the development of Israelite religious thought be perpetuated and “histories” of the formation of the Old Testament canon continue to be erected upon it (pp.27-28).
The post-Pentateuchal historical narratives no longer perform the same formal literary role as prologue and framework for treaty laws. Thematically, however, they are seen to be nothing other than an extension of the historical prologues of the foundational Mosaic treaties in the Pentateuch. For their theme is first and last Yahweh’s relationship to Israel as their covenant Lord (p. 54).
Indeed, the covenantal orientation controls the entire disposition of these narratives, the arrangement as well as the selection of the materials. Thus, episodes of covenant-making and of covenant reaffirmation and renewal after Israel’s lapse and Yahweh’s judgments provide the climatic literary high points (see, e.g., Josh. 8:30ff.; 23 and 24; 1 Sam. 12; 2 Sam. 7; 2 Kings 11:17ff.; 22 and 23; 2 Chron. 15:8ff.; 34 and 35; Ezra 9 and 10; Neh. 9 and 10).