A look under the hood of Deuteronomy

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...
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A recent assignment was to look at Deuteronomy. This is a rough draft of what I submitted,

Arguably, the examination of Deuteronomy is one of my favorite areas of study which combine the Old Testament, the so-called (and falsely so-called) Intertestamental Times, and the New Testament thought world of the Pauline Corpus. The study of Deuteronomy, its formation, impact, and subsequent exaltation in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people in late antiquity which while dwelling in the Levant were still in exile, is only now really starting to scratch away the patina of history and allow us a glimpse of the importance of this book which is generally regarded as the summation of the Torah. What is interesting is that it doesn’t claim to be what others see it as – an authentically written account. It is simply a moral history lesson, perhaps coming to light during the reign of King Josiah (oddly enough, both the Text and the King were kept hidden away, preserved in the Temple, until the people needed them). As Coogan points out, the author is situated in an area where Moses never arrived – on the other side of Jordan, which would prevent the historical notion of Mosaic authorship. If we are honest to the text, I believe we can begin to see this sacred book for exactly what it is – an appeal to God for a remembrance of the Mosaic Covenant and I would strongly contend, an attempt by a people facing destruction to make a covenant themselves with God to safeguard them from the future wrath. Whereas Leviticus is the Covenant handed down from On High, Deuteronomy is the plea offering from the people to God while attempting to preserve their cultural and ritual identity.

Simply put, Deuteronomy is the key to understanding much of the late Intertestamental pleas, encapsulated in such works as the Psalms of Solomon and writings found at Qumran, for a return of the Blessing while being faced with foes such as Babylon, the Greeks and finally Rome. Further, it is set looking forward to such a time that God would answer their pleas with forgiveness and mercy, restoring them once they have suffered long enough and have been brought to repentance. The land itself is given a significance beyond that of being Promised, but must be kept pure with a singular spot being chosen for God’s Holy Temple. Further, the steady reminder that God is One, and that only YWHW is God (which still permeates Judaism unto this day), is given and demanded by more than just words, but action. This historical Creed of the monotheistic faith is to be taught, hammered into the home and into the hearts and minds of all generations. They were securing themselves for Exile into foreign lands with strange gods and women who would entice their sons into leaving YWHW. Further, as Coogan notes, there is the sense that Deuteronomy is providing for a return to Israel, which is what leads me to believe that this Text is an appeal from the people to God that this time, unlike the other times, they know their consequences, are ready to repent and to be restored in due season. Other safeguards include, as many will note, the focus on social values (although the Year of Jubilee should not be forgotten), the notation that any king will ultimately be a bad thing for Israel, and that at some time in the future, a Prophet will rise up like Moses to once again bring the word of God to the people of Israel.

Deuteronomy is a highly political book in that it is seemingly found during a rebuilding effort of the Temple ordered by King Josiah. Ironically, shortly thereafter, both the Temple and the King would be lost, but the Text would survive and serve to pull together the Judean people, acting as a bulwark for God’s people. Further, it forgoes nearly all of the myth of Israel to focus solely on the things which Israel will need to survive in exile while appealing to God for a dismissal of the Curse and a restoration of the Blessing. Finally, this book serves to keep together the better parts of the Law, which is not a summation of Leviticus, but a different take in which the land was to be kept pure, the children taught about YWHW, kingship almost shunned, prophets discouraged on the pain of death unless they were like Moses , and of course, the emphasis on the inclusion and concern of the’ other’ into the cultic and social life of Israel. Deuteronomy is the setting in which the hope of the New Testament takes shape.


“The book is thus, in our pair of narratives, similar in meaning and function to the king, but more important – more powerful – than the king, because the book rules over the king.” Grottannelli (1999:189; Sanders 2009:154)

Deuteronomy (in the LXX) 6.20-25; 7.12-16; all of chapter 30 compared with chapter 28

Prophets were not dealt with by the Torah, finding mention only three times before Deuteronomy. Further, 1st Samuel 9.9 explicitly states that before the time period of Samuel, there was no such thing as prophets, with those connected to God being called רֹאֶה)

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