Brief Thoughts on the Deuteronomistic Historian’s Ideology

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You knoweth the drilleth:


The sins of Samaria and Judah extracted a terrible vengeance from YHWH, but in the midst of this turmoil we find the Deuteronomistic school at work, restricting history to speak theologically to the situation at hand. I will begin with Samaria first, seeing that Deuteronomy has its genesis in the Northern Tribes, and only later being brought to Jerusalem during the evacuation after the Assyrian invasion. Following that, I will discuss Judah and the only King to fulfill the Shema, Josiah.

The fall of the North finally occurred in 722 after many warnings by the prophets of YHWH. As Coogan notes, the prophets were a notable feature of the Deuteronomistic school and are given special status in the Book of Deuteronomy. Historians rightly note the various degrees of attention given to the Kings of the North, which fits well into the overall purpose of the Deuteronomistic History, and we can get a glimpse of their motivations if we consider that Deuteronomy was brought from the north, after their own kings failed to live up to the Covenant. Like Hezekiah and Josiah later, the Kings faced vassalage under the King of Assyria, removing them from the direct control of YHWH (something Josiah would restore with Deuteronomy, if even for a short time). Perhaps it was this vassalage which led to the continued apostasy of the Northern Kingdom, or better, through diplomacy, apostasy was encouraged.

Coogan notes 2 Kings 17 as the reasons of the Fall, and I would go further in pointing out that in this chapter, YHWH takes the place of the accuser where as in chapter 18, which deals expressly with Hezekiah, YHWH is the satisfied vassal holder. A more entrenching look will reveal that  the kings were contrasted. In 17.2 we are told that Hoshea did wrong, but to the degree which his forefathers did while Hezekiah did right was approved by YHWH. When approached by Assyria for vassalage, Hoshea surrendered, but planned a revolt was later imprisoned. Hezekiah, compared expressly to David (18.3), fought Assyria and won (according to the Deuteronomistic historian) although a vassal treaty was signed. Hoshea, then disappears from the stage but we are told of sins of Hoshea’s people (17.7). These sins included worshiping other gods, observed the rituals (Hezekiah removed the foreign religions, 18.4-5), and blasphemed YWHW (Deuteronomy 13). Throughout this chapter, we notice again the prophets who warned and the people who rebelled in the North. As part of this reign of sin, and breaking of the vassalage, injustice was called out by the prophets (such as Amos). We find a humanistic theme, as well as the prophetic mantle, as the hallmark of the Book of Deuteronomy (See Weinfeld). This was being ignored by the people and their kings in both kingdoms with this injustice growing more into maturity with the fall of each Kingdom.

In Judah, we find King Hezekiah beloved by the Deuteronomistic school and, of course, YHWH. He drove from Israel the apostates and their rituals, but they would return. Further, he established Deuteronomy as the Torah which would allow Josiah the ability to later use it to make Israel a vassal unto YWHW. Throughout the life of Judah, the Deuteronomistic authors are able to move the story into the life of Josiah who ‘found the book of the Law’ and used it to, for a very limited time, reform Israel into the proper people. In Judah, the prophets remained central, and we should look no further than Jeremiah for that solidification. Throughout the fall of both kingdoms, and the more so Judah, we see that religious apostasy which did include injustice become the cry of the Prophets. This is why both Hezekiah and Josiah are seen as the pivotal kings of Israel’s history. To Hezekiah was given the promise of an unending Kingdom (Isaiah 9.4-7) and to Josiah, a journey to his fathers, his tomb, in peace (2 Kings 22.20). While Hezekiah ‘did what was right in the site of the Lord’ (2 Kings 18.3; Deut. 13.18), it was Josiah who had the Shema applied to him (2 Kings 23.25; Deut 6.5) so that while earlier, Hezekiah is said to have no one before or after him, it is still Josiah which fulfills the demands of the Deuteronomic Covenant.

The falls of both Kingdoms were fulfilling the curses of Deuteronomy due to religious apostasy, or perhaps marriage infidelity through political treason. But in that, YHWH remained faithful and would send prophets to call the children of Israel to repentance. Further, YHWH still remained at the head of the military and controlled the throne. Finally, the Deuteronomistic historians held up just a few kings as worthy to be remembered, but then they did, these kings were given a renewing of the covenant due to their religious reform. Overall, the purposes of the ideology behind the Deuteronomistic history is to show that God remains faithful, the Deuteronomic Covenant is active, and perhaps, in the end, to give hope that God will fulfill the return to Canaan for the deported.


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