Summation of the Dating of Deuteronomy

The question is this:

What is the scholarly basis for identifying Deuteronomy as Josiah’s lawbook? How much of Deuteronomy must this include?

My answer went rather long, but I tried to familiarize myself with various scholarly opinions on the matter. It is rather long, and I’m not sure if I got to the question of not. For those who don’t know, I am taking in my second semester at seminary, a directed (or independent) study on the Book of Deuteronomy. It will consist of a lot of reading and a lot of writing and a lot of reading and a lot of writing. Of course, all of this helps me to fill up your RSS reader. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts on the matter, or send me pdfs of articles which you think I may need…

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King Josiah by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld
Image via Wikipedia

“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.

In his book, Kings and Prophets: Monarchic Power, Inspired Leadership, and Sacred Text in Biblical Narrative (Oxford, 1999), Grottannelli draws attention to the parallels between the discovery and the subsequent (divine) enthronement of two separate items, Josiah (2 Kings 11) and the Book of the Law (2nd Kings 22). Both of these items served to give Israel hope during the final days of the Monarchy, when the enemy was at the gates threatening a holocaust in that both were discovered in the Temple and both were recognized by Israel as authoritative and somehow from God. Yet, it is the text which was saved when the dynasty died shortly thereafter, and the text which survives in some form today, serving as a link to the pre-monarchic times, an ancient religion, and would later serve as much of the basis for the New Testament thought on doctrines ranging from the Messiah to the Book of the Law. That text has long been recognized as the Book of Deuteronomy, the book which held the covenanting material that would keep Israel alive through exile. In this short essay, I will note differing scholarly thoughts while drawing a short conclusion pointing to a definitive reason why the Book of the Law discovered in 2nd Kings 22 was so valuable.

George Ricker Berry, writing in 1940, believed that the Book of Deuteronomy could not have been the Book of Code (his words) found by Josiah’s renovation in 2nd Kings 22 and that all previous scholarship had failed press towards this reasoning. While I am attracted to the notion that Deuteronomy is a prophetic book rather than a priestly notion, Berry at that time does not benefit from Weinfeld’s later connection between Deuteronomy and Wisdom which seemingly better explains Deuteronomy’s more humanistic focus than it simply being connected to the later prophets. Admittedly, Berry’s post-exilic date has its high points, such as the fact that it wasn’t the Prophet Jeremiah which was called on to deal with the long lost book but a rather unknown prophetess. She was married to a Temple or court officer and picked by the High Priest, indicating to Berry that the code book found in 2nd Kings would have been priestly and may not have survived the Exile. He notes others points of his reasoning, namely that the setting of Deuteronomy in which the nation of Israel is rebuilding after the Exodus mirrors that of the rebuilding after the return of the Exile and that the allowances of priests in Deuteronomy contradicts those in 2nd Kings (Deuteronomy 18.6-7 cf 2nd Kings 23.9). His final point is that the story of the Golden Calf omits Aaron, but I believe that this falls well in line with the overall approach of Deuteronomy and fits the time period of Josiah well enough. Berry’s dating system and belief that it was rather the Holiness Code found by Josiah’s renovators has not stood the test of time and finds little, if any, support today.

Recently, however, Juha Pakkala has challenged the current method of dating Deuteronomy to 621 by returning to Berry’s reasoning, somewhat, and arriving at a date of 586 or later. For Pakkala, Urdeuteronomium must be dated to after the exile first because the monarch has no role in a book which expects the Monarch to be enforced. Considering that some of the traditions contained within Deuteronomy are actually older than the monarchy itself, it is not completely inconceivable that the book still predates, at least in the Urdeuteronomium, Josiah. Pakkala notes that the code book does not imply “any state infrastructure and organization’, but instead “are written as if the author were implying a stateless religious community.’ He goes on to note that there are no references to Judah seeing the references to Israel as a later ‘a religious community rather than… the inhabitants of a state’. Also noted by Pakkala is the fact that there is no reference to what would have been an existing Temple neither to any real reference to Jerusalem. This lack of centralization is exhibited in Deuteronomy 12, which he considers to be one of the oldest sections, in which the Kingdom of Judah is not mentioned, but only alluding to a place among the tribes. He casts this as a future event in which the Law would still be given (Deut 12.14) implying, for him, a community still somewhat in exile. Along the same lines of decentralization, Pakkala notes that even during Josiah’s time, the cult was not centralized and would not be so until 400 BCE, citing the Elephantine papyri. His last point is one which some commentators latch on to in order to show that Deuteronomy is for a reimagined utopia. He claims that Urdeuteronomium contains laws which were idealistic and envisioned ‘a new society should the state be reestablished.’

Nicholson allows that our current Book of Deuteronomy may have arrived to us through different stages, beginning with what he calls, Urdeuteronomium. He goes on, however, to note that the ‘attempt to recover Urdeuteronomium down to verse and half verse must be abandoned’.  His belief seems to be that the Deuteronomist ‘inserted short comments here and there and in other places’ which ‘actually respited slightly the text to incorporate his own thoughts.’(p34) He believes that this has led to the layering effect of the singular and the plural found in Deuteronomy and has been a subject of further scholarship. Nicholson goes on to delineate chapters 5-26, along with some of chapter 28 as part of the ‘original’ book. Most of the rest was added after the Return and due to the union with Genesis-Numbers forming the whole of the Pentateuch. Bernard Levinson essentially repeats Nicholson’s scholarship but notes that instead of simply being incorporated into the Pentateuch it would have rather served as the introduction to the history of the Deuteronomist, which are the historical books except Chronicles and only later incorporated into the Pentateuch. Levinson notes the well-formed book we have at present preserves layers of literary tradition. While he follows Nicholson’s demarcation of original source material, Levinson goes on to note that Deuteronomy is formed with an introduction, speeches and an appendix. Moshe Weinfeld gives the literary sections as two introductions (1.1-4.40; 4.44-11.32); a dual series of blessings and curses (27.11-13 with 28.3-6, 16-19 and the rest of 28); as well as various appendices such as, as I discuss below, the Song of Moses.

Weinfeld, in the same volume, goes on to note that the ‘composite nature of the book of Deuteronomy has been dealt with by many moderns scholars, but no final solution has been reached.’ He agrees with the scholarly consensus regarding the core of the book, but clearly states that even in that section, we cannot find a homogeneous author. Of particular interesting to dating Deuteronomy to Josiah’s time is Weinfeld notes on chapter 27 in which we find, according to him, a ‘very old tradition about the establishment of the nation at Shechem’, connecting it to various Greek amphictyonic oaths present at the time during Greek colonization rituals. He goes on to note that the various traditions combined in chapters 27-28 reflect both a pre-monarchic as well as Neo-Assyrian viewpoint, allowing us to consider portions of Deuteronomy older than Josiah while at the same time allowing that Scribes during Josiah’s reign may have helped to rework them into present thought.

Mark Biddle, in his commentary on Deuteronomy, writes that the Urdeuteronomium may in fact be the earliest biblical book mentioned in the sources, which may explain why the later additions of Genesis-Numbers is rather filled with Babylonian traits. It is interesting then to note Wellhausen’s theory assigning D to the seventh century, in line with the Josiahic reforms, but allotting J and E two hundred years of preceding Deuteronomy. Christensen, in his preface to The Song of Power and the Power of Song, entitled Deuteronomy in Modern Research, cites J. Lundbom (p8) in discussing the ‘archaic’ Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32). He goes on to write that the ‘official song’ dates from a pro-monarchic Israel, as does the Song of Deborah and was most likely the original portion of the text which was later embedded into the larger portion of the work. This has given support to the view, as expressed by van Goudoever, that Deuteronomy is “the most liturgical book of the Bible.” (p8, Christensen). It follows then that Deuteronomy may contain portions which predate the theorized evolution of JE and P allowing that our present book of study, or at least the Urdeuteronomium, may in fact be the first authoritative work know as Scripture and a source to pre-exilic Hebrew religion.

In Weinfeld’s essay in The Song of Power and the Power of Song, he notes ‘the structure of Deuteronomy follows a literary tradition of covenant writing.’ (p26) In a personal disappointment, he goes on to note that the theory first proposed in 1965 by Frankena in which Deuteronomy is seen as a covenant with YWHW by the King/People is ‘plausible.’ However, in a paper delivered at the 2010 SBL session in Atlanta, Joshua Berman is able to connect the treaty-like language in Deuteronomy 13 to a much older treaty system than the currently proposed Assyrian style, forcing an updating, if you will, of the current date of Deuteronmy 13 from the seventh century b.c.e. to the 14th or 13th century of the same era. If this is correct, it might support my previous stated claim that Deuteronomy may in fact be a direct link to an original Hebrew religion devoid of the mythic language collected during the Babylonian Exile. Further, if this Deuteronomy can be safely shown to date to the 14th or 13th century b.c.e., then it too may have been part of the finding at the Temple during Josiah’s renovation.

Returning to Nicholson, one of the outstanding reasons to place the Book of Deuteronomy as Josiah’s ‘code book’ (staying with Berry’s term) is the shared notion of what completes a purified Israel. In a chart made from the information compiled by Nicholson (p3 – Nicholson), which I have created, one can see the connection between the book of Deuteronomy and the attempted reforms of Josiah.

2nd Kings 23Deuteronomy
Abolition of the Asherim vv 4, 6-7, 147.5; 12.3; 16.21
The host of heaven v4-527.3
Destruction of the ‘pillars’ v147.5; 12.3
Heathen High Places v137.5; 12.2f
Sun and Moon Worship vv5, 1117.3
Sacred Prostitution v723.18; (EVV 17)
Molech Cult v1012.13; 18.10
Foreign gods, etc… v1312; 13
Necromancy v2418.11
Centralized Passover v21-2316.1-8

By examining Deuteronomy’s statements about a purified Israel next to Josiah’s reforms, we find that everything which Josiah accomplished, we can find in the core of the book, or the Urdeuteronomium.

While Berry may argue that the book of Deuteronomy may be a later, post-exilic, edition the fact remains that at the very least, the book of code found by Josiah mimics both the style and the commands employed by him in attempting to, as Weinfeld noted, become a vassal to YHWH. Further, while the core of the book, isn’t homogeneous, the sum total of the book includes various traditions which predate even the monarchy and others which would have been relevant to Josiah’s court and attempted (even if rhetorical) reforms, but only a few which have seemingly been added by a later Deuteronomist redactor. Nicholson’s Urdeuteronomium must then be Josiah’s code book even if it didn’t exist in our present form.  The reason which the Book of the Law discovered by the renovators of the Temple triumphed over the King is because it reunited the Kingdom to pre-monarchial days, solidified tradition and offered hope. The Book of Deuteronomy contained some of the oldest written traditions of the Israelite people and their relationship with God, and promised to once again unite them with YHWH and the Land.


Grottannelli (1999:189; Sanders 2009:154)

George Ricker Berry, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol 59, No 2 (Jun., 1940) pg 133-39

In stating this, Berry quotes Dahl from the symposium held on the pages of JBL in 1928.

See Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft. Volume 121, Issue 3, Pages 388–401, ISSN (Online) 1613-0103, ISSN (Print) 0044-2526, DOI: 10.1515/ZAW.2009.026, /September/2009. Pakkala has since been answered by Nathan MacDonald, Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft. Volume 122, Issue 3, Pages 431–435, ISSN (Online) 1613-0103, ISSN (Print) 0044-2526, DOI: 10.1515/ZAW.2010.030, /September/2010

E.W. Nicholson, Deuteronomy and Tradition, Literary and Historical problems in the Book of Deuteronomy, (1967) Philadelphia: Fortress Press

n1, p34

Christensen, edited by Duane L. (1993). A Song of power and the power of song. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, p5 – Christensen is quoting M. Noth (1943), The Deuteronomistic History.

Coogan, Michael D., & Brettler, Marc Z., & Newsom, Carol A., & Perkins, Pheme (2010). New Oxford Annotated Bible-NRSV. Oxford Univ Pr., See Bernard Levinson’s, Introduction to Deuteronomy, p247-249

Freedman, David Noel (1992). The Anchor Bible dictionary. Anchor Bible. See Weinfields article, Deuteronomy, Book of in Vol. 2

Biddle, Mark E. (2003). Deuteronomy. Smyth & Helwys Publishing.

Christensen, edited by Duane L. (1993). A Song of power and the power of song. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, p4

This may give up to those who see the Davidic Psalms as actually being composed in some way by David.

I say personal disappointment because this is one of theories that I had hoped to explore. For a long time now, I’ve seen Deuteronomy as a covenant from the ground up, so to speak, wherein a people facing defeat has offered a covenant to God in hopes that they will be spared the ultimate curse. It seems that at least in some ways, this theory has already been explored and noted by one of the world’s eminent Deuteronomic scholars.

Reported here and his paper can be found here.

Recently, Daniel O. McClellan has argued that the reforms were more rhetorical than actual, adding to the scholarship that Josiah’s expansion may not have in fact been all that far into the Northern Kingdom. His paper can be found here.

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2 Replies to “Summation of the Dating of Deuteronomy”

  1. Great reading. This is what I wish I would have done while studying the Hebrew Bible. But thanks for doing it for us and sharing.
    My lingering thought is that it is really difficult to be certain about these things, but that the questions are too important to keep from trying.

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