Thoughts on McBride and the πολιτεία of Deuteronomy

Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar, as in ...
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S. Dean Mcbride, Jr. makes a powerful case of the use of Deuteronomy as a constitution of sorts for the Israelite community, at least in the view of Josephus (p77) which instead of the usual and expected νόμος, the ancient propagandist used πολιτεία. It has often been seen as such, especially by those convinced that Deuteronomy was written for a more utopian future or that it was written long after Josiah’s reforms. What is noticeable is that McBride doesn’t rely upon proving Deuteronomy as a mimic of period treaties and the such, but while noting that they resemble them, Deuteronomy stands apart as a book radically different in form and purpose of local Mesopotamian literary traditions (p70). Here, we begin to see perhaps the causa scribendi in that the book was meant to preserve the kingdom, if in nothing else, the minds of the soon to be exiled Israelites. It also provided a sound source to judge their captors by, as I note McBride’s call to social justice (p77), so that while they may dress Babylonian and act Babylonian, they would know what a true and pious king should be and indeed, never forget Jerusalem as the center of their many faceted lives (social, political and religious – cf Psalm 137). McBride makes the case that Deuteronomy serves as this ancient landmark, forever written down for all Israelites to read and to abide by and in.

McBride should have made use of Weinfeld’s theory that Deuteronomy was composed by the scribes of the court. It leaves me wondering what, if any, change in McBride’s concept of the polity from Deuteronomy might had, at least in this journal article, been if the scribal origins had been explored. A constitution only works when it is written down, something unheard of then and even mostly today. To write it down requires a literate group, but to formulate the rhetorical and liturgical prose which we find in Deuteronomy must require a well-educated and purposed curia working for the purpose of putting together such a document. I note as well that Leviticus is often seen as developed orally while McBride, and others, seems insistent that Deuteronomy is and was presented in a written form for a very specific purpose.  It would be interesting to note, then, a more recent work by Lincicum which suggests that Paul was using Deuteronomy against Leviticus as well as his evidence of people contextualizing Deuteronomy throughout interpretive history. Perhaps the fact that Deuteronomy was been written and used for such a long period of time has allowed it to play such a psychological role and has even created a cult status unto itself.

Other things of note include McBride’s notation of the role of the King in Deuteronomy (17.18-20; p74), especially in opposition to that of the Judges (1.-9-17) and the Levitical priests which have, as McBride notes, more power than the king, but no ‘territorial apportionment.’ (p75). Also regarding the centralization of the cult, McBride allows (p73) for a more spiritualized form of worship in which I believe he misses the opportunity to connect it to Deuteronomy’s prophet, Jeremiah, and the choosing of the heart for worship of YHWH. McBride’s Deuteronomic constitution provides for a polity for an Israel in exile, but not a real one for a nationalistic system. Deuteronomy doesn’t provide for a ‘present reality’ but a hope for the future, and in that way, the ‘constitution’ of Deuteronomy is built into a present prophetic hope, but one which must be maintained by the faithful, even generations removed.


Paul & the Early Jewish Encounter With Deuteronomy

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