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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
1. Structure, Origin, Influence . The book consists of three speeches ( Deuteronomy 1:6 to Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 4:5-26; Deuteronomy 4:28; Deuteronomy 29:2 to Deuteronomy 30:20 ) and two poems (chs. 32, 33), all of which are represented as having been uttered by Moses on the plains of Moab before the crossing of Jordan. The slight narrative (chs. 27, 31, 34) is concerned mainly with the last days of Moses. Chapters 1 3, however, contain an historical sketch cast into the form of a speech.
Chs. 5 26, Deuteronomy 28:1-46 are a unity with a formal opening ( Deuteronomy 4:44-49 ) and close ( Deuteronomy 29:1 ); and this section, apart from some later additions, is homogeneous. Thus chs. 5 11 elaborate those principles concerning Jahweh and His relation to His people which give a peculiar character to the Hebrew polity; chs. 12 26 develop these into a code of law; Deuteronomy 28:1-46 pronounces blessings on obedience, curses on disobedience. This section, it is now agreed, was the Law-book found in the Temple in the 18th year of Josiah (b.c. 622 621), which formed the basis of the reform described in 2 Kings 22:1-20 f. Thus Josiah abolished the high places in Judah and Jerusalem ( Deuteronomy 22:8; Deuteronomy 22:13 ), and confined legitimate worship to the sanctuary at Jerusalem; and this centralization of the cult is the dominating idea of Deuteronomy 5:1-33; Deuteronomy 6:1-25; Deuteronomy 7:1-26; Deuteronomy 8:1-20; Deuteronomy 9:1-29; Deuteronomy 10:1-22; Deuteronomy 11:1-32; Deuteronomy 12:1-32; Deuteronomy 13:1-18; Deuteronomy 14:1-29; Deuteronomy 15:1-23; Deuteronomy 16:1-22; Deuteronomy 17:1-20; Deuteronomy 18:1-22; Deuteronomy 19:1-21; Deuteronomy 20:1-20; Deuteronomy 21:1-23; Deuteronomy 22:1-30; Deuteronomy 23:1-25; Deuteronomy 24:1-22; Deuteronomy 25:1-19; Deuteronomy 26:1-19 . Again, Josiah purified the Jahweh-worship from baser elements, destroying the Asherah ( 2 Kings 23:6 , cf. Deuteronomy 16:21 f.) and the houses of sodomy ( 2 Kings 23:7 , cf. Deuteronomy 23:17 f.). His opposition to idolatry was directed against the same forms as those denounced in Deut. (cf. the sun-worship, 2 Kings 23:5; 2 Kings 23:11 , Deuteronomy 17:3; and the worship of Milcom, Deuteronomy 23:10; Deuteronomy 23:13 , Deuteronomy 12:31 ). The Passover, celebrated in his day at Jerusalem, is stated to have been unique ( 2 Kings 23:21 ff.); and Deut. forbids the celebration of the Passover elsewhere than in Jerusalem ( Deuteronomy 16:5 f.). The king abolished the superstitious means of learning the Divine will ( 2 Kings 23:24 ), which Deut. forbids ( Deuteronomy 18:10 ff.). The demands of the Law-book and the performance of the king are parallel.
It is, however, a more difficult question how far the reforms which Josiah instituted in obedience to Deut. were new, and how far they were a return to older practices from which the nation had degenerated during the early monarchy. Three other codes can be distinguished in the Pentateuch, and a comparison of these with Deut. helps to determine its place in the development of Israel’s religion. An examination of the social legislation in Deut. leads to the conclusion that it is later than the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:33 ). Though we are not justified in calling Deut. a deliberate expansion of this legislation, it certainly represents a more developed state of society, as is seen, e.g. , in its numerous laws about contracts. And in one particular it controls the cult at a cardinal point which Exod. left vague: the ‘every place where Jahweh records his name’ ( Exodus 20:24 ) has become ‘the place which Jahweh shall choose to put his name there’ (Deut. passim ). When Deut. is compared with the Law of Holiness ( Leviticus 17:1-16; Leviticus 18:1-30; Leviticus 19:1-37; Leviticus 20:1-27; Leviticus 21:1-24; Leviticus 22:1-33; Leviticus 23:1-44; Leviticus 24:1-23; Leviticus 25:1-55; Leviticus 26:1-46 ), the codes are seen to be framed for different purposes Leviticus as a handbook for priests, Deut. as a layman’s manual. But their legislation is parallel. Compared with P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , Deut. is earlier, for questions left uncertain in Deut. are decided in P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] . See further, art. Hexateuch.
The few references in Deut. to events in Israel’s history bear out the conclusion thus reached, for they are dependent on JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] , but show no acquaintance with P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ’s history. It is difficult, e.g. , to explain the absence of Korah in Deuteronomy 11:6 , if the author read Numbers 16:1-50 in its present form, where Korah from P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] has been woven into the early story. When chs. 1 3 (see below) are included in this scrutiny, they support the inference that Deut. was an independent book, before P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] was incorporated with JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] .
There are further indications of the date at which this code was introduced. Thus Deut. insists throughout on one sanctuary, at which legitimate worship can be offered to Jahweh.
The extent to which this dominates the code is not to be measured merely by the number of times the command is repeated. Older customs are recast in consequence of this change. The Passover alters its character from a family to a national festival (Deuteronomy 16:5 f.). A central tribunal is set up to replace the decisions at the local shrines ( Deuteronomy 17:8 f.). Asylums for the manslayer are needed ( Deuteronomy 19:1 ff.), since the village altars where he once found safety ( Exodus 21:14 ) are abolished, etc.
Now this was an innovation in Israel. Elijah, far from condemning the high places, is indignant at the sacrilege which has thrown down the altars of Jahweh (1 Kings 19:10 ). When he leaves the polluted land to seek Jahweh, he makes his way not to Jerusalem, but to Horeb (contrast Isaiah 2:2 f.). Hosea and Amos find much to condemn in the worship which was practised at Bethel and Dan, but never suggest that any worship offered at these shrines was ipso facto illegitimate. Yet these were the religious teachers of the nation. Deut., again, forbids the erection of pillars beside Jahweh’s altars ( Deuteronomy 12:3 f.); it is difficult to understand how Isaiah ( Isaiah 19:19 ) could have associated a pillar with Jahweh-worship, had this law been accepted in his day. The worship of the host of heaven one of the few forms of idolatry specified in Deut. is not mentioned till it receives severe blame from the prophets of the 7th cent. ( Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 19:13; Jeremiah 32:29 , Zephaniah 1:3 ). But this Assyrian cult became a real danger to Israel’s religion, when Manasseh came under Eastern influences.
Hezekiah is the first king of whom we learn that he attempted to remove the high places (2 Kings 18:14 ). Evidently, however, this was an unpopular step, for the Rabshakeh was able to appeal to the conservative instincts of the nation against a king who practised such questionable innovations ( Deuteronomy 18:22 ). What impelled Hezekiah was a religious, not a political, motive. The splendid monotheistic teaching of Isaiah carried with it the Inference ‘One God, one sanctuary.’ Besides, the abuses which were associated with the local shrines compelled the religious leaders of the nation, who had been influenced by the teaching of Hosea and Amos, to go to the root and abolish such worship altogether. The one means of purifying their worship was to sever it from the high places with their Canaanite associations. Political events helped them. The fall of N. Israel (b.c. 722) carried with it the condemnation of the worship which was practised there, and swept away the worshippers who were attached to it. The deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib threw a glory round the sanctuary of which Jahweh had so signally vindicated the inviolability. Probably a body of reformers framed their code in Hezekiah’s later years. They did not create a new legislation, they recast and put a new spirit into an older code. It would have been impossible to secure the acceptance of a brand-new code from a whole people.
Efforts have been made to break up Deuteronomy 5:1-33; Deuteronomy 6:1-25; Deuteronomy 7:1-26; Deuteronomy 8:1-20; Deuteronomy 9:1-29; Deuteronomy 10:1-22; Deuteronomy 11:1-32; Deuteronomy 12:1-32; Deuteronomy 13:1-18; Deuteronomy 14:1-29; Deuteronomy 15:1-23; Deuteronomy 16:1-22; Deuteronomy 17:1-20; Deuteronomy 18:1-22; Deuteronomy 19:1-21; Deuteronomy 20:1-20; Deuteronomy 21:1-23; Deuteronomy 22:1-30; Deuteronomy 23:1-25; Deuteronomy 24:1-22; Deuteronomy 25:1-19; Deuteronomy 26:1-19 into several sections, and to trace their origin. These have not been very convincing: they have relied too much on a proof of difference of origin derived from the use of the singular or the plural number in forms of address to the people. But they have proved that older elements and varied elements have been fused together into this Law-book.
Under Manasseh there followed a strong reaction, which resorted even to persecution. The reformers’ Law-book was forgotten, the reformers themselves may have been martyred. But the code itself survived to be discovered under Josiah, and to become the basis of a pregnant reform.
Opinion is divided as to whether chs. 1 3 are by the hand which wrote the main work. The fact that in Deuteronomy 11:2 ff. Moses is represented as speaking to men who had witnessed the Exodus, while in Deuteronomy 2:14 ff. that generation is represented as dead, seems decisive that they are not. The chapters may have been added as an historical introduction to a separate edition of the code. The fact that their history is based on JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] proves that this must have been early.
Chapters Deuteronomy 4:1-40; Deuteronomy 4:29 f. belong together, and are a later addition in view of new circumstances, viz., the prospect or the reality of exile.
The Song (Deuteronomy 32:1-43 ), with its double introduction ( Deuteronomy 31:16-22; Deuteronomy 31:30 ) and close ( Deuteronomy 32:44 ), is a didactic poem, giving an interpretation of Israel’s entire history, and bearing traces of influence from the Wisdom literature. It may date from the 7th cent. or the Exile.
The Blessing (ch. 33) dates from a time when N. Israel in the flush of its vigour could anticipate further conquests (Deuteronomy 32:17 ), since Eastern Israel had regained part of its lost territory ( Deuteronomy 32:20 ). It may belong to the reign of Jeroboam II. (b.c. 782 43), by whom the Syrians of Damascus were defeated.
Ch. 27 is difficult to assign. It evidently breaks the connexion of 26 and 28, and as evidently is composite. The Levites in Leviticus 27:14 ff. carry out what in Leviticus 27:12 ff. the tribes are commissioned to do, and there are no blessings uttered at all. There may be early elements in Leviticus 27:4 ff., but it is best to confess that the chapter is still a crux .
2. Main principles . ( a ) The fundamental principle of the book is the unity of Jahweh , who is God of the whole earth ( Deuteronomy 10:14 ), and who is more than the God of Israel, since He has relations to other nations apart from their relations to Israel ( Deuteronomy 9:5 , Deuteronomy 12:31 ). This carries with it the consequence that idolatry is the supreme sin ( Deuteronomy 6:14 , Deuteronomy 17:2 ff. etc.). To avoid even the possibility of such a crime, intercourse with other nations is severely restrained ( Deuteronomy 7:1 ff. etc.), and older customs of worship are forbidden ( Deuteronomy 16:21 etc.). ( b ) As He is God of the whole earth, Jahweh’s will is the moral law, and in connexion with its requirements He rewards and punishes (cf. the teaching of Amos). As God of Israel, the fundamental principles of His relation to His people are also ethical. ( c ) Yet Jahweh is not merely a lifeless moral principle or glorified code. His love to His people was shown, before they could prove any desert ( Deuteronomy 9:4 f. etc.). He gave them their land a gift they must not imagine themselves to have merited ( Deuteronomy 8:7 ff.). Hence love is the supreme return for His love ( Deuteronomy 6:4 f. etc., and cf. Hosea). Hence also there is room for worship and for prayer. Their cult, an expression of their loving gratitude, is to be joyous in character, not like the darker superstitions to which national disaster and foreign rites were making them incline ( Deuteronomy 12:18 etc.). ( d ) A religion, the heart of which is loving gratitude, naturally expresses itself in humanity towards all with whom men live, and even towards the lower animals ( Deuteronomy 22:1 f. etc. Deuteronomy 22:6 f. etc.). A religion also with so strong a sense of the Divine personality brings with it respect for human personality ( Deuteronomy 24:10 f.). ( e ) As personal and loving, Jahweh can and does reveal Himself . Through His self-revelation He is the historic God of Israel. This is emphasized in contrast with the baalim, who, as gods of Canaan, had no historic connexion with Israel. Jahweh has made known Himself and His will by the deeds He has wrought for and among His people. (Hence it was a right instinct which led to the addition of chs. 1 3 with their record of Jahweh’s past guidance.) ( f ) This element enters now into the cult . It gives fresh historic associations to the national festivals and weds them to the great events of their past. See especially ch. 26, where all Israel’s past is made to enter into the worship of the individual Israelite, and where also emphasis is laid on the truth that the fruits of the land are not from the baalim, but from Jahweh’s bounty (cf. Hosea 2:8 ). ( g ) Such a religion, with its strong sense of the historic unity of God’s dealings with His nation, and its conviction of the reasonableness of God’s demands, can and ought to be taught . Children are to have it explained to them ( Deuteronomy 6:6 f., Deuteronomy 11:19 ); and means are to be used to bring it to men’s thoughts daily ( Deuteronomy 6:9 , Deuteronomy 11:20 ). Most of the outward observances are thus brought into connexion with great vivifying principles, so that this code becomes the finest illustration of an effort made to bring religious principles home to a nation in its entire work and life.
A. C. Welch.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Deuteronomy'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/d/deuteronomy.html. 1909.