1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Deuteronomy

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DEUTERONOMY, the name of one of the books of the Old Testament. This book was long the storm-centre of Pentateuchal criticism, orthodox scholars boldly asserting that any who questioned its Mosaic authorship reduced it to the level of a pious fraud. But Biblical facts have at last triumphed over tradition, and the non-Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy is now a commonplace of criticism. It is still instructive, however, to note the successive phases through which scholarly opinion regarding the composition and date of his book has passed.

In the 17th century the characteristics which so clearly mark off Deuteronomy from the other four books of the Pentateuch were frankly recognized, but the most advanced critics of that age were inclined to pronounce it the earliest and most authentic of the five. In the beginning of the 19th century de Wette startled the religious world by declaring that Deuteronomy, so far from being Mosaic, was not known till the time of Josiah. This theory he founded on 2 Kings xxii.; and ever since, this chapter has been one of the recognized foci of Biblical criticism. The only other single chapter of the Bible which is responsible for having brought about a somewhat similar revolution in critical opinion is Ezek. xliv. From this chapter, some seventy years after de Wette’s discovery, Wellhausen with equal acumen inferred that Leviticus was not known to Ezekiel, the priest, and therefore could not have been in existence in his day; for had Leviticus been the recognized Law-book of his nation Ezekiel could not have represented as a degradation the very position which that Law-book described as a special honour conferred on the Levites by Yahweh himself. Hence Leviticus, so far from belonging to an earlier stratum of the Pentateuch than Deuteronomy, as de Wette thought, must belong to a much later stratum, and be at least exilic, if not post-exilic.

The title “Deuteronomy” is due to a mistranslation by the Septuagint of the clause in chap. xvii. 18, rendered “and he shall write out for himself this Deuteronomy.” The Hebrew really means “and he [the king] shall write out for himself a copy of this law,” where there is not the slightest suggestion that the author intended to describe “this law” delivered on the plains of Moab as a second code in contradistinction to the first code given on Sinai thirty-eight years earlier. Moreover the phrase “this law” is so ambiguous as to raise a much greater difficulty than that caused by the Greek mistranslation of the Hebrew word for “copy.” How much does “this law” include? It was long supposed to mean the whole of our present Deuteronomy; indeed, it is on that supposition that the traditional view of the Mosaic authorship is based. But the context alone can determine the question; and that is often so ambiguous that a sure inference is impossible. We may safely assert, however, that nowhere need “this law” mean the whole book. In fact, it invariably means very much less, and sometimes, as in xxvii. 3, 8, so little that it could all be engraved in large letters on a few plastered stones set up beside an altar.

Deuteronomy is not the work of any single writer but the result of a long process of development. The fact that it is legislative as well as hortatory is enough to prove this, for most of the laws it contains are found elsewhere in the Pentateuch, sometimes in less developed, sometimes in more developed forms, a fact which is conclusive proof of prolonged historical development. According to the all-pervading law of evolution, the less complex form must have preceded the more complex. Still, the book does bear the stamp of one master-mind. Its style is as easily recognized as that of Deutero-Isaiah, being as remarkable for its copious diction as for its depths of moral and religious feeling.

The original Deuteronomy, D, read to King Josiah, cannot have been so large as our present book, for not only could it be read at a single sitting, but it could be easily read twice in one day. On the day it was found, Shaphan first read it himself, and then went to the king and read it aloud to him. But perhaps the most conclusive proof of its brevity is that it was read publicly to the assembled people immediately before they, as well as their king, pledged themselves to obey it; and not a word is said as to the task of reading it aloud, so as to be heard by such a great multitude, being long or difficult.

The legislative part of D consists of fifteen chapters (xii.–xxvi.), which, however, contain many later insertions. But the impression made upon Josiah by what he heard was far too deep to have been produced by the legislative part alone. The king must have listened to the curses as well as the blessings in chap, xxviii., and no doubt also to the exhortations in chaps. v.–xi. Hence we may conclude that the original book consisted of a central mass of religious, civil and social laws, preceded by a hortatory introduction and followed by an effective peroration. The book read to Josiah must therefore have comprised most of what is found in Deut. v.–xxvi., xxvii. 9, 10 and xxviii. But something like two centuries elapsed before the book reached its present form, for in the closing chapter, as well as elsewhere, e.g. i. 41-43 (where the joining is not so deftly done as usual) and xxxii. 48-52, there are undoubted traces of the Priestly Code, P, which is generally acknowledged to be post-exilic.

The following is an analysis of the main divisions of the book as we now have it. There are two introductions, the first i.–iv. 44, more historical than hortatory; the second v.–xi., more hortatory than historical. These may at first have been prefixed to separate editions of the legislative portion, but were eventually combined. Then, before D was united to P, five appendices of very various dates and embracing poetry as well as prose, were added so as to give a fuller account of the last days of Moses and thus lead up to the narrative of his death with which the book closes. (1) Chap. xxvii., where the elders of Israel are introduced for the first time as acting along with Moses (xxvii. 1) and then the priests, the Levites (xxvii. 9). Some of the curses refer to laws given not in D but in Lev. xxx., so that the date of this chapter must be later than Leviticus or at any rate than the laws codified in the Law of Holiness (Lev. xvii.–xxvi.). (2) The second appendix, chaps, xxix.–xxxi. 29, xxxii. 45-47, gives us the farewell address of Moses and is certainly later than D. Moses is represented as speaking not with any hope of preventing Israel’s apostasy but because he knows that the people will eventually prove apostate (xxxi. 29), a point of view very different from D's. (3) The Song of Moses, chap. xxxii. That this didactic poem must have been written late in the nation’s history, and not at its very beginning, is evident from v. 7: “Remember the days of old, Consider the years of many generations.” Such words cannot be interpreted so as to fit the lips of Moses. It must have been composed in a time of natural gloom and depression, after Yahweh’s anger had been provoked by “a very froward generation,” certainly not before the Assyrian Empire had loomed up against the political horizon, aggressive and menacing. Some critics bring the date down even to the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. (4) The Blessing of Moses, chap, xxxiii. The first line proves that this poem is not by D, who speaks invariably of Horeb, never of Sinai. The situation depicted is in striking contrast with that of the Song. Everything is bright because of promises fulfilled, and the future bids fair to be brighter still. Bruston maintains with reason that the Blessing, strictly so called, consists only of vv. 6-25, and has been inserted in a Psalm celebrating the goodness of Jehovah to his people on their entrance into Canaan (vv. 1-5, 26-29). The special prominence given to Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) in vv. 13-17 has led many critics to assign this poem to the time of the greatest warrior-king of Northern Israel, Jeroboam II. (5) The account of Moses’ death, chap. xxxiv. This appendix, containing, as it does, manifest traces of P, proves that even Deuteronomy was not put into its present form until after the exile.

From the many coincidences between D and the Book of the Covenant (Ex. xx.–xxiii.) it is clear that D was acquainted with E, the prophetic narrative of the Northern kingdom; but it is not quite clear whether D knew E as an independent work, or after its combination with J, the somewhat earlier prophetic narrative of the Southern kingdom, the combined form of which is now indicated by the symbol JE. Kittel certainly puts it too strongly when he asserts that D quotes always from E and never from J, for some of the passages alluded to in D may just as readily be ascribed to J as to E, cf. Deut. i. 7 and Gen. xv. 18; Deut. x. 14 and Ex. xxxiv. 1-4. Consequently D must have been written certainly after E and possibly after E was combined with J.

In Amos, Hosea and Isaiah there are no traces of D’s ideas, whereas in Jeremiah and Ezekiel their influence is everywhere manifest. Hence this school of thought arose between the age of Isaiah and that of Jeremiah; but how long D itself may have been in existence before it was read in 622 to Josiah cannot be determined with certainty. Many argue that D was written immediately before it was found and that, in fact, it was put into the temple for the purpose of being “found.” This theory gives some plausibility to the charge that the book is a pious fraud. But the narrative in 2 Kings xxii. warrants no such inference. The more natural explanation is that it was written not in the early years of Josiah’s reign, and with the cognizance of the temple priests then in office, but some time during the long reign of Manasseh, probably when his policy was most reactionary and when he favoured the worship of the “host of heaven” and set up altars to strange gods in Jerusalem itself. This explains why the author did not publish his work immediately, but placed it where he hoped it would be safely preserved till opportunity should arise for its publication. One need not suppose that he actually foresaw how favourable that opportunity would prove, and that, as soon as discovered, his work would be promulgated as law by the king and willingly accepted by the people. The author believed that everything he wrote was in full accordance with the mind of Moses, and would contribute to the national weal of Yahweh’s covenant people, and therefore he did not scruple to represent Moses as the speaker. It is not to be expected that modern scholars should be able to fix the exact year or even decade in which such a book was written. It is enough to determine with something like probability the century or half-century which best fits its historical data; and these appear to point to the reign of Manasseh.

Between D and P there are no verbal parallels; but in the historical résumés JE is followed closely, whole clauses and even verses being copied practically verbatim. As Dr Driver points out in his careful analysis, there are only three facts in D which are not also found in JE, viz. the number of the spies, the number of souls that went down into Egypt with Jacob, and the ark being made of acacia wood. But even these may have been in J or E originally, and left out when JE was combined with P. Steuernagel divides the legal as well as the hortatory parts of D between two authors, one of whom uses the 2nd person plural when addressing Israel, and the other the 2nd person singular; but as a similar alternation is constantly found in writings universally acknowledged to be by the same author, this clue seems anything but trustworthy, depending as it does on the presence or absence of a single Hebrew letter, and resulting, as it frequently does, in the division of verses which otherwise seem to be from the same pen (cf. xx. 2). The inference as to diversity of authorship is much more conclusive when difference of standpoint can be proved, cf. v. 3, xi. 2 ff. with viii. 2. The first two passages represent Moses as addressing the generation that was alive at Horeb, whereas the last represents him as speaking to those who were about to pass over Jordan a full generation later; and it may well be that the one author may, in the historical and hortatory parts, have preferred the 2nd plural and the other the 2nd singular; without the further inference being justified that every law in which the 2nd singular is used must be assigned to the latter, and every law in which the 2nd plural occurs must be due to the former.

The law of the Single Sanctuary, one of D’s outstanding characteristics, is, for him, an innovation, but an innovation towards which events had long been tending. 2 Kings xxiii. 9 shows that even the zeal of Josiah could not carry out the instructions laid down in D xviii. 6-8. Josiah’s acceptance of D made it the first canonical book of scripture. Thus the religion of Judah became henceforward a religion which enabled its adherents to learn from a book exactly what was required of them. D requires the destruction not only of the high places and the idols, but of the Asheras (wooden posts) and the Mazzebas (stone pillars) often set up beside the altar of Jehovah (xvi. 21). These reforms made too heavy demands upon the people, as was proved by the reaction which set in at Josiah’s death. Indeed the country people would look on the destruction of the high places with their Asheras and Mazzebas as sacrilege and would consider Josiah’s death in battle as a divine punishment for his sacrilegious deeds. On the other hand, the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people would appear to those who had obeyed D’s instructions as a well-merited punishment for national apostasy.

Moreover, D regarded religion as of the utmost moment to each individual Israelite; and it is certainly not by accident that the declaration of the individual’s duty towards God immediately follows the emphatic intimation to Israel of Yahweh’s unity. “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one: and thou shalt love Yahweh thy God with all thine heart and with all thy soul and with all thy strength” (vi. 4, 5).

In estimating the religious value of Deuteronomy it should never be forgotten that upon this passage the greatest eulogy ever pronounced on any scripture was pronounced by Christ himself, when he said “on these words hang all the law and the prophets,” and it is also well to remember that when tempted in the wilderness he repelled each suggestion of the Tempter by a quotation from Deuteronomy.

Nevertheless even such a writer as D could not escape the influence of the age and atmosphere in which he lived; and despite the spirit of love which breathes so strongly throughout the book, especially for the poor, the widow and the fatherless, the stranger and the homeless Levite (xxiv. 10-22), and the humanity shown towards both beasts and birds (xxii. 1, 4, 6 f., xxv. 4), there are elements in D which go far to explain the intense exclusiveness and the religious intolerance characteristic of Judaism. Should a man’s son or friend dear to him as his own soul seek to tempt him from the faith of his fathers, D’s pitiless order to that man is “Thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death.” From this single instance we see not only how far mankind has travelled along the path of religious toleration since Deuteronomy was written, but also how very far the criticism implied in Christ’s method of dealing with what “was said to them of old time” may be legitimately carried.  (J. A. P.*)