Deuteronomy (Greek deuteronomion, Δευτερονόμιον "second law") is the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible and of the Old Testament. In form it is a set of three sermons delivered by Moses reviewing the previous forty years of wandering in the wilderness; its central element is a detailed law-code by which the Children of Israel are to live in the Promised Land.
In theological terms the book constitutes a covenant between Hashem and the "Children of Israel"; this is the culmination of the series of covenants which begins with that between Yahweh and all living things after the Flood (Genesis 9). One of its most significant verses constitutes the shema ("Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one!"), which today serves as the definitive statement of Jewish identity.
The majority scholarly opinion is that the bulk of the book appears to have been composed in the late 7th century BC, during the religious reforms carried out under king Josiah, with later additions from the period after the fall of Judah to the Neo-Babylonian empire in 586 BC; a minority view holds that the book is largely a creation of the post-Exilic, Persian period, i.e. the 4th century BC and even later. Its essential concerns mirror the thrust of Josiah's reforms: Hashem is to be accepted as the sole God of Israel, and worshiped only in one place.
The title is derived from the Greek Deuteronomion
), "second law", from to deuteronomion touto,
"this second law", from the erroneous Septuagint
rendering of the Hebrew phrase mishneh ha-torah ha-zot
, "a copy of this law" (Deuteronomy 17:18). Its Hebrew
title is Devarim
, , "words", specifically spoken words. , from the opening phrase Eleh ha-devarim
, "These are the words...".
Deuteronomy consists of three sermons delivered by Moses
to the Israelites
in the plains of Moab
, at the end of the final year of their wanderings through the wilderness. The book ends with the death of Moses.
Deuteronomy 1-4 recapitulates Israel's disobedient refusal to enter the Promised Land
and the resulting forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The disobedience of Israel is contrasted with the justice of God
, who is judge to Israel, punishing them in the wilderness and destroying utterly the generation who disobeyed God's commandment. God's wrath is also shown to the surrounding nations, such as King Sihon of Heshbon, whose people were utterly destroyed. In light of God's justice, Moses urges obedience to divine ordinances and warns the Israelites against the danger of forsaking the God of their ancestors.
Deuteronomy 5-26 is composed of two distinct addresses. The first, in chapters 5-11, forms a second introduction, expanding on the Ethical Decalogue
given at Mount Sinai
. The second, in chapters 12-26, is the Deuteronomic Code
, a series of mitzvot
), forming extensive laws, admonitions, and injunctions to the Israelites regarding how they ought to conduct themselves in Canaan
, the land promised by the God of Israel
. The laws include:
- The worship of God must remain pure, uninfluenced by neighbouring cultures and their 'idolatrous' religious practices. The death penalty is prescribed for conversion from Yahwism and for proselytisation.
- The death penalty is also prescribed for males who are guilty of all of the following: disobeying their parents, profligacy and drunkenness.
- Certain Dietary principles are enjoined.
- The law of rape prescribes various conditions and penalties, depending on whether the girl is engaged to be married or not, and whether the rape occurs in town or in the country. (Deuteronomy 22)
- A Tithe for the Levites and charity for the poor.
- A regular Jubilee Year during which all debts are cancelled.
- Slavery can last no more than 6 years if the individual purchased is "thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman."
- Yahwistic religious festivals—including Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot—are to be part of Israel's worship
- The offices of Judge, King, Kohen (temple priest), and Prophet are instituted
- A ban against Asherah next to altars dedicated to God, and the erection of sacred stones
- A ban against children either from being immolated or from passing through fire (the text is ambiguous as to which is meant), divination, sorcery, witchcraft, spellcasting, and necromancy
- A ban preventing blemished animals from becoming sacrifices at the Temple
- Naming of three cities of refuge where those accused of manslaughter may flee from the avenger of blood.
- Exemptions from military service for the newly betrothed, newly married, owners of new houses, planters of new vineyards, and anyone afraid of fighting.
- The peace terms to be offered to non-Israelites before battle - the terms being that they are to become slaves
- The Amalekites to be utterly destroyed
- An order for parents to take a stubborn and rebellious son before the town elders to be stoned.
- A ban on the destruction of fruit trees, the mothers of newly-born birds, and beasts of burden which have fallen over, or are lost
- Rules which regulate marriage, and Levirate Marriage, and allow divorce.
- Purity laws which prohibit the mixing of fabrics, of crops, of beasts of burden under the same yoke, and transvestitism.
- The use of Tzitzit
- Prohibition against people from Ammon, Moab, or who are of illegitimate birth, and their descendants for ten generations, from entering the assembly; the same restriction upon those who are castrated (but not their descendants)
- Regulations for ritual cleanliness, general hygiene, and the treatment of Tzaraath
- A ban on religious prostitution
- Regulations for slavery, servitude, vows, debt, usury, and permissible objects for securing loans
- Prohibition against wives making a groin attack on their husband's adversary.
The concluding discourse sets out sanctions against breaking the law, blessings to the obedient, and curses on the rebellious. The Israelites are solemnly adjured to adhere faithfully to the covenant, and so secure for themselves, and for their posterity, the promised blessings.
Death of Moses
Moses conditionally renews the covenant between God and the Israelites
, the condition being the loyalty of the people, and appoints Joshua
as his heir to lead the people into Canaan
. Then he writes down the Torah
and gives it to the Kohanim
, along with the commandment for the king
of Israel to read it before an assembly of all Jewish men, women, and children every seven years, during the holiday of Sukkot
(this is the mitzvah
Three short appendices follow:
Structure and composition
Chapters 12-26 form the Deuteronomic legal code making up the core of the book. According to most scholars, this Deuteronomic Code
reinterprets the Covenant Code
at Exodus 21-23 to give it a more humane cast, such as the different treatment of slaves. Chapters 4:44-11 make up the original introduction, framing the laws as a body of commandments received by Moses on Sinai but not revealed to the Israelites until this day, the eve of their entry into the promised land, and chapters 27-28 conclude the original book with a series of blessings and curses relating to the keeping of the law. This original book was later expanded by the addition of chapters 1-4:43 as a new introduction and 29-34 as a new conclusion. The purpose of 1-4:44 and 29-31 was to magnify Joshua's role as Moses' successor, and thus tie Deuteronomy to the book of Joshua
. Chapter 32 added blessings for the tribes of Israel, and chapter 33 added a prophesy from Yahweh that Israel's enemies would one day take them into captivity and exile in punishment for future unfaithfulness, but would at the end restore them to the land. Chapter 34 reports the death of Moses.
During the nineteenth century, secular biblical scholarship abandoned the traditional view that the Torah, and therefore Deuteronomy, was composed by Moses in the second millennium BC. Deuteronomy instead came to be seen as the document whose discovery is described in 2 Kings 22:8-20: the High Priest Hilkiah finds an ancient lost scroll in the Temple and takes it to king Josiah; what Josiah reads there causes him to embark on a program of religious reform, suppressing the worship of all other gods but YHWH and centralising the worship of YHWH in the Temple..
The Deuteronomist author or authors also produced a history of Israel from Joshua to Josiah, consisting of the books of Joshua, Judges, the Books of Samuel, and the Books of Kings. In this history Josiah figured as the greatest of all the kings, the only one who never wavered from the law given by Moses, and the one who would restore the ancient kingdom of David and Solomon. But in 609 BC Josiah was killed at Megiddo by the Egyptians, and in 586 BC the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and took its people into captivity. Consequently, at some point after 586, a second edition known as "Dtr2" was produced, containing additional warnings about faithlessness and exile, as well as promises of restoration in the event of repentance. This second edition inserted two originally independent documents, and framings for them, which now comprise the two poems at Deuteronomy 31-33, and the account of Moses' death was moved to where it lies now, Deuteronomy 34. In the final redaction of the Torah, c.450 BC, Deuteronomy 34 gained additional verses describing the death of Moses from two other originally independent documents, the Jahwist and the Priestly source.
More recently Meredith G. Kline has proposed that Deuteronomy should be viewed as a suzerain/vassal treaty between God and the people of Israel. According to Kline, a conservative scholar who wished to restore the case for the book's Mosaic provenance, these treaties were based on Hittite treaties of the second millennium BC. Moshe Weinfeld subsequently argued that Deuteronomy’s extensive list of curses (28:23-35) fits better the style of seventh century BC Assyrian treaties. "Deuteronomy adapts the literary form and the vocabulary of a treaty but places the deity YHWH, the God of Judah, in the place of the Assyrian king. ... The writer(s) are therefore deliberately taking an instrument of Assyrian subjugation, the client treaty, and using it as a mechanism to bolster Judean commitment to their national deity and to reinforce national identity".
YHWH and Israel
Polytheism was a feature of Israelite religion down through the end of the Iron Age. "[T]here is no clear and unambiguous denial [in the Hebrew bible] of the existence of gods other than YHWH before Deutero-Isaiah in the 6th century B.C. ... The question was not whether there is only one elohim [god], but whether there is any elohim like YHWH.. The theological position underpinning Deuteronomy is that Yhwh is the patron god of Israel, as Chemosh
was the patron of Moab
: "When the Most High ("El Elyon
") apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods, the Lord's ("YHWH's") own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share" (Deuteronomy 32:8-9)
The concept of the covenant also plays a central role in the theology of Deuteronomy. Israel is YHWH's vassal, and Israel's tenancy of the land is conditional on keeping the covenant, which in turn necessitates tempered rule by state and village leaders who keep the covenant. "These beliefs, dubbed biblical Yahwism, are widely recognized in biblical scholarship as enshrined in Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua through Kings), with pronounced affinities to the Pentateuchal E source and to the prophets Hosea, Jeremiah, and Malachi.
Deuteronomy, unlike the Priestly source which makes up most of Leviticus and Numbers, does not promote the supremacy of the Aarond priesthood (i.e., the clan of priests claiming descent from Aaron who at various times monopolised the High Priesthood in Jerusalem): for Deuteronomy, all Levites have priestly functions. It does, however, promote the centralisation of worship.
Deuteronomy in later tradition
Judaism: the shema (שמע)
Deuteronomy 6:4-5: "Hear (shema
), O Israel, the Lord (YHWH
) is our God, the Lord (YHWH) alone!" has become the basic credo of Judaism
, and its twice-daily recitation is a mitzvah (religious commandment). The shema goes on: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy might;" it has therefore also become identified with the central Jewish concept of the love of God, and the rewards that come with this.
The earliest Christian authors
interpreted the prophetic elements of the book of Deuteronomy dealing with the eschatological restoration of Israel as having been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Christian church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles (Luke 1-2, Acts 2-5). Jesus himself was the "one (i.e., prophet) like me" predicted by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15 (Acts 3:22-23), and St. Paul
, drawing on Deuteronomy 30:11-14, explains that the keeping of torah, which constituted Israel's righteousness under the Mosaic covenant
, is redefined around faith in Jesus and the gospel (the New Covenant
For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doeth those things (i.e., who follows the Jewish laws described in the torah) shall live by them, but the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead,) but what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.|20px|20px|Romans 10:6-9 KJV
- Biblical criticism
- Documentary hypothesis
- Mosaic authorship
- Weekly Torah portions in Deuteronomy: Devarim, Va'etchanan, Eikev, Re'eh, Shoftim, Ki Teitzei, Ki Tavo, Nitzavim, Vayelech, Haazinu, V'Zot HaBerachah.
Versions and translations