[doo-tuh-ron-uh-mee, dyoo-]
Deuteronomy, book of the Bible, literally meaning "second law," last of the five books (the Pentateuch or Torah) ascribed by tradition to Moses. Deuteronomy purports to be the final words of Moses to the people of Israel on the eve of their crossing the Jordan to take possession of Canaan. Moses rehearses the law received at Sinai 40 years previously, reapplying it to the new generation who accept its claim on them at a ceremony of ratification recorded in the Book of Joshua. The history of Israel found in Joshua and Second Kings is written from the Deuteronomic point of view, and is often called the "Deuteronomic history." Deuteronomy functions as the introduction to this historical work and provides the guiding principles on which Israel's historical traditions are assessed. The bulk of the book is the record of three speeches of Moses, and may be outlined as follows: first, the introductory discourse reviewing the history of Israel since the exodus from Egypt; second, an address of Moses to the people, beginning with general principles of morality and then continuing with particulars of legislation, including a repetition of the Ten Commandments, and a concluding exhortation in which Moses again appeals to the people to renew the covenant; third, a charter of narrative in which Moses nominates Joshua as his successor and delivers the book of the Law to the Levites; fourth, the Song of Moses; fifth, the blessing of Israel by Moses; and sixth, the death of Moses. The legislation is oriented toward life in the Promised Land, with the eventual foundation of a single lawful sanctuary.

See A. D. H. Mayes, Deuteronomy (1979); M. Noth, The Deuteronomistic History (1981); P. D. Miller, Deuteronomy (1990). See also bibliography under Old Testament.

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 (Latin Deuteronomium), "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.

First sermon

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.

Second sermon

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 (commands), 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:

Third sermon

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 of Hakhel).

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 and Marduk of Babylon: "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

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