Book of Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the
Torah (a section of
the Hebrew Bible) and the
Christian Old Testament.
Chapters 1–30 of the book consist of three sermons or speeches
delivered to the
Moses on the plains of Moab, shortly
before they enter the Promised Land. The first sermon recounts the
forty years of wilderness wanderings which had led to that moment, and
ends with an exhortation to observe the law (or teachings), later
referred to as the Law of Moses; the second reminds the
the need to follow
Yahweh and the laws (or teachings) he has given
them, on which their possession of the land depends; and the third
offers the comfort that even should Israel prove unfaithful and so
lose the land, with repentance all can be restored. The final four
chapters (31–34) contain the Song of Moses, the Blessing of Moses,
and narratives recounting the passing of the mantle of leadership from
Joshua and, finally, the death of
Moses on Mount Nebo.
Traditionally seen as the words of
Moses delivered before the conquest
of Canaan, a broad consensus of modern scholars see its origin in
traditions from Israel (the northern kingdom) brought south to the
Kingdom of Judah
Kingdom of Judah in the wake of the
Assyrian conquest of Aram (8th
century BC) and then adapted to a program of nationalist reform in the
Josiah (late 7th century BC), with the final form of the
modern book emerging in the milieu of the return from the Babylonian
captivity during the late 6th century BC. Many scholars see the
book as reflecting the economic needs and social status of the Levite
caste, who are believed to have provided its authors; those likely
authors are collectively referred to as the Deuteronomist.
One of its most significant verses is Deuteronomy 6:4, the Shema
Yisrael, which has become the definitive statement of Jewish identity:
"Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one." Verses 6:4–5
were also purported to be quoted by
Jesus in Mark 12:28–34 as part
of the Great Commandment.
2.1 Deuteronomic code
2.1.1 Laws of religious observance
2.1.2 Laws concerning officials
2.1.3 Civil law
2.1.4 Criminal law
3.1 Composition history
3.3 Position in the Hebrew Bible
6 Influence on
Judaism and Christianity
7 See also
10 External links
Patrick D. Miller in his commentary on Deuteronomy suggests that
different views of the structure of the book will lead to different
views on what it is about. The structure is often described as a
series of three speeches or sermons (chapters 1:1–4:43, 4:44–29:1,
29:2–30:20) followed by a number of short appendices –
Miller refers to this as the "literary" structure; alternatively, it
is sometimes seen as a ring-structure with a central core (chapters
12–26, the Deuteronomic Code) and an inner and an outer frame
(chapters 4–11/27–30 and 1–3/31–34) – Miller calls
this the covenantal substructure; and finally the theological
structure revealed in the theme of the exclusive worship of Yahweh
established in the first of the
Ten Commandments ("Thou shalt have no
other god before me") and the Shema.
Moses receiving the Law (top) and reading the Law to the Israelites
(The following "literary" outline of Deuteronomy is from John Van
Seters; it can be contrasted with Alexander Rofé's "covenantal"
analysis in his Deuteronomy: Issues and Interpretation.)
Chapters 1–4: The journey through the wilderness from Horeb (Sinai)
to Kadesh and then to
Moab is recalled.
Chapters 4–11: After a second introduction at 4:44–49 the events
Mount Horeb are recalled, with the giving of the Ten Commandments.
Heads of families are urged to instruct those under their care in the
law, warnings are made against serving gods other than Yahweh, the
land promised to Israel is praised, and the people are urged to
Chapters 12–26, the Deuteronomic code: Laws governing Israel's
worship (chapters 12–16a), the appointment and regulation of
community and religious leaders (16b–18), social regulation
(19–25), and confession of identity and loyalty (26).
Chapters 27–28: Blessings and curses for those who keep and break
Chapters 29–30: Concluding discourse on the covenant in the land of
Moab, including all the laws in the Deuteronomic code (chapters
12–26) after those given at Horeb; Israel is again exhorted to
Joshua is installed as Moses's successor, Moses
delivers the law to the Levites (a priestly caste), and ascends Mount
Nebo or Pisgah, where he dies and is buried by God. The narrative of
these events is interrupted by two poems, the Song of
Moses and the
Blessing of Moses.
The final verses, Deuteronomy 34:10–12, "never again did there arise
in Israel a prophet like Moses," make a claim for the authoritative
Deuteronomistic view of theology and its insistence that the worship
of the Hebrew God as the sole deity of Israel was the only permissible
religion, having been sealed by the greatest of prophets.
Main article: Deuteronomic Code
Deuteronomy 12–26, the Deuteronomic Code, is the oldest part of the
book and the core around which the rest developed. It is a series
of mitzvot (commands) to the
Israelites regarding how they ought to
conduct themselves in Canaan, the land promised by Yahweh, God of
Israel. The following list organizes most of the laws into thematic
Laws of religious observance
All sacrifices are to be brought and vows are to be made at a central
The worship of Canaanite gods is forbidden and the order is given to
destroy their places of worship. (12:29–31)
Native mourning practices such as deliberate disfigurement are
The procedure for tithing produce or donating its equivalent is given.
A catalogue of which animals are permitted and which forbidden for
consumption is given. (14:3–20)
The consumption of animals which are found dead and have not been
slaughtered is prohibited. (14:21)
Sacrificed animals must be without blemish. (15:21, 17:1)
First-born male livestock must be sacrificed. (15:19–23)
The Pilgrimage Festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and
The worship at
Asherah groves and setting up of ritual pillars are
Prohibition of mixing kinds. (22:9-11)
Tzitzit are obligatory. (22:12)
Laws concerning officials
Judges are to be appointed in every city. (16:18)
Judges are to be impartial and bribery is forbidden. (16:19–20)
A central tribunal is established. (17:8–13)
Israelites choose to be ruled by a King, regulations for
the office are given. (17:14–20)
Regulations of the rights, and revenue, of the Levites are given.
Concerning the future (unspecified) prophet. (18:9–22)
Regulations for the priesthood are given. (23:1–8)
Debts are to be released in the seventh year. (15:1–11)
Regulations of the institution of slavery and the procedure for
freeing slaves. (15:12–18)
Regulations for the treatment of foreign wives taken in war (21:10-14)
Regulations permitting taking slaves and plunder in war (20:14)
Lost property, once found, is to be restored to its owner. (22:1–4)
Marriages between women and their stepsons are forbidden. (22:30)
The camp is to be kept clean. (23:9–14)
Usury is forbidden except for foreigners. (23:19–20)
Regulations for vows and pledges are given. (23:21–23, 24:6,
The procedure for tzaraath (a disfigurative condition) is given.
Hired workers are to be paid fairly. (24:14–15)
Justice is to be shown towards strangers, widows, and orphans.
Portions of crops are to be given to the poor. (24:19–22)
The rules for witnesses are given. (19:15–21)
The procedure for a bride who has been slandered is given.
Various laws concerning adultery and rape are given. (22:22–29)
Kidnapping is forbidden. (24:7)
Just weights and measures are obligatory. (25:13–16)
Moses viewing the Promised Land, Deuteronomy 34:1–5 (Tissot)
Since the evidence was first put forward by W.M.L de Wette in 1805,
scholars have accepted that the core of Deuteronomy was composed in
Jerusalem in the 7th century BC in the context of religious reforms
advanced by King
Josiah (reigned 641–609 BC). A broad
consensus exists that sees its history in the following general
In the late 8th century both Judah and Israel were vassals of Assyria.
Israel rebelled, and was destroyed c.722 BC. Refugees fleeing to
Judah brought with them a number of new traditions (new to Judah, at
least). One of these was that the god Yahweh, already known and
worshiped in Judah, was not merely the most important of the gods, but
the only god who should be served. This outlook influenced the
Judahite landowning elite, who became extremely powerful in court
circles after they placed the eight-year-old
Josiah on the throne
following the murder of his father, Amon of Judah.
By the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign, Assyrian power was in rapid
decline, and a pro-independence movement gathered strength in the
court. This movement expressed itself in a state theology of loyalty
Yahweh as the sole god of Israel. With Josiah's support they
launched a full-scale reform of worship based on an early form of
Deuteronomy 5–26, which takes the form of a covenant (i.e., treaty)
between Judah and
Yahweh to replace that between Judah and Assyria.
This covenant was formulated as an address by
Moses to the Israelites
The next stage took place during the Babylonian captivity. The
destruction of the
Kingdom of Judah
Kingdom of Judah by
Babylon in 586 BC and the
end of kingship was the occasion of much reflection and theological
speculation among the Deuteronomistic elite, now in exile in the city
of Babylon. They explained the disaster as Yahweh's punishment of
their failure to follow the law, and created a history of Israel (the
Joshua through Kings) to illustrate this.
At the end of the Exile, when the Persians agreed that the Jews could
return and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, chapters 1–4 and 29–30
were added and Deuteronomy was made the introductory book to this
history, so that a story about a people about to enter the Promised
Land became a story about a people about to return to the land. The
legal sections of chapters 19–25 were expanded to meet new
situations that had arisen, and chapters 31–34 were added as a new
The prophet Isaiah, active in Jerusalem about a century before Josiah,
makes no mention of the Exodus, covenants with God, or disobedience to
God's laws; in contrast Isaiah's contemporary Hosea, active in the
northern kingdom of Israel, makes frequent reference to the Exodus,
the wilderness wanderings, a covenant, the danger of foreign gods and
the need to worship
Yahweh alone; this has led scholars to the view
that these traditions behind Deuteronomy have a northern origin.
Whether the Deuteronomic code – the set of laws at chapters 12–26
which form the original core of the book – was written in Josiah's
time (late 7th century) or earlier is subject to debate, but many of
the individual laws are older than the collection itself. The two
poems at chapters 32–33 – the Song of
Moses and the Blessing of
Moses were probably originally independent.
Position in the Hebrew Bible
Deuteronomy occupies a puzzling position in the Bible, linking the
story of the Israelites' wanderings in the wilderness to the story of
their history in
Canaan without quite belonging totally to either. The
wilderness story could end quite easily with Numbers, and the story of
Joshua's conquests could exist without it, at least at the level of
the plot; but in both cases there would be a thematic (theological)
element missing. Scholars have given various answers to the problem.
The Deuteronomistic history theory is currently the most popular
(Deuteronomy was originally just the law code and covenant, written to
cement the religious reforms of Josiah, and later expanded to stand as
the introduction to the full history); but there is an older theory
which sees Deuteronomy as belonging to Numbers, and
Joshua as a sort
of supplement to it. This idea still has supporters, but the
mainstream understanding is that Deuteronomy, after becoming the
introduction to the history, was later detached from it and included
with Genesis-Exodus-Leviticus-Numbers because it already had
its central character. According to this hypothesis, the death of
Moses was originally the ending of Numbers, and was simply moved from
there to the end of Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy stresses the uniqueness of God, the need for drastic
centralisation of worship, and a concern for the position of the poor
and disadvantaged. Its many themes can be organised around the
three poles of Israel, Israel's God, and the covenant which binds them
The themes of Deuteronomy in relation to Israel are election,
faithfulness, obedience, and God's promise of blessings, all expressed
through the covenant: "obedience is not primarily a duty imposed by
one party on another, but an expression of covenantal
Yahweh has chosen ("elected") Israel as his special
property (Deuteronomy 7:6 and elsewhere), and
Moses stresses to
Israelites the need for obedience to God and covenant, and the
consequences of unfaithfulness and disobedience. Yet the first
several chapters of Deuteronomy are a long retelling of Israel's past
disobedience – but also God's gracious care, leading to a long call
to Israel to choose life over death and blessing over curse (chapters
Deuteronomy's concept of God changed over time. The earliest 7th
century layer is monolatrous, not denying the reality of other gods
but enforcing the worship of
Yahweh in Jerusalem alone. In the later,
Exilic layers from the mid-6th century, especially chapter 4, this
becomes monotheism, the idea that only one god exists. God is
simultaneously present in the Temple and in heaven – an important
and innovative concept called "name theology."
After the review of Israel's history in chapters 1 to 4, there is a
restatement of the
Ten Commandments in chapter 5. This arrangement of
material highlights God's sovereign relationship with Israel prior to
the giving of establishment of the Law.
The core of Deuteronomy is the covenant that binds
Yahweh and Israel
by oaths of fidelity (
Yahweh and Israel each faithful to the other)
and obedience (Israel obedient to Yahweh). God will give Israel
blessings of the land, fertility, and prosperity so long as Israel is
faithful to God's teaching; disobedience will lead to curses and
punishment. But, according to the Deuteronomists, Israel's prime
sin is lack of faith, apostasy: contrary to the first and fundamental
commandment ("Thou shalt have no other gods before me") the people
have entered into relations with other gods.
The covenant is based on seventh-century Assyrian suzerain-vassal
treaties by which the Great King (the Assyrian suzerain) regulated
relationships with lesser rulers; Deuteronomy is thus making the claim
that Yahweh, not the Assyrian monarch, is the Great King to whom
Israel owes loyalty. The terms of the treaty are that Israel holds
the land from Yahweh, but 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", says
Norman Gottwald, "dubbed biblical Yahwism, are widely recognised in
biblical scholarship as enshrined in Deuteronomy and the
Deuteronomistic History (
Joshua through Kings)."
Dillard and Longman in their Introduction to the
Old Testament stress
the living nature of the covenant between
Yahweh and Israel as a
nation: The people of Israel are addressed by
Moses as a unity, and
their allegiance to the covenant is not one of obeisance, but comes
out of a pre-existing relationship between God and Israel, established
with Abraham and attested to by the Exodus event, so that the laws of
Deuteronomy set the nation of Israel apart, signaling the unique
status of the Jewish nation. The land is God's gift to Israel, and
many of the laws, festivals and instructions in Deuteronomy are given
in the light of Israel's occupation of the land. Dillard and Longman
note that "In 131 of the 167 times the verb "give" occurs in the book,
the subject of the action is Yahweh." Deuteronomy makes the Torah
the ultimate authority for Israel, one to which even the king is
Main article: Weekly
Devarim, on Deuteronomy 1–3: Chiefs, scouts, Edom, Ammonites, Sihon,
Og, land for two and a half tribes
Va'etchanan, on Deuteronomy 3–7: Cities of refuge, Ten Commandments,
Shema, exhortation, conquest instructions
Eikev, on Deuteronomy 7–11: Obedience, taking the land, golden calf,
Aaron's death, Levites’ duties
Re'eh, on Deuteronomy 11–16: Centralized worship, diet, tithes,
sabbatical year, pilgrim festivals
Shofetim, on Deuteronomy 16–21: Basic societal structure for the
Ki Teitzei, on Deuteronomy 21–25: Miscellaneous laws on civil and
Ki Tavo, on Deuteronomy 26–29: First fruits, tithes, blessings and
Nitzavim, on Deuteronomy 29–30: covenant, violation, choose blessing
Vayelech, on Deuteronomy 31: Encouragement, reading and writing the
Haazinu, on Deuteronomy 32: Punishment, punishment restrained, parting
V'Zot HaBerachah, on Deuteronomy 33–34: Farewell blessing and death
Judaism and Christianity
Deuteronomy 6:4–5: "Hear, O Israel (shema Yisra'el), the LORD is our
God, the LORD is one!" has become the basic credo of Judaism, the
Shema Yisrael, and its twice-daily recitation is a mitzvah (religious
commandment). It continues, "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 as a consequence.
Christian views on the Old Covenant
Gospel of Matthew,
Jesus cited Deuteronomy 6:5 as a Great
Commandment. The earliest
Christian authors interpreted Deuteronomy's
prophecy of the restoration of Israel as having been fulfilled (or
Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Christian
Church (Luke 1–2, Acts 2–5), and
Jesus was interpreted to be the
"one (i.e., prophet) like me" predicted by
Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15
(Acts 3:22–23). While the exact position of
Paul the Apostle
Paul the Apostle and
Judaism is still debated, a common view is that in place of the
elaborate code of laws (mitzvah) set out in Deuteronomy, Paul the
Apostle, drawing on Deuteronomy 30:11–14, claimed that the keeping
Mosaic covenant was superseded by faith in
Jesus and the gospel
(the New Covenant).
Papyrus Rylands 458
Papyrus Rylands 458 – the oldest Greek manuscript of Deuteronomy
^ Phillips, pp.1–2
^ a b Rogerson, pp.153–154
^ Sommer, Benjamin D. (June 30, 2015). Revelation and Authority: Sinai
in Jewish Scripture and Tradition. Anchor Yale
Library. p. 18.
^ a b c Miller, p.10
^ a b Christensen, p.211
^ Van Seters, pp.15–17
^ Rofé, pp.1–4
^ Tigay, pp.137ff.
^ Van Seters, p.16
^ Rofé, pp.4–5
^ a b Van Seters, p.17
^ Knight, p.66
^ Bandstra, pp.190–191
^ Block, p.172
^ McKenzie, p.266
^ Bultman, p.135
^ Romer (1994), p.200-201
^ McKenzie, p.265
^ Thompson, Deuteronomy, 112.
^ Breuggemann, p.53
^ Laffey, p.337
^ Phillips, p.8
^ Vogt, p.28
^ Dillard & Longman, p.102.
^ Dillard & Longman, p.104.
^ Vogt, p.31
^ McConville, p.24
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