Tag Archives: Deuteronomy

Where Does Deuteronomy Really Belong?

When asked who I believe wrote the book of Hebrews, I often respond with tongue firmly in cheek that it was Cleopas. After all, it was Cleopas who heard from Jesus’ own mouth, “and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” (Luke 24:27, ESV). One could almost say that my theory is about as plausible as those who developed the theory involving Israel’s history. Yet a man by the name of Martin Noth took a theory that seemed nearly incoherent and developed a succinct understanding of how the books of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings combine to make one whole historical account.  It commonly known as the Deuteronomistic History. “The content of the Deuteronomistic History is the story of Israel’s emergence, success and ultimate failures as an independent political entity in the land of Canaan.”[1] While Noth is not the originator of the theory, he is certainly the one to make it more cogent. According to Noth, the books in question were written by someone, a redactor or editor—known as “Deuteronomist”, who accumulated source materials and then put them into a historical narrative. Like any narrative, these collections of books rise, have a climax, and fall. One can easily recognize the rises within the narrative by the three main characters’ speeches given within the books: Joshua’s speeches in Joshua 1:11-15 and 23:2-30, Samuel’s speech in 1 Samuel 12:1-24, and Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kigns 8:12:51.[2] “Noth’s evidence for his singular trident included the repetition of similar phraseology apparent throughout the Deuteronomistic History [Deut-2 Kings]. . .the prophecy/fulfillment schema of the history; the strategic appearance and function of unifying speeches and narratives by the leading characters,”[3] and various other evidences. To Noth’s credit, he claimed that the Deuteronomist was not seeking to entertain or slant evidence, but “intended to teach the truth meaning of the history of Israel from the occupation to the destruction of the old order.”[4] Noth seemed to want to remain as true to the text and its truth as possible. In fact, with some questions, Noth’s argument and understanding are quite appealing. There does seem to be a link between Deuteronomy and much of the historical books. If one was inclined not to believe or at minimum have doubts in future prophecy, Deuteronomistic History would be quite appealing as it allows for God’s work to continue to be done throughout Israel’s beginnings through her monarchial history. The same could be said about those who find Deuteronomy to be a book different the rest of those which it normally is association: the traditional understanding of the Pentateuch. Rather than having a Pentateuch (5 books of the Law), one would have the Tetrateuch (4 books of the Law) and the Deuteronomistic History (Deuteronomy-2 Kings).

As interesting as Noth’s ideas are, they are not without their flaws. In fact, many later scholars would bring these flaws to light. The result has been disastrous for the Deuteronomistic History. As one scholar wrote, “the concept of the Deuteronimism has become so amorphous that it no longer has any analytical precision and out to be abandoned (R. Wilson, 82).”[5] Noth does not answer in any real way about other speeches within the Deuteronomistic History such as the prophetic words by Nathan and the speech by David, which goes along with his seeming to focus more on the pessimistic view of the narratives than the optimistic. Noth argued, “We cannot possibly claim that the latter section [speaking of Nathan’s prophecy] is Deuteronomistic, since neither the prohibition of temple-building not the strong emphasis on the value of the manarcy are in the spirit of Dtr [the Deuteronomist writer]” (Noth, 55).”[6] In other words, as it would seem to me, Noth disregards the prophecy and speech because it doesn’t actually fit into his understanding of who the Deuteronimist writer would be or what he would write about; if something doesn’t fit into his narrative, he simply seeks to explain it away.

Obviously, such questions and explanations would lead to other theories about the Deuteronomistic understanding of Scripture. Suddenly, there was not simply one editor/redactor, but two, and then three, and so forth. At one point, the theorists began noticing that certain aspects of the books seemed to be in opposition. As if parts supported David and the monarchy and other parts were against it. “Veijola concludes that the apparently contradictory messages regarding the monarchy may be resolved by understanding DtrH as pro-David and promonarchy, DtrP as generally antimonoarchy, and DtrN as pro-David but generally anti-monarchy.”[7] Thus there are three Deuteronomist writers, and they oppose one another within the Scriptures themselves. It must be admitted at this point that when one calls into question Scriptures authenticity and authority in one place, it calls into question all of Scripture. If one is apt to disregard this concern, one only need to see that Noth’s concise theory (though not solely on the head of Noth) led to the likes of Peckham who does not limit the Deuteronomistic History to only Deuteronomy-2 Kings, but includes the whole Pentateuch and the Former Prophets (those prophets within Joshua-2 Kings).[8] If this expansion of the Scripture’s authorial authenticity is not bad enough, Van Seters’s claim that “the sources that the Deuteronomistic Historian refers to within history may be only a literary device—these ‘sources,’ and therefore the Deuteronomistic History itself, may be completely fictional (Van Seters, 43-49),”[9] take one to its logical conclusion: the Scriptures cannot be trusted because they are fictitious.

It is no wonder that even the historical critics now see that Noth’s baby has become a monstrosity and a failure. Noth sought to understand the writings of Scripture better and to make them understandable by moving Deuteronomy away from the Pentateuch and attaching it to the historical narratives, imposing a single author for those books. As stated, part of this was due to Deuteronomy’s seeming break with the other four books. However, one does not have to see the fifth book of the Pentateuch as a separate book, but rather a book in transition. Deuteronomy is different in its literary style, but that ought not be surprising since every other book in the Pentateuch has its own style as well. Genesis-Exodus 20 tends to be historical, but Exodus 20 through Leviticus reads as a legal document, with somewhat of “case-law” or active moments in which the execution of the law was put into practice. Numbers reads much like a census document. Thus when one gets to Deuteronomy, he should not be surprised that it reads differently. It is a different document, or volume, within the Pentateuch preparing the second generation of Israelites to enter the Promised Land.

Only persons who was under 20 years of age at the first attempt of entry or those who were yet to be born stand before Moses. At best there was a vague memory of leaving that pagan land. It had been forty years since the people had left Egypt and the law had been given. Moses was about to leave them in the hands of Joshua. When one reads Deuteronomy, it comes across as an iron fist in a velvet glove: firm but soft. It is pastoral and fatherly. In fact, many would consider Moses’ speeches to be more sermonic than mere oratory. Moses stated nothing that contradicted the law, however he did explain the law in different ways. He neither negated the law nor added to the law, but simply spoke of the law to this new generation, who for the most part, did not hear it in its original form at Mount Sinai. In similar ways, one could look to the Gospel According to John and see similar evidences of John’s account being written to a new generation of believers. Unlike the Synoptics which often tell many of the same stories, John brings forth new stories and explains Synoptic stories in fresh ways. While, John is indeed a different writer than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, his motive very well could be the same as Moses’s: teaching the new generation what the law/gospel really means before he dies.

[1] B. T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 220.

[2] Ibid., 221.

[3] Ibid., 222.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 227.

[6] Ibid., 223.

[7] Ibid., 225.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 226.

The Continuity of the Pentateuch

The Pentateuch is better seen as five volumes of one book rather than five books, distinct and separate from each other. Ultimately they display God’s creation, covenants, and man’s inability to live up to such covenants due to their own indwelling sin. As Moses wrote in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (ESV). This was how it was since the fall.

Recently, due to a controversy in the media, I began to look into Scripture so as to come to a biblical worldview on sex. Starting with Genesis, I found every sexual sin category with which the Levitical laws deal. There was tension between Adam and Eve (Gn 3:7), rape (Gn 6:1, 34:2), homosexuality (Gn 19:4-5), incest (Gn 19:32), pleasure without responsibility (Gn 38:19), prostitution (Gn 38:15-16), and of course adultery (Gn 39:7). Each of these is dealt with in Leviticus 18 in some way, which included bestiality that I was not able to find in Genesis. You can read that article here. Thus, Leviticus links with Genesis in giving laws against the sins that had their beginnings soon after creation.

In addition, other laws that have their roots in Genesis, either by sins observed, traditions begun, or covenants made, are given or repeated in Exodus-Deuteronomy. We have the first substitutionary sacrifice made by God himself to atone for the sins of Adam and Eve. Yet by the time one gets to Cain and Abel, humanity gives their own sacrifices, but when they make their offerings, one sees the beginning of acceptable and unacceptable sacrifices to God. The proper layout of these sacrifices are dealt with in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  There is the first murder when Cain kills Abel, the accepted one, thus expressing the despair that “the woman’s seed” was murdered by the unaccepted child. This same despair can be felt in the very first chapter of Exodus as all the male babies are to be murdered. Coupling the murder of male children with the promise of the Abraham’s blessing to the world and becoming a great nation, one cannot help but wonder how God will fulfill His covenant. Thus we find a deliver, a show of God’s great might, and His protection over His son whom He called out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1).

At the same time, one finds other continuities in Genesis through Deuteronomy. The promise of land given to Abraham by God included the prophecy that his people would not enter the land until after spending time as sojourners in a strange land. “Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years,” (Gn. 15:13, ESV). Genesis ends with the Abrahamic family in Egypt and growing, and this is exactly where Exodus begins. The family has grown greatly, but have experienced life in slavery for some odd years. Exodus and the following books of the Pentateuch deal in great detail (in their own way/genre) about the descendants of that Abrahamic Covenant wandering about to enter into the land that was originally promised to Abraham and then Isaac and finally Jacob. They are becoming the nation, the chosen covenant nation though still split as twelve tribes. Like Abraham who was called out of the pagan city of Ur, so Israel was called out of the pagan nation of Egypt. Like Abraham who showed at times faithfulness to God and at times distrust, so one sees–especially in the Exodus account prior to and during the Sinai visit, and the accounts in Numbers with grumblings and grievous sins–Israel wandered, semi-nomadic, learning to trust in this God who called them out.

There is a constant renewal within these books. From the six days of creation to the re-creation after the flood to the starting over with one family (Abraham), to bringing that family into a new land to be a holy nation and a priesthood to God, there is one continuous thread of God’s covenant promises and God’s covenant protection. This is due, at least in part, to God’s unfailing love expressed continually throughout the first five books of the Bible. As Alexander and Baker wrote, “The most significant thing the Israelites learned about the holy character of God is that it is ‘unfailing love.’ . . .It speaks of a favor given to someone who does not have a right to that favor by someone who does not have to give that favor,” (T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 850.)  One may even rightly go as far as God’s seventh day of rest to the Sabbath rest demanded of the people to the Sabbath holy days to the rest promised in the land of Canaan, showing a clear path that God’s revelation to Moses is interwoven with the story of Israel’s journey. Genesis shows the beginning of Israel, beginning with creation, the fall, the flood, and tower of Babel detailing the need for a covenant people. Exodus detailing the nation’s size, their being called out of Egypt and to God as His holy people, as well as Exodus setting up a system of government and worship for the newly formed tribal-nations. Leviticus is a book predominately making up the ceremonial/cultic laws that the Levites and priesthood was to make sure was followed, giving examples of what happens when those laws are not kept. Numbers is predominately a census book of the nation, detailing the number of Israelites at the beginning, middle, and end of their forty-year journey. While these volumes of books would be available for the reading, Moses condensed such books (Exodus-Numbers) into one as the restating of the law or Deuteronomy.  This was given just before Israel would enter into the Promised Land, and Moses, reflecting back on the previous forty years, reminds the new generation of all that transpired with their parents and grandparents, providing extra measures of wisdom and instruction on top of restating the basics of the law sometimes in more detail. Of course, when one reads Joshua and Judges, one will see that once again humanity fails. Each person with whom the covenant was made (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses the people of Israel, as well as the first generation in the land of promise, as well as the second and third, and all throughout Israel’s history) all failed to live up to the demands of their holy God. This ultimately shows that while the laws and covenants were made, no human has the capacity of obedience. As Alexander and Baker wrote, “The covenant did not exist to show humans that they could obey God and thus please him. Rather it existed to show them that even with the best will they could not attain his holy character in themselves,” (Ibid., 858).

It is clear that the Pentateuch, while thought of as five distinct books, should be understood more like five volumes of one book. There is one constant story and theology taking shape through varying genres: historical, legal, census, poetic, etc. To separate them as distinct books developed by persons with different agendas, motivations, and times is to disregard the evidence of succession. While, perhaps I would vary slightly with Alexander and Baker’s assessment of structure, it is clear and concise as to the Pentateuch’s formation:

The broad triadic scheme reflects (1) the transparently introductory function of Genesis 1:1-11:26 with respect to the whole; (2) the manifest concentration on God’s purposes achieved through people and events leading to, occurring at and ensuing form Sinai in Genesis 11:27-Numbers 36:13; and (3) the distinctly recollective, interpretive and transitional function of Deuteronomy with respect to the whole, (Ibid., 549).

I hope you enjoyed reading the summation of my homework in the Old Testament Survey class. If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions, I would love to read them. If this was somehow a blessing to you, praise the Lord. If not, I completely understand.