The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible. It is part of Judaism's Torah - the first segment of the Tanakh. It later became part of Christianity's Old Testament. Its Hebrew name is Devarim דברים ("words"), which comes from the opening phrase "Eleh ha-devarim" ("These are the words...").


Origin of the name Deuteronomy

The English name, "Deuteronomy", comes from the name which the book bears in the Septuagint (Δευτερουόμιου) and in the Vulgate (Deuteronomium). This is based upon the erroneous Septuagint rendering of "mishnah ha-torah ha-zot" (xvii. 18), which grammatically can mean only "a repetition [that is, a copy] of this law," but which is rendered by the Septuagint τὸ Δευτερουόμιου τοῦτο, as though the expression meant "this repetition of the law." While, however, the name is thus a mistranslation, it is not inappropriate; for the book does include, by the side of much new matter, a repetition or reformulation of a large part of the laws found in the non-priestly sections of Exodus.

Summary of the book

Deuteronomy consists chiefly of three discourses delivered by Moses a short time before his death. They were spoken to all Israelites in the plains of Moab in the eleventh month of the last year of their wanderings.

The first discourse (1-4:40) recapitulates the chief events of the past forty years in the wilderness, with earnest exhortations to obedience to the divine ordinances and warnings against the danger of forsaking the God of their fathers.

The second discourse (5-26:19) is, in effect, the body of the whole book. The first address (5-11) is an introduction, repeating the Ten Commandments given by God at Mount Sinai (with some changes to the text), followed by the Deuteronomic Code (12-26), describing admonitions and injunctions to the Israelites regarding their conduct once they settled in Canaan.

The concluding discourse (ch. 27-30) relates almost wholly to the solemn sanctions of the law, the blessings to the obedient, and the curse that would fall on the rebellious (27-28). He solemnly adjures them to adhere faithfully to the covenant God had made with them, and so secure for themselves and their posterity the promised blessings.

As Moses prepared to die, he renewed the covenant between God and the Israelites, conditional on people's loyalty. At the same time, he appointed Joshua as his heir to lead the people into the Land of Cananan.

These addresses to the people are followed by what may be called three appendices, namely:

  1. A song that God had commanded Moses to write (32:1-47).
  2. The blessings he pronounced on the individual tribes (ch. 33).
  3. The story of his death (32:48-52) and burial (ch. 34).

Early Jewish analysis

Several Talmud rabbis were the first to notice these problems. Basing themselves on the premise that Moses wrote the entire five books of Moses, they asked how he could possibly have written the text describing his own death and burial. While some contended that he wrote them prophetically, the dominant opinion seems to be that Joshua wrote them and added them to the text.

Later Jewish biblical exegetes, such as Abraham ibn Ezra (c.1093 - 1167) also noted the different style and language of Deuteronomy and stated that a number of verses must have been written by a later author, probably (in their view) Joshua.

In his introduction to Deuteronomy, Don Isaac Abravanel (1437 - 1508) was clear that the book had a different author than the first four books of the Pentateuch. Both men prefigured more contemporary exponents of documentary hypothesis, which claims that the book is indeed a distinct document, appended to the preceding books at a relatively late date.

They had no problem identifying the period in which it was written. At the end of the 2 Kings, there is an enigmatic story of the religious reform conducted during the reign of King Josiah (see also the 2 Chronicles 34:3). After eradicating the cultic centers that rivaled Jerusalem, Josiah purged the Temple in Jerusalem of pagan influences (621 BC). During the cleansing, Hilkiah the High Priest found a "lost scroll" of the Torah, whose laws were in complete accord with the reforms then being instituted. For example, it is the only book of the Pentateuch to mention the centrality of single place of worship (Jerusalem), where sacrifices could be offered. In effect, this was the very essence of Josiah's reform.

The story continues that Josiah and Hilkiah went to Huldah the Prophetess to confirm that this was indeed a lost book of the law. She did so, adding that failure to comply would result in the fulfillment of the curses described in the book. As a result, a ceremony (also found only in the Book of Deuteronomy) was arranged, whereby the king read the entire scroll to the people assembled for the pilgrimage holiday of Tabernacles in order to renew the covenant between them and the Law, in a reenactment of the original giving of the Law at Mount Sinai.

Several rabbis in the Talmud cite a longstanding tradition (echoed by modern researchers) that the scroll discovered by Hilkiah was none other than the Book of Deuteronomy, which had been lost but now restored. They also point to various aspects of the story, which are somewhat enigmatic in their effort to understand what actually happened. For example, they ask why the king and high priest chose to go to an otherwise unknown prophetess for confirmation of the text, when there were two major prophets, Jeremiah and Zechariah, living at that time. The answer they give is far from satisfactory: Zechariah was home sick that day, and Jeremiah was away on business!

In fact, this answer may actually be an indication of the historical importance of the Reform and the conflict it would have generated among the masses. Rather than have it originate with overly zealous religious leaders (the prophets), it came from the king and high priest, both of whom were political figures. By attributing the book to Moses, it would have the same authority as the other books and its precepts would be similarly observed.

Moses the author

Most Orthodox Judaism scholars and Jews and many fundamentalist Christians nevertheless maintain that the original author of the book was Moses, and that the book was lost and recovered (see [1]).

In defense of their claim they argue that:

  • The book professes to have been written by Moses (1:1; 29:1; 31:1, 9-11, etc.) and was obviously intended to be accepted as his work.
  • The frequent references to it in the later books of the canon (Joshua 8:31; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Chronicles 23:18; 25:4; 34:14; Ezra 3:2; 7:6; Nehemiah 8:1; Daniel 9:11, 13) prove its antiquity.
  • Orthodox Jews note that testimony of Moses's authorship of nearly all of Deuteronomy appears in the Mishnah and Talmud.
  • Christians note that testimony of Moses's authorship appears in the New Testament (Matthew 19:7, 8; Mark 10:3, 4; John 5:46, 47; Acts 3:22; 7:37; Romans 10:19) and establishes the same conclusion.

Critical historical analysis

The style and method of this book, and its peculiarities of expression, show that it came from a school of thought separate from the rest of the Torah. In fact, Deuteronomy often refers to itself as a separate code of law (1:5; 27:3; 8:26; 31:26), distinct from the four preceding books of the Bible. Scholars have also noted differences in language and style, the laws themselves, and some anachronisms in the text.

Modern critical analysis

Modern bible scholarship known as the documentary hypothesis asserts that the text of Deuteronomy originates as the law-code part (known as d - the deuteronomist) of a text recording the history from Moses to Josiah (known as the deuteronomistic history, and also comprising the books of Joshua, Judges, Kings, and Samuel). According to the hypothesis, the source of the text is from the Shiloh priesthood, levitical rivals to the Aaronids. However, the hypothesis states that a few minor elements derive also from other sources.

See also

External links

Online versions and translations of Deuteronomy:

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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04