Stephen L. Cook

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:

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Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. It stands last in the section known as the books of the Torah, the Pentateuch, or The Books of Moses. The name Deuteronomy comes from the Septuagint’s Greek title for the book, to deuteronomion, meaning “second law” or “repeated law,” a name tied to one of the Hebrew appellations for the book, Mishneh Torah. In the Hebrew Bible the book’s title is Dĕbārim, “the Words,” reflecting the initial phrase of chapter 1: “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan.” The book’s narrative presents Moses repeating and interpreting the Torah for the Israelites as they camp on the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan, preparing to settle the promised land. In accord with this narrative presentation and canonical shape, Deuteronomy contemporizes and actualizes Israel’s covenant and Torah for the new generation of promise on the cusp of the fulfillment of God’s ancient promises. It brings the core of Scripture alive for them and for all subsequent readers. Although Deuteronomy sounds the voice of Moses (13th century bce) and is grouped together with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers in the Bible’s present shape, the historical-critical approach (starting with W. M. L. de Wette’s work) treats it as having emerged publicly in association with the religious reforms of King Josiah in 622 bce (2 Kings 22–23). The book and the movement behind it appear to reflect a 7th-century revival of covenantal faith within Judah, a radical reform of Israelite religion. Scholars fiercely debate the depth of this covenantal theology’s prehistory and its roots in Israelite history and society. Some newer studies trace the roots of Deuteronomic theology to circles outside monarchic power structures whose members were preserving older, prestate ways of life. The influence of the ancient Near Eastern treaty tradition is marked in the book of Deuteronomy (see the citations of the work of George Mendenhall and Moshe Weinfeld). The book is emphatic that Yahweh, the true God, is Israel’s one and only covenantal suzerain. Deuteronomy’s transmission of the Sinai covenant as a vital spiritual force and its passion about loving the divine suzerain with all of one’s being helped establish this book as one of Scripture’s most influential texts. Modern scholarship (since Martin Noth’s seminal work) stresses Deuteronomy’s strong affinity with the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua through 2 Kings), a corpus that began to take shape during the reigns of Kings Hezekiah and Josiah but only reached its final form during the Babylonian exile in the mid-6th century bce. Deuteronomy became separated from this history to form the capstone of the Pentateuch as the Scriptures gradually assumed their present, distinctive literary and theological shape.

Article.  12927 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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