Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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This is the fifth and final scroll of Moses. The name ‘Deuteronomy’ comes from the Greek (through the Latin) for ‘second law’, reflecting the phrase ‘a copy of this law’ which appears in Deut. 17: 18. The scroll purports to be the words (the Hebrew title for the scroll is ‘Words’) spoken by Moses to the people of Israel in the fortieth year of the wanderings in the wilderness, in the plains of Moab. It therefore represents the ending of the primary grand narrative of the exodus from Egypt and the period in the wilderness on the eve of the crossing of the River Jordan and entry into the promised land of Canaan (Palestine). Offering mature reflections on the events of the past forty years, it is Moses' last testament to his people. The scroll therefore has a certain poignancy because Moses will not be leading his people into that promised land—he had, apparently, failed a test of faith in YHWH in the wilderness trek (Num. 20: 7–13)—and will end with the touching story of how Moses died in the mountains and was buried by his lifelong companion and interlocutor YHWH (34: 1–12). Like King Arthur, and other mythical tribal leaders, Moses, the great leader of the tribes, is buried ‘no man knoweth’ where (34: 6). From the ark of bulrushes in the Nile to the mountain-top of Nebo, the greatest Jewish prophet who ever lived sees for a moment the land to which all his efforts have been directed and closes his eyes for ever, 120 years old. Of him it is written: ‘And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face’ (34: 10). ‘Prophecy’ and its regulation is one of the interests of Deuteronomy (13: 1–5; 18: 15–22). If Moses (the putative author who describes his own death and burial) was the unique prophet in Israel, others could be a wretched nuisance and required controlling by a number of simple rules.24 Only by conforming to the model set by Moses could any prophet hope to gain recognition as genuine. In the stories which follow Deuteronomy (Samuel–Kings) prophets are a dominant strand of the narrative. A close reading of Deuteronomy will reveal the scroll to embody strong tendencies to emphasize control and ideological purity.

Chapter.  952 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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