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Gerald Larue Otll Chap19

Old Testament Life and Literature (1968)

Gerald A. Larue

Chapter 19 – From Manasseh to the Deuteronomic Reform

Read II Kings 21-35; II Chron. 33-36

WHEN Hezekiah died (687), his son Manasseh, still a young boy, was enthroned.1 The folly of adhering to a policy of antagonism toward Assyria was apparent, and Manasseh pledged loyalty to his overlords. Shortly afterward (680), Sennacherib was murdered by his sons and one of them, Esarhaddon, formerly governor of Babylon, became king of the Assyrian Empire. To prevent challenge from his brothers or the army, Esarhaddon, through good military tactics and favorable omens, was soon in complete control of the empire.

In 675 Tarqu, an Ethiopian pharaoh (cf. II Kings 19:9-Tirakah), joined the king of Tyre in an anti-Assyrian alliance. By 671 Esarhaddon had invaded Egypt, routed Tarqu’s forces and laid claim to the title “King of Upper and Lower Egypt”-a title more high sounding than factual. When Esarhaddon had left, Tarqu, with numerous local princes, laid claim to Lower Egypt. Once again Esarhaddon marched on Egypt but died en route (669).

Esarhaddon had planned carefully the future of his kingdom, and, in accordance with an agreement, two sons came to power, Shamash-shum-ukin as crown prince of Babylon and Ashurbanipal as ruler of Assyria. Migrating Scythians and Cimmerians2 on the northern border of the empire, powerful Median tribes to the east, and restless Chaldeans in the lower Euphrates region kept the two kings busy protecting their inheritance. Meanwhile, Tarqu went unpunished for insurrection. Ashurbanipal finally marched on Egypt, recruiting on the way from vassal kingdoms, including Judah. Egypt once again became part of the Assyrian Empire.

Throughout this troubled time, Manasseh of Judah remained loyal to Ashurbanipal. If the note in II Chronicles 33:11 ff. is accurate, Manasseh was taken as a prisoner to Babylon and humiliated, perhaps for some minor security infraction, but there is no mention of this event and no record of any trouble with Manasseh in Assyrian records.3 The only references are to payment of tribute4 and cooperation in warfare.5 According to Assyrian custom, subject nations were bound by an agreement and an oath sworn before the great gods of Assyria; violation of the contract incurred divine wrath and punishment.6 Subject nations also worshipped Assyrian deities, and Ashurbanipal erected altars to Ashur in conquered areas.7 In Judah, with full cooperation from Manasseh, Assyrian worship flourished, together with cultic rites (including child sacrifice) that had not been operative since before Hezekiah’s reform. No prophetic utterances and very little other reference to the worship of Yahweh have come from Manasseh’s long reign. It is possible that pro-Assyrianism and anti-Yahwism went hand-in-hand. The report of Manasseh’s return to Yahweh in II Chron. 33:15 ff. seems incongruous and stands in sharp contrast to the Deuteronomist’s accusation that Manasseh’s evils caused Yahweh to punish his people by exile (II Kings 21:10 ff.).

Manasseh died in 640 and was succeeded by Amon, his son, who continued his father’s policy of cooperation with Assyria during the two years of his reign. Amon’s murder by servants brought eight-year old Josiah to kingship. It is not recorded who influenced Josiah’s early life, but the king became an enthusiastic supporter of Yahwism. Ashurbanipal’s annals do not go beyond 639 and hence there are no Assyrian records concerning relationships with Josiah. Information about Assyrian affairs from commercial records and state documents indicate that the disintegration of the empire had begun.

When Ashurbanipal died in 626, the Chaldean Nabopolassar seized the throne of Babylon and formed alliances with Median tribes. In the same year a movement of peoples out of the north, including Cimmerians and Scythians, pressed southward to threaten Assyrian holdings in Syria and Palestine. Herodotus (I, 103-106) says that the Scythians swept through Palestine, but there is no archaeological evidence of such a movement, so far.


Read Zephaniah

The long period of prophetic silence in the seventh century was broken by Zephaniah. In the past, some scholars sought to identify the vision of destruction in Ch. 2:4-15 with the Scythian movement of 626 recorded by Herodotus. Because Zephaniah’s prophecies are placed in a universal context, there are those who argue that it is reading too much into his words to identify the Scythians as a menace to the whole Near Eastern world. Nevertheless, 626 is not an improbable date for Zephaniah’s utterances. In 2:13 the prophet anticipates the destruction of Nineveh which took place in 612, so that his oracles must predate this event. Zephaniah’s condemnations of evils in Jerusalem and Judah reveal no knowledge of the reform movement instituted by Josiah in 621 (see below) and portray the very social and religious evils that Josiah sought to change. It is clear that a time prior to 621 must be postulated, and 626 is probably as close as one can come to the year or years of the prophet’s activity.

No hint of the prophet’s personality is given in his words. It has been suggested that he may have belonged to the temple cult8 but this cannot be known for sure. The prophet’s lineage, carried back four generations to a certain Hezekiah in the superscription, has been interpreted as an indication of royal blood, but Hezekiah is not an uncommon name (cf. I Chron. 3:23; Ezra 2:16). Nor can the name Cushi be interpreted as anything more than a proper name, despite the generic significance of “Ethiopian” or “man of Cush.”

Zephaniah’s major emphasis is eschatological, not in the sense of “that day” found in the eighth century prophets where Israel or Judah was singled out for destruction, but in a new, universal sense, in which man and beast, fish and plant are swept away (1:2). Nevertheless, within the universal setting, it is Judah and Jerusalem that are the foci of the prophet’s and Yahweh’s concern. Indictment of apostasy, familiar from eighth century prophetic literature, appears again with a specific condemnation of the worship of Milcom, god of the Ammonites, Ba’al of Canaan, the host of the heavens (cf. 1:4-6), and of those who affect foreign attire and rites. The prophet also indicts those who deny Yahweh’s action in human affairs (1:12). Like his eighth century predecessors, he calls for repentance (2:1-3, cf. Isa. 1: 18 f.; Amos 5:15; Hosea 14:1).

A literary arrangement familiar from previous analyses of prophetic writings occurs in Zephaniah. Following the indictment of the nation, the prophetic attack moves to foreign nations (2:4-15), and after a brief interruption in which Jerusalem is again condemned (3:1-7), the book closes with oracles of restoration and promise. The oracles against foreign nations predict the doom of Philistia, then Egypt and Assyria. (The Moab oracles are late, 2:8-11.) In the day of Assyria’s greatness, Zephaniah saw the weakening of the nation and its ultimate destruction. The Jerusalem oracles condemn officials, prophets and priests (3:1-7).

For the most part the prophet concentrates less on specific evils than upon devastating judgment. The opening oracle, describing the “sweeping away” of all life, is expanded in fierce and terrible images of destruction. There is no hint given of the direction from which the trouble would come, and no mention is made of the instrument of Yahweh’s anger. What effect Zephaniah’s words had upon the people and upon King Josiah cannot be known, but it is not impossible that the prophet helped to spur the reform movement that was to occur a short time later. Attempts to include oracles of restoration and healing in the collection of authentic pronouncements of Zephaniah are not convincing, for not only do these additions remove the force of the prophetic promise of destruction, but they reflect the mood, setting and hopes of the late Exilic period.

The book may be analyzed as follows:

  1. 1: 1-2:3 Fierce judgment as follows:

    1:1 Superscription (late editorial addition).

    1:2-6 An oracle of judgment.

    1:8-13 An oracle of judgment on Jerusalem (cf. 1:13 and Amos 5:11).

    1:7, 14-18 An oracle of judgment (cf. 1: 15 and Amos 5:18 f.).

    2:1-3 A call to repentance.


  2. 2:4-15 Judgment on foreign nations.

    2:4-6 An oracle against Philistia.

    2:7 An oracle of restoration from the Exilic period.

    2:8-11 An oracle of vengeance from the Exilic period.

    2:12 An oracle against Ethiopia.

    2:13-15 An oracle against Assyria.



  3. 3:1-7 An oracle against Jerusalem.


  4. Restoration oracles from the Exile, including a deliverance song (3:14-15).


In Judah, young Josiah began to challenge Assyrian control. A section of the Assyrian province in what had been the kingdom of Israel which included the city of Bethel was seized. Some foreign religious influences were removed. In Jerusalem, in 621 Yahweh’s temple was refurbished, and during the process a scroll of the law, purporting to be a covenant made between Yahweh and his people in the time of Moses, was found and taken to the King. Josiah’s frightened concern that no one had ever kept the agreement and the observation of a Passover unlike any kept since the time of the Judges (II Kings 23:22) suggest that the scroll contained new regulations. The general consensus of scholars is that the bulk of the seventh century scroll is contained in our present book of Deuteronomy. Determined to fulfill the requirements of this Mosaic covenant and encouraged by the promise of the prophetess Huldah that he would die in peace (II Kings 22:20), Josiah instituted a reform-by-violence movement and a sincere effort was made in Judah to perform the will of Yahweh.


The book of Deuteronomy purports to contain the words of Moses, spoken in a farewell address just before the invasion of Canaan. The setting of the oration is the eastern side of the Jordan River. The general tone of the book is a combination of the homiletic and legalistic. It contains a brief history of events from the experiences at Horeb to the conquests on the eastern side of the Jordan, lists numerous laws together with exhortations to hear and obey, promises blessings if the rulings are obeyed and curses if they are violated, and concludes with the death and burial of Moses.

The Mosaic authorship has been successfully contested on several bases. Moses died before the Hebrews entered Canaan (ch. 34), but there is evidence that Deuteronomy was written in Palestine, for the writer speaks of the Transjordan area as “the other side of the Jordan,” a term that would only be used by someone within Canaan (1:1-15; 3:8; 4:46). The concluding chapter tells of Moses’ death and burial (ch. 34). The use of the aetiological formula “to this day” indicates that the writer lived after Moses’ time (3:14; 10:8; 34:6) and Moses is referred to in the third person (ch. 27). There is good evidence that the book is a composite post-Mosaic compilation.

From very early times, scholars recognized the relationship of Deuteronomy to the scroll found in the Temple of Yahweh in 621,9 but it was not until the nineteenth century that DeWette identified Deuteronomy as the book upon which the Josianic reforms were based. The identification rests upon the following arguments:

  1. The centralization of worship in the temple in Jerusalem, the destruction of other Yahweh shrines, the defiling of non-Yahweh holy places, and the removal of cultic paraphernalia associated with non-Yahwistic religions (II Kings 23) were all actions fulfilling Deuteronomic legislation calling for a central Yahweh shrine (Deut. 12:1-14), and for prohibition of worship of astral deities (Deut. 17:3) or use of Canaanite symbols (Deut. 16:21 f.) or any toleration of non-Yahweh religious rites (Deut. 18:10 f.) or shrines (Deut. 12:3).
  2. The celebration of the Passover in the temple in Jerusalem (II Kings 23:21-23) rather than in the homes of the people conformed with the command in Deut. 16:1-8.10 The novelty of this arrangement is revealed in II Kings 23:22.
  3. The notation in II Kings 23:9 that priests from the vacated shrines did not go to Jerusalem to serve in the temple shows knowledge of the provision in Deut. 18:6-8.

The date, place of origin and authorship of Deuteronomy have been the subject of much inquiry and debate. The terminal date for Deuteronomy is 621 because Josiah’s reform of that year was founded on it. Another theory argues that a Jerusalem priest, deeply affected by prophetic preaching, sought to heal the breach between prophet and priest and composed Deuteronomy during the seventh century.11 It has also been suggested that Deuteronomy is a seventh century work of Levites and aristocracy.12 A completely different hypothesis, one that has gained a large following, surmises that Deuteronomy originated in the northern kingdom of Israel, possibly at the old amphictyonic shrine at Shechem; that its time of origin was in the century or so preceding the Josianic reforms; and that its preservation and introduction in Judah was the work of conservative, rural, Levitical priests.13 Arguments that the book must have come from the late Exilic14 or post-Exilic periodl5 have not been persuasive. Nor have the theories that the bulk of Deuteronomy originated in Solomon’s timel6 or in Samuel’s dayl7 found many supporters.

II Kings 22:8-10 describes two readings of the entire scroll of Deuteronomy in a single day, and it has been suggested that the original scroll may have contained a somewhat smaller legal corpus than our present book of Deuteronomy. There are indications that different collections of materials have been brought together or that additions may have been made from time to time. For example, the requirement that sacrifice be made in a single place is repeated (cf. 12:5-7 and 12:11-12) and so are the rules for slaughtering for food (cf. 12:15-17 and 12:20-25). A small collection of cultic regulations (16:21-17:7) interrupts the discussion of the duties of officials (cf. 16:20 and 17:8 ff.). There are four separate introductory statements (cf. 1:1; 4:44 f.; 6:1; 12:1) and two introductory units (1:1-4:40 and 4:45-5:31; 4:41-43 is from P). There are two concluding speeches, 28:1-69 and 29:1-30:20, and in the second there is clear indication of knowledge of the Exile (cf. 30:1 ff.). There are sudden shifts in person, from the second person plural (cf. 12:1-12) to the second person singular (cf. 12:13-31).18

Attempts have been made to discover the original core of Deuteronomy and to trace the various editions through which it may have gone, but it seems simpler and perhaps more accurate to recognize the principle of progressive or continuing interpretation at work: additions were made to the central core of material, at times embodying total units and at other times taking the form of minute details as in the P contributions. Each addition gave a slightly different emphasis to the total work or to some sensitive point. It can still be maintained that D drew from older sources and interpreted and supplemented the material. The relationship between D and the Covenant Code of E clearly illustrates this point. Exod. 21:2-11 prescribes for the freedom of the male slave after six years of servitude; Deut. 15:12-18 reinterpreted this law, making provision for the liberation of the female slave and adding a characteristic Deuteronomic humanitarian touch: that the owner should not send his former slave away empty-handed, but should provide a liberal supply of food to sustain him as he entered his new life of freedom. Similarly, in expanding the law providing for the return of strayed animals (Exod. 23:4), the Deuteronomist placed the responsibility for the care and feeding of the animal upon the finder until the rightful owner was located (Deut. 22:1-3).19 Chapters 12-26, 28 are usually identified as the core of the book, and in this section there is a close relationship to the E material. The general setting is provided by Chapters 1-11 which places the entire book into a hortatory or sermonic framework. A more detailed analysis follows.

I. Chapters 1:1-4:43 A survey of the past and a statement of the people’s duty.

1:1-5 An introduction fixing the time and place of the farewell address.

1:6-3:29 A recapitulation of past history.

4:1-40 Concerning obedience to ordinances and statutes.

4:41-43 A detail added by the P writers.

II. Chapters 4:44-11:32 A statement of the nature of Israel’s duty.

4:44-49 An introduction giving the setting of the statement.

5:1-33 A summary of the covenant including the decalogue.

6:1-11:32 The requirements for life in Canaan.

6:4 is the Sh’ma: “Hear, O Israel . . .”

10:12 reflects Micah.

III. Chapters 12-26, 28 The rules for life in Canaan.

12-14 Statutes and ordinances.

15:1-16:17 Legislation for the year of release.

16:18-18:22 Rules for leaders.

19:1-26:19 Further legislation.

28 Blessings and curses.

IV. Chapter 27 A composite chapter providing for a covenant rite to be instituted at Shechem. Note the mention of Mounts Ebal and Gerizim.

27:1-8 The establishment of the law and altar at Shechem.

27:9-10 The call to hear and obey.

27:11-26 The ritual of blessings and curses.

V. Chapters 29-30 Threats and promises. 30:1-5 refers to the Exile.

VI. Chapter 31 The writing of the law and the commissioning of Joshua.

VII. Chapter 32 The song of Moses (verses 48-52 are from P).

VIII. Chapter 33 The blessing by Moses.

IX. Chapter 34 Moses’ death and burial.

Read 1:1-4:40

The opening section of Deuteronomy, a recitation of the acts of Yahweh, encompasses the wilderness wanderings from the time of the revelation at the sacred mountain, named Horeb as in E, to the distribution of the conquered land on the eastern side of the Jordan. The abortive attempt to enter Palestine through the Shephelah was due to lack of trust in, and reliance upon, Yahweh, according to the Deuteronomists. This faltering in faith made it impossible for Moses and his generation to enter the promised land. Accordingly the D writer described a wilderness journey that led from Horeb to Kadesh-Barnea, to the Gulf of Aqabah, and then, circumscribing Edom, northward to the Transjordan region. Moses was able to see the land that Israel was to inhabit from the top of Pisgah, but he could not enter. The section closes with a sermonic address calling for obedience to the prescriptions of the covenant.

Read 4:44-11:32

The second section consists of a collection of homilies on the significance of the covenant which serves as a preface to the full statement of the law. The decalogue, given by God to the people at Horeb, is almost identical with that of Exodus 20 but while there is repetition, there is excitement and promise too. The emphasis throughout the presentation is upon hearing, remembering and obeying on the one hand, and on Yahweh’s love, promises and ability to fulfill his promises on the other. Israel is charged with responsibility for total annihilation of all the inhabitants of Canaan (7:16, 23 f.). The section concludes with a covenant charge offering blessings or curses (11:26 ff.).

Read 12-26; 28

The third section sets forth the laws or terms of the covenant, answering, in effect, the question: What does it mean to be the people of Yahweh? The answer is given in rules containing self-justifying reasons that called for total commitment to the worship of Yahweh and intolerance of apostasy, and set forth prescriptions for ceremonial observances, prohibition of certain rituals associated with other religions, responsibilities of leaders, and laws respecting food, social behavior, festal observances. The rulings reveal that in the mind of the Deuteronomists the conquest of Canaan was a holy war.20 Among the ceremonial instructions are ritual guides for presenting firstfruits and tithes (ch. 26). The closing chapter, listing blessings and curses, contains an expanded commentary on what may have been an older collection of six blessings (28:3-6) and six curses (28:16-19). If this expanded version represents what was read to Josiah of Judah, the monarch’s frantic response can be understood. What is most unnerving about the vivid portrayals in the curses is the knowledge that these horrors represent accurately conditions within a city during siege conditions which were experienced, in part at least, during the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar a quarter of a century later.

Read 27; 29-34

Chapter 27, a separate dodecalogue of curses in ritual form, is an intrusion in the central collection from another hand. Chapters 29-31, in sermonic style reviewing the acts of Yahweh in the past and calling for commitment to Yahweh’s ways, may be homilies delivered during the ritual observances. The “song of Moses” (ch. 32) has been identified through form analysis as a ninth century poem dealing with the covenant tradition in the form of a lawsuit.21 Of particular interest is the expression of the election tradition (32:8-9) which says that when “Elyon” divided mankind into nations, Yahweh received Israel or Jacob as his portion. If “Elyon,” a Canaanite appellation for the high god El, is taken to be a substitute name for Yahweh,22 then Yahweh chose Israel out of all the peoples when the earth was divided among the hierarchy of deities. On the other hand, if Elyon represents the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon, then Yahweh received Israel as his patrimony. The first interpretation is generally preferred. Chapter 33, Moses’ blessing, is an old poem added to the Deuteronomic collection. The period represented in the poem appears to be marked with prosperity for both Israel and Judah and may come from somewhere between the tenth and eighth centuries. It is reminiscent of Jacob’s blessing in Gen. 49 (J). The final chapter tells of Moses’ death and burial.

PLOWING WITH A COW AND DONKEY YOKED TOGETHER – A VIOLATION OF DEUT. 22:10 The reason for the Deuteronomic prohibition, which is one of several rulings against mixing materials, seed or animals, is not understood.


Despite the fact that older material, including the Covenant Code from E, was used by the Deuteronomists and that the place of origin may have been the amphictyonic center at Shechem, Deuteronomy has been preserved as a Judaean document, a product of the seventh century. The fall of Israel foreseen by the prophets, whose warnings that apostasy, ignorance of Yahweh’s law and man’s inhumanity to his fellow, would not go unpunished, had not been heeded, and the fact that a multitude of shrines, feasts and festivals had not saved Israel was a matter of deep concern. The patterns of faith and conduct that had, according to the prophets, brought about Israel’s downfall were prevalent in seventh century Judah. Deuteronomy was, therefore, an attempt to resolve tension between cult and conduct, between ritual behavior and moral action. In Deuteronomy the demand is not one over against the other, but both; not an assertion that God demands ritual and moral purity, but an affirmation that Yahweh was the source of both. Here the cult is exalted as the divinely instituted means of mediation between God and man, for in and through the cult the divine enters the world of men to purify, cleanse, bless, and enable men to find their way through the confusion of the world. For the first time in biblical literature, we encounter a fully developed statement of the significance of the cult and of cultic and moral law. The law (Torah) was God-given at Horeb as a means of accomplishing a divine-human fellowship, and this fellowship was bound into the sacred agreement-the covenant. The wider problem of Israel’s relationship to the rest of mankind was not solved; indeed, it is barely touched upon. What was essential was the achievement of a full understanding of God-man relationships within the family of Yahweh. The following points appear to have been central:

  1. Read 6:4-15; 13:6-11

    Deuteronomy proclaimed the uniqueness of Yahweh, insisting that there was no other god like him, that he alone was Israel’s deity, a god that could not be represented by any form or symbol and a god intolerant of the worship of any other god. The cultic confession of faith in 6:4 is often interpreted as an expression of monotheism when translated “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God is one Yahweh,” but the statement may be translated equally well as “Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one” or “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone.” In view of the prohibition of worshipping other gods that follows, it would appear that the last translation best represents the interpretation of the period, and proclaims monolatry rather than monotheism.
  2. Read 6:4-9, 20-25; 11:18-20

    Deuteronomy provided legislation to enable the people to “know” their deity and understand his will for them. Through the prophets, Yahweh had complained that the people did not “know” him, referring to personal, inner knowledge, growing out of communication on deep intimate levels. To compel the people to know Yahweh, the Deuteronomists outlined a program of massive education, designed to keep before the community the traditions, commandments, and basis of the Yahweh-Israel relationship. Instruction in the covenant was to begin in the home. Phylacteries and mezuzoth were to serve as visual reminders, and cultic observance and public adherence to covenantal rules would educate through communal participation.
  3. Read 12:2-31

    Deuteronomy centralized the cults by introducing the law of the central shrine. This law is related to the proclamation of Yahweh’s uniqueness, for royal Yahweh-shrines in the northern and southern kingdoms had demonstrated the division among Yahweh’s people and had made possible the introduction of Canaanite interpretations whereby Yahweh’s individual manifestations in different cult centers could degenerate into the worship of the deity as the “Yahweh of a specific shrine,” as opposed to the “Yahweh of another shrine.” By concentrating all festal observances, all community worship, in one place, an otherwise uncontrollable unity and cohesiveness could be maintained.

    The shrine was to be located in a place chosen by Yahweh and to seventh century Judaeans this could only mean Jerusalem, although the city is not named and there is reason to believe that possibly Shechem or Bethel was intended in the earliest form of the la.23 Only Yahweh’s name (Heb. shem) was to dwell in the shrine, giving rise to what has been called “name ( shem) theology”24-a decided move away from the anthropomorphic concept of a god residing in the shrine.

    The cultic and economic problems raised by limiting Yahweh’s altars to one were anticipated and provided for. Every act of killing was, in a sense, a sacrificial rite25 and required that the blood, the life-principle, be poured out at an altar as an offering to the deity. If there was to be but one altar, how could one kill for food? The D writers answered: as you would kill a wild animal, remembering always to pour out the lifeblood on the ground (12:15 f., 21-25).

    Tithes were customarily brought in kind to the local sanctuary, but with the single altar in Jerusalem, a genuine hardship could be placed on those who lived far away. The Deuteronomists met this problem by providing that tithes could be sold locally and the money taken to Jerusalem and spent for representative offerings (14:22-29).

    Read 19:1-10

    Local altars were places of refuge where, in the event of homicide, the killer might take refuge from the next-of-kin ( go’el)26, of the victim until the accidental nature of the case could be determined. To compensate for the loss of local sanctuaries, cities of refuge, strategically located, were to be set apart.

    Read 18:1-8; 26:12 ff.

    The closing down of local shrines would deprive priests in charge of their means of livelihood, and Deuteronomic legislation provided that rural priests might minister at the central shrine should they desire to do so. As individuals without inheritance, the Levites were commended to the care of the people, together with widows, orphans and strangers. Provision was made for a rightful share of offerings. The priests cooperated with judges in courts of law, possibly seeking oracles (17:8-13), and were responsible as health officers for the proper diagnosis of leprosy (24:8).27
  4. Read 7:6 ff.; 14:2; 26:19; 28:9

    Deuteronomy interpreted the concept of election in terms of the idea of a holy people. The miracle of Yahweh’s choice of Israel as his own people was an act of love, as the prophets, in particular Hosea, had said. But Yahweh was holy, a god of ritual and moral sanctity as Isaiah had taught. Anything belonging to or associated with another god was anathema to Yahweh. Holiness involved separation and to be a holy people Israel had to avoid contact with whatever was detestable to Yahweh. Election brought with it the loyal “covenant” love ( hesed) of Yahweh that could be trusted and relied upon. It also brought Yahweh’s jealousy, that could tolerate no association with that which belonged to other gods. Fidelity on the part of Israel reaped the rich reward of blessings from Yahweh; apostasy brought vindictive punishment.
  5. Read Ch. 24

    The Deuteronomists placed stress on practical goodness, kindness and thoughtfulness in human relationships and in dealing with animals.28 These rulings are scattered throughout the book.
  6. Deuteronomy introduced an interpretation of history, often called a “theology of history,” which was based on the belief that faithfulness to Yahweh guaranteed Yahweh’s protection and blessing, and infidelity caused Yahweh to withdraw his sustaining life-power. On the basis of this thesis it could be argued that any hardship or misfortune pointed back to an offending act. Should one fail to find such an act in one’s own conduct, one could look to one’s ancestors, for Yahweh could visit punishment for sin of the parents on children and grandchildren (5:9 f., cf. 8:19 f., 11:22-28; 12:28-31). In the light of this teaching it was possible to explain the suffering of the innocent and retain faith in the justice of Yahweh (yet cf. Deut. 24:16).
  7. Read 12:32

    Deuteronomy provided for its own canonization, warning against any alteration in its provisions. The document was designed as a standard for faith, as a binding set of rules in covenantal form calling for one people bound by law to one god.

Apart from the homiletical framework, it is clear that the book was related to a cultic ceremony, and this cultic setting gave the work the characteristic of immediacy or constant relevance. Each enactment of the covenant ritual was an act of renewal in which the past became alive in the present, and participants shared in a ceremony through which the community of Yahweh’s followers was regularly brought into being (cf. Deut. 5:3).


Read II Kings 23:4-27; II Chron. 34:33-35:27

The record in II Kings and the slightly different version in II Chronicles leave no doubt that Josiah acted immediately in accordance with Deuteronomic provisions. Shrines outside of Jerusalem were destroyed and desecrated (II Kings 23:15 ff.). Cultic implements and images were broken and burned and the houses of cult prostitutes were torn down until, at last, the only shrine left in the land was the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem. Passover was observed in accordance with the new law, and all ritual worship was performed at the temple.

What the reactions to the infringement on local religious life might have been are not recorded, but some local priests eschewed the privilege of serving in the Jerusalem temple. What hardships were wrought on the people cannot be known, but as we shall see, there are hints in Jeremiah of resentment against Deuteronomic law. Ultimately, Jeremiah appears to have found the legislation inadequate, and this led him to propose a covenant of the heart. The Deuteronomists were impressed with what Josiah did and, because he acted in accordance with the covenant requirements, all of his accomplishments receive approbation.

There can be no doubt that Deuteronomy played a part in Josiah’s break with Assyria. The first move, the refurbishing of the temple which led to the discovery of Deuteronomy, was in itself an act of rebellion. Then, strengthened by the assurance of divine approval and encouraged by Huldah’s prediction of a peaceful demise, Josiah took bolder steps away from Assyrian control. The Judaean kingdom was extended by the seizure of surrounding cities and lands. In each locale the demolition of sacred shrines demonstrated the new power of Jerusalem, the capital city with its solitary Yahweh temple. It is possible that Josiah’s death at the hands of Necho resulted from his conviction that, as a man under divine protection, he could not be stopped or injured.

How long support for Deuteronomy continued cannot be determined, but from Jeremiah, as we shall see, there is some evidence that enthusiasm was cooling. Perhaps so long as Josiah was alive and neonationalism was stressed from the throne and the temple, Deuteronomic law was generally observed. When Josiah died, a king of a different temperament, Jehoiakim, was soon to become ruler, and Deuteronomic principles do not appear to have received the same support. Traditional evils which the Deuteronomists had hoped to eliminate were once again engaged in openly.

Perhaps by its very nature Deuteronomy was marked for limited success. Events were soon to shake the foundations of the neat theological analysis, “Obey Yahweh and prosper, disobey and suffer punishment,” and new questions demanding new answers were raised. Even the Deuteronomic historians were compelled to recognize that the principle had not worked for Josiah and his reform, and thus they blamed the failure to receive blessings upon the accumulated evils of Manasseh’s reign (II Kings 23:26). Furthermore, sweeping reforms introduced by fiat and carried out by force require constant vigilance and long enforcement to become custom. Josiah had neither the time nor the strength. On the other hand the Deuteronomic reform did not fail. Deuteronomic historians continued to write well into the Exilic period, interpreting history in accordance with their theology, and both the Deuteronomic historical interpretation and the Book of Deuteronomy were to become part of the official canon of the Judaeans, the Jews.


  1. In addition to materials in II Kings and II Chronicles important information has been drawn from Assyrian and Babylonian annals, cf. ANET (appropriate sections); D. D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1927), II; L. Waterman, Royal Correspondence of the Assyrian Empire (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1930-36), 4 vols.; D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of the Chaldaean Kings (625-556 B.C.) (London: The British Museum, 1956). For a broad treatment of the history of the period, cf. Saggs, op. cit., and in less detail, Bright, op. cit., pp. 288-319; Noth, op. cit., pp. 253-289.
  2. Scythians and Cimmerians, Indo-Europeans from the Black Sea area, began to move toward Asia Minor during the eighth century. The Cimmerians are called “Gomer” in the Bible (cf. Ezek. 38:6). For a brief archaeological history, cf. A. L. Mongait, Archaeology in the U.S.S.R., trans. by M. W. Thompson (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1961), pp. 152-163. For a more detailed discussion, cf. T. T. Rice, The Scythians, Ancient People and Places Series (New York: Frederick A. Praegey, 1958).
  3. Punishment similar to that mentioned in Chronicles is described in Ashurbanipal’s records, cf. ANET, p. 288, item viii.
  4. ANET, p. 300.
  5. ANET, pp. 291, 294.
  6. ANET, p. 294. Assyrian punishment included a wide assortment of torture, harassment, and humiliation for leaders. So terrifying and impressive was Assyria’s war record that the coming of their armies struck fear into their enemies.
  7. ANET, p. 294.
  8. Bentzen, op. cit., II, 153.
  9. For example, Jerome, Commentary on Ezekiel at 1:1 made the identification in the fifth century A.D.
  10. For a brief history of the Passover, cf. De Vaux, Ancient Israel, pp. 454 ff.
  11. Pfeiffer, op. cit., P. 179.
  12. Kuhl, The Old Testament, pp. 84 f.
  13. G. von Rad, Studies in Deuteronomy, Studies in Biblical Theology, 9 (Napierville: Alex R. Allenson, Inc., 1953).
  14. R. H. Kennett, Deuteronomy and the Decalogue (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1920).
  15. G. Hölscher, “Komposition tind Ursprung des Deuteronomiums,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, XI (1922), 161-255.
  16. A. C. Welch, The Code of Deuteronomy (London: James Clarke and Co., 1924).
  17. E. Robertson, The Old Testament Problem (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1950).
  18. This shift can be seen in the King James and Rheims-Douai Versions where the archaic pronoun “thou” is used for the second person singular.
  19. The “humanistic” elements introduced by the Deuteronomists are discussed by M. Weinfeld, “The Origin of the Humanism in Deuteronomy,” Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXX (1961), 241-247. Weinfeld suggests that the source of the new morality is to be found in the wisdom schools. For a listing of parallel laws in E and D, cf. S. R. Driver, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Deuteronomy, The International Critical Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895), pp. iv-vii.
  20. von Rad, Studies in Deuteronomy, pp. 45 ff.
  21. G. E. Wright, “The Lawsuit of God: A Form-Critical Study of Deuteronomy 32,” Israel’s Prophetic Heritage (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1962), pp. 26-67.
  22. Ibid., p. 28, n. 7.
  23. Cf. De Vaux, op. cit., pp. 338 f
  24. von Rad, Studies in Deuteronomy, pp. 38 ff.
  25. De Vaux, op. cit., P. 338.
  26. Cf. De Vaux, op. cit., pp. 21 f., 160, 166 f.
  27. For additional duties, cf. 21:5; 31:9 ff., 25.
  28. Cf. M. Weinfeld, op. cit.

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