According to Kenneth Davis, the name Deuteronomy comes “from the Greek words deuteros (“second”) and nomos (“law”); the book does not present new laws so much as reiterates earlier rules” (Don’t Know Much About the Bible, p.140).

Contents

Deuteronomy can be divided in different ways. My Study Bible (p.214) chooses to see three addresses by Moses:

  1. Chapters 1-4
  2. Chapters 5-28
  3. Chapters 29-30

The final four chapters finish up the story from Numbers.

Collins (in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.84) chooses to divide the book thematically instead:

  1. Chapters 1-11: Motivational speeches, including some recollections of Israel’s history
  2. Chapters 12-26: The laws
  3. Chapters 27-28: Curses and blessings
  4. Chapters 29-34: Concluding materials, some of which have the character of appendices

Either way, it looks like we may be in for another “dull as dishwater” Levitical-styled ride.

Form

It has been noted that Deuteronomy shares many characteristics with political treaties. This has the potential to tell us something about when the book might have been written.

For example, Collins notes parallels with Hittite treaties. The Hittites were active only in the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1500-1200 B.C.E.):

[…] precisely the time in which Israel is thought to have emerged. If it could be shown that the Israelite conception of the covenant was modelled specifically on the Hittite treaties, then it would follow that the covenant was indeed a very early element in the religion of Israel. (A Short Introduction, p.65)

On the other side, there are also clear parallels to Assyrian treaties, which would date the covenant to the eighth century B.C.E.

I suspect that we’ll be discussing some of the specific parallels as we come to them in our reading.

Provenance

Somewhere around 620 B.C.E., King Josiah introduced a number of religious reforms that included an emphasis on the centralization of worship to Jerusalem, which resulted in the destruction of the shrines that were scattered across Israel.

When we get to 2 Kings 22, we’ll read about the supposed re-discovery of an additional book of laws given to Moses. It is believed that this book was Deuteronomy – which mostly mirrors the laws we’ve already read, but conveniently adds an emphasis on the centrality of worship.

According to Collins, this suggests that Deuteronomy was “either composed or edited to support [Josiah’s policy of centralization]” (A Short Introduction, p.89).