“Deuteronomy” in The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, ed. by M.C. Tenney. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963, pp. 214-215.

DEUTERONOMY (du' ter-on' o-me, Gr. Deuteronomion, second law).  In sight of the Canaan he may not enter, Moses gathers the hosts of Israel about him as would a father his children for his farewell addresses.  These, set within the historical framework of several brief narrative passages, constitute the book of Deuteronomy.  Since the occasion of Moses' farewell was also the occasion of the renewal of the covenant made earlier at Sinai, the appropriate documentary pattern for covenant ratification supplied the pattern for Moses' speeches and thus for the book.

The English title is unfortunate, being based on the LXX's mistranslation of the phrase, "a copy of this law" (17: 18), as to deuteronomion touto, "this second law." The Jewish name, devarim, "words," derives from the opening expression, "These are the words which Moses spake" (1:1a).  This title is felicitous because it focuses attention on a clue to the peculiar literary character of the book; for with such an expression began the treaties imposed by ancient imperial lords upon their vassals. Deuteronomy is the text or "words" of a suzerainty covenant made by the Lord of heaven through the mediatorship of Moses with the servant people Israel beyond the Jordan.

The claims of Deuteronomy concerning its own authorship are thus plain.  It purports to consist almost entirely of the farewell speeches of Moses addressed to the new generation which had grown to manhood in the wilderness.  The speeches are dated in the last month of the 40 years of wandering (1: 3) and it is stated that Moses wrote as well as spoke them (31:9,24; cf. 31:22).  There is the confirmatory witness of Jesus who affirmed the Mosaic authorship of the Law, i.e., the Pentateuch (cf. esp. Mark 10:5; 12:26; John 5:46,47; 7: 19).  Modern orthodox Christian scholars, therefore, join older Jewish and Christian tradition in maintaining the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy as well as of the first four books of the Pentateuch.  Almost all such scholars recognize that the account of Moses' death (Deut. 34) is exceptional and some would attribute to a compiler (perhaps the unknown author of Deut. 34) much of the narrative framework of Deuteronomy.  Whether or not the Biblical testimony allows the latter latitude, even that variety of the conservative position stands in clear opposition to modern negative theories of the origin of Deuteronomy.

According to the Development Hypothesis which won the day among 19th century negative critics, Deuteronomy was a product of the seventh century B.C., and provided the program for the reform of Josiah (cf. II Kings 22: 3-23: 25), allegedly introducing the concept of a centralized cultus into Israelite religion at that late date.  But unless a wholesale critical rewriting of the historical sources be undertaken, it is manifest that the concept of the central altar was normative during the entire life of Israel in Canaan.  Moreover, it is equally apparent that, taken at their face value, the covenant stipulations propounded in Deuteronomy are directed to a unified young nation about to enter upon a program of conquest to secure its inheritance, not to the diminishing remnant of the divided kingdom.  Indeed, many of those stipulations would be completely incongruous in a document produced in the seventh century B.C.  That dating, though still dominant, is being increasingly challenged even from the side of negative criticism.  While some have suggested a post-exilic origin, more have favored a pre-Josianic date.  There is a growing tendency to trace the sources of the deuteronomic legislation back to the early monarchy -- if not earlier.  The view that these traditions were preserved at a northern cult center, being shaped according to ritual patterns, is widespread.  Some would detach Deuteronomy from the Pentateuch and treat Deuteronomy - II Kings as a unit representing the historical-theological perspective of a distinctive "school," i.e., the "deuteronomic."

The unity, antiquity, and authenticity of Deuteronomy are evidenced by the conformity of its total structure to the pattern of Near Eastern suzerainty treaties dating from the second millennium B.C.  The classic covenantal pattern consisted of the following sections: preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, curses and blessings, invocation of oath deities, directions for deposit of duplicate treaty documents in sanctuaries and periodic proclamation of the treaty to the vassal people.

Such substantially is the outline of Deuteronomy:

I. Preamble: Covenant Mediator (1:1-5)
II. Historical Prologue: Covenant History (1: 6-4:49)
III. Stipulations: Covenant Life (5-26)
IV. Curses and Blessings: Covenant Ratification (27-30)
V. Succession Arrangements: Covenant Continuity (31-34)

(1: 1-5): Here the speaker is identified, viz., Moses as the Lord's representative. (1:6-4:49): A rehearsal of God's past covenantal dealings with Israel from Horeb to Moab serves to awaken reverence and gratitude as motives for renewed consecration. (5-26): When covenants were renewed the former obligations were repeated and brought up to date. Thus chapters 5-11 republish the decalogue with its primary obligation of fidelity to Yahweh, while chapters 12-26 in considerable measure renew the stipulations of the Book of the Covenant (Exod. 21-23) and other earlier Sinaitic legislation, adapting where necessary to the new conditions awaiting Israel on the threshold of Canaan. (27-30): Directions are first given for the future and final act in this covenant renewal to be conducted by Joshua in Canaan (27). Blessings and curses are then pronounced by Moses as the sanctions for Israel's immediate ratification of the covenant, but also as a prophecy of Israel's future down to its ultimate exile and restoration (28-30). (31-34): Here the necessary preparations are made for the continuity of leadership through the succession of Joshua and for the continuing confrontation of Israel with the way of the covenant by periodic reading of the covenant document, which was to be deposited in the sanctuary, and by a prophetic song of covenant witness (31,32). Then there are the final blessings and the death of Moses, by which the "dynastic" provisions became operative (33,34). 

Stylistically, the adoption of the documentary pattern of the international suzerainty treaties is the most noteworthy fact. Next in importance is the preponderantly oratorical nature of the contents. There is general acknowledgement of the homogeneity of style, which is a fluent prose (chapters 32,33 are poetry) marked by majestic periods, warmly impressive eloquence, and the reiteration and exhortation of the earnest preacher for decision.

Deuteronomy is the Bible's full-scale exposition of the covenant concept and demonstrates that, far from being a contract between two parties, God's covenant with His people is a proclamation of His sovereignty and an instrument for binding His elect to Himself in a commitment of absolute allegiance.

Israel is confronted with the demands of God's governmental omnipotence, redemptive grace, and consuming jealousy. Consecration to the Lord is to be manifested in obedience to the programmatic mandate of establishing His kingdom in His land. That involves on the one hand the execution of the commission of conquest, by which divine judgment would be visited on the devotees of alien gods in God's land, and on the other hand the creation of a community of brotherly love in the bonds of common service to the Lord within the possessed inheritance. This covenant calling was not an unconditioned license to national privilege and prosperity.  By the covenant oath Israel came under both the curses and the blessings which were to be meted out according to God's righteous judgment.  The covenant relation bestowed, called still to responsible decision: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live: that you may love the Lord your God. . . for that is your life" (30: 19,20a).

M.G.K.

Scanned and Edited by Robert A. Lotzer on July 04, 2006.