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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Deuteronomy - Introduction

DEUTERONOMY MAY WELL BE the first book to pose the problem of modernity. Its authors struggled with issues conventionally viewed as exclusively modern ones, such as the historical distance between past and present, the tension between tradition and the needs of the contemporary generation, and the distinction between divine revelation and human interpretation. Seen from this perspective, ancient Israel's Deuteronomy becomes a remarkably contemporary text, one that challenges its readers to rethink their assumptions about time, about Scripture, and about religion. Of course, Deuteronomy is also a deeply traditional text that, more than any other book of the Bible, provides the foundation of Judaism. The religious conviction that God made a covenant with Israel at Sinai and that the Torah embodies the terms of that covenant originates with Deuteronomy. Many familiar Jewish ritual objects, like the mezuzah, the tefillin, and the tzitzit (fringed garment), come from Deuteronomy, as does Judaism's most important prayer, the Shema ( 6.4–9 ). But the Shema is more than a prayer. Judaism understands its recitation to be a binding legal act in which individuals pledge their commitment to Torah. By reciting the Shema, the congregation in the synagogue brings the plot of Deuteronomy to life in the present, as it enacts and renews that oath of allegiance to God that, it believes, Israel first vowed on the plains of Moab.

The story begins just as the Israelites, encamped on the plains of Moab, stand poised finally to enter the promised land. The entry into Canaan would provide the long‐awaited climax of the story that had begun with the promises to the ancestors in Genesis, and whose fulfillment had been delayed by the enslavement in Egypt and the wandering in the wilderness. Now, on the eve both of his death and of the nation's entry into the land without him, Moses, portrayed as Deuteronomy's speaker, arrests the narrative action in order to deliver a series of three speeches, grouped together as a long valedictory address. He reviews the nation's history, expounds upon their laws, and instructs them about the importance of loyalty to God. He also adjures the nation to uphold this combination of law and theological instruction as a covenant upon the plains of Moab, one that supplements the one previously sworn at Horeb (Deuteronomy's name for Sinai; 28.69 ). Only after the conclusion of these discourses and a following appendix (chs 31–34 ) does the overall narrative line resume with the account of the nation's entry into Canaan in Joshua and Judges.

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Oxford University Press

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