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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Literary Genre and Structure.

1.

A clue to the problem of genre lies in 1:5 which says that Moses set out ‘to expound this law’ (bē᾽ēr ᾽et hattôrâ hazzō᾽t). From 1:6 to 30:20 , Deuteronomy is a great oration with a didactic purpose. However, the speaker is presented to the readers of Deuteronomy by a narrator, who framed the oration with short narrative sections in 1:1–5 and 34:1–12 , thus making the oration the valedictory address of Moses before his death in the land east of the Jordan. This concept is also reflected in a few more instances where the voice of a narrator is heard in Deuteronomy (e.g. 4:41–3, 44–9; 5:1; 27:1; 29:1, 2 (MT 28:69; 29:1 ); 31:1, 2, 7, 9–10 , and see Polzin 1993 ).

2.

Deuteronomy is a multifaceted oration. ‘To expound tôrâ’ means more than just the transmission of a law code. The speaker relates the laws to the land as the area of their future application as well as to the Decalogue as the essential compilation of commandments for Israel. He instructs his audience about the theological significance of the Torah and calls for faithful obedience. This gives Deuteronomy its unrivalled paraenetic tone. The speaker also predicts the consequences of violating the law and even hints at the prospects beyond. The resulting structure of the oration is very complex indeed. Historical reviews in 1:6–3:29; 5:1–33; 9:7–10:11 and paraenetic sections in 4:1–40; 6:4–9:6; 10:12–11:25 form a prologue to the laws in 12:1–26:15 , a large collection of blessings and curses in 28:1–68 and a further paraenetic section in 29:2–30:20 forms an epilogue to them. In addition, the speaker gives instructions for a future ritual commitment to the law after the crossing of the Jordan in 11:26–32 and 27:1–26 . At the climax in 26:16–19 , the speaker himself enacts a declaration of covenantal relationship between Israel (his audience) and YHWH. The overall form of an oration thus combines a number of distinct materials.

3.

Many attempts have been made to describe the literary unity of Deuteronomy in more precise terms than that of an oration. A basic structural pattern of four elements consisting of a historical and paraenetic prologue—laws—covenant ( 26:16–19 )—blessings and curses, was regarded as reflecting the pattern of a cultic ceremony (von Rad 1966 ). A similar basic pattern of four main elements, namely a historical prologue—a fundamental statement of allegiance ( 6:4–7 )—detailed stipulations—blessings and curses, was regarded as reflecting a pattern of ancient Near-Eastern political treaties (McCarthy 1978; Weinfeld 1992: 65–9). However, a simple basic pattern of laws, introduced by a prologue and concluded by an epilogue with curses, may already be found in the Code of Hammurabi of the eighteenth century BCE (where the curses threaten any future king who might abolish or alter the laws: ANET 163–80). Deuteronomy cannot be reduced to a literary structure which directly corresponds to any typical pattern because its erudite authors freely employ several elements from a common Near-Eastern cultural background.

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