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

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Commentary on Deuteronomy

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Review of the Conquest of the Land East of the Jordan (( 1:1–5 ) 1:6–3:29 )

( 1:1–5 ) Moses as Orator

The superscription to Deuteronomy introduces the book as the words of Moses to all Israel at a location east of the river Jordan. As Moses is never to cross the Jordan ( 3:23–8 ), the following oration will be his valedictory address. This, however, is only explicitly indicated in 31:1–2 (cf. 4:22 ). The basic form of the superscription, ‘These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan as follows’, has been considerably expanded. v. 5 , which may be part of a specific compositional scheme (cf. 4:44; 29:1 (MT 28:69 )), emphasizes the qualification of Moses' oration as law (tôrâ). ‘Of all the terms for God's instructions, none better characterizes Deuteronomy, since it connotes both law and an instruction that must be taught, studied, and pondered, and it is expected to shape the character, attitudes, and conduct of those who do so’ (Tigay 1996: 3). For v. 4 see further on 2:24–3:11 . v. 2 can best be explained as a misplaced gloss on 1:19 , while v. 1b , which adds some topographical information, remains elusive. v. 3 reflects an interest in chronology that is typical of Priestly texts in the Pentateuch, cf. e.g. Ex 40:17; Num 10:11 .

( 1:6–3:29 ) The Conquest of Israel's Land

Moses gives an account of the partly unsuccessful and partly paradigmatic beginning of Israel's taking possession of the promised land. The section gives expression to a deliberate concept of the land as YHWH's gift to Israel which Israel entered from outside at a certain moment in history. The Deuteronomistic History (see DEUT C.2) thus starts with an idealized image of the conquest of the land, and ends with a somewhat stylized image of the loss of the land, cf. 2 Kings 15:29; 17:6, 23; 25:21, 26 . It thus shapes a coherent overall view of one extended period of Israel's history. Although the Deuteronomistic authors of the sixth and fifth centuries BCE include several historical traditions in their composition, their work cannot be called historiographical in a strict sense.

( 1:6–8 ) YHWH's Command

Moses' retrospective does not start from the Exodus but with a reference to Mount Horeb. Thus it alludes to all the events which this name implies (cf. 5:2; 9:8 ). The land which Israel is to conquer is called ‘the hill country of the Amorites’ (har hā ᾽ĕmōrî) by a designation based on the name for the area in Neo-Assyrian inscriptions. An alternative general designation is ‘the land of the Canaanites’ (᾽ereṣ hakkĕna῾ănî), and elsewhere in Deuteronomy a list of peoples is used for describing the population of the land (cf. 7:1; 20:17 ). Whereas chs. 2–3 carefully define Israel's territorial claims east of the Jordan (cf. 3:8 ), the vision of Israel's land as extending to the north as far as the river Euphrates (v. 7; cf. Josh 1:4 ) is alien to the concept of a conquest as well as to Israel's historical traditions. It may be either an echo of imperial rhetoric (Weinfeld 1991: 133–4) or a reflection of political experience in the late seventh century when victory in a battle at Carchemish on the Euphrates in 605 BCE made the Neo-Babylonians the political overlords of Palestine (cf. Jer 46:2; 2 Kings 24:7 ). v. 8 emphasizes that Israel's hope for the land is founded on an oath which YHWH swore to her ancestors, cf. Gen 15:18 . The verse forms an inclusio with 30:20 .

( 1:9–18 ) Officers in Israel

This insertion, which separates vv. 6–8 from its continuation in v. 19 , authorizes an organization of the people modelled on 16:18–19 and 17:8–11 . The passage is remarkable in that it grounds the position of ‘leaders’ on the consent of the people (v. 14 ) and specifies their qualification as ‘wise, discerning, and reputable’ persons (v. 13 )—a profile which one may read as a self-portrait of the Deuteronomistic school. The designation of these leaders (rā᾽šîm) in military terms (śārîm, šōṭĕrîm, v. 15 ) corresponds with the literary context of the conquest narrative. Their designation as ‘judges’ (sōp̠ĕṭîm) may reflect their actual function in the society of the author's time. A similar concern with the institution of leaders is expressed in Ex 18:13–27; 2 Chr 19:5–10; Num 11:14–17, 24–5 , whereas no details about the appointment of officials during the time of the Judean monarchy (cf. e.g. Jer 36:12; 2 Kings 24:15 ) are known. vv. 16–17 , integrity of the judges is essential to the idea of justice, and just claims of the poor merit protection (cf. 24:14–15; Am 5:10–12 ).

( 1:19–2:1 ) The Failed Conquest

In an artistic retrospective account, Moses indicates the reason why, after the Exodus, the Israelites did not conquer the promised land west of the Jordan from its southern border (cf. also the time-scale implied in 1:2 ). Disobedience ( 1:26; cf. 1:7–8 ) and lack of faith ( 1:32 , RSV; contrast Ex 14:31 ) led to divine punishment of the Exodus generation ( 1:34–5; cf. 2:14–15 ). Kadesh-barnea has been identified with an oasis about 80 km. to the south-west of Beersheba, the town which normally marks the southern border of Judah (1 Kings 4:25 (Mt 5:5 ); 2 Kings 23:8; cf. however Josh 15:2–4 ). Instead of being the starting-point for the conquest, it becomes the starting-point for a journey of nearly forty years south-eastwards to the Red Sea and back northwards on the eastern side of Mount Seir until the successful conquest begins with the crossing of the Wadi Arnon ( 2:24 ), a wadi which runs towards the Dead Sea from the east opposite En-gedi. The narrative has been constructed upon the basis of a tradition about the Calebites who had expelled ‘the three sons of Anak’ from the fertile Hebron area (cf. Josh 15:14 and some fragments in Num 13–14 ).

( 2:2–23 ) The Neighbouring Nations

The second episode in Moses' account opens with a phrase similar to 1:6–7 . The approach to the Wadi Arnon offers an opportunity to define Israel's territorial claims against the Edomites, the Moabites, and the Ammonites (see ABD, ad loc.). The section has been expanded by several successive scribes. One basic feature is the idea that YHWH, and not the respective national deities, assigned these three peoples their territories (vv. 5, 9, 19 ; contrast Judg 11:12–28 , esp. v. 24 ). A second basic feature is the analogy between Israel's conquest of her land and the way in which these and other peoples took possession of their respective territories ‘just as Israel did in the land they were to possess, which the LORD had given to them’ (v. 12 , NJPS). According to this view, the history of the historical nations follows on a mythological age in which ‘Rephaim’ (giants) inhabited the land. They may be called ‘Emim’, or ‘Zamzummim’, or ‘Anakim’ (vv. 10–11, 20–1 ), and are comparable with ‘Horim’ and ‘Avvim’ in other regions (vv. 12, 22–3 ; cf. also Am 9:7 ). As far as the Rephaim are concerned, a mythological tradition has been identified through a Ugaritic text (c.14–12th cents. BCE) which also establishes a link between Rephaim and the place-names Ashtaroth and Edrei (cf. 1:4; 3:11; see Margulis 1970 ). All these glosses amount to a striking reinterpretation of the conquest imagery which finds expression also in 9:2 . vv. 14–15 , pointing back to 1:34–5 , these verses mark a transition between two periods of Israel's history after the Exodus.

( 2:24–3:11 ) The Model Conquest

YHWH's command also stands at the beginning of the third episode in Moses' account. 2:32–6 , the first act of the conquest draws on an ancient tradition about a Transjordanian city ruler which has been preserved in the parallel narrative in Num 21:21–31 . The account follows a highly stylized pattern: YHWH gives the enemy over, and the Israelites' army then ‘strikes him down—captures his towns—utterly destroys all human beings in them—keeps the livestock and plunder as spoil’ ( 2:33–5 and again in 3:3–7 ). This pattern agrees with the Deuteronomistic law on warfare in 20:10–18 and especially the injunction to ‘utterly destroy’ (ḥ-r-m hifil) all former inhabitants of the land ( 20:16–17; see DEUT 7:1–2 ). Moses is thus represented as conducting an exemplary war against the Amorites east of the Jordan, cf. 3:21; 31:4 . 2:25–30 , the basic structure of the account has been supplemented by several additions which focus on divine providence: YHWH puts ‘the dread and fear’ of Israel upon the peoples ( 2:25 ), YHWH ‘hardens the spirit’ of the Amorite king ( 2:30 ). Moses acts in accordance with the law of 20:10 although neither this law nor the analogy with Israel's passing through the land of the neighbouring nations applies to the case of the Amorite territory ( 2:26–9 ). 3:1–7 , the second Amorite king is seen not as a city ruler but as king of a vast region; see, however, 1:4 and DEUT 2:10–11 , 20–1. His name has been adopted from an etiological tradition which links this mythological figure to Rabbah of the Ammonites ( 3:11 , however, the Ammonite territory itself is exempted from the land which the Israelites claim, 2:19, 37 ). The description of the conquered towns probably depends on 1 Kings 4:13 . 3:8 states the result of Moses' ideal conquest which a scribe, probably in the sixth century BCE, created from very remote memories of some early history of Israelite tribes in the land east of the Jordan.

( 3:12–20 ) Tribal Territories

On the distribution of the land see Josh 13:8–32 . vv. 18–20 , the ‘rest’ (n-w-ḥ hifil I.) which YHWH has given to these tribes is an ideal for all Israel. Therefore, these tribes are summoned to support the conquest of the land west of the Jordan, cf. Josh 1:12–15; 22:1–4 (for the notion of ‘rest’ cf. also Deut 12:9; Josh 23:1; 2 Sam 7:1; 1 Kings 8:56 ). The notion of a rest in which the towns may be left without any defence (v. 19 ) conveys a peaceful vision in strong contrast with the military ideology of 2:34 .

( 3:21–9 ) The End of Moses' Leadership

vv. 21–2 , Moses' and Joshua's leadership in the conquest are seen in close parallel, cf. Josh 1:5 . v. 28 is resumed in 31:7; Josh 1:6 . The scene of Moses' rejected prayer is not continued by the narrator until 34:1–3 . Moses wants to ‘cross over’ into the land and ‘see’ it (v. 25 ), but he may only ‘see’ it, whereas Joshua is to ‘cross over’ into it (v. 27–8 ). Moses thus becomes the symbol for an unfulfilled hope to live in the promised land. The reason for this is that YHWH makes him bear the consequences of the people's lack of faith—which Moses deplored in 1:32 (v. 26 ; the same thought has been added in 1:37–8 ). Not unlike 9:13–14, 25–9 , the scene thus includes reflections on the relationship between Moses and the people. The opening of the prayer proclaims YHWH's uniqueness (as in 1 Kings 8:23 ); one might compare the hymnic praise of the sun god in an Akkadian hymn (Lambert 1960: 129 ll. 45–6; ANET 388): ‘Among all the Igigi (gods) there is none who toils but you, ǀ None who is supreme like you in the whole pantheon of gods.’

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