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. Deuteronomy challenges contemporary readers and thinkers, whether religiously committed or secular, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, actively to confront these problems by making paradox central to its structure. As the book narrates the story of its formation, it also anticipates its prior existence as a complete literary work. Moreover, the book's editors intentionally preserved varying and often inconsistent perspectives on a full range of key issues central to Israelite religion. On whether the revelation of the Decalogue at Horeb (often called Sinai in other sources) was direct or required Moses’ mediation, Deuteronomy 5:4 states the LORD spoke with Israel “face to face,” but 5:5 says Moses “was standing between the LORD and [Israel].” On the status of Moses relative to other prophets 34:10 declares, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses,” but in 18:18 the LORD promises to “raise up for them a prophet like [Moses].” Similar inconsistencies occur on the nature of divine punishment for sin (5:9–10; 7:10), on whether God is the head of a pantheon or is the only God who exists (4:7, 15–31, 35; and 32:8), and even on Deuteronomy's own setting in time and place (1:1; 2:12; and 3:11). There is no facile “air-brushing” away of this interplay of perspectives, which in effect reflects an ongoing ancient debate about fundamental religious assumptions. There is finally, for Deuteronomy, no access to God in the covenant without joining this debate. The reader of Deuteronomy must become, like the authors of Deuteronomy, an interpreter.

Name of the Book and Its Meaning.

The first of two ancient Jewish designations of the book is “Sefer Devarim,” short for “the Book of ‘These are the Words…” (see Deut 1:1). That title follows the common ancient Near Eastern convention of naming books after their opening phrase or incipit. The alternative ancient rabbinic title, “Mishneh Torah” (Sipre § 160), was based on the Hebrew phrase, “a copy of this Teaching” (Deut 17:18). This was translated into Greek by Philo and the Septuagint as “Deuteronomion” and is the source of the book's familiar English title, “Deuteronomy.” That title, however, is based on a grammatical confusion. It misconstrues the Hebrew phrase “a copy of this Teaching” to read “this repetition of the law,” thereby reflecting the perspective that Deuteronomy is Moses’ rehearsal of law that was previously given in Exodus 19–23. In this way, tradition accepted Deuteronomy's self-presentation as a retelling of the law, overlooking the extent to which Deuteronomy also revises and challenges earlier law.

Canonical Status and Location in Canon.

Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Bible and last book of the Pentateuch, 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 patriarchs and matriarchs in Genesis, and whose fulfillment had been delayed by the enslavement in Egypt and the wandering in the wilderness in Exodus through Numbers. 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 swears 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. Only after the conclusion of these discourses and a following appendix does the overall narrative line resume with the account of the nation's entry into Canaan.

Ironically, the decision to conclude the Pentateuch with Deuteronomy separated the overall narrative plan of Genesis through Numbers from its logical fulfillment in an account of the conquest of the land. This narrative climax was delayed to Joshua and Judges. The insertion of Deuteronomy into these larger literary units makes an important theological statement. Following the insertion of Deuteronomy into the story of the promise of the land to the patriarchs, the enslavement in Egypt, the Exodus and the wilderness wandering, Deuteronomy's last chapter (34) brings to a close both the book and the Pentateuch. But that formal conclusion now separates not only Moses but also the reader from access to the land whose covenantal promise was the basis of the entire narrative (Gen 12:1). Early on, from the vantage point of the Judean hills, Abraham viewed the panorama of that promised land, as it extended in every direction of the compass (Gen 13:14–17). But at the end of his life he was constrained to bargain for a small plot of land where he might bury his wife, Sarah (Gen 23:1–20): poignant testimony that Abraham never gained possession of the land promised him. So too, now, closing the circle, does the Pentateuch conclude with


What Moses Saw from Mount Nebo. (34:1–4).


a panorama that symbolizes dislocation and loss, as Moses looks out over Canaan from the heights of Mount Pisgah. Prohibited from entering the very promised land to which he successfully led his people, that forlorn prospect provides his only access.

As with Abraham and Moses, so, too, the reader. Ancient editors have deliberately defined the Pentateuch as a literary unit so as, first, to accommodate the addition of Deuteronomy and, second, to sever it from its logically expected fulfillment. The possession of the land is diverted instead into the next literary unit, which is to say, into the future. So profound a reconfiguration both of the patriarchal promise and of the overall plot is conceivable only in light of the historical experience of the Babylonian exile (586–539 B.C.E.), which profoundly called the possession of the land into question, as direct rule of the Israelite promised land passed first to Babylonia (with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.), and later to the Persian Empire (which conquered Babylonia in 539 B.C.E.). Had possession of the land remained central to the covenant, Israelite religion would have collapsed. The fulfillment of the law is thus redactionally redefined as obedience to the requirements of covenantal law and no longer the acquisition of a finite possession.


Jewish tradition and the text's own self-presentation ascribe authorship of Deuteronomy to Moses (ca. 1280 B.C.E.). However, the text contains a number of anachronisms and inconsistencies that cannot be attributed to Moses. For example, Deuteronomy 1:1 sets the location of the story “on the other side of the Jordan” (lit.), designating the land east of the Jordan River (Transjordan), where the Israelites have stopped, awaiting entry to the land. That geographical frame of reference places the narrator west of the Jordan and thus already in Canaan. According to the narrative line, however, the Israelites have not yet reached the promised land, and Moses never does. Similar anachronisms can be found in Deuteronomy 2:12, where the possession of the land is presented as having already taken place, and Deuteronomy 3:11, where the emphasis that the bed of Og “is now” (lit.) in Rabbah places the historical perspective of the narrator, and thus of Deuteronomy's composition, long after the events here recounted. Finally, there exist within the text statements describing Moses in the third person rather than the expected first person (the most prominent example being the description of Moses’ death and burial in 34:5–8). These and other inconsistencies and anachronisms were already recognized by medieval rabbinic exegesis (Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, 1089–1164), whose allusive comments on Deuteronomy were cited by Spinoza in his groundbreaking Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670). With these early observations as a foundation, modern critical scholars have explored the content, themes, and possible sources for the text and concluded that Moses was not the author of Deuteronomy. More probably, the core of the book was written sometime during the seventh century B.C.E. by educated scribes associated with Jerusalem's royal court.

Dates of Composition and Historical Context.

It has been long recognized that there are very striking similarities between the distinctive religious and legal requirements of Deuteronomy and the account of the major religious reform carried out by King Josiah in 622 B.C.E. That reform had been inspired by the discovery in the Temple of a “book of the law” (2 Kgs 22:8). Josiah's reform restricted all sacrificial worship of God to Jerusalem and removed foreign elements from the system of worship (technically, the “cultus”); it culminated in the celebration of the first nationally centralized Passover at the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Kgs 22–23). So strongly do these royal initiatives correspond to the distinctive requirements of Deuteronomy that scholars have long identified the “book of the law” discovered in Josiah's temple as Deuteronomy, and have assigned the book a seventh-century date.

The historical background of Josiah's reforms was the increasing threat of imperial domination. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen under the Neo-Assyrian invasion a scant century before (722 B.C.E.; 2 Kgs 17). Continuing Assyrian incursions down the coastal littoral had all but reduced Judah to a rump-state (2 Kgs 18:13). In a desperate bid to preserve the nation's autonomy, Hezekiah had already made a pact with Assyria (2 Kgs 18:13–18). Subsequently, Judah's political and religious independence seemed to hover uncertainly between the threats presented by Assyria and resurgent Babylon (2 Kgs 20:12–15). The resulting military allegiances led to religious syncretism, as foreign forms of worship were imported into the Temple (2 Kgs 16:10–20; 21:1–7).

In this context, Josiah's religious reforms represented an important bid for Judean cultural, political, and religious autonomy. The monarch extended his reforms into the area of the former northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kgs 23:15–20); thus, into territory under Assyrian control. Deuteronomy, apparently written sometime during this historical crisis, likewise reflects the desire to preserve Judean cultural and religious integrity. Its authors had the conviction that older conventions of worship and social organization were no longer viable. If the religion of Yahweh was to survive the crisis, renewal and adaptation were necessary. Deuteronomy's legal corpus (chs. 12–26) provides a comprehensive program for cultural renewal. It addresses worship; the festival calendar; the major institutions of public life (justice, kingship, priesthood, prophecy); criminal, family, and civil law; and ethics. The law is presented as a covenant between God and nation, which the people take an oath to uphold, upon penalty of sanctions, while maintaining unconditional loyalty to their God. That covenant structure closely corresponds to the Neo-Assyrian state treaties that have been recovered from this period, the most famous of which is Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty (672 B.C.E.). At a number of points, the authors of Deuteronomy seem consciously to have patterned their covenant after this treaty tradition, which they could have known either directly or in Aramaic translation. From this perspective, Deuteronomy represents a counter-treaty: its authors turned the weapon of imperialism into a bid for freedom, shifting its oath of loyalty from the Assyrian overlord to their divine sovereign.

The full text of Deuteronomy cannot be attributed to the Josianic period, however. At least some of the material in the book most likely dates to an even later period. For example, the explicit reference to the exile in 4:25–31 suggests that the unit Deuteronomy 4:1–40 is a late theological explanation for the Babylonian exile (586–539 B.C.E.). In this case, the focus on idolatry as the basis for the divine punishment diverges significantly from the perspective elsewhere that views failure to heed “all his [God's] commandments and laws” as the cause of exile (28:15; see also 28:1, 45, 58–59).

Literary History.

Deuteronomy preserves several layers of tradition within itself: the structure of three different discourses with an appendix already suggests a process of literary growth. That growth is closely connected to the gradual formation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. To appreciate what is involved, it helps imaginatively to turn the clock back to the time before there was an assembled, complete Bible as we now know it.

  • a) When Deuteronomy was first promulgated, it would not have been part of any larger whole. Instead, it would have been complete by itself as a “scroll of the Torah” (i.e., the “book of the law” in 2 Kgs 22:8). It would have consisted primarily of the laws of chapters 12–26, framed by a relatively simple introduction and conclusion. This form of Deuteronomy presented itself as a treaty concluded between the nation and its God in a formal ceremony whereby each citizen took an oath of loyalty under penalty of strict sanctions (Deut 28:1–46). This was very likely the preexilic form of Deuteronomy.
  • b) At a later stage, presumably sometime during the exile, Deuteronomy would have been incorporated into the Deuteronomistic History (Josh through 2 Kgs) to serve as its introduction. At this point, the “Deuteronomistic” editors would have given the book its present literary frame (1:1–4:40, chs. 31–34), while also adding to the legal corpus, selectively tying its promises or expectations to the later historical material. Expansions in Deuteronomy that reflect the Babylonian exile may derive from this stage (i.e., 4:25–31; 28:47–57; 30:1–10).
  • c) At a still later point, in the postexilic period, priestly editors appended Deuteronomy to the newly formed Pentateuch, to serve as its conclusion.

Deuteronomy and Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty.

Recovery of the Neo-Assyrian treaty tradition has revolutionized the understanding of the form, content, compositional logic, and theology of Deuteronomy. It is now widely recognized that the covenant structure in Deuteronomy contains striking parallels with Neo-Assyrian state treaties from this period, including Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty (more commonly known as the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon or VTE; 672 B.C.E.; see Parpola and Watanabe 1988). This suggests that the authors of Deuteronomy drew on this treaty tradition both for thematic inspiration and for specific content. Thematically, Deuteronomy has borrowed concepts such as the invocation of outside parties to bear witness to the treaty, the specification of blessings and curses to incent compliance with the treaty stipulations, and the swearing of an oath by the participants to acknowledge both their obligations under the treaty and the consequences should they fail to adhere to those requirements. Deuteronomy redeploys these concepts, originally used in the context of international diplomacy, in a new context: the covenant with Israel in which Yahweh functions as divine suzerain.

Some scholars have proposed a broad similarity of structure between Deuteronomy and an ancient Near Eastern treaty tradition extending geographically and temporally from the Hittite Empire in the second millennium B.C.E. to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the first (see especially Weinfeld 1992). However, these arguments are more complicated than they seem, since the models for Hittite treaties and those of the Neo-Assyrian treaties differ significantly at key points. Further, some of the textual passages from Deuteronomy included in the model (such as ch. 4) are considered by many scholars to belong to the latest stages of the growth of the book, rather than being original to it. Note, moreover, as is clear from Table 1 below (adapted from Weinfeld), significant rearrangement of the order of the text is necessary if it is to fit the treaty tradition model.

More logically, therefore, the authors of Deuteronomy did not adhere slavishly to any single model but creatively drew upon and adapted multiple literary precedents to serve their own cultural and religious needs.

Beyond its use of common themes, similarities in the specific language of certain passages strongly suggest that the Deuteronomic authors were working with Neo-Assyrian exemplars. This connection is particularly evident in two contexts:

table 1: Deuteronomy's Use of Ancient Near Eastern Literary Themes

Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, p. 66. © Oxford University Press

Theme Deuteronomy
Historical Prologue 1:6B–3:29; 5; 9:7–10, 11
Treaty Requirements 4:1–23; 6:4–7, 26; 10:12–22; 12–26
Invocation of Witnesses 4:26; 30:19; 31:28
Blessings and Curses 28
Sworn Oath 29:9–28
Dispensation of Treaty Document 10:1–5; 17:18–19; 31:9–13; 31:24–26

chapter 13, which discusses the requirement for allegiance to Yahweh alone, and 28, which contains the blessings and curses for compliance or noncompliance with the treaty stipulations.

In the case of Deuteronomy 13, the loyalty oath imposed by Neo-Assyrian monarchs on their vassals and citizens provided the model for much of the material (especially verses 1–5, 6–11). Deuteronomy 13 presents three paradigmatic test cases: incitement originating from the sphere of public religious authority (a prophet or oneiromancer in 13:1–5); from the sphere of intimate private life which is, as such, out of the public domain (13:6–11); or incitement which has already succeeded, to the extent of winning over an entire city to false worship (13:12–17). The tenth paragraph of Esarhaddon's treaty (VTE § 10) is especially concerned (as is the whole treaty) with ensuring loyalty to Esarhaddon and his son Assurbanipal, the crown-prince designate. It identifies as possible sources of disloyalty either the royal or addressee's own family, as well as three different groups of diviners. In the reference to the prophet, there is a clear overlap with Deuteronomy 13:1–5; and in the reference to the members of the addressee's family, there is an overlap with Deuteronomy 13:6–11. Esarhaddon's treaty requires that the addressee immediately report any incitement to disloyalty, even should it be heard from: “your brothers, your sons, your daughters, or from the mouth of a prophet, an ecstatic, an inquirer of oracles” (VTE § 10, lines 108–20). From its template in VTE § 10, Deuteronomy creates two consecutive legal paragraphs. The first (Deut 13:1–5) envisions the incitement to disloyalty against Yahweh as coming from “a prophet or oneiromancer”; the second (Deut 13:6–11), as arising from the immediate family of the addressee (“brother,” “son,” “daughter,” adding “wife” and “friend”). The reverse order of these elements suggests literary dependence (according to Seidel's Law, which states that citation within the Hebrew Bible frequently reverses the elements of the source text). The author of this chapter has transformed that treaty requirement into a demand for absolute covenantal loyalty to Israel's divine suzerain.

Deuteronomy 28 specifies a series of blessings and curses that follow upon national obedience or disobedience to the law. The degree of similarity between this chapter and VTE suggests that the curse section of these state treaties provided a model for the authors of this chapter to use in describing Israel's relationship to Yahweh. In verses 28:27–35, the sequence of punishments specified initially seems arbitrary: skin inflammation (verse 27); blindness (verses 28–29); and loss of wife, house, and property (verses 30A, 30B, 33). The sequence finds its explanation, however, in VTE § 39–43, where each curse is associated with a particular god within the Neo-Assyrian pantheon. The moon god Sin is responsible for leprosy; the sun god Shamash for blindness; and Dilipat (the planet Venus) for rape, dispossession, and pillage by a foreign army. The arrangement of the curses follows the rank of the deities within that pantheon's hierarchy. By focusing on the areas of dominion of each god, the authors of Deuteronomy were able to threaten Israel with calamity while at the same time avoiding invoking the related foreign deities.

Other Literary Influences.

Looking beyond Neo-Assyrian treaty tradition, the authors of Deuteronomy elsewhere reveal their knowledge of two additional important literary genres from the ancient Near East: the legal collection and wisdom literature. Moreover, they also employed a convention of authorship familiar in their time. They did not directly attach their name to their composition or write in their own voice. Instead, they attributed their composition to a prestigious figure from the past. By employing “Moses” as their spokesperson, they established a link with tradition at precisely the time when tradition, for the sake of survival, had to be transformed. This convention of ascribing a text to an ancient personage, technically called “pseudepigraphy,” is well known in the apocryphal literature of the Second Temple period; examples include Jubilees, 4 Ezra, the Testament of Abraham, and (among the Dead Sea scrolls) the Temple Scroll.

Structure and Contents.

Deuteronomy is cast as a valedictory address by Moses, addressing the Israelites forty years after their escape from slavery in Egypt, as he is about to die, and just as they are about to enter the promised land of Canaan. It consists of a series of three speeches in which Moses reminisces about their collective past and enjoins them to obey the covenantal law (Torah), which was given to the nation at Mount Horeb. In literary terms, the core of Deuteronomy is found in the legal corpus of chapters 12–26, which contains a blend of religious, political, civil, and criminal law. That legislation is embedded in a literary frame, in which chapters 1–11 recall the events of the Exodus, including the revelation at Horeb and the proclamation of the Ten Commandments. Following the legal corpus, Deuteronomy continues with ceremonies to ratify Israel's covenant with God and to enforce obedience to it (26:16—28:68); the commissioning of Joshua as the successor of Moses with emphasis upon the legislation of Deuteronomy as a covenant equal in importance to that of the Ten Commandments (29:1—32:52); and finally, a poetic blessing of the twelve tribes of Israel as a form of last will and testament by Moses, along with a prose account of the death of Moses (33:1—34:12).

I. The first discourse of Moses (1:1—4:43)

A. Editorial headnote (1:1–5)

B. Historical review (1:6–3:29)

C. Exhortation to obey the Torah (4:1–40)

D. Appendix: cities of refuge in Transjordan (4:41–43)

II. The second discourse of Moses (4:44—28:68)

A. Introduction (4:44–49)

B. The revelation of the Ten Commandments at Horeb (5:1–33)

C. Preamble to the laws: the requirement of loyalty to God (6:1–11:32)

1. Validation of Moses’ instruction as revealed upon Horeb (6:1–3)

2. A sermon on the first commandment of the Decalogue (6:4–25)

3. The war of conquest (7:1–26)

4. The temptation to pride and self-sufficiency in the land (8:1–20)

5. The already broken and renewed covenant (9:1–10:11)

6. Obedience as the condition for prosperity in the land (10:12–11:32)

D. The legal corpus (12:1–26:15)

1. Centralization and purification of sacrificial worship (12:1–32)

2. The requirement for unconditional loyalty (13:1–18)

3. The obligations of holiness (14:1–29)

4. Remission of debts and manumission of slaves (15:1–18)

5. Sacrifice of firstlings (15:19–23)

6. The festival calendar (16:1–17)

7. Laws of public officials (16:18–18:22)

(a) The organization of justice (16:18–17:13)

(b) The law of the king (17:14–20)

(c) The levitical priesthood (18:1–8)

(d) The prophet like Moses (18:9–22)

8. Cities of refuge (19:1–13)

9. Boundary markers (19:14)

10. The integrity of the judicial system (19:15–21)

11. Rules for waging holy war (20:1–20)

12. Atonement for an unsolved murder (21:1–9)

13. Miscellaneous criminal, civil, and family laws (21:10–25:19)

14. Concluding liturgies (26:1–15)

E. Formal conclusion: the reciprocity of the covenant (26:16–19)

F. Ceremonies at Shechem upon entry to land (27:1–26; cf. 11:29–32)

G. The consequences of obedience or disobedience: blessing or curse (28:1–68)

III. The third discourse of Moses: The ratification ceremony for the covenant on the plains of Moab (29:1—30:20)

A. Editorial heading: the relation between Moab and Horeb (29:1)

B. Didactic review of Israel's history (29:2–9)

C. Imprecation to ensure loyalty to the covenant (29:9–29)

D. Reassurance of restoration (30:1–10)

E. The accessibility of Torah (30:11–14)

F. The necessity of choice (30:15–20)

IV. The death of Moses and the formation of the Torah (31:1—34:12)

A. Moses makes arrangements for his death (31:1–29)

B. The Song of Moses (31:30–32:44)

C. Double conclusion to the Song (32:45–47)

D. Moses commanded to die (32:48–52)

E. The Blessing of Moses (33:1–29)

F. The death of Moses (34:1–12)

Deuteronomy and the Covenant Code.

For centuries the legal corpus of Deuteronomy 12–26 has presented biblical scholars with two key difficulties. The first involves the seemingly arbitrary selection of topics within the legal corpus, their lack of coherent order, their frequent repetition, and their often tortuous philological structure. The second involves the ambiguous relationship of the corpus as a whole to the Covenant Code (Exod 21–23). Table 2 below shows the correspondence in content between the two collections of laws.

table 2: Topical Correspondences between the Covenant Code and Deuteronomy

From Deuteronomy: A Commentary. © 1966. Published in the United States by Westminster John Knox Press, Used by permission. Used by permission of Hymns Ancient & Modern Ltd in the world outside the USA.

Exodus Deuteronomy
21:1–11 = 15:12–18
21:12–14 = 19:1–13
21:16 = 24:7
22:16–17 = 22:28–29
22:21–24 = 24:17–22
22:25 = 23:19–20
22:26–27 = 24:10–13
22:29–30 = 15:19–23
22:31 = 14:3–21
23:1 = 19:16–21
23:2–3, 6–8 = 16:18–20
23:4–5 = 22:1–4
23:9 = 24:17–18
23:10–11 = 15:1–11
23:12 = 5:13–15
23:13 = 6:13
23:14–17 = 1:1–17
23:19a = 26:2–10
23:19B = 14:21B

Scholarship has long vacillated between those who assert the dependence of Deuteronomy on the Covenant Code, but who cannot satisfactorily explain Deuteronomy's independence from the Covenant Code as regards legal content, formulation, and sequence, and those who deny dependence but then cannot account for the multiple points of patent, often verbatim, lexical, and topical dependence. Neither of these alternatives is correct; or, from a different perspective, both are. The point is that the authors of Deuteronomy used the Covenant Code dialectically. On the one hand, the Covenant Code was known to and used by the authors of the legal corpus of Deuteronomy, even if not in its present compass or yet redacted into the Sinai pericope in the book of Exodus; thus, textual dependence exists. On the other hand, the Covenant Code did not constitute a textual source to which the authors of Deuteronomy were bound in language, scope, or substantive legal content. Instead, the authors of Deuteronomy used the Covenant Code as a textual resource in order to pursue their own very different religious and legal agenda.

The authors of Deuteronomy sought to implement a far-reaching transformation of religion, law, and social structure that was essentially without cultural precedent. They therefore turned to the earlier code in order to anchor their departure from legal convention in the very textual heritage from which they cut themselves free in substantive terms. They deliberately presented their new vision of the Judean polity as continuous with the abrogated past and used the earlier textual material, carefully transformed, to sanction their own independent agenda.

The earliest literary strata of the Pentateuch, both legal and narrative, as well as the narratives of Joshua through 2 Kings, clearly contemplate sacrificial worship of Yahweh at multiple altar sites throughout the land. Deuteronomy rejects this practice as illegitimate, requiring instead that sacrificial worship be performed at a single sanctuary, “the place that the LORD will choose” (Deut 12:13–14). This so-called “centralization formula” clearly refers to Jerusalem, as the site of the Temple, although the city itself is never explicitly named in Deuteronomy.

The Deuteronomic proscription of local ritual activity and restriction of rituals to the central sphere entailed the obligation to revise essentially the entire apparatus of rituals and institutions that governed local religious activity: tithes and firstlings, the festival calendar with its pilgrimages to local sanctuaries, and the Passover as an apotropaic blood rite involving a home slaughter. It also required secularization of institutions of public and private life that had previously been performed at local shrines. The authors of Deuteronomy had to transform judicial procedure, for example, because the local sanctuary had played a crucial role in the resolution of ambiguous civil and criminal legal cases. Even more significantly, centralization required that a distinction be made between the ritual sacrifice of animals at an altar and the secular slaughter of domestic animals for food. Prior to Deuteronomy, that distinction almost certainly did not exist. The existence of multiple altars throughout the land made it easy to comply with the requirement that the slaughter of a domestic animal should take place upon an altar (cf. Lev 17:1–9, although the collection of laws to which this particular passage belongs was most likely written after Deuteronomy). The prohibition of all local altars, however, created a real difficulty for those not living in proximity to the central sanctuary. The authors of Deuteronomy resolved this problem by applying to domestic animals the conventions regarding the slaughter of wild game (cf. Lev 17:13), meaning domestic animals could now be slaughtered throughout the land, on condition that their blood not be consumed (Deut 12:15–16).

But the Deuteronomic authors’ transformative action did not operate exclusively at the empirical level. Their profound transformation of Judah's religious and judicial institutions cannot be understood apart from the larger problem of innovation in a culture in which prestigious or authoritative texts occupy an important place. In commanding centralization, the authors and editors of the legal corpus confronted existing legal texts that enshrined the legitimacy of the local altars that the Deuteronomic authors sought to prohibit. Granted, those legal texts may not yet have had the status of actual public law; they may have been only prestigious texts, part of the curriculum of scribal schools, but they were nonetheless texts that could not simply be ignored or dispensed with. The authors of Deuteronomy, in one way or another, had to take account of these texts and justify their departure from their norms.

In the innovation of centralization, therefore, the Deuteronomic authors did not only transform empirical institutions. They also rewrote literary history. Their paradoxical technique for defending their innovation was, in many cases, to appropriate and rework the earlier texts that would seem to preclude centralization. The authors of Deuteronomy coopted those texts, accommodating them to their innovations, by citing selected key words and phrases from their source texts and giving them new contexts and meanings. In the process, the authors camouflaged the radical and often subversive nature of their innovations, as the new textual content was often expressed, quite literally, using the terms of the older dispensation. Many of the philological difficulties of the text derive from and become intelligible in light of this hermeneutical activity. They are not merely the evidence of redactional layering. Rather, they represent the wake of transformative exegesis, the deliberate attempt to rework prestigious texts in light of the innovation of centralization. The scribal authors of Deuteronomy authorized their radical ritual and legal transformations by disclaiming their innovative force. Very likely, even the voicing of Deuteronomy—its attribution to Moses—points to the attempt by the text's authors to lend legitimacy to their innovations. The voice of the text belies its belatedness. By means of it, the text's authors purchased a pedigree—both an antiquity and an authority—that the text properly lacked. In so doing, they borrowed pseudepigraphically from the very textual authority that they subverted.

The Decalogue.

As with the Covenant Code, the Decalogue also presents two main issues for the reader (both ancient and modern) to resolve. The first involves how to understand the narrative claim of the Decalogue that God wrote “Ten Words” on two stone tablets and gave them to Moses following the revelation at Horeb (4:13; 10:4). The actual enumeration of the text of the Decalogue into ten commandments is complicated because there is no special number of or name for each of the commandments in either Exodus 19–20 or Deuteronomy 5, and there are more than ten verbs expressing commands within the list. Because of the ambiguity, three different divisions of the text emerged in Jewish and Christian tradition:

At the time of Deuteronomy's composition, it is almost certain that the book of Exodus and the book of Deuteronomy existed independently of one another. However, once Second Temple period editors integrated both into a single literary work, subsequent generations of readers had to struggle to make sense of the second problem the Decalogue presents to the reader—how the one Pentateuch contained two mutually inconsistent Decalogues! Within the narrative frame, Deuteronomy's authors present the Decalogue as a precise reprise of that found in Exodus 20:2–17, but in fact the text actually diverges in several places from the Exodus version. The most substantial inconsistency lies in the motivation given for the command to observe the Sabbath, Exodus connecting it to the creation account of Genesis 1:1—2:4A, wherein God rested on the seventh day of creation, and Deuteronomy connecting it to the Exodus from Egypt. Deuteronomy also expands the command to honor the mother and father (verse 16) and presents a slightly different version of the prohibition on coveting (verse 21).

table 3: The Analysis of the “Ten” Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:6–18*

* Verse numbers in parentheses

Command Rabbinic Judaism Hellenistic Judaism and Church Fathers Catholic/Lutheran
1 Self-Identification of God as separate command (6) Other Gods (6–7) Other Gods + Images (6–10)
2 Other Gods + Images (7–10) Images (8–10) False Oath (11)
3 False Oath (11) False Oath (11) Sabbath (12–15)
4 Sabbath (12–15) Sabbath (12–15) Parents (16)
5 Parents (16) Parents (16) Murder (17)
6 Murder (17) Murder (17) Adultery (18)
7 Adultery (18) Adultery (18) Theft (19)
8 Theft (19) Theft (19) False Witness (20)
9 False Witness (20) False Witness (20) Coveting Wife (21)
10 Coveting (21) Coveting (21) Coveting Property (21)

Since the rabbinic exegetical model presupposed that the Pentateuch had a single author and that it was free of contradiction, Jewish tradition developed elaborate interpretive strategies in order to resolve the inevitable difficulties that resulted. In contrast to this model of interpretation that “harmonizes” inconsistencies, modern critical scholarship presupposes that the Pentateuch represents the work of multiple authors and editors who lived at different times and places. Consequently, the editorial “seams” implicitly recognized by the ancient rabbis are explained in different ways. The two different versions of the Decalogue most likely derive from different historical contexts, with the repetition serving as a strategy for competition. Whereas what follows the Decalogue in Exodus is the Covenant Code (Exod 21–23), here what follows is a legal collection that, while patterned after the Covenant Code, at key points sharply contradicts it. This suggests that the reuse of the Decalogue serves to anchor Deuteronomy's religious and legal innovations (chapters 12–26) to the tradition of divine revelation at Sinai. But by borrowing the authority of tradition for their new legal compilation, Deuteronomy's authors displace the earlier, competing collection of law: the Covenant Code.

Deuteronomy and the Status of Women.

In the ancient Near East, a woman was generally regarded in terms of her relation to her father or her husband; she could not act independently. There was little conception of the woman as a free agent, in either legal or sexual terms. The evidence of Deuteronomy suggests that its authors may have begun to consider a new conception of the social and legal status of women, one that in some cases specifically departed from the other legal collections in the Bible and, one that, more generally, also departed from contemporary Near Eastern legal practices. For example, the editors’ placement of the adultery and rape laws of 22:22–30 suggests their concern to establish sex and family law as an independent moral category. In so doing, the authors of Deuteronomy depart from the earlier legal system of the Covenant Code. There, the law of the seduced virgin (Exod 22:16–17) came at the end of a sequence of property law (Exod 21:33—22:15), implying that the daughter was seen as an extension of her father's estate. In contrast, the corresponding law found here (22:28–29) concludes a series of similar laws (22:13–30): there is no longer any connection to property law.

The Decalogue provides yet another example in its arrangement of the list of coveted items in 5:21. The commandment in the Exodus Decalogue appears as follows: “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exod 20:17). This sequence suggests that “house” is an inclusive term, with the following list (wife, slave, ox, or donkey) serving to itemize its contents. Note how the formulation in Deuteronomy recasts the sequence, with wife set apart from house, field, male or female slave, ox, or donkey. Consistent with their view elsewhere, the authors of Deuteronomy here maintain a separation between family law and property law. By setting the wife altogether apart from the list of other chattels, they indicate that the law does not regard the woman as merely one commodity among others comprising a “house.” It should be noted, however, that the issue of whether or not Deuteronomy is specifically recasting the Exodus Decalogue is hard to resolve conclusively, as some scholars claim that the version of the Decalogue in Exodus was composed after that in Deuteronomy. In addition, there is some evidence to suggest that the formulation in Deuteronomy simply follows cuneiform norms and does not seek to change the woman's status.

Deuteronomy does not simply separate family and sex law from property law, however. It also introduces laws that could be interpreted as granting women the status of legal persons. The absolute prohibition against adultery in the Decalogue (5:18) transforms it from the breach of the contractual rights of the woman's husband into an offense against both God and the larger community. Further, in the adultery law of 22:22, adultery is a capital offence for both participants. This stipulation makes a sharp contrast with ancient Near Eastern legal norms, which required the adulterer's death but left the fate of the adulterous wife to the disposition of her husband. That the wife is here removed from the authority of the husband defines her as a legal person who is accountable for her actions. While these examples do not prove with certainty that the authors of Deuteronomy sought to overthrow old norms about the social and legal status of women, they do suggest the beginnings of such a movement toward treating women as free agents.


In biblical narrative, the Torah crosses the symbolic geographic divide of the Jordan, carried, in the ark of the covenant, upon the shoulders of the Levitical priests (Deut 31:25; Josh 3:14–17). So did the text of Deuteronomy cross the historical divide of the Babylonian Exile, borne on the shoulders of the multiple Jewish communities that survived the exile and that developed their distinct identities thereafter. This crucial transition from the First Temple to the Second Temple periods, from preexilic Israelite religion to postexilic religion, represents a major pivot in the history of Israelite literature, thought, and belief. The wrenching force of that transition, as institutions and assumptions underwent profound transformations, created “stress fractures” in the text of Deuteronomy. In many cases, preexilic religious and legal norms became unintelligible to these postexilic communities. Therefore in the process of teaching and translating Deuteronomy, they were forced to translate not only the language of the text but also its ideas: from one language into another, from one historical period into another, from one set of assumptions into another. Sometimes this overlay of postexilic ideas may interfere with understanding the original meaning of the text, even though that overlay now represents the conventional way that Deuteronomy has come to be read and understood.

As a broader model for understanding such issues, it is helpful to view the religion of Israel reflected by Deuteronomy in the preexilic period as in many ways a “Near Eastern” religion. This applies preeminently to the original theology of the text, which, like all religions of its time and place, viewed its god as presiding over a “divine council” of lesser deities. This is clear from the first commandment of the Decalogue, “you shall have no other gods beside me” (5:7; lit.), and from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” From this perspective, texts like the Shema,


Deuteronomy Scroll.

The late-first-century B.C.E. 4QDeutn scroll is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls and is the earliest known copy of the Ten Commandments. The Decalogue is in the third and fourth columns from the right.


view larger image

a Jewish liturgical prayer based in part on Deuteronomy 6:4–9, called for exclusive loyalty to God, without thereby denying the existence of other deities, just as Near Eastern treaties required that a vassal swear allegiance to a single political monarch. But once true monotheism became the Jewish norm in the Second Temple period, under the influence of exilic prophecy, the earlier “Israelite” view gradually became “foreign” and unintelligible. The Shema could only be understood as affirming the later “truth” of Jewish monotheism. This authentically Israelite religious language seems to have become so alien that the Hebrew text was “corrected” in several cases to bring it into conformity with later Jewish theology. For example, the use in Deuteronomy 32:8 of “most high” (Hebrew, Elyon), the formal title of El, the senior god who presided over the divine council in the Ugaritic literature of ancient Canaan, invokes, as do other biblical texts, the Near Eastern convention of a pantheon of gods ruled by the chief deity. Yet the final phrase of the verse, “in relation to Israel's numbers,” is unintelligible as it stands. There is no rationale to justify apportioning lands to the nations according to the population size of Israel. The variant of this text attested by the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible created circa 225 B.C.E., and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, “according to the sons of El,” which preserves the mythological reference to “most high” earlier in the verse, makes much more sense. Here, the idea is that the chief god allocates the nations to lesser deities in the pantheon. Almost certainly, the unintelligible reading of the standardized Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible (upon which most modern translations of the Bible are based) represents a “correction” of the original text (whereby God presides over other gods) to make it conform to the later standard of pure monotheism: there are no other gods!

The same issue of later revision applies to law. In some cases, the preexilic authors of Deuteronomy clearly followed near eastern procedures. For example, they required the immediate, summary execution of those disloyal to God, as if under the emergency conditions of martial law (13:10). In the Second Temple period, however, this breach of Deuteronomy's own requirement for due process (17:2–7) was understandably seen as contradicting the norms of Jewish law. The text was therefore read and taught as if the requirement for execution were to take place only after the due process that, in fact, it originally bypassed. As a next step, this originally oral legal interpretation of the law was introduced into the text of the law, when Deuteronomy was translated into Greek for the Jewish community of Alexandria (in the Septuagint, where “You shall kill him” of the Hebrew text of 13:10 was changed to “You shall report concerning him”). The conscientious translator could do no less, since that revision of the law was what the law “had” to mean, lest the Torah here contradict Jewish law!

Just as the Septuagint here updates the Hebrew in light of later Jewish law, elsewhere the reverse may hold true. On occasion, the Greek version retains classical views of preexilic Israelite religion that have been updated or corrected in the Masoretic Text. In such cases, the Septuagint or the Dead Sea Scrolls may open a window into the original meaning of a passage that has been lost in by the Masoretic Text. Modern critical scholarship attempts to take these ancient “witnesses” to the text into account, in the hope of recovering what the text's authors sought to say.

Reception History.

An important chapter in the history of constitutional thought begins with the legal corpus of Deuteronomy. Although western political theory is normally traced back to ancient Athens, and the concept of “separation of powers” specifically to Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws (1748), this standard model fails to take into account the contributions of ancient Israel to Western political thought. Deuteronomy's laws regarding public officials (16:18—18:22) are remarkable for providing what seems to be the first blueprint for a constitutional system of government. The jurists responsible for writing its utopian laws put into place two cornerstones of Western legal tradition: the clear division of political powers into separate spheres of authority; and the subordination of each branch to the authority of the law. Moreover, these visionary thinkers sought to safeguard the rule of law by establishing an independent judiciary. The carefully thought-out plan is designed to ensure that no single branch of government and no single religious institution should have sole power. Each is brought into relationship to the others and, more importantly, each is made subordinate to the one true authority: the law of Deuteronomy. Even institutions that might justifiably claim absolute authority—whether political, as in the case of the king (see Ps 2:6–7), or religious, as in the case of the prophet (see Exod 3:10–12)—are integrated into Deuteronomy's comprehensive vision.

The development of these revolutionary ideas in ancient Israel has, for too long, gone unnoticed by the legal community as well as by biblical scholars. The political experiment represented by Deuteronomy was without precedent either in the Near East or in ancient Israel itself. It went far beyond what was strictly necessary as a consequence of the centralization of worship. The new constitution completely restructured the Judean polity (including the court system, the monarchy, and even traditional religious institutions like the priesthood and prophecy). This blueprint granted each institution an independent sphere of authority, yet subordinated each to the rule of law.

In their own way, therefore, Deuteronomy's authors were also founders. They sought to overthrow the Neo-Assyrian Great King, and the yoke of aggressive imperial taxation, in order to establish an independent Judean polity. The draft constitution they wrote was part of a larger attempt to purchase freedom and cultural autonomy. In purely pragmatic terms, this utopian bid for freedom was a tragic failure. Historically, there was simply no opportunity for it ever to be implemented. Upon the return from exile, when Judah regained some measure of political autonomy under Persian rule, different religious and political priorities preempted this blueprint.

Since the American Revolution, various religious and political figures have claimed a role for the Bible in establishing the American experiment in republican rule. Those claims have often come at the expense of recognizing other influences, such as Enlightenment philosophy. In recent years, the claims of biblical dependence for Anglo-American law have been reborn in the debate over the display of the Ten Commandments in public places. The arguments for the historical importance of the Ten Commandments have often thinly veiled the religious motivations of the display advocates. The back and forth over the display of the Decalogue has generated significant debate over the role of religion in contemporary society, but it produced very little intelligent dialogue about the legal texts in the Bible itself. More profoundly, however, it has left undiscovered the visionary nature of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is a monument to the human intellect. A long tradition of legal hermeneutics and political debate was central to its composition. Yet the text's significance has been obscured by the pervasive “cultural illiteracy” regarding academic biblical scholarship. As Donald S. Lutz commented in his examination of biblical and nonbiblical citations in North American political literature of the late eighteenth century:[T]he impact of religion and biblical sources on American political theory needs to be examined carefully. Notwithstanding the importance of separating church from state in our politics, it would appear that students of American political theory ignore the impact of religion only at the cost of missing an important influence.… Even [after] excluding the majority of sermons that had no references to secular thinkers, as we have done here, Deuteronomy is the most frequently cited book, followed by Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws. (Lutz 1992, p. 136)

The importance attached to Deuteronomy as a source of political thought at the time of the American founding should not be overlooked.

[See also Exodus; Genesis; Joshua; and 1 and 2 Kings.]


  • Berman, Joshua A. Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Berman explores the concept of egalitarianism in the Pentateuch, concluding that while the authors of these texts were not consciously breaking with ancient Near Eastern societal norms, the combined result of their work was a document that promoted a notion of social equality for all Israelites.
  • Braulik, Georg. Studien zum Deuteronomium und seiner Nachgeschichte. Stuttgarter biblische Aufsatzbände 33. Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 2001.
  • Brettler, Marc Z. “‘A Literary Sermon’ in Deuteronomy 4.” In “A Wise and Discerning Mind”: Essays in Honor of Burke O. Long, edited by Saul M. Olyan and Robert C. Culley, pp. 33–50. Brown Judaic Studies 325. Providence, R.I.: Brown Judaic Studies, 2000. Brettler examines Deuteronomy 4, the long sermon on monotheism, to show how it represents a literary composition for which the only satisfactory explanation for the text is that it is an exegesis of earlier biblical texts.
  • Dion, Paul E. “Deuteronomy 13: The Suppression of Alien Religious Propaganda in Israel during the Late Monarchical Era.” In Law and Ideology in Monarchic Israel, edited by Baruch Halpern and Deborah W. Hobson, pp. 147–216. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 124. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic, 1991. Dion makes a persuasive argument for Deuteronomy as the product of scribes associated with Josiah's court who were schooled in international affairs and working under the influence of Neo-Assyrian treaty literature.
  • Driver, Samuel Rolles. Deuteronomy. 3d ed. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1901. Driver transmits the contributions of German critical scholarship into English, and engages in thinking through the implications of Higher Criticism for a believing community and for traditional notions of revelation and prophecy. The volume remains a model of philological precision combined with exegetical clarity.
  • Gertz, Jan Christian. Die Gerichtsorganisation Israels im deuteronomischen Gesetz. Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments 165. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994.
  • Knoppers, Gary N. “The Deuteronomist and the Deuteronomic Law of the King: A Reexamination of a Relationship.” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 108 (1996): 329–346.
  • Koch, Christoph. Vertrag, Treueid und Bund: Studien zur Rezeption des altorientalischen Vertragsrechts im Deuteronomium und zur Ausbildung der Bundestheologie im Alten Testament. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 383. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008.
  • Kratz, Reinhard G. The Composition of the Narrative Books of the Old Testament. Translated by John Bowden. London: T & T Clark, 2005. English translation of Die Komposition der erzählenden Bücher des Alten Testaments: Grundwissen der Bibelkritik. Uni-Taschenbücher 2157. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000.
  • Leuchter, Mark. “  ‘The Levite in Your Gates’: The Deuteronomic Redefinition of Levitical Authority.” Journal of Biblical Literature 126 (2007): 417–436.
  • Levinson, Bernard M. Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. This volume shows how the legislation of Deuteronomy reflects the struggle of its authors to renew late-seventh-century Judean society by turning to earlier laws, even when they disagreed with them, and revising them in such a way as to lend authority to their new understanding of God's will. The techniques of authorship developed in Deuteronomy provided a model for later Israelite and postbiblical literature.
  • Levinson, Bernard M. “The First Constitution: Rethinking the Origins of Rule of Law and Separation of Powers in Light of Deuteronomy.” Cardozo Law Review 27, no. 4 (2006): 1853–1888. This article demonstrates the overlooked contribution of the ancient Near East to the development of constitutional law. The legal corpus of Deuteronomy provides a utopian model for the organization of the state, one that enshrines separation of powers and their systematic subordination to a public legal text—the “Torah”—that delineates their jurisdiction while also ensuring their autonomy. Deuteronomy's implicit model for a political constitution is unprecedented in legal history and provides an important corrective to standard accounts of constitutional legal history.
  • Levinson, Bernard M. Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel. New York and Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2008. This volume examines how a series of inner-biblical and postbiblical responses to the doctrine of transgenerational punishment found in the Decalogue—that is, the idea that God punishes sinners vicariously and extends the punishment due them to three or four generations of their progeny—demonstrates that later writers were able to criticize, reject, and replace this problematic doctrine with the alternative notion of individual retribution. To support further study, this book includes a bibliographical essay on the distinctive approach of inner-biblical exegesis, showing the contributions of European, Israeli, and North American scholars.
  • Levinson, Bernard M. “The Neo-Assyrian Origins of the Canon Formula in Deuteronomy 13:1.” In Scriptural Exegesis: The Shapes of Culture and the Religious Imagination (Essays in Honour of Michael Fishbane), edited by Deborah A. Green and Laura Lieber, pp. 25–45. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. The prohibitions against disloyalty in Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty have previously been recognized as an influence upon the apostasy series in Deuteronomy 13. This chapter proposes a similar origin for the canon formula of Deuteronomy 13:1, as part of Deuteronomy's larger project of creative literary reworking, thereby underscoring the imaginative power of Deuteronomy's authors.
  • Levinson, Bernard M. “The Right Chorale”: Studies in Biblical Law and Interpretation. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 54. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008. This volume presents twelve selected investigations of textual composition, interpretation, revision, and transmission in the Bible, collectively arguing that Israelite scribes were sophisticated readers, authors, and thinkers who were conscious of their place in literary and intellectual history, even as they sought to renew and transform their cultural patrimony in significant ways.
  • Levinson, Bernard M., and Molly M. Zahn. “Revelation Regained: The Hermeneutics of כי and אם in the Temple Scroll.” Dead Sea Discoveries 9 (2002): 295–346. This article studies the Temple Scroll as an example of the reception of the Pentateuch in Qumran. The Temple Scroll is striking for its transformation of all of Deuteronomy's third-person references to God into first-person self-references. The authors were seeking to create a consistent divine pseudepigraph, removing Moses as mediator, and making all biblical law derive directly from God.
  • Lohfink, Norbert. “Distribution of the Functions of Power: The Laws Concerning Public Offices in Deuteronomy 16:18–18:22.” In A Song of Power and the Power of Song: Essays on the Book of Deuteronomy, edited by Duane L. Christensen, pp. 336–352. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1993. English translation of “Die Sicherung der Wirksamkeit des Gotteswortes durch das Prinzip der Schriftlichkeit der Tora und durch das Prinzip der Gewaltenteilung nach den Ämtergesetzen des Buches Deuteronomium (Dt 16,18–18,22).” In Studien zum Deuteronomium und zur deuteronomistischen Literatur I, pp. 305–323. Stuttgarter biblische Aufsatzbände 8. Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1990.
  • Lohfink, Norbert. Studien zum Deuteronomium und zur deuteronomistischen Literatur V. Stuttgarter biblische Aufsatzbände 38. Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 2005. Lohfink was one of the first scholars to recognize and stress the literary artistry and rhetorical structure of Deuteronomy. In so doing, he sought to create an implicit dialogue between standard continental diachronic approaches (source-critical and text-critical) and the methodology of contemporary literary studies. Some of Lohfink's more important work has not yet been translated into English. In particular, he has done pioneering work in the application of literary and rhetorical approaches to Deuteronomy, a book to which he has devoted his scholarly career.
  • Lutz, Donald S. A Preface to American Political Theory. American Political Thought. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.
  • Mayes, A. D. H. Deuteronomy. New Century Bible. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1979.
  • McBride, S. Dean. “Polity of the Covenant People: The Book of Deuteronomy.” Interpretation 41 (1987): 229–244. Repr., idem, in A Song of Power and the Power of Song: Essays on the Book of Deuteronomy, edited by Duane L. Christensen, pp. 62–77. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1993.
  • McCarthy, Carmel. Deuteronomy. Biblia Hebraica Quinta 5. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2007. This new critical edition of the text of Deuteronomy is a major accomplishment. It takes into account the full range of the textual witnesses, and provides an extended commentary to account for divergences among the textual witnesses.
  • McConville, J. Gordon. Deuteronomy. Apollos Old Testament Commentaries. Leicester, U.K.: Inter-Varsity, 2002.
  • Moran, William L. “The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God in Deuteronomy.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 (1963): 77–87. Repr., idem, in The Most Magic Word: Essays on Babylonian and Biblical Literature, edited by Ronald S. Hendel, pp. 170–181. Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 35. Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association, 2002.
  • Na'aman, Nadav. “The King Leading Cult Reforms in his Kingdom: Josiah and Other Kings in the Ancient Near East.” Zeitschrift für Altorientalische und Biblische Rechtsgeschichte 12 (2006): 131–168.
  • Otto, Eckart. Das Deuteronomium: Politische Theologie und Rechtsreform in Juda und Assyrien. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 284. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1999. Building upon the work of others, Otto works through the points of correspondence between Deuteronomy and the Neo-Assyrian treaty corpus and then uses that as the basis for the reconstruction of the compositional history of the legal corpus.
  • Otto, Eckart. Das Deuteronomium im Pentateuch und Hexateuch: Studien zur Literaturgeschichte von Pentateuch und Hexateuch im Lichte des Deuteronomiumrahmens. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 30. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000. Eckart Otto specializes in the reception history of cuneiform law and its impact upon biblical law. He is one of the few contemporary scholars seeking to offer an overall theory to account for the composition and literary development of both the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History. He sees the Pentateuch as the result of a post-Priestly scribal effort to mediate between the Priestly work and a Deuteronomistic edition of Deuteronomy. He begins the reconstruction of the literary history of the Pentateuch with Deuteronomy, as the literary, historical, and theological “center” of the Torah; this point of departure contrasts significantly with alternative models of pentateuchal theory, which begin rather with Genesis and with narrative.
  • Parpola, Simo, and Kazuko Watanabe, eds. Neo-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths. State Archives of Assyria 2. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1988.
  • Pressler, Carolyn. The View of Women Found in the Deuteronomic Family Laws. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 216. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1993.
  • Rad, Gerhard von. Deuteronomy: A Commentary. Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966.
  • Rofé, Alexander. Introduction to Deuteronomy: Part I and Further Chapters. Jerusalem: Akedemon, 1988 (Hebrew).
  • Sonnet, Jean-Pierre. The Book within the Book: Writing in Deuteronomy. Biblical Interpretation Series 14. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1997. Sonnet's work directly confronts the paradox that Deuteronomy offers a narrative of its own formation as a book, while nonetheless presupposing that existence from the very beginning. In literary terms, the plot of Deuteronomy is the embedded narrative of how the divine word, mediated and proclaimed by the prophet Moses, assumes literary form as a book. The literary figure of Moses, depicted as a scribe in the story of Deuteronomy, permits the book's authors to legitimate their own work as authors, editors, and interpreters.
  • Stackert, Jeffrey. Rewriting the Torah: Literary Revision in Deuteronomy and the Holiness Legislation. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 52. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007. Stackert provides a systematic rethinking of the question of how to understand the relation of the Holiness Code (“H,” or Lev 17–26) to Deuteronomy (“D”): is there dependence and, if so, in which direction does it run? With careful attention to language, legal sequence, and formulation, he argues that H depends upon both D and the Covenant Code (Exod 21–23). Equally important, he accounts for divergences of content and formulation, stressing the extent to which H redrafted and rethought its literary sources in order to create a work that was intended to supersede them all.
  • Steymans, Hans Ulrich. Deuteronomium 28 und die adê zur Thronfolgeregelung Asarhaddons: Segen und Fluch im Alten Orient und in Israel. Orbis biblicus orientalis 145. Freiburg: Universitätsverlag; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995.
  • Tigay, Jeffrey H. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996.
  • Veijola, Timo. Das fünfte Buch Mose, Deuteronomium: Kapitel 1,1–16,17. Das Alte Testament Deutsch 8.1. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004.
  • Weinfeld, Moshe. Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School. Oxford: Clarendon, 1972. Reprint, Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1992. Weinfeld demonstrates the extent to which the writers of Deuteronomy drew on a wide range of other biblical literature, both wisdom and law. That approach countered the then dominant “form-critical” approach to Deuteronomy, which viewed the text's origins in the oral preaching of the rural Levites. True: there are important issues to address (as pointed out by Alexander Rofé's review reprinted in idem, Deuteronomy: Issues and Interpretations [Old Testament Studies; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2002], 221–230). Nonetheless, Weinfeld introduced an important new model and, in so doing, provided a crucial foundation for conceptualizing the kind of legal and narrative activity that gave rise to Deuteronomy.
  • Wellhausen, Julius. Prolegomena to the History of Israel. Translated by J. S. Black and A. Menzies. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1885. Repr., with a forward by Douglas A. Knight. Scholars Press Reprints and Translation Series 17. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994. English translation of Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels, first published in 1878. Wellhausen prepared the classical model of the Documentary Hypothesis by comparing the legal collections of the Pentateuch both with one another and with the narrative works of the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua through 2 Kings). With its attention to how the laws and the narratives of the Bible relate to and engage to one another, this volume models a powerful way of reading and understanding ancient Israelite textuality.
  • Wevers, John William. Notes on the Greek Text of Deuteronomy. Society of Biblical Literature Septuagint and Cognate Studies 39. Atlanta: Scholars, 1995. This commentary, from the specialist who prepared the critical edition of the Septuagint text of Deuteronomy, helps draw attention to the ancient translators’ understanding of the biblical text, and the factors influencing its translation into Greek.
  • Wright, David P. Inventing God's Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. While the primary focus of this volume is on the Covenant Code, the implications are far-reaching. Wright demonstrates the careful way in which cuneiform literature was drawn upon and reinterpreted by Israelite authors, becoming an important vehicle for the creation of new law.

Bernard M. Levinson