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Deuteronomy: Chapter 12

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1These are the laws and rules that you must carefully observe in the land that the LORD, God of your fathers, is giving you to possess, as long as you live on earth.

2You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods, whether on lofty mountains and on hills or under any luxuriant tree. 3Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site.

4Do not worship the LORD your God in like manner, 5but look only to the site that the LORD your God willchoose amidst all your tribes as His habitation, to establish His name there. There you are to go, 6and there you are to bring your burnt offerings and other sacrifices, your tithes and contributions, a Lit. “the contribution(s) of your hands.” your votive and freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks. 7Together with your households, you shall feast there before the LORD your God, happy in all the undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you.

8You shall not act at all as we now act here, every man as he pleases, 9because you have not yet come to the allotted haven that the LORD your God is giving you. 10When you cross the Jordan and settle in the land that the LORD your God is allotting to you, and He grants you safety from all your enemies around you and you live in security, 11then you must bring everything that I command you to the site where the LORD your God will choose to establish His name: your burnt offerings and other sacrifices, your tithes andcontributions, a Lit. “the contribution(s) of your hands.” and all the choice votive offerings that you vow to the LORD. 12And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God with your sons and daughters and with your male and female slaves, along with the Levite in your settlements, for he has no territorial allotment among you.

13Take care not to sacrifice your burnt offerings in any place you like, 14but only in the place that the LORD will choose in one of your tribal territories. There you shall sacrifice your burnt offerings and there you shall observe all that I enjoin upon you. 15But whenever you desire, you may slaughter and eat meat in any of your settlements, according to the blessing that the LORD your God has granted you. The unclean and the clean alike may partake of it, as of the gazelle and the deer. b I.e., animals that may be eaten (cf. 14.5; Lev. 11.1 ff.), but not sacrificed (Lev. 1.1 ff.). 16But you must not partake of the blood; you shall pour it out on the ground like water.

17You may not partake in your settlements of the tithes of your new grain or wine or oil, or of the firstlings of your herds and flocks, or of any of the votive offerings that you vow, or of your freewill offerings, or of your contributions. a Lit. “the contribution(s) of your hands.” 18These you must consume before the LORD your God in the place that the LORD your God will choose—you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves, and the Levite in your settlements—happy before the LORD your God in all your undertakings. 19Be sure not to neglect the Levite as long as you live in your land.

20When the LORD enlarges your territory, as He has promised you, and you say, “I shall eat some meat,” for you have the urge to eat meat, you may eat meat whenever you wish. 21If the place where the LORD has chosen to establish His name is too far from you, you may slaughter any of the cattle or sheep that the LORD gives you, as I have instructed you; and you may eat to your heart's content in your settlements. 22Eat it, however, as the gazelle and the deer are eaten: the unclean may eat it together with the clean. 23But make sure that you do not partake of the blood; for the blood is the life, and you must not consume the life with the flesh. 24Youmust not partake of it; you must pour it out on the ground like water: 25you must not partake of it, in order that it may go well with you and with your descendants to come, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of the LORD.

26But such sacred and votive donations as you may have a‐ Lit. “you shall pick up and come.” shall be taken by you ‐a Lit. “you shall pick up and come.” to the site that the LORD will choose. 27You shall offer your burnt offerings, both the flesh and the blood, on the altar of the LORD your God; and of your other sacrifices, the blood shall be poured out on the altar of the LORD your God, and you shall eat the flesh.

28Be careful to heed all these commandments that I enjoin upon you; thus it will go well with you and with your descendants after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.

29When the LORD your God has cut down before you the nations that you are about to enter and dispossess, and you have dispossessed them and settled in their land, 30beware of being lured into their ways after they have been wiped out before you! Do not inquire about their gods, saying, “How did those nations worship their gods? I too will follow those practices.” 31You shall not act thus toward the LORD your God, for they perform for their gods every abhorrent act that the LORD detests; they even

Notes:

a Lit. “the contribution(s) of your hands.”

b I.e., animals that may be eaten (cf. 14.5; Lev. 11.1 ff.), but not sacrificed (Lev. 1.1 ff.).

a Lit. “the contribution(s) of your hands.”

a‐a Lit. “you shall pick up and come.”

Text Commentary view alone

12.1–26.15 :

The legal corpus, the core of Deuteronomy's transformation of Israelite religion. For the topical organization, see introduction.

12.1–13.1 :

Centralization and purification of the sacrificial worship, distinguishing Deuteronomic law and theology. These two requirements radically transformed Israelite religion, which in its formative stages, like all religions of antiquity, viewed sacrifice as indispensable to honor and to communicate with the deity. Historically, they are associated with the reform movements of King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18.3–6, 22; 727/715–698/687) and, especially, of King Josiah (2 Kings chs 22–23 ; 640–609 BCE). The chapter requires the removal of foreign elements from the cultus (the system of sacrificial worship of God). It also centralizes the cultus by restricting sacrifice to a single, exclusively legitimate sanctuary. Four paragraphs (vv. 2–7, 8–12, 13–19, 20–28 ) each contain the centralization command; a fifth paragraph (vv. 29–31 ), concerned with cultic purification, vividly warns of the consequences of introducing alien worship into the Israelite system. An editorial superscription (v. 1 ) and conclusion ( 13.1 ) frame the unit, as each urges obedience.

1 :

Earth, more accurately, “land.”

12.2–7 :

Israel must violently reject the Canaanite precedent of worshipping God at multiple sanctuaries distributed throughout the land; instead, no matter where the members of the covenant live, they must travel to the single, legitimate sanctuary.

2 :

You: The chapter alternates between primarily plural (vv. 1–12 ) and primarily singular (vv. 13–31 ). This unexplained grammatical shift, combined with six repetitions of the command for cultic centralization (vv. 5, 11, 14, 18, 21, 26 ), suggests a complex compositional history. Destroy: Similar commands to destroy all implements associated with the worship of foreign gods are found at Exod. 23.23–24; 34.11–14; Deut. 7.5 . Lofty mountainsʾluxuriant tree, formulaic language of the school of Deuteronomy for Canaanite sanctuaries, also known as “high places” (1 Kings 3.2; 2 Kings 16.4 ). Such sanctuaries were not only used to worship alien deities, however. During the monarchy, God could also be worshipped at such locations (1 Kings 3.4 ).

5 :

The site that the Lordʾwill choose: This frequent formula consistently refers to Jerusalem, where Solomon built the Temple. Since Jerusalem played no role in Israel's history until David conquered it, made it his capital, and brought the Ark of the Covenant there (2 Sam. 5.6–6.19 ), the city cannot be named explicitly without undermining the literary form of Deuteronomy as a Mosaic address. To establish His name there: Deuteronomy rejects the common older idea that a nation's God would inhabit the Temple (contrast 1 Kings 8.12–13 ). Thus, as His habitation would better be translated “to establish it” (the divine name), indicating possession and special relationship.

6 :

A list of different types of sacrificial offerings. Burnt offerings is a technical term for a type of sacrifice where all of the animal's flesh was burnt on the altar (v. 27; Lev 1.3–17 ). Other sacrifices refers to offerings where portions of the animal were assigned to the priests or shared by the worshippers (v. 27; 18.1–3; Lev. ch 3; 7.29–36 ).

12.8–12 :

This paragraph understands centralization of worship as part of a divine plan that awaits future fulfillment. The idea here that sacrificial worship at multiple sanctuaries was intended from the beginning to have limited temporal validity differs from the viewpoint of Exod. 20.21 , where it is chronologically unconditional.

8 :

Every man as he pleases, lit. “each person doing what is right in his own eyes” in the absence of a central authority; a negative judgment, as in Judg. 17.6; 21.25 .

9–10 :

Allotted haven is a typical Deuteronomic term for the land as a whole. These verses desig‐ nate territorial security as the precondition for the inauguration of centralization. This condition was fulfilled, according to the Deuteronomistic historian, only with David's conquest of Jerusalem, which then allowed the construction of the Temple (2 Sam. 7.1, 11; 1 Kings 8.56; cf. Josh. 21.43–45 ).

12 :

Since the Levites were not assigned land (see Josh. 13.14; cf. Ezek. 44.28 ), they had to depend upon voluntary offerings (see 10.9; 18.2 n. ).

12.13–19 :

This section, the earliest in the chapter, is concentrically arranged in a chiasm, a literary device frequently used by the authors and editors of antiquity to structure diverse material in an ABC:C'B'A' pattern (diagram on p. 393).

13–16 :

The paragraph introduces two important distinctions in Israelite religion, each of which was revolutionary.

13–14 :

The first distinction is between sacrificial worship any place (i.e., at sites scattered throughout the land), which is here rejected as illegitimate, and legitimate sacrifice performed at a single sanctuary, the place that the Lord will choose (v. 14 ). The prohibition of sacrifice at multiple sites marks a dramatic contrast with the nation's previous norms. It was formerly common to erect altars and sacrifice to God throughout the land (Gen. 12.7; 35.1–7; 1 Sam. 7.17; 1 Kings 18.20–46 ); indeed, earlier biblical law assures God's blessing at multiple sacrificial altars: “in every place” (Exod. 20.21 ).

14–16 :

The second distinction is 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, on the base of which its blood would be spilled in devotion to God (Lev. 17.1–9 ). This requirement lies behind the condemnation of Saul's troops for slaughtering domestic animals “on the ground,” without an altar (1 Sam. 14.31–35 ). The prohibition of all local altars, however, created a real difficulty for those living in any of your settlements (v. 15 ), without easy access to the central sanctuary. In order that those far from the Temple could continue to eat meat, the legislator sought a legal precedent for the innovation of permitting the slaughter of domestic animals without performing that slaughter at an altar. The precedent employed was, paradoxically, the convention that applied to wild game such as the gazelle and…deer (v. 15 ). Although permissible for consumption, these animals could not be sacrificed (note translators' note b). Accordingly, Priestly law allowed the slaughter of wild game in the open field: i.e., away from an altar. (Later rabbinic law also provides specific rules concerning how any animal should be slaughtered, seeking to prevent suffering.) The one condition imposed was not to consume the animal's blood but to “pour out its blood and cover it with earth” (Lev. 17.13 ). Deuteronomy's legislator applies that model to domestic animals, which may now—paradoxically in contravention of Priestly norms (Lev. 17.3–7 )—similarly be slaughtered throughout the land, on condition that their blood is not consumed but poured out on the ground like water (v. 16 ). Blood was accorded special status because it symbolized the vitality and “life” of animals and humans (v. 23; 15.23; Gen. 9.4–5; Lev. 17.14; 19.26 ). Ritually pure and impure alike (the unclean and the clean) may now eat meat slaughtered under the new regulations (v. 15; contrast Lev. 7.19–21 ).

17 :

Tithes, see 14.22–29 n.

12.20–28 :

This section repeats the permission for secular slaughter. It presents it in a new light, however, now explaining it as a necessary consequence of the expansion of Israel's boundaries and resulting distance from the cultic shrine. The assumption of a 7th century date for the composition of Deuteronomy would imply that the paragraph's future formulation reflects an after‐the‐fact explanation.

23–27 :

Although secular slaughter does not require an altar, common to it and the rules for sacrifice are special procedures for handling the animal's blood (see vv. 13–16 n. ). In neither case may the blood ever be consumed by humans. Slaughter requires the blood to be poured on the ground (vv. 23–25 ). Similarly, the rules for each of the two main types of animal sacrifice direct the blood away from human consumption (v. 27 ). With burnt offerings, both the flesh and the blood are offered to God on the altar (see v. 6 n. ). With your other sacrifices, the blood is directed on the altar, at or upon its base.

28 :

Commandments, lit. “words.”

12.29–31 :

Here the focus shifts to purification of worship.

30 :

The new covenant requires that Israelites not imitate the more established sacrificial practices of the Canaanites, by whose antiquity the newcomers might be lured. Elsewhere, the corruption of Israelite religion is presented as resulting from the attractions of marital contract ( 7.1–5, 25) or political treaty (Exod. 23.33; 34.12 ).

31 :

Offer up their sons and their daughters in fire: The Canaanites are accused of child sacrifice (see 2 Kings 3.27; 23.10; Jer. 19.5–6 ), elsewhere associated with the deity Molech (Lev. 18.2; 20.2–5 ). This practice may have entrenched itself during the monarchy, with a cult center in the Hinnom Valley, just southwest of Jerusalem (2 Kings 23.10; Jer. 7.31; 19.5–6 ). The historical evidence for such practices, however, remains disputed.

13.1 :

NJPS, following the Masoretic paragraph divisions, correctly regards this verse as the conclusion to ch 12 ; contrast the standard chapter and verse numbers, which were first added to the Hebrew text in the 13th century CE. The demarcation of the unit is here important. In form, ch 12 is thus framed by an inclusio (see next note) that urges fidelity to law and tradition, even though, in its content, the unit has just profoundly transformed both. Be careful to observe, the same idiom found at 12.1 (also 11.32 ), frames the unit with an inclusio. Moreover, Neither add to it nor take away from it reflects an ancient Near Eastern scribal formula that was often included in the epilogue of treaties, inscriptions, or law collections to protect them from being defaced, altered, or written over. Although the admonition may begin a section ( 4.2 ), more frequently, as here, it serves as an ending marker or “colophon” to conclude the literary unit (Prov. 30.6; Eccl. 3.14; cf. Revelation 22.18–19 ).

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