The book of Deuteronomy was rather conveniently “found” in the Jerusalem temple during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (641-609 b.c.e.), who, like King Hezekiah (715-686 b.c.e.) before him, was a reformer. The key reform associated with these Judean kings was monotheism (2 Kings 18:4-5, 19:19, 22:17, 23:4-24), and monotheism therefore plays an important role in Deuteronomy. But this monotheism was not the syncretistic form of monotheism that we encountered in Genesis and Exodus, asserting a single divine power underlying the plurality of gods and equating Egypt’s Thoth with Canaan’s El. Rather, the Deuteronomic reformers asserted a chauvinistic form of monotheism that validated the Judean national god and discredited the gods of Canaan and other nations.
Thus, Deuteronomy is the location of most statements in the Torah asserting the chosenness of the Israelites by God (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 4:20, 7:2-4, 7:6-8, 10:14-15), denouncing the gods and altars of other nations (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 4:19, 4:35, 4:39, 5:7, 6:14-15, 7:1-5, 7:25-26, 11:16-17, 11:28, 12:2-3, 12:30-31, ch. 13, 17:2-7, 29:15-20, 30:17-18, 31:18, 32:30-39), rejecting image-worship (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 4:15-18, 5:8-10, 7:5, 7:25-26, 9:12, 12:3, 16:21-22, 27:15), or insisting on a centralized cult at a single temple (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 12:4-27, 16:1-17, 17:8-13, 18:6-8, 26:1-11, 31:10-13). We encounter similar ideas in the writings of the later prophets (see, e.g., Isaiah 2:6-8, 2:18-21, 40:18-20, 41:6-7, 44:6-20, 45:5-7, 45:20, 46:5-9; Jeremiah 10:3-16; 11:12, 13:9-10), which implies a date for Deuteronomy that corresponds roughly to the time of those later prophets. Significantly, Deuteronomy’s distinctive themes contradict practices and beliefs that were widespread prior to the reign of Josiah and that enjoyed the tacit approval of respected prophets (see 1 Samuel 9:12-14; 1 Kings 18:32-38). In earlier times, for example, Judeans and Israelites recognized:
- a pantheon of gods and goddesses that met in a divine assembly (For detail about polytheistic elements in Judaism, click here. See also Exodus 21:6, 22:7-8; Isaiah 6:8; Jeremiah 23:18-22; Psalms 82:1, 6-7; Job 1:6; see also Genesis 20:11-13 [Abraham refers to the "gods using a plural verb form], 35:4 [Jacob buries gods for safekeeping], 35:7 [Jacob refers to the gods using a plural verb form]; Deuteronomy 16:21 [implying that goddess worship was widespread], 32:8 [Dead Sea Scrolls version refers to 70 gods]; Jeremiah 44:15-19 [criticizing but unable to stop pervasive goddess worship]; Hosea 14:9-10 [encoded references to “Asherah”]; Proverbs 3:13-18 [same]);
- the deification of deceased souls and cultic devotion to ancestors (see Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; 1 Samuel 28:13-14);
- the use of household gods that took the form of small figurines (see Genesis 31:19, 31:30-35, 35:4; Judges ch. 17; 1 Samuel 19:13; 2 Kings 23:24; Hosea 3:4; Zechariah 10:2);
- the erection of sacred trees, obelisks, mounds, and divine images (For detail about divine images in the Jerusalem temple, click here. See also Genesis 21:33 [Abraham plants a sacred tree], 28:16-22 [Jacob erects a stone and pours oil over it], 31:44-54 [Jacob erects a pillar and offers a sacrifice], 35:14 [Jacob erects a stone and pours oil over it]; Exodus 37:6-9 [Bezalel makes the cheruvs for the sanctuary]; Numbers 21:4-9 [Moses erects a serpent on a pole]; Joshua ch. 4 [Joshua erects a circle of twelve stones in Gilgal, which becomes a place of worship], 24:26-27 [Joshua erects a stone under a worship tree]; Judges 8:22-27 [Gideon makes a sacred ephod], ch. 18 [the Danites establish a temple with an idol that Micah had made]; 2 Kings 18:4-5, 23:4-24 [describing prevalence of sacrificial mounds, sacred stones, and Asherah trees];
- the founding of a variety of major and minor temples at which God was localized (see Genesis 12:7-8, 16:7-14, 28:16-22, 33:20, 35:14; Exodus 20:21-23; Deuteronomy 27:5-7; Joshua 8:30-31; Judges 6:24-27, ch. 18, 21:4; 1 Samuel 14:35; 2 Samuel 24:18-25; 1 Kings 18:32; Ezekiel 16:25; 1 Chronicles 16:39-40, 21:18-30);
- worship at the temples of other nations (see Genesis 14:17-24, 21:33; Exodus 3:1, 3:12, 4:27, 18:5, 24:13);
- ritual worship without the need for a professional priesthood (see Genesis 8:20-22, 12:7-8, 13:4, 13:18, 15:7-21, 26:24-25, 28:18, 35:14; Exodus 20:21-23, 24:4-8; Judges 13:16-20; 17:5; 1 Samuel 13:9-14 [criticizing the practice]; 2 Samuel 6:17-18; 2 Samuel 8:18; 2 Samuel 15:7-12; 2 Samuel 24:25; 1 Kings 3:2-4, 3:15, 8:5, 8:62-63, 9:25, 18:36-38; 2 Kings 16:12-13; 1 Chronicles 21:26-28);
- the influence of astrological forces (For astrological references in Hebrew scripture, click here. For detail about astrological influences on the Jewish ritual calendar, click here. See also Genesis 15:5 [yhvh tells Abraham to read his fate in the stars]; Deuteronomy 4:19 [denouncing the worship of the celestial bodies, but implicitly confirming their influence]; Judges 5:20 [the stars fought from heaven]; Amos 5:25-26 [in the wilderness, Israel worshiped Saturn]; Psalms 19:1-6 [“The heavens recount the glory of El....”]; Job 22:12-14 [El is highest of the visible planets (Saturn)], 38:33 [the heavens dictate events on earth]; Ecclesiastes 1:9 [cycles of time], 3:1-11 [all events are determined by time]);
- the appearance of God on earth in anthropomorphic form (see, e.g., Genesis 16:7-14 [as an angel], ch. 18 [as three men]; Exodus 4:16 [as Moses], 7:1 [as Moses], 14:19 [as an angel], 16:8 [as Moses], 18:19 [as Moses], 21:6 [as Moses], 22:8 [as Moses]; Numbers 20:16 [as an angel], 22:22-35 [as an angel]; Deuteronomy 29:1-5 [as Moses], 31:22-23 [as Moses]; Joshua 5:13-15 [as leader of the army of yhvh]; Judges 2:1-4 [as an angel], 6:11-23 [as an angel], ch. 13 [as an angel]; 1 Chronicles 21:16-17 and 27 [as an angel]);
- monastic renunciation and asceticism (see Numbers ch. 6 [describing the restrictions applicable to a nazir, including sexual restrictions (olive-sized seminal emission = corpse contamination)]; Deuteronomy 5:27-28 [instructing the Israelites to “return to your tents,” but instructing Moses to remain near to yhvh, implying that Moses continued the ascetical practices prescribed in Exodus 19:10-15]; Ezekiel 3:26, 33:22 [Ezekiel practices silence]);
- reincarnation (see Genesis 38:8 [levirate marriage, implying reincarnation among lineal descendants], 38:26 [same]; Deuteronomy 25:5-6 [same]; Isaiah 26:19 [those who dwell in the dust will come back to life]; Ezekiel ch. 37 [resurrection of bones]; Amos 2:4 [descendants repeat errors of ancestors]; Job 33:25 [a dying person is rejuvenated], 33:30 [a soul returns from the grave], 42:13 [the text implies that God is ultimately just and thus implies reincarnation of the children described in Job 1:2 and 1:19]; Ruth chs. 3-4 [levirate marriage]; Ecclesiastes 1:4 [continuity of generations], 1:9 [cycles of time]); and
- vegetarianism (see, e.g., Genesis 1:29 [God only allows vegetarian food], 9:3-4 [God permits meat, with blood drained, as a concession]; Exodus 34:28 [describing Moses’ austere diet when communing with yhvh]; Numbers 11:4-23, 31-34 [yhvh, angry that Israelites crave meat, gives them so much meat that they vomit]; Deuteronomy 9:9, 9:18 [describing Moses’ austere diet when communing with yhvh]; see also Daniel 1:8-16 [describing benefits of a vegetarian diet]).
In short, the religion of Deuteronomy — which is characterized by centralization of authority, religious chauvinism, and iconoclasm — stands in stark contrast to the longstanding religious practice of the Hebrew speaking people. A few points merit closer examination.
Prior to King Josiah’s reform, Micah made a carved image and a cast idol for the purpose of worshiping yhvh, and the Danites used Micah’s idols as that tribe’s own idols, with Moses’ own grandson acting as their priest. (Judges chs. 17-18) The Israelites also erected altars and worship-images at “high places” throughout the land (not just in Jerusalem), and these high places were patronized by respected prophets and kings, without any apparent disapproval. (See 1 Samuel 9:6-14; 1 Kings 3:2-4) And, of course, the Israelites worshiped golden calves in Beth-El and in Dan. (1 Kings 12:28-30) All this evidence strongly suggests that, prior to King Josiah’s time, there was simply no awareness among the Israelites of the book we now call Deuteronomy.
It is also significant that the prophet Hosea (8th century b.c.e.) rails against the image-worship that was prevalent in his time, but in the entire book of Hosea, the prophet never once refers to the prohibitions in Deuteronomy. Is it likely that a prophet who was determined to put an end to image-worship would neglect to cite Moses’ own statements against that form of worship if they were then part of the Torah?
Also, there is the matter of the caduceus Moses made that the Israelites worshiped for centuries. (Numbers 21:4-9; 2 Kings 18:4) If Moses hated divine images, why then did he make one? And why did he do so just six months before he supposedly related the contents of the book of Deuteronomy, in which he condemned the practice? (See Numbers 21:4-9, 33:38; Deuteronomy 1:3) And if, having made the caduceus, Moses later decided it was a bad idea and wanted it destroyed, he certainly could have destroyed it forthwith. Why instead would he preserve the caduceus but write an iconoclastic screed justifying the actions of kings, centuries later, who chose to destroy it (2 Kings 18:4)? It is no small thing to destroy an ancient image created by Moses himself, the man reputed to be the greatest of all prophets (Deuteronomy 34:10). Doing so hardly suggests respect for Moses; rather, it suggests a revisionist effort to reinvent Moses, just as Deuteronomy reinvents the Torah. (For detail about Moses’ caduceus, click here.
From these and other clues, it seems that the book of Deuteronomy is best dated from the time of King Josiah, a time when the tribes constituting Judah and Israel had transitioned from a pastoral to an agrarian economy, and when the royal house was seeking to consolidate political power in the national capital and cultic power in a temple controlled by the king.
More clues about the origin of the book of Deuteronomy are set forth in Part Five of Torah Nondualism: Diversity, Conflict, and Synthesis in the Pentateuch, which also relates the stunning secret of Moses’ death.
Please click here.
Please “like” or “share” this website on Facebook:
You can also “like” or “share” this page of the website using these buttons:
Copyright © 2011 James H. Cumming