DEUTERONOMY (dū-têr-ŏn'o*ch-mē, Gr. Deuteronomion, second law). In sight of the Canaan he would not be allowed to enter, Moses gathered the hosts of Israel about him for his farewell addresses. These, set within the historical framework of several brief narrative passages, constitute the Book of Deuteronomy. Since the occasion of the renewal of the covenant made earlier at Sinai, the appropriate documentary pattern for covenant ratification supplied the pattern for Moses’ speeches and thus for the book.

The English title is unfortunate, being based on the LXX’s mistranslation of the phrase “a copy of this law” (Deut.17.18) as to deuteronomion touto, “this second law.” The Jewish name debārîm, “words,” derives from the opening expression, “These are the words Moses spoke” (Deut.1.1). This title is well-suited because it focuses attention on a clue to the peculiar literary character of the book; the treaties imposed by ancient imperial lords on their vassals began with such an expression. Deuteronomy is the text of “words” of a suzerainty covenant made by the Lord of heaven through the mediatorship of Moses with the servant people Israel beyond the Jordan.

According to the Development Hypothesis, popular among nineteenth-century negative critics, Deuteronomy was a product of the seventh century b.c. and provided the program for the reform of Josiah (cf. 2Kgs.22.3-2Kgs.23.25), allegedly introducing the concept of a centralized place of worship into Israelite religion at that late date. But unless a wholesale critical rewriting of the historical sources is undertaken, it is obvious that the concept of the central altar was normative during the entire life of Israel in Canaan. Moreover, it is equally apparent that, taken at face value, the covenant stipulations in Deuteronomy are directed to a unified young nation about to enter a program of conquest, not to a diminishing remnant of the divided kingdom. Indeed, many of those stipulations would be completely incongruous in a document produced in the seventh century. That dating, though still dominant, is being increasingly challenged even from the side of negative criticism. While some have suggested a postexilic origin, more have favored a date before Josiah’s reign. There is a growing tendency to trace the sources of the deuteronomic legislation back to the early monarchy—if not earlier. The view that these traditions were preserved at a northern cult center, being shaped according to ritual patterns, is widespread. Some would detach Deuteronomy from the Pentateuch and treat Deuteronomy-2 Kings as a unit representing the historical-theological perspective of a distinctive school of thought, the “deuteronomic.”

The unity, antiquity, and authenticity of Deuteronomy are evidenced by the conformity of its total structure to the pattern of Near Eastern suzerainty treaties dating from the second millennium b.c. The classic covenantal pattern consisted of the following sections: preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, curses and blessings, invocation of oath deities, directions for deposit of duplicate treaty documents in sanctuaries and periodic proclamation of the treaty to the vassal people.

This substantially is the outline of Deuteronomy:

1. Preamble: Covenant Mediator (1:1-5).

2. Historical Prologue: Covenant History (1:6-4:49).

3. Stipulations: Covenant Life (5-26).

4. Curses and Blessings: Covenant Ratification (27-30).

5. Succession Arrangements: Covenant Continuity (31-34).

The similarity between the style of Deuteronomy and that of international suzerainty treaties is well worth noting. Also important is the overall oratorical nature of the book. The style is similar throughout, a fluent prose (chapters 32-33 are poetry) marked by majestic periods, warm eloquence, and the earnest exhortation of the preacher, calling the people to choose whom they would follow.

Deuteronomy is the Bible’s full-scale exposition of the covenant concept and demonstrates that, far from being a contract between two parties, God’s covenant with his people is a proclamation of his sovereignty and an instrument for binding his elect to himself in a commitment of absolute allegiance.

Israel is confronted with the demands of God’s governmental omnipotence, redemptive grace, and consuming jealousy. They are to show their consecration to the Lord by obeying his mandate to establish his kingdom in his land. That involves conquering the land, by which divine judgment would be visited on those who worship alien gods in God’s land, and also establishing a community of brotherly love in common service to the Lord within the Promised Land. This covenant calling was not an unconditional license to national privilege and prosperity. By the covenant oath Israel came under both the curses and the blessings that were to be meted out according to God’s righteous judgment. The covenant relation called for responsible decision: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God....For the Lord is your life” (Exod.30.19-Exod.30.20).

Bibliography: M. G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King, 1963; Anthony Phillips, Deuteronomy (CBC), 1973; J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy (TOTC), 1974; P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (NIC), 1976; A. D. H. Mayes, Deuteronomy (NCB), 1979.——MGK

View from Mt. Nebo to the north.
View of the Jordan Valley from Mt. Nebo, where Moses died. This view is toward Jericho.

DEUTERONOMY (Δευτερονόμιον).


The Eng. title of Deuteronomy, meaning “repetition of the law,” is derived from the LXX Δευτερονόμιον and the Vul. Deuteronomium. This inaccurate rendering is based on Deuteronomy 17:18 where the words “a copy of this law” (מִשְׁנֵ֨ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה הַזֹּאת) are incorrectly tr. τὸ Δευτερονόμιον του̂το as if the Heb. had been “this copy of the law” (מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה ). This title, however, is not inappropriate, for the book does include, along with much new matter, a repetition or reformulation of a large part of the laws. In Heb. lit. the book was known by a title taken from its opening words, “these are the words” (אֵ֣לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֗ים), or simply, “words” (דְּבָרִ֗ים).


Deuteronomy claims to consist almost entirely of the farewell speeches of Moses addressed to the new generation which had grown to manhood in the wilderness. The speeches are dated in the eleventh month of the forty years of wandering (1:3) and it is stated that Moses wrote as well as spoke them (31:9, 22, 24).

The ceremonial laws treat place of worship (12:1-28); idolatry (12:29-13:18; 16:21-17:7); clean and unclean food (14:1-21); tithes (14:22-29); remittance or release (15:1-18); setting aside of firstlings as holy (15:19-23); holy seasons (16:1-17).

The civil ordinances treat appointment of judges (16:18-20; 17:8-13); election of a king (17:14-20); regulations concerning the rights and revenues of priests and Levites (18:1-8); and rules concerning prophets (18:9-22).

The criminal laws cover the manslayer and cities of refuge (19:1-14); false testimony (19:15-21); conduct of war (20:1-20); expiation of an undetected murder (21:1-9); and crime punishable by hanging (21:22, 23).

Chapters 26 and 27 present the didactic applications of these laws and ch. 28 is a declaration of the blessings and curses which will overtake the people if they observe or neglect the prescribed statutes and ordinances.

The third discourse (chs. 29, 30) consists of a supplementary address, exhorting the people to accept the terms of the new covenant and promising them forgiveness in case of sin, if attended by wholehearted repentance. These three addresses are followed by a collection of miscellaneous materials such as Moses’ farewell, his deliverance of the law to the priests, his commission to Joshua, the Song of Moses, and the Blessing of Moses (31-33).

At least three elements—historical, legislative, didactic—can be traced through the book. The references to history are usually with a didactic aim. The legislative element tends directly to secure the national well-being.

The tone of exhortation which runs through the earlier and later addresses pervades also the legislative portion. The laws are not systematically stated but are ethically expounded in order to set forth their relation to the theocratic principles laid down in chs. 5-11. The author’s purpose is primarily hortatory; he is not a historian or jurist as much as he is a religious teacher.

The author wrote under a keen sense of idolatry and was deeply concerned to guard Israel against this, by insisting earnestly on the debt of gratitude and obedience it owed to its sovereign Lord. Therefore, the truths on which he dwells are the godhead of the Lord, His spirituality (Deut 4), His choice of Israel, and the love and faithfulness He has manifested toward it. From this is then deduced the need for Israel’s loving devotion to Him, an absolute repudiation of all false gods, a warm and spontaneous obedience to His will, and a generous attitude toward men.

Throughout Exodus-Numbers the Lord speaks to Moses; through Deuteronomy Moses speaks to the people. Here Israel’s redemptive history is tr. into living principles; Deuteronomy is more commentary than history. The purpose is to arouse Israel’s loyalty to the Lord and His revealed law.


In recent years scholars have compared the extra-Biblical covenant (suzerain—vassal) treaties of the ancient Near E with the Biblical material and some have concluded that Deuteronomy, to a great extent, follows the classic covenant pattern consisting of the following sections: preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, curses and blessings, invocation of oath deities, direction for deposit of duplicate treaty documents in sanctuaries, and periodic proclamation of the treaty of the vassal people. M. Kline (Treaty of the Great King) has made a detailed comparison of Deuteronomy with this classic treaty structure and made the following outline of Deuteronomy: I. Preamble: Covenant Mediator (1:1-5); II. Historical Prologue: Covenant History (1:6-4:49); III. Stipulations: Covenant Life (chs. 5-26); IV. Curses and Blessings: Covenant Ratification (chs. 27-30); V. Dynastic Disposition: Covenant Continuity (chs. 31-34).

Stylistically, this comparison of the pattern of the international suzerainty treaty is noteworthy. Deuteronomy is an exposition of the covenant concept and reveals that God’s covenant with His people is a proclamation of His sovereignty and an instrument for binding His elect to Himself in a commitment of absolute allegiance. Ancient suzerainty treaties began with a preamble in which the speaker, the one who was declaring his lordship and demanding the vassals’ allegiance, identified himself. The Deuteronomy preamble identifies the speaker as Moses (v. 1), but Moses, however, as the earthly, mediatorial representative of the Lord (v. 3), the heavenly Suzerain and ultimate Lord of this covenant. Following the preamble in the international suzerainty treaties there was a historical section, written in the I-thou style, which surveyed the previous relationships of lord and vassal. Benefits conferred by the lord upon the vassal were cited with a view to grounding the vassal’s allegiance in a sense of gratitude and fear. All these features characterize Deuteronomy 1:6-4:49.

Following the historical section were the stipulations which constituted the long and crucial central section of the covenant. When suzerainty treaties were renewed, these stipulations were repeated but with modifications, esp. such as were necessary to meet the changing situation. So, in these Deuteronomy stipulations (5:1-26:19) Moses rehearses and reformulates the requirements promulgated in the Sinaitic Covenant. Also just as treaty stipulations customarily began with the fundamental and general demand for the vassal’s absolute allegiance to the suzerain and then proceeded to various specific requirements, so Moses confronts Israel with the primary demand for consecration to the Lord (chs. 5-11) and then with the ancillary stipulations of covenant life (12:26).

The fourth standard division in the Near Eastern suzerainty treaties included the curses and blessings. In Deuteronomy this section is found in chs. 27-30. The final section of the covenant document has as its unifying theme the perpetuation of the covenant relationship. This succession is provided for by the appointment and commissioning of Joshua as dynastic heir to Moses in the office of mediatorial representative of the Lord (ch. 31). Included are two other standard elements in the international treaties. One is the invocation of covenant witnesses, here represented chiefly by the Song of Witness (ch. 32). The other is the direction for the disposition of the treaty document after the ceremony (31:9-13). By way of notarizing the document, an account of the death of Moses is affixed at the end (ch. 34).

The implications of this comparative evidence for the questions of the antiquity and authenticity of Deuteronomy are far-reaching. This kind of document with which Deuteronomy has been compared did not originate in some recurring ritual situations. Where, either in monarchic or pre-monarchic times, except in the very occasion to which Deuteronomy traces itself, can a historical situation be found in which such a treaty document is most appropriate?

This literary structure of Deuteronomy also has important implications for the way in which, having once been produced, this document would have been transmitted to subsequent generations. By their very nature treaties like Deuteronomy were inviolable. They were sealed legal documents; in fact, it was a practice to deposit such treaties in sanctuaries under the eye of the oath deities. There are examples in some of the extinct texts of specific curses pronounced against anyone who would in any way violate the treaty inscrs. Corresponding to these special stele curses is an injunction (Deut 4:2a): “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it.”

This extra-Biblical evidence confirms and illuminates not isolated data in Deuteronomy but the Deuteronomy treaty in its very structure; this information argues against a long evolutionary process being required to produce a book like Deuteronomy.


Critical views.

The traditional critical view (the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis) claims that Deuteronomy (at least chs. 12-26) was first published in 621 b.c. when Hilkiah found “the book of the law” in the Temple during the eighteenth year of King Josiah (2 Kings 22:8). This book was written, so the critics claim, for the express purpose of promoting a religious reform, to include the abolition of the “high places,” or local sanctuaries, supposed to have been perfectly legitimate up to that time, and to concentrate on the people’s worship in Jerusalem. As a 7th cent. b.c. literary creation reflecting the teaching of the 8th cent. b.c. “ethical” prophets, Deuteronomy was accorded a position late in the evolutionary process which led, in Wellhausen’s thought, from the primitive religion of the patriarchs through the henotheism of later times to the exalted monotheism of Deutero-Isaiah and the lit. of the exilic and postexilic period. If, however, as the critics claimed, the author was a prophet whose object was a religious reformation, and his aim was to abolish the “high places,” why does he not mention them? If he wanted to centralize worship in Jerusalem, why not make it clear? Jerusalem is not even mentioned. Moreover, would a prophet of such oratorical and spiritual power as reflected in this book be afraid to proclaim his message openly, or prefer to remain unknown, write it in a book, and hide it in the Temple?

Of course, the traditional critical view of the origin of Deuteronomy is an integral part of the documentary hypothesis; indeed, one might say that the question of Deuteronomy is the cornerstone of the documentary hypothesis. So the approach of the critics to the Book of Deuteronomy is based on their attitude toward the origin and nature of the Pentateuch itself, as well as to the whole question of the development of Israelite religion. The classical critical approach to Deuteronomy has been altered in various ways in recent years so that at the present time the origin of the Book of Deuteronomy is among the most controversial problems with the critics. Serious problems raised by late date theories have caused the critics to make various modifications which confuse and cancel each other. Almost every period has been advanced as the age in which the book was composed, while its authorship has been ascribed variously to Moses himself, Samuel or, less specifically to prophetic, priestly, and other circles. As to its origin, it has been associated with such sanctuaries as Jerusalem, Shechem and Bethel or, less precisely, to northern Israel or Judah. A convenient survey of the evolution of these differing and conflicting theories of the critics may be found in E. W. Nicholson’s Deuteronomy and Tradition (1967).

Traditional view.

The traditional view of the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy is based on the teaching of the Bible itself and Jewish and Christian tradition which was in full accord until the advent of higher criticism.

Deuteronomy is represented as emanating from Moses. Nearly forty times his name occurs, and in the majority of cases as the authoritative author of the subject matter. The first person is sometimes used (1:16, 18; 3:21; 29:5). It is expressly stated that Moses taught Israel these statutes and judgments in order that they should obey them in the land which they were about to enter (4:5, 14; 5:31). The book bears the message of one who is interested in Israel’s political and religious future. A paternal mood runs throughout which marks it as Mosaic.

The Bible clearly indicates, “And Moses wrote this law, and gave it to the priests the sons of Levi....When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book, to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, ‘Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you’” (Deut 31:9, 24-26). Here it is distinctly and emphatically stated that “Moses wrote this law.” The simplest explanation is that Moses “wrote” the legislation itself, namely chs. 12-26. An unbroken line of tradition assigns authorship to Moses; this was accepted by the Lord Himself (Matt 19:8) and generally by the NT writers. The record of Moses’ death is not as serious as some would claim. It is not out of order, even today, for an editor to furnish addenda to an autobiography, giving an account of the author’s death. It will be noticed that the Book of Joshua is closed in the same way. This appendix may have been attached to the document soon after the death of Moses, or it may be, as some suppose, that what is now the end of Deuteronomy was once the beginning of Joshua. The author of the appendix could have been Joshua, the intimate friend of the great lawgiver and his successor as the leader of Israel. He was the one above all others who should have pronounced the eulogy upon his master after his death. Notice the expressions “Moses the servant of the Lord,” and “Moses, the man of God.” Neither of these phrases is found in the preceding part of the Pentateuch and it does not appear that Moses even assumed such titles for himself. It was a favorite method with Joshua, however, in speaking of his dead friend and leader. The words “Moses the servant of the Lord,” occur more than a dozen times in the Book of Joshua, and are found in both the narrative matter and the speeches attributed to the author. The other expression also was known in his day for Caleb referred to “Moses, the man of God,” in addressing him.


Personal element.

Throughout chs. 12-26 Moses’ name is absent, yet it is clearly assumed that he is the speaker. This is the more striking since his name is repeated no fewer than thirty-eight times in the narrative portions. His personality shines through by the intrusion here and there of the first person, esp. in the phrase, “I command thee,” sometimes with the addition of “this day.” This is particularly the case in the remarkable passage 18:15-18, with its reference to the people’s memory of Horeb in v. 16. One can well imagine this intrusion with its promise coming from the mouth of Moses; but otherwise it loses much of its point. It is not easy to conceive of it as a device of a reformer, or to see how it could serve his purpose.

The personal element again appears, quite unexpectedly in 24:8, “Take heed, in an attack of leprosy, to be very careful to do according to all that the Levitical priests shall direct you; as I commanded them.” The emergence of the first person in this verse is uncalled for, if not Mosaic. Then comes, “Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam, on the way as you came forth out of Egypt.” How natural for Moses to call to mind his own sister’s folly and punishment; how strange if simply used by one intent on the reform of the cult!

Other incidents which must have deeply impressed Moses unexpectedly intrude into the law, such as the attack of the Amalekites (25:17), and the hiring of Balaam to curse (23:4).

The number and character of reminiscences is a striking feature. The mode of their occurrence is frequently quite incidental, such as the frequent references to Egypt and the reference to Miriam. They convey the impression that they issue from an old man who rebuked the people for disobedience as if they were children, and to display his anxiety that these younger hearers should “remember” and “not forget” his words, when he should be no longer there to guide (4:9-6:7).

There are also signs that the speaker has known the responsibility of leadership. He remembers the “ways” by which they traveled, the turnings, the treatment they received, the difficult crossings, and the places where water was attainable for the cattle.

There are names of events, all of which stirred Moses’ feelings deeply, the tempting (Massah), striving (Meribah), destruction (Hormah), the burning (Taberah), the graves of lust (Kibroth-hattaavah) and the chastisement (Mosera). Is this combination of words pure accident, or is it not probable that these are the names which Moses himself attached to the events? It is significant that Moses is never praised until after his death (34:10).

This is a formidable list when compared to the few references found in the prophetic writings. There is nothing to compare with this amount of detail in any of the speeches recorded in the historical books and much less than this would have sufficed to provide the law with a “Mosaic” setting. These reminiscences contribute nothing to the alleged program of reform attempted at a late date.

In Exodus it is related that Moses prayed for the people, but nothing is said about his prayer for Aaron. But in Deuteronomy 9:20 we read “the Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him; and I prayed for Aaron also at the same time.” Why should a late writer introduce this? Yet nothing could be more true if Moses were the author. Another reference (32:50) records Aaron’s death, an event which must have left an indelible impression on his brother’s mind, since they were both involved in the same trespass.

Could all these personal Mosaic features have been introduced by some reformer, priest, prophet, or Levite, in order to invest his collection of laws with a Mosaic dress? Is it probable that such an author would have succeeded in establishing a correspondence so natural, so close in manifold and minute particulars, and so profound? Or is it more reasonable to think that this result proceeds from a true historical connection between the book of the law and the man whose name it has always borne? On every hand if Deuteronomy is acknowledged to be a great book which exerted great influence, should it not also have a great author? Who can fill that place so worthily as the old and tried leader who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, shared their experiences and laid the foundations of their faith?

Historical setting.

The time for these discourses in Deuteronomy is plainly stated; it was the eleventh month of the forty years of wandering which were imposed upon the people for their unbelief (1:3, 35; 2:14). If one endeavors to picture the author living in monarchic or later days he meets on every side baffling paradoxes; if, however, the author is speaking to Israel as they approach the Promised Land and are about to settle, the language is precisely what one would expect. The aim of the author is to protect the Israelite community against Canaanite influence. This is viewed as a future danger and not as in Hosea where the people are already entangled with many lovers. Deuteronomy speaks of “other gods, which you have not known” (13:2, 3), even of “new gods that had come in of late” (32:17). This is not the language of one addressing a degenerate Israel of a later age; it is language connected with entry into the land.

The historical setting, moreover, is explicit in “when you go over the Jordan” (12:10), and “when you come into the land” (18:9), and implicit throughout. The campaign against the former inhabitants had still to be fought (20:17). The remembrance of the bondage in Egypt recurs frequently, and is treated as a recent experience in the living memory of some. Close connection with the immediate past is reflected in “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way...” (25:17); and also the exclusion of the Ammonite and the Moabite from membership in the congregation “because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way” (23:4).

Two of the most frequent phrases in the book are “go in and possess” (thirty-five times), and “the land which the Lord giveth thee” (thirty-four times). The occupation of the land by the Israelites had a primary place in the mind of the author. The language of promised blessings was for a people about to settle in a new land; not those settled for ages. The gods of the Canaanites are described as those of “the nations whom you shall dispossess” (12:2, 29, 30). This language is in striking contrast to Ezekiel, Haggai, or Ezra!

Where “tribes” are mentioned in Deuteronomy, they are separate entities but included in one whole; nothing to indicate a breach between N and S; Judah and Ephraim are not two kingdoms, and in fact are named only once, which is in the Blessing (33:7-17). The consistent address to “all Israel” assumes the unity of the nation; the people were addressed as a whole. For the period of the divided kingdom this was neither appropriate nor significant.

In Deuteronomy the election of Israel and the covenant at Horeb are always referred to as past events, but the inheritance of the land is always regarded as future. There is a national consciousness and a national religion, but as yet there was no central political organization. The contents are precisely suitable to the time and place (Deut 4:44-49). Anachronisms and discrepancies are not present in the text to reflect a “late” author.

It should also be noted that the primitive nature of the laws is suitable for a time when Israel first became a nation, but insufficient if viewed in relation to the needs of the 7th cent. b.c. These laws were to be executed by judges (16:18), priests (17:9), and elders or “men of the city” (21:21) not by the king (contrast 2 Kings 15:3, 4). In this book the Lord Himself lead the people to battle as in the days of Joshua.

These laws were issued with a tone of authority which seems to proceed from a great leader. The prophets plead, but this author commands. This colors the whole legislation, and is explicit in the repeated phrase, “which I command you this day” (13:18; 19:9; 27:1).

The theology of the Deuteronomic legislation is simple and unsophisticated; it shows no advance upon that of Moses and no difference from it. The same cannot be said of the theological outlook of Isaiah or his successors. Deuteronomy reflects the optimism of the Mosaic era; the promise of the fathers, the wonders in Egypt, the people’s deliverance and the covenant at Horeb. Such a combination of qualities can scarcely be due to accident, nor does it wear the appearance of design. The laws laid down in chs. 12-26 exactly correspond to the background of the Mosaic era and not to any other.

Geographical features.

An analysis of the background data contained in Deuteronomy reveals geographical references too accurate for a Mosaic setting to be accidental. The account of the journeyings (chs. 1-3) is altogether realistic and quite unlike an introduction later prefixed to a collection of old laws. The views described and the features of the Moabite country reproduced reflect an eyewitness account. There is much geographical detail recorded, esp. in the opening and closing chapters, but Pal. is always viewed from the outside. The minute accuracy of the description of the land of Moab and the journey to it is esp. a striking feature (chs. 2 and 3). In contrast, Deuteronomy knows nothing of Zion or David and even these omissions are significant. If Deuteronomy comes from a late period as critics have persistently asserted, why is there no mention of Jerusalem, or even Shiloh where the Tabernacle came to rest?

Deuteronomy contains numerous notices concerning nations with whom the Israelites had then come in contact, but who, after the Mosaic period, entirely disappeared from the pages of history, such as the accounts of the residences of the kings of Bashan (1:4). The observation is made (2:10) that the Emim had formerly dwelt in the plain of Moab and that they were a great people, equal to the Anakim; this observation accords with Genesis 14:5. Deuteronomy gives a detailed account (2:12) concerning the Horites and their relations to the Edomites. An account of the Zamzummim (2:20, 21), one of the earliest races of Canaan, is given though mentioned nowhere else; the author apparently had some interest in them. All of this is most strange if viewed from a “late” period, but exactly what one would expect from Moses.

Deuteronomy uses the appellation of “hill country of the Amorites” (1:7, 19, 20, 44), but even in the Book of Joshua, soon after the conquest of the land, the name is already exchanged for “hill country of Judah” (Josh 11:16, 21).

The Book of Deuteronomy clearly reflects the personality of Moses, the historical setting of his age, and the geographical data one would expect.

Later influence.

The influence of Deuteronomy upon the later writings and history of Israel is great. Of all the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy has been most used by the prophets, simply because it is best calculated to serve as a model for prophetic declarations.


J. Reider, “The Origin of Deuteronomy,” JQR, N.S. 27 (1936-1937), 349-371; G. T. Manley, “The Moabite Background of Deuteronomy,” EQ. XXI (1949), 81-92; G. E. Mendenhall, “Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition,” BA, XVII (1954), 50-76; G. T. Manley, The Book of the Law (1957); J. Muilenburg, “The Form and Structure of the Covenantal Formulations,” VT, IX (1959), 347ff.; M. G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King (1963); D. J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant (1963); D. R. Hillers, Treaty-Curses and the Old Testament Prophets (1964); O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction (1965); E. W. Nicholson, Deuteronomy and Tradition (1967).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. Name

2. What Deuteronomy Is

3. Analysis

4. Ruling Ideas

5. Unity

6. Authorship

7. Deuteronomy Spoken Twice

8. Deuteronomy’s Influence in Israel’s History

9. The Critical Theory


1. Name:

In Hebrew ’elleh ha-debharim, "these are the words"; in Greek, Deuteronomion, "second law"; whence the Latin deuteronomii, and the English Deuteronomy. The Greek title is due to a mistranslation by the Septuagint of the clause in De 17:18 rendered, "and he shall write for himself this repetition of the law." The Hebrew really means "and he shall write out for himself a copy of this law." However, the error on which the English title rests is not serious, as Deuteronomy is in a very true sense a repetition of the law.

2. What Deuteronomy Is:

3. Analysis:

Deuteronomy is composed of three discourses, followed by three short appendices:

(1) De 1:1-4:43, historical; a review of God’s dealings with Israel, specifying in great detail where and when delivered (De 1:1-5), recounting in broad oratorical outlines the chief events in the nation’s experience from Horeb to Moab (De 1:6-3:29), on which the author bases an earnest appeal to the people to be faithful and obedient, and in particular to keep clear of all possible idolatry (De 4:1-40). Appended to this first discourse is a brief note (De 4:41-43) concerning Moses’ appointment of three cities of refuge on the East side of the Jordan.

(2) De 4:44-26:19, hortatory and legal; introduced by a superscription (De 4:44-49), and consisting of a resume of Israel’s moral and civil statutes, testimonies and judgments. Analyzed in greater detail, this second discourse is composed of two main sections:

(a) chapters 5-11, an extended exposition of the Ten Commandments on which theocracy was based;

(b) chapters 12-26, a code of special statutes concerning worship, purity, tithes, the three annual feasts, the administration of justice, kings, priests, prophets, war, and the private and social life of the people. The spirit of this discourse is most ethical and religious. The tone is that of a father no less than that of a legislator. A spirit of humanity pervades the entire discourse. Holiness is its ideal.

(3) De 27:1-31:30, predictive and minatory; the subject of this third discourse being "the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience." This section begins with directions to inscribe these laws on plastered stones to be set up on Mt. Ebal (De 27:1-10), to be ratified by an antiphonal ritual of blessings and cursings from the two adjacent mountains, Gerizim and Ebal (De 27:11-26). These are followed by solemn warnings against disobedience (De 28:1-29:1), and fresh exhortations to accept the terms of the new covenant made in Moab, and to choose between life and death (De 29:2-30:20). Moses’ farewell charge to Israel and his formal commission of Joshua close the discourse (De 31). The section is filled with predictions, which were woefully verified in Israel’s later history. The three appendices, spoken of above, close the book:

(a) Moses’ So (De 32), which the great Lawgiver taught the people (the Law was given to the priests, De 31:24-27);

(b) Moses’ Blessing (De 33), which forecast the future for the various tribes (Simeon only being omitted);

(c) a brief account of Moses’ death and burial (De 34) with a noble panegyric on him as the greatest prophet Israel ever had. Thus closes this majestic and marvelously interesting and practical book. Its keyword is "possess"; its central thought is "Yahweh has chosen Israel, let Israel choose Yahweh."

4. Ruling Ideas:

The great central thought of Deuteronomy is the unique relation which Yahweh as a unique God sustains to Israel as a unique people. "Hear O Israel; Yahweh our God is one Yahweh." The monotheism of Deuteronomy is very explicit. Following from this, as a necessary corollary almost, is the other great teaching of the book, the unity of the sanctuary. The motto of the book might be said to be, "One God, one sanctuary."

(1) Yahweh, a Unique God.

(2) Israel, a Unique People.

(3) The Relation between Yahweh and Israel a Unique Relation.

5. Unity:

6. Authorship:

There is one passage bearing upon the authorship of Deuteronomy wherein it is stated most explicitly that Moses wrote "this law." It reads, "And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi. .... And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished (i.e. to the end), that Moses commanded the Levites, that bare the ark of the covenant of Yahweh, saying, Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of Yahweh your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee" (De 31:9,24-27). This passage is of more than traditional value, and should not be ignored as is so often done (e. g. by Ryle, article "Deuteronomy," HDB). It is not enough to say that Moses was the great fountain-head of Hebrew law, that he gave oral but not written statutes, or, that Moses was only the traditional source of these statutes. For it is distinctly and emphatically stated that "Moses wrote this law." And it is further declared (De 31:22) that "Moses wrote this song," contained in De 32. Now, these statements are either true, or they are false. There is no escape. The authorship of no other book in the Old Testament is so explicitly emphasized. The present writer believes that Moses actually wrote the great body of Deuteronomy, and for the following general reasons:

(1) Deuteronomy as a Whole Is Eminently Appropriate to What We Know of Moses’ Times.

It closes most fittingly the formative period of Israel’s history. The historical situation from first to last is that of Moses. The references to foreign neighbors--Egypt, Canaan, Amalek, Ammon, Moab, Edom--are in every case to those who flourished in Moses’ own times. As a law book its teaching is based upon the Ten Commandments. If Moses gave the Ten Commandments, then surely he may have written the Book of Deuteronomy also. Besides, the Code of Hammurabi, which antedates Moses by at least 700 years, makes it possible certainly that Moses also left laws in codified or written form.

(2) Deuteronomy Is Represented as Emanating from Moses.

The language is language put into Moses’ mouth. Nearly forty times his name occurs, and in the majority of instances as the authoritative author of the subject-matter. The first person is used predominatingly throughout: "I commanded Joshua at that time" De (De 3:21); and "I charged your judges at that time" (1:16); "And I commanded you at that time" (De 1:18); "I have led you forty years in the wilderness" (De 29:5). "The language surely purports to come from Moses; and if it was not actually used by him, it is a most remarkable case of impersonation, if not of literary forgery, for the writer represents himself as reproducing, not what Moses might have said, but the exact words of Moses" (Zerbe, The Antiquity of Hebrew Writing and Lit., 1911, 261).

(3) Deuteronomy Is a Military Law Book, a Code of Conquest, a Book of Exhortation.

7. Deuteronomy Spoken Twice:

Certain literary features exist in Deuteronomy which lead the present writer to think that the bulk of the book was spoken twice; once, to the first generation between Horeb and Kadesh-barnea in the 2nd year of the Exodus wanderings, and a second time to the new generation, in the plains of Moab in the 40th year. Several considerations point in this direction:

(1) The Names of the Widely Separated Geographical Places Mentioned in the Title (De 1:1,2).

"These are the words which Moses spake unto all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah over against Suph, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab"; to which is added, "It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir unto Kadesh-barnea." If these statements have any relevancy whatever to the contents of the book which they introduce, they point to a wide area, from Horeb to Moab, as the historico-geographical background of the book. In other words, Deuteronomy, in part at least, seems to have been spoken first on the way between Horeb and Kadesh-barnea, and later again when Israel were encamped on the plains of Moab. And, indeed, what would be more natural than for Moses when marching northward from Horeb expecting to enter Canaan from the south, to exhort the Israel of that day in terms of De 5-26? Being baffled, however, by the adverse report of the spies and the faithlessness of the people, and being forced to wait and wander for 38 years, what would be more natural than for Moses in Moab, when about to resign his position as leader, to repeat the exhortations of De 5-26, adapting them to the needs of the new desert-trained generation and prefacing the whole by a historical introduction such as that found in De 1-4?

(2) The Double Allusion to the Cities of Refuge (De 4:41-43; 19:1-13).

On the supposition that De 5-26 were spoken first between Horeb and Kadesh-barnea, in the 2nd year of the Exodus, it could not be expected that in this section the names of the three cities chosen East of the Jordan should be given, and in fact they are not (De 19:1-13); the territory of Sihon and Og had not yet been conquered and the cities of refuge, accordingly, had not yet been designated (compare Nu 35:2-14). But in De 4:41-43, on the contrary, which forms a part of the historical introduction, which ex hypothesi was delivered just at the end of the 39 years’ wanderings, after Sihon and Og had been subdued and their territory divided, the three cities of refuge East of the Jordan are actually named, just as might be expected.

(3) Section De 4:44-49.

The section De 4:44-49, which, in its original form, very probably introduced chapters 5-26 before these chapters were adapted to the new situation in Moab.

(4) The Phrase "Began Moses to Declare This Law" (De 1:5).

The phrase "began Moses to declare this law" (De 1:5), suggesting that the great lawgiver found it necessary to expound what he had delivered at some previous time. The Hebrew word translated "to declare" is found elsewhere in the Old Testament only in De 27:8 and in Hab 2:2, and signifies "to make plain."

(5) The Author’s Evident Attempt to Identify the New Generation in Moab with the Patriarchs.

"Yahweh made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day," i.e. with us who have survived the desert discipline (De 5:3). In view of these facts, we conclude that the book in its present form (barring the exceptions above mentioned) is the product of the whole 39 years of desert experience from Horeb on, adapted, however, to meet the exigencies of the Israelites as they stood between the victories already won on the East of the Jordan and those anticipated on the West. The impression given throughout is that the aged lawgiver’s work is done, and that a new era in the people’s history is about to begin.

8. Deuteronomy’s Influence in Israel’s History:

9. The Critical Theory:

Over against the Biblical view, certain modern critics since De Wette (1805) advocate a late origin of Deuteronomy, claiming that it was first published in 621 BC, when Hilkiah found "the book of the law" in the temple in the 18th year of King Josiah (2Ki 22:8 ff). The kernel of Deuteronomy and "the book of the law" discovered by Hilkiah are said to be identical. Thus, Dr. G. A. Smith claims that "a code like the Book of Deuteronomy was not brought forth at a stroke, but was the expression of the gradual results of the age-long working of the Spirit of the Living God in the hearts of His people" (Jerusalem, II, 115). According to Dr. Driver, "Deuteronomy may be described as the prophetic reformulation and adaptation to new needs, of an older legislation." It is probable that there was a tradition, if not a written record, of a final legislative address delivered by Moses in the steppes of Moab: the plan followed by the author would rest upon a more obvious motive, if he thus worked upon a traditional basis. But be that as it may, the bulk of the laws contained in Deuteronomy is undoubtedly far more ancient than the author himself.

.... "What is essentially new in Deuteronomy is not the matter, but the form. .... The new element in Deuteronomy is thus not the laws, but their parenetic setting" (Deuteronomy, lxi, lvi). This refined presentation of the matter would not be so very objectionable, were Drs. Smith and Driver’s theory not linked up with certain other claims and allegations to the effect that Moses in the 15th century BC could not possibly have promulgated such a lofty monotheism, that in theological teaching "the author of Deuteronomy is the spiritual heir of Hosea," that there are discrepancies between it and other parts of the Pentateuch, that in the early history of Israel down to the 8th century plurality of sanctuaries was legally permissible, that there are no traces of the influence of the principal teachings of a written Deuteronomy discoverable in Hebrew literature until the time of Jeremiah, and that the book as we possess it was originally composed as a program of reform, not by Moses but in the name of Moses as a forgery or pseudepigraph. For example, F. H. Woods says, "Although not a necessary result of accepting the later date, the majority of critics believe this book of the law to have been the result of a pious fraud promulgated by Hilkiah and Shaphan with the retention of deceiving Josiah into the belief that the reforms which they desired were the express command of God revealed to Moses" (HDB, II, 368). Some are unwilling to go so far. But in any case, it is claimed that the law book discovered and published by Hilkiah, which brought about the reformation by Josiah in 621 BC, was no other than some portion of the Book of Deuteronomy, and of Deuteronomy alone. But there are several considerations which are opposed to this theory:

(1) Deuteronomy emphasizes centralization of worship at one sanctuary (De 12:5); Josiah’s reformation was directed rather against idolatry in general (2Ki 23:4 ff).

(2) In De 18:6-8, a Levite coming from the country to Jerusalem was allowed to minister and share in the priestly perquisites; but in 2Ki 23:9, "the priests of the high places came not up to the altar of Yahweh in Jerusalem, but they did eat unleavened bread among their brethren." And according to the critical theory, "Levites" and "priests" are interchangeable terms.

(4) The law book discovered by Hilkiah was recognized at once as an ancient code which the fathers had disobeyed (2Ki 22:13). Were they all deceived? Even Jeremiah (compare Jer 11:3,4)? "There were many persons in Judah who had powerful motives for exposing this forgery if it was one" (Raven, Old Testament Introduction, 112).

(6) Especially remarkable is it that if Deuteronomy were written, as alleged, shortly before the reign of Josiah, there should be no anachronisms in it betraying a post-Mosaic origin. There are no allusions to the schism between Judah and Israel, no hint of Assyrian oppression through the exaction of tribute, nor any threats of Israel’s exile either to Assyria or Babylonia, but rather to Egypt (De 28:68). "Jerusalem" is never mentioned. From a literary point of view, it is psychologically and historically well-nigh impossible for a writer to conceal all traces of his age and circumstances. On the other hand, no Egyptologist has ever discovered any anachronisms in Deuteronomy touching Egyptian matters. From first to last the author depicts the actual situation of the times of Moses. It is consequently hard to believe, as is alleged, that a later writer is studying to give "an imaginative revivification of the past."

(7) The chief argument in favor of Deuteronomy’s late origin is its alleged teaching concerning the unity of the sanctuary. Wellhausen lays special emphasis upon this point. Prior to Josiah’s reformation, it is claimed, plurality of sanctuaries was allowed. But in opposition to this, it is possible to point victoriously to Hezekiah’s reformation (2Ki 18:4,22), as a movement in the direction of unity; and especially to Ex 20:24, which is so frequently misinterpreted as allowing a multiplicity of sanctuaries. This classical passage when correctly interpreted allows only that altars shall be erected in every place where Yahweh records His name, "which presumably during the wanderings and the time of the judges would mean wherever the Tabernacle was" (Mackay, Introduction to Old Testament, 110). This interpretation of this passage is confirmed and made practically certain, indeed, by the command in Ex 23:14-19 that Israel shall repair three times each year to the house of Yahweh and there present their offering. On the other hand, Deuteronomy’s emphasis upon unity of sanctuary is often exaggerated. The Book of Deuteronomy requires unity only after Israel’s enemies are all overcome (De 12:10,11). "When" Yahweh giveth them rest, "then" they shall repair for worship to the place which "God shall choose." As Davidson remarks: "It is not a law that is to come into effect on their entry into Canaan; it is to be observed from the time that Yahweh shall have given them rest from all their enemies round about; that is, from the times of David, or more particularly, Solomon; for only when the temple was built did that place become known which Yahweh had chosen to place His name there" (Old Testament Theology, 361). Besides, it should not be forgotten that in Deuteronomy itself the command is given to build an altar in Mt. Ebal (De 27:5-7). As a matter of fact, the unity of sanctuary follows as a necessary consequence of monotheism; and if Moses taught monotheism, he probably also enjoined unity of worship. If, on the other hand, monotheism was first evolved by the prophets of the 8th century, then, of course, unity of sanctuary was of 8th-century origin also.

(8) Another argument advanced in favor of the later origin of Deuteronomy is the contradiction between the laws of Deuteronomy and those of Lev-Nu concerning the priests and Levites. In Nu 16:10,35,40, a sharp distinction is drawn, it is alleged, between the priests and common Levites, whereas in De 18:1-8, all priests are Levites and all Levites are priests. But as a matter of fact, the passage in Deuteronomy does not invest a Levite with priestly but with Levitical functions (compare De 18:7). "The point insisted upon is that all Levites shall receive full recognition at the sanctuary and be accorded their prerogatives. It goes without saying that if the Levite be a priest he shall serve and fare like his brethren the priests; if he be not a priest, he shall enjoy the privileges that belong to his brethren who are Levites, but not priests" (J. D. Davis, article "Deuteronomy," in Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, 117). The Book of Deuteronomy teaches not that all the tribe, but only the tribe of Levi may exercise priestly functions, thus restricting the exercise of priestly prerogatives to one and only one tribe. This was in perfect harmony with Lev-Nu and also in keeping with the style of popular discourse.

(9) Recently Professor Ed. Naville, the Egyptologist, has propounded a theory of the origin of "the Book of the Law" discovered by Hilkiah, which is not without some value. On the analogy of the Egyptian custom of burying texts of portions of "the Book of the Dead" at the foot of statues of gods and within foundations of temple walls, as at Hermopolis, he concludes that Solomon, when he constructed the Temple, probably deposited this "Book of the Law" in the foundations, and that when Josiah’s workmen were about their tasks of repairing the edifice, the long-forgotten document came to light and was given to Hilkiah the priest. Hilkiah, however, upon examination of the document found it difficult to read, and so, calling for Shaphan the scribe, who was more expert in deciphering antique letters than himself, he gave the sacred roll to him, and he in turn read it to both Hilkiah and the king. The manuscript may indeed have been written in cuneiform. Thus, according to Naville, "the Book of the Law," which he identifies with Deuteronomy, must be pushed back as far as the age of Solomon at the very latest. Geden shares a similar view as to its date: "some time during the prosperous period of David and the United Monarchy" (Intro to the Hebrew Bible, 1909, 330).

But why not ascribe the book to the traditional author? Surely there can be no philosophical objection to doing so, in view of the now-known Code of Hammurabi, which antedates Moses by so many hundreds of years! No other age accounts so well for its origin as that of the great lawgiver who claims to have written the bulk of it. And the history of the disintegration of the book only shows to what extremes a false method may lead; for example, Steuernagel separates the "Thou" and "Ye" sections from each other and assigns them to different authors of late date: Kennett, on the other hand, assigns the earliest strata to the period of the Exile (Jour. of Theol. Studies, 1904), On the whole, no theory is so satisfactory as that which, in keeping with De 31:22,24, ascribes to Moses the great bulk of the book. See also CRITICISM; PENTATEUCH.


On the conservative side: James Orr, The Problem of the Old Testament, The Bross Prize, 1906; article "Deuteronomy," Illustrated Bible Dict., 1908; James Robertson, The Early Religion of Israel, 1892; article "Deuteronomy," The Temple Bible Dict., 1910; John D. Davis, article "Deuteronomy," Davis’ Dict. of the Bible, 1911; John H. Raven, Old Testament Intro, 1906; A. S. Geden, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, 1909; W. Moller, Are the Critics Right? 1903; R. B. Girdlestone, The Student’s Deuteronomy, 1899; Hugh Pope, The Date of the Composition of Deuteronomy, 1911; A. S. Zerbe, The Antiquity of Hebrew Writing and Lit., 1911; Ed. Naville, The Discovery of the Book of the Law under King Josiah, 1911; E. C. Bissell, The Pentateuch: Its Origin and Structure, 1885; G. L. Robinson, The Expositor, "The Genesis of Deuteronomy," October and November, 1898, February, March, May, 1899; W. H. Green, Moses and the Prophets, 1891; The Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch, 1895; A. M. Mackay, The Churchman’s Introduction to the Old Testament, 1901; J. W. Beardslee, Outlines of an Introduction to the Old Testament, 1903; G. Vos, The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes, 1886.

On the other side: S. R. Driver, A Crit. and Exeg. Commentary on Deuteronomy, 1895; The Hexateuch, by J. Estlin Carpenter and G. Harford-Battersby, I, II, 1900; G. A. Smith, Jerusalem, II, 1908; W. Robertson Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, 1895; A. Kuenen, The Hexateuch, 1886; H. E. Ryle, article "Deuteronomy," HDB, 1898; G. F. Moore, article "Deuteronomy," Encyclopedia Bibl., 1899; J. A. Paterson, article "Deuteronomy," Encyclopedia Brit, VIII, 1910.

In German: De Wette, Dissert. crit-exeget., 1805; Kleinert, Das De u. d. Deuteronomiker, 1872; Wellhausen, Die Comp. des Hexateuch. u. d. hist. Bucher des Altes Testament, 1889; Gesch. Israels, 1895; Steuernagel, Der Rahmen des Deuteronomy, 1894; Entsteh. des dt. Gesetzes, 1896.

George L. Robinson