BIBLE COURSES: Deuteronomy

© Rabbi David L. Kline  

What’s Going on Here, VI, Introduction to Bible
Rabbi David L. Kline, BOLLI

We shall study Deuteronomy as a revolutionary, constitution like, document, a window into the religion of our ancestors of the period that followed the great eighth century prophets, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah.  The book so influenced the writers of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings that these narrators are referred to as The Deuteronomic Historian.  We understand ourselves better when we understand Deuteronomy.
The fifth of the Five Books of Moses, calls itself the words of Moses to Israel, following forty years in the wilderness -- just before they were to cross the Jordan into the new land.  The author wrote it as Moses’ peroration, his last words in which he legislates thought and practice for the nation.  However, from the perspective of critical scholarship, Deuteronomy is actually the earliest book of Torah, reflecting the seventh century BCE ideal.  Its appearance in the days of King Josiah is boldly described in II Kings as the shocking discovery of a long lost text, leading to a purge of pagan worship at the Jerusalem temple and the regulation of moral and ritual behavior.
Prior knowledge is useful but the course will be appropriate to students at any level.  The book list includes background material.  A chapter by chapter reading guide lists themes throughout Deuteronomy.  Participants take an active role in commenting on the readings, raising questions, and offering answers.  We invite class presentations.

Bible in Hebrew or any translation.  Text with footnotes or commentary will help and raise discussion.  A Pentateuch (Chumash) volume will serve in this course.  Assigned readings for each week in the syllabus below.
Who Wrote the Bible?, Richard Elliott Friedman, introduction to Documentary Hypothesis, particularly useful to those who have not taken earlier courses in this series.
Internet sources.  Google away, e.g.: 7th Century BC
Deuteronomy for the determined:  Anchor Bible, technical but accessible.  International Critical Commentary, volume by SR Driver, the classic, my favorite.  Available online:

1.            History, early 1st millennium BCE, Egypt, Assyria, kings, politics, priests, prophets.  What do the sources tell us about the world of King Josiah, the prophet Jeremiah, and the Book of Deuteronomy?

2.            II Kings 22, 23.  Publication of Deuteronomy, the back story of the first Sefer Torah.      II Kings 17:5-23 explains “why” Israel was destroyed. (See also Ps 106)  The “found” book appears as a warning to Judah about angering God.  A purge of pagan religious practices follows.

3.            Deut 1-4.  Preliminaries and legends.  Covenant makes Israel different.  This section lays out general direction of the rest of the book: laws and ordinances.
Deuteronomy 5 (Cf. Exodus 19,20; 34). Which are the real Ten Commandments?

4.            Deut 6-7. The Sh’ma.  Relating to Yah.  Chosenness.  Retribution עקב.  Beware outsiders.

5.            Deut 8-13 Depend on God, show gratitude by keeping commandments.  Proper worship.  Prophets.  Suppress idolatry.

6.            Deut 14-16.  Rules for ritual and ethical behavior.   Courts of law.

7.            Deut 17-21.  High court.  Monarchy.  Prophets.  Murder.  Witnesses.  War.  Polygyny

8.            Deuteronomy 22-25.  Laws and ordinances.

9.            Deuteronomy 26-32. History.  Reward and punishment.

10.            Deuteronomy 33, 34.  This is the blessing?  See commentary: Zot HaBrachah

The Code of Special Laws, Deut. 12-26, 28
(Thematic outline, from Deuteronomy volume, International Critical Commentary, pp 135f)

1.  Sacred observances  12:1-16:17
            a.  Law of the single sanctuary  12:1-28
            b.  Repression of idolatry  12:29-13:19; 16:21-17:7
            c.  Holiness of the laity  14:1-21
            d.  Sacred dues and sacred seasons  14:22-16:17
2.  Office bearers of the theocracy
            a.  Judges  16:18-20; 17:8-13
            b.  King  17:14-20
            c.  Priests  18:1-8
            d.  Prophets  18-9-22
3.  Criminal law  19; 21:1-10
            a. Homicide and murder  19:1-13
            b.  Encroachment on property  19:14
            c.  False witness 19:15-21
            d.  Expiation of an uncertain murder  21:1-9
4.  Miscellaneous laws, relating (mostly) to civil and domestic life (20; 21:10 -25:16), not systematically arranged, but embracing such subjects as: the conduct of war, 20 and 21:10-14; family law (primogeniture, seduction, divorce, etc.), 21:15-21, 22:13-30, 24:1-5, 25:5-10; interest and loans 23:20f, 24:6,10-13; just weights, 25:13-16.
5  Parenetic conclusion, 26 and peroration 28.

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