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DEUTERONOMY

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V08, Page 118 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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DEUTERONOMY, the name of one of the books of the Old Testament. This book was long the storm-centre of Pentateuchal criticism, orthodox scholars boldly asserting that any who questioned its Mosaic authorship reduced it to the level of a pious fraud. But Biblical facts have at last triumphed over tradition, and the non-Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy is nowa commonplace of criticism. It is still instructive, however, to note the successive phases through which scholarly opinion regarding the composition and :date of his book has passed. In the 17th century the characteristics which so clearly mark off Deuteronomy from the other four books of the Pentateuch were frankly recognized, but the most advanced critics of that age were inclined to pronounce it the earliest and most authentic of the five. In the beginning of the 19th century de Wette startled the religious world by declaring that Deuteronomy, so far from being Mosaic,' was not known till the time of Josiah. This theory he founded on 2 Kings xxii.; and ever since, this chapter has been one of the recognized' foci of Biblical criticism. The only other single chapter of the Bible which is responsible for having brought about a somewhat similar revolution in critical opinion is Ezek. xliv. From this chapter, some seventy years after de Wette's discovery, Wellhausen with equal acumen inferred that Leviticus was not known to Ezekiel, the priest, and therefore could not have been in existence in his day; for had Leviticus been the recognized Law-book of his nation Ezekiel could not have represented as a degradation the very position which that Law-book described as a special honour conferred on the Levites by Yahweh himself. Hence Leviticus, so far from belonging to an earlier stratum of the Pentateuch than Deuteronomy, as de Wette thought, must belong to a much later stratum, and be at least exilic, if not post-exilic. The title " Deuteronomy " is due to a mistranslation by the Septuagint of the clause in chap. xvii. 18, rendered " and he shall write out for himself this Deuteronomy." The Hebrew really means " and he [the king] shall write out for himself a copy of this law," where there is not the slightest suggestion that the author intended to describe " this law " delivered on the plains of Moab as a second code in contradistinction to the first code given on Sinai thirty-eight years earlier. Moreover the phrase " this law " is so ambiguous as to raise a much greater difficulty than that caused by the Greek mistranslation of the Hebrew word for " copy." How much does " this law "include? It was long supposed to mean the whole of our present Deuteronomy; indeed, it is on that supposition that the traditional view of the Mosaic authorship is based. But the context alone can determine the question; and that is often so ambiguous that a sure inference is impossible. We may safely assert, however, that nowhere need " this law " mean the whole book. In fact, it invariably means very much less, and sometimes, as in xxvii. 3, 8, so little that it could all be engraved in large letters on a few plastered stones set up beside an altar. Deuteronomy is not the work of any single writer but the result of a long process of development. The fact that it is legislative as well as hortatory is enough to prove this, for most of the laws it contains are found elsewhere in the Pentateuch, sometimes in less developed, sometimes in more developed forms, a fact which is conclusive proof of prolonged historical development. According to the all-pervading law of evolution, the less complex form must have preceded the more complex. Still, the book does bear the stamp of one master-mind. Its style is as easily recognized as that of Deutero-Isaiah, being as remarkable for its copious diction as for its depths of moral and religious feeling. The original Deuteronomy, D, read to King Josiah, cannot have been so large as our present book, for not only could it be read ata single sitting, but it could be easily read twice in one day. On the day it was found, Shaphan first read it himself, and then went to the king and read it aloud to him. But perhaps the most conclusive proof of its brevity is that it was read publicly to the assembled people immediately before they, as well as their king, pledged themselves to obey it; and not a word is said as to the task of reading it aloud, so as to be heard by such a great multitude, being long or difficult. The legislative part of D consists of fifteen chapters (xii.–xxvi.), which,' however, contain many later insertions. But the impression made upon Josiah by what he heard was far too deep to have been produced by the legislative part alone. The king must have listened to the curses as well as the blessings in chap. xxviii.; and
End of Article: DEUTERONOMY
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