Notes on Deuteronomy and Related Literature

*These thoughts are not intended to be fully developed. For the most part, they are musings about my current coursework at the University of Chicago.

This posts contains my notes on the book of Deuteronomy and other assigned readings. I begin with the assigned readings in order to orient myself as to what I should be looking for as I read the Jewish Study Bible translation of Deuteronomy.

The Literary Background of Deuteronomy 28, by Jeffery Tigay

  • Genre of blessings and curses is well known in the ancient world.
  • Earliest attestation of this sort of list in the third millennium BCE.
    • Are there similar attestation in Greek literature?
      • Yes, but they are not as many (494).
  • Contents of blessings and curses are not limited by genre.
  • Blessings and curses of ancient Near Eastern texts actually include a curse as to the efficacy of magical practice. Naturally, Deuteronomy does not contain a curse that makes divination practices ineffective.
  • Tigay notes a shared Aramean, Israelite, and Assyrian literary tradition.
  • Wording between Deuteronomy and Esarhaddon’s treaty is too different to suggest literary dependency (497).
  • Tigay argues the blessings and curses, although in dialogue with foreign models, were “undoubtedly this local Israelite tradition” (497).
  • Overall, Tigay notes conceptual similarities between Deuteronomy as an ancient Israelite tradition and other ancient Near Eastern traditions; however, he is careful to emphasize the autonomous nature of ancient Israelite traditions.

The Vassal-Treaties of Esarhaddon, in ANET

  • Line 8-10 concern those “who will lives in the future after this treater,” indicating the treaties concern for the future, not just the now.
  • Paragraph 6 is reminiscent of Leviticus. Sinning against Esarhaddon seems to be the same as sinning against God.
  • Paragraph 10 (Lines 119-122) point to a ban on certain ideas within Assyrian divination. If the divinatory activity explicity opposes or is detrimental to the “crown prince designate Ashurbanipal,” it is suppressed.
    • I wonder how Deuteronomy and other biblical literature shares evidence of suppressed prophetic activity. Perhaps not all “evil” prophecy or “uninspired” prophecy is actually so.
  • Today in a TA session for Akkadian, we covered how the idea of “to live” is stative, meaning that we don’t simply live. We are, in the ancient mind, in a state of becoming living as opposed to becoming dead. Hence, in the ANET translation, we see “departs from the living.” In that world, there is not living/dead. There is a gradation between the two. When we further consider the role of chthonic deities, it seems even more reasonable that there is more than live vs. death.
  • The treaty covers everthing from the current king, to the son, to the temporary rule of a queen, etc. Very thorough in establishing that one should never oppose Assyria.
  • Paragraph 35 is similar to Deuteronomy by the ban on changing the tablet. Of course, it is also similar to many ancient Near Eastern documents.
  • Thinking of Leviticus, 39 contains a curse of leprosy which restricts the presence of god(s) and king. With this, the theocratic nature of Leviticus becomes more apparent, as Yahweh is God and King within P material.
  • Paragraph 57: “… may all the gods mentioned (here) call us, our offspring, and our dewscendants, to account.”
  • Beautiful imagery: “JUst as this ewe is cut open and the flesh of its young placed in its mouth, so may he (Shamarsh?) make you eat in your hunger the flesh of your brothers, your sons, and your daughters” (Paragraph 69).
  • I wonder if paragraph 72, which talks about an oath entering the intestines of the sons and daughters, is similar is conception (Numbers 5:11-32). Also, paragraph 94.

Deuteronomy: Introduction in Jewish Study Bible, by Bernard M. Levinson

  • Name “Deuteronomy” is from the Septuagint meaning “second law.”
  • Accoridng to Levinson, Deuteronomy was written in the 7th century BCE by royal scribes.
    • I disagree with such an early date.
    • To simply associate the “scroll of the Teaching” (2 Kings 22:8) as the historical document of Josiah’s reform is somewhat odd.
  • Deuteronomy preserves several layers of tradition:
    • 1) Assuming a scroll was actually discovered in 2 Kings 22:8, the scroll would have been laws of chapters 12-26 with an introduction and conclusion.
    • 2) During the exile, it was framed with 1.1-4.40 and 31-34 as part of the Deuteronomistic History.
    • 3) In the postexilic period, the P school edited Deuteronomy into the Pentateuch.
  • Honestly, I find this previously state historical reconstruction difficult to get on-board with. While I recognize the similarities between Deuteronomy and many texts from the period, we should also consider the Library of Alexandria, which may have had many of those texts, as a possible place for compilation.
  • Certain elements do place in a “Near Eastern” setting:
    • Divine council
    • Shema as dedication to the king, which the Second-Temple period saw as monotheism of some sort.
  • One issue with Levinson’s approach is that he speaks of the MT’s “original meaning of a passage that has been lost in the Masoretic Text” (361). I find this to be problematic because he assumes that the Masoretic Text is the one text above them all. In reality, we know of a variety of literary and theological traditions through different versions of similar texts.
  • Deuteronomy claims both “monotheism” and a pantheon (4.15-31,35; 32.28).

Deuteronomy, in the Jewish Study Bible

  • 1.9-17 is somewhat of a political organization.
  • 1.42 – the absence of the presence of the LORD resulted in the inability to defeat the Amorites.
  • With 2.8, Deuteronomy seems to attempt to synchronize various elements of ancient Israelite tradition, such as the relationship between ancient Israelite peoples and people groups descended from Esau.
  • 2.30: “because the LORD had stiffened his will and hardened his heart in order to deliever him into your power” has a very Priestly flavor to it.
  • In 3.28 Yahweh tells Moses to imbue Joshua with power and strength. This seems to have some sort of ritual implication.
  • 4.2: “You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it.” This verse is very similar to major themes in Esarhaddon’s treaty.
  • 4:5-8 is reminiscent of Priestly ideas: Israel is a priesthood to the whole word.
  • 4:16-18  uses creation language in context of banning sculptured images.
  • 4:19-20 bans worship of the sun, moon, and stars, other major points of creation myths.
  • 4:41 abruptly begins. It follows after a command to obey god. 4:41-43, though, make no sense in there current location.
  •  The command not to turn aside to the left or the right (5:29) echoes Esarhaddon’s treaty in which the sword will be turned to those on the left and the right.
  • Note the comment of Deuteronomy 6:4: “the original force of [6:4]… was to demand that Israel show exclusive loyalty to Our God, YHVH-but not thereby to deny the existence of other gods” (380).
  • The treaty and Deuteronomy are very similar in how they treat future generations (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).
  • Interesting line at 7:15: “The LORD will ward off from you all sickness; He will not bring upon you any of the dreadful diseases of Egypt, about which you know, but will inflict them upon all your enemies.” The statement “about which you know” is an interesting rhetorical choice.
  • P influence: 7:19 speaks of wonderous signs and acts.
  • Deuteronomy differs from the treaty of Esarhaddon because it looks forward to a historical imagined, expected event, namely entrance into the promised land.
  • 9:5 indicates that non-Israelite people have broken some sort of treaty; thus, they are the ones who now receive the curses.
  • Etiology for the unique quality of the tribe of Levi seems out of place (10:6-7).
  • 10:17-19 shows God as a good king.
  • Right now I am reading a book by Spano (2011) whgich speak extensively about how etiology in biblical literature often attempts to suppress certain cult elements. Deuteronomy 12:2-3 demonstrates how there were luxuriant trees which tended to be worshiped in ancient Israel, or at least during the period of composition for Deuteronomy.
  • Like Esarhaddon’s treaty, Deuteronomy 13:2-6 places legal restrictions on prophetic activity. 
  • Shifting to the addition of a king in 17:14-20 is a odd, out-of-place shift.
  • In 18:9-14, magic is absolutely banned.
  • 18:15-22 has more restrictions on prophetic activity.
  • 20:1-9 doesn’t necessarily demand that all people are fully dedicated to fighting for the king (God); rather, it allows those who have responsibilities to return home to take care of those responsibilities.
  • 22:6-7 reads like a Mesopotamian oracle.
  • 23:10-11 implies battle is holy thing.
  • 34:9 contains the ritual for Joshua: “Moses had laid his hands upon him.”

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