The Literature of the Old Testament (1913) [Chapter 6]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

Deuteronomy

(pp.58-65)

A) About the author of the chapter:

George Foot Moore “graduated from Yale College in 1872 and from Union Theological Seminary in 1877, in 1878 Moore was ordained in the Presbyterian ministry and until 1883 was pastor of the Putnam Presbyterian Church, Zanesville, Ohio.

He was Hitchcock professor of the Hebrew language and literature at Andover Theological Seminary, 1883–1902. In 1902 he became professor of theology and in 1904 professor of the history of religion at Harvard University.” [1]

[1] https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Foot-Moore

B) Chapter Summary:

“Deuteronomy purports to contain the laws under which Israel is to live in the land of Canaan. It deals with the conditions of an agricultural people, settled in towns and villages, in the presence of a native population to the contamination of whose religion and morals the Israelites are exposed.” 1 

“The book is thus almost wholly in the form of address, and the hortatory note is insistent. As an introduction, Moses briefly recalls the history of the wanderings, from Horeb on, impressing at every turn the lessons of their experience (Deut. 1-3); the material is taken chiefly from E’s narrative, which it was intended to supersede in an independent Book of Deuteronomy.”2 

“The core of Deuteronomy is cc. 5-11; 12-26; 28. Speaking generally, the first part (cc. 5-11) expounds the fundamental principles of religion, while the second (cc. 12-26) contains special laws, and, as a fitting and effective conclusion of the whole, c. 28 sets forth the blessings which God will bestow on Israel if it keeps his commandments, and the curses it will incur by unfaithfulness and disobedience. The special laws, particularly in Deut. 22 ff., are similar in character to those in Exod. 21-23 and in Lev. 17-25, and doubtless embody in the main ancient custom; but beside them are provisions of a singularly Utopian kind, such as those on the conduct of war in c. 20 and the septennial cancelling of all debts (xv. 1-11).”3

“The conception of religion which dominates the whole book, but is most conspicuous in cc. 5-11, is the highest in the Old Testament. There is but one God, supreme in might and majesty, constant in purpose, faithful to his word, just but compassionate; he is not to be imaged or imagined in the likeness of anything in heaven or on earth; idolatry, divination, and sorcery are strictly forbidden. The essence of religion is love (Deut. vi. 4), the love of God to his people and their responsive love to him is the ruling motive in worship and conduct. In the relations of men to their fellows, whether countrymen or strangers and to the brute creation, humanity and charity are the prime virtues; the Utopian features of the laws are such only because they push the ideal of humanity too hard for unideal human nature.”4 

“All the other evidence in Deuteronomy points to the same age. Its conception of God and of religion is derived from the prophets of the eighth century. The influence of Hosea is particularly plain: that the essence of religion is love is Hosea’s idea, if there is such a thing as originality in religion. The language and style of Deuteronomy are of the seventh century, in its excellences and in its defects; Jeremiah and the author of Kings have the closest resemblance to it in its rhetorical manner and in its peculiar pathos.

On these grounds, since the latter part of the eighteenth century, an increasing number of scholars have held that the book was written in the second half of the seventh century for the purpose of bringing about a revolution such as actually followed its well-timed discovery; and this is now the opinion of almost all who admit that the common principles of historical criticism are applicable to Biblical literature.

 Deuteronomy is not all of one piece, as has already been pointed out. Many older laws were taken up into it at the beginning or introduced subsequently; considerable additions were made to it after Josiah’s time, and even after the fall of Judah, for in several passages that catastrophe and the dispersion of the people are an accomplished fact, an existing situation. It is only the reform programme and what hangs together with it that can be definitely dated.”5

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