In This Article Deuteronomy

  • Introduction
  • Deuteronomy in Translation
  • General Overviews
  • Essay Collections
  • Classic Works
  • The Hebrew Text
  • Origin, Purpose, and Dating
  • Composition and Redaction
  • Deuteronomic Law and Its Relationship to Other Legal Sources
  • Deuteronomy within Ancient Israelite Literature and Religion
  • Ancient Near Eastern Context
  • Theology
  • Additional Resources for Further Research

Jewish Studies Deuteronomy
by
Bernard Levinson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0124

Introduction

Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Bible and last book of the Pentateuch, presents itself as a valedictory address by Moses, spoken to the Israelites forty years after their escape from slavery in Egypt, just as Moses is about to die, and just as the Israelites are about to enter the promised land of Canaan without him. In a series of three speeches, Moses reminisces about the Israelites’ collective past, expounds upon their laws, and instructs them about the importance of loyalty to God. He also swears the nation to uphold this combination of law and theological instruction as a covenant upon the plains of Moab, one that supplements the covenant previously sworn at Horeb. In literary terms, the core of Deuteronomy is found in the legal corpus (chapters 12–26), which contains a blend of religious, political, civil, and criminal law. That legislation is embedded in a literary frame, in which chapters 1–11 recall the events of the Exodus, including the proclamation of the Ten Commandments, or Decalogue (Ten Words). Following the legal corpus, chapters 27–34 conclude with ceremonies to ratify Israel’s covenant with God, the commissioning of Joshua as the successor of Moses, a poetic blessing by Moses of the twelve tribes of Israel, and a prose account of Moses’ death. Striking similarities exist between the distinctive religious and legal requirements of Deuteronomy and the account in 2 Kings 22–23 of a religious reform carried out by King Josiah in 622 BCE. Josiah restricted all sacrificial worship of God to Jerusalem, removed foreign elements from the system of sacrificial worship (technically, the “cultus”), and ordered the celebration of the first nationally centralized Passover at the Temple in Jerusalem. According to the narrative, Josiah’s reform was inspired by the discovery in the Temple of a “book of the law” (2 Kings 22:8). So strongly do these royal initiatives correspond to the distinctive requirements of Deuteronomy that scholars have long identified the “book [or more accurately, scroll] of the law” discovered in Josiah’s temple as Deuteronomy. The implications of this conclusion for the Origin, Purpose, and Dating and the Composition and Redaction of Deuteronomy, as well as its relation to Near Eastern literature, remain issues for ongoing scholarly debate.

Deuteronomy in Translation

Bible Gateway provides free access to translations of the Bible in many languages, including more than fifty English versions. In selecting a translation, a helpful resource is the editors’ preface to the version, which usually states the goals, interests, and translation approach adopted by the translation committee. Among the most useful versions for scholarly study are the 1952 Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the 1989 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The translators of the RSV drew not only on the Hebrew text but also on other ancient versions, including the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and the Syriac Peshiṭta. Their goal was to produce, to the extent possible, a literal translation of the text that preserved in English the original Hebrew idioms and syntax. The NRSV is an update of the RSV that modernizes the language of the RSV, that incorporates additional ancient textual witnesses discovered or made available since 1952, and that adopts a gender-neutral approach in its translation of many masculine Hebrew pronouns. One noteworthy translation not available on the Bible Gateway site is the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) version, which was the first Bible translation to be produced by a committee of Jewish scholars. The most recent edition, the JPS Tanakh, was published in 1985. The entries provided here include two study Bibles: Coogan 2010 employs the NRSV, and Berlin and Brettler 2014 uses the JPS version. In addition, Alter 2004 and Fox 1995 each contain an original translation by the author.

  • Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. New York: Norton, 2004.

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    Drawing on insights from both modern and rabbinical scholarship, Alter analyzes the received Pentateuchal text as a coherent literary creation. His translation attempts to preserve the literary features of the Hebrew. He also follows the approach of Buber and Rosenzweig by providing consistent translation values for certain “key words” that Alter believes were consciously employed by the Israelite authors and editors to create literary connections between the texts of the Torah.

  • Berlin, Adele, and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. The Jewish Study Bible. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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    A recently revised and updated edition of the Hebrew Bible employing the Jewish Publication Society translation of the Hebrew text. Each book is prefaced by an introduction, after which the text is presented with extensive notes written from the perspective of contemporary Jewish biblical scholarship. A series of essays relating to the religious interpretation and historical study of the Bible follows the biblical text.

  • Coogan, Michael D., ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal. 4th rev. ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    This edition (New Revised Standard Version) contains introductions and text notes for each book of the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Apocrypha, as well as a set of concluding essays on the study and interpretation of the Bible. Contributors employ a modern critical approach in their discussion of the text.

  • Fox, Everett, trans. The Schocken Bible. Vol. 1, The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. New York: Schocken, 1995.

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    In his translation, Fox attempts to do in English what the famous Buber-Rosenzweig translation attempted to do in German: to render Hebrew idioms as accurately as possible, to the extent of sometimes sounding strange or non-vernacular, in order to alert the reader to the sounds and rhythms and aural nature of the underlying Hebrew.

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