Monday, April 4, 2016

Moses, Deuteronomy and Josiah: Part 2 of 3

The upshot of all this is that there are several theories about the date of Deuteronomy’s literary composition, some of them compatible with a high view of Scripture and some not so compatible. Until the modern period, the Jewish and Christian consensus was that it was composed in the Mosaic Period, either by Moses himself or by those close to him. Indeed, when Hilkiah found the “Book of the Torah” in the temple, the Hebrew text describes it as having been given “through the hand of Moses” (2 Chr. 34:14). Only since the late 18th and early 19th centuries has this consensus been seriously questioned. Many conservative scholars still maintain this position, especially since Christ and other New Testament writers cite Deuteronomy as simply “Moses” (e.g., Mt. 19:8//Dt. 24:4; 1 Co. 9:9//Dt. 25:4; He. 10:28//Dt. 17:6). Of course, such references would still be true, even if Deuteronomy was compiled at a later date, so long as the historicity of the sayings were not called into question.

A second theory is that while Deuteronomy probably contains substantial units that go back to the time of Moses himself, the final form of Deuteronomy was not achieved until perhaps the time of Samuel or David. It is in this period that the centrality of the priest disappears and the centrality of the king appears (cf. Dt. 17:14-20). The political union of the Israelite tribes under a single king made the centralization of worship both possible and desirable, perhaps inevitable (cf. Dt. 12).

The third theory is currently the most widely accepted among historical-critical scholars—that Deuteronomy belongs to the 7th century BC, where it became the motivating force behind Josiah’s reform. While many scholars hold to this position, they do not all carry the same assumptions. Some continue to attribute substantial portions of Deuteronomy to the time of Moses, preserved by oral tradition, and finally supplemented and compiled in the 7th century. Others, more negatively, regard Deuteronomy as a pious fraud—that the speeches of Moses essentially were concocted and put into his mouth. Either way, the similarity between the suzerainty structure of Deuteronomy and the vassal treaties of Esarhaddon, who also was in the 7th century, lend weight to this conclusion. The laws concerning the king (Dt. 17) and the centralization of worship (Dt. 12), not to mention the blessings and curses (Dt. 28), figure prominently in Josiah’s reforms. As mentioned earlier, some scholars argue that much of Deuteronomy was composed by Levites in the northern kingdom and brought to Judah after the exile of the northern tribes. Others theorize that it was composed in the south.

The most radical theory is that Deuteronomy was composed after the exile of Judah. Here, Deuteronomy is viewed as an idealistic, imaginative work composed after the kingdoms of Israel and Judah no longer existed. In reaching a conclusion about Deuteronomy’s author and date, two factors are very important to conservative scholars. While the book is formally anonymous (i.e., it does not name its composer outright), the essential historicity and authenticity of its narratives and speeches must be maintained. Such a view seems essential for regarding Deuteronomy as divinely inspired. To be sure, evangelical scholars are not opposed to seeing oral or written sources that may underlie the present form of Deuteronomy as well as the rest of the Pentateuch. Indeed, they are not necessarily opposed to an editorial process that extended from the time of Moses into the late monarchy. Still, they are not free to bring into question the historical claims of its content. If Deuteronomy says that Moses said such and such, then Moses said it. One should not assume, of course, that the words attributed to Moses are the equivalent to some sort of tape recording. It is more important to acknowledge that we have the voice of Moses in Deuteronomy if not the precise words of Moses. Perhaps an appropriate analogy may be found in the gospel sayings of Jesus, which vary from gospel to gospel and originally were uttered in Aramaic, though we have them in Greek. We accept that we have the voice of Jesus if not always the precise words of Jesus. Whenever and however Deuteronomy reached the final form in which it has been passed down to us, conservatives remain committed to the Mosaicity of the Pentateuch in general and Deuteronomy as a constituent part of it. J. Barton Payne, an older evangelical scholar but one who was sensitive to the broader issues, is representative when he says, “The term Mosaicity may refer to those parts composed by Moses—whether actually written down by him or not—such as the address in Deuteronomy 1:6—4:40 or the song in 33:2-39.” And again, “Still, it means that the rest of the words, which Scripture does not specifically assign to Moses, need not be attributed to him. These include [among other things]…the description of his death.”

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