Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Deuteronomy and the Book of the Covenant

A close reading of the Deuteronomic Code (Deuteronomy 12-26) shows this legal collection to be a commentary of sorts on the earlier collection of Hebrew laws, the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21-23). Again and again, the Deuteronomic writer refers to and builds upon specific themes and principles raised in the earlier collection of laws.

While the Book of the Covenant seems to provide structure to a simple, semi-sedentary agricultural village society, the Deuteronomic code speaks to a more complex society and economy of city states, monarchical government, social class divisions, and external pressures from neighboring peoples.

At the same time, Deuteronomy builds on earlier traditions from the period of the conquest of Canaan and the tribal confederacy. We see this earlier influence most clearly in Deuteronomy's emphasis on the necessity of standardized ritual worship in a single sanctuary, the centrality of covenant and the renewal of the covenant, the negative regard for the institution of the monarchy, and the repeated appeal to the "holy war" tradition. 

These early themes are remolded – updated and expanded to changing social and economic realities – by Deuteronomy's new emphasis on an absolute centralization of the sanctuary (with the attendant destruction of all local shrines and the end of family-based worship), the "name theology" which moves away from the primitive notion of the sanctuary as God's dwelling place, the fleshing-out of the concept of the election of Israel, and updating of laws beyond property rights to social justice concerns (care for the widows, the orphaned, and the immigrant) – themes first found in Hebrew literature in the pages of the Deuteronomic code.

Refer to the linked document below to compare the relatively primitive legislation of the Book of the Covenant and the clear extension and updating of early principles in the Deuteronomic code.

Download The Book of the Covenant and Deuteronomic Code Parallels.

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