Lecture on Deuteronomy at SBTS

[I had the privilege of substitute lecturing for a professor at SBTS last week. I lectured on the book of Deuteronomy, covering the critical claims of the book and offering responses to them. I also spent some time on the message and theology of Deut. What follows in this post is the first part of the first lecture on the critical claims about Deut. Please offer correction and critique if you are willing and able.]

Deuteronomy According to the Critics


Normally, it is proper to place critical view of Deut in the whole context of the source critical theory from which it arose. This theory had precursors (e.g. J. Astruc) and it has come under scrutiny in recent years (e.g. N. Whybray), but essentially it is trying to read the Pentateuch as an historical document according to the evidence available; although, it certainly is a product of the time from which it arose for it was based on some of the philosophical assumptions of the day, such as Hegelian views of history, progress, development, and evolutionary processes. This view, predominantly associated with Julius Welhausen was conceived and widely accepted before the turn of the twentieth century, when new evidence from the ancient world came to light. Scholars, at that time and thereafter, began to reconsider some of the “sacred theories” in light of this new evidence. Tonight, I want to consider some of the claims regarding Deuteronomy by considering the claims of Kenton Sparks, which he proposed in his new book, God’s Word in Human Words, published in 2008. Sparks has attempted to summarize many of the enshrined positions of critical scholarship and he has attempted to make sense of them inside of an evangelical framework. The problem with his proposal it seems to me is that it is more liberal than evangelical, since he capitulates to their positions without attempting to argue against them with any force. Tonight, I want to present the claims of the critics and Sparks and then I want to critique them.

I. The Three Claims of the Critics (see Kent Sparks, 88-91)

A. Claim #1: The “Book of the Law” was Composed During the Reign of Josiah

1. Rightly, scholars have interpreted the reference to The Book of the Law or the Law of Moses in 2 Kings 22:8ff as the book of Deuteronomy, which title is known from Deut and Joshua as well as other places (Deut. 30:10; Josh. 1:8, 8:31). We know that after this book was discovered Josiah attempted to reform the religion of Israel in three ways: 1) to eliminate the worship of all gods except YHWH, 2) to destroy all idols in the kingdom, whether the idols of YHWH or other deities, and 3) to centralize the sacrificial worship of YHWH at the Jerusalem temple, so that sacrifices at other holy places were eliminated. This reformation may be summarized as monotheism, iconoclasm, and centralization. These themes are present in the book of Deuteronomy. Thus Deut. and the reforms of Josiah have much in common. How do some scholars explain this agreement?

2. Scholars posit that it is more reasonable to assume that Deut. was written around the time of the Josianic reform than to believe that the book of the Law had been found after being lost since the time of the Judges. Sparks and others then claim that the history of Israel supports this claim. They claim that Deuteronomy ordains worship at one centralized location, but on their view the history of Israel testifies to worship at many locations (Shiloh, Zuph, Bethel, Gibeah, Mizpah, and Gilgal, 1 Sam. 9-11). Samuel himself must not have had access to this book since he was the last of Israel’s judges and he is worshiping at several places.  Sparks concludes, “Since it is very difficult to imagine how an ancient law book that was ignored and lost since before the temple was built suddenly turned up in the Jerusalem temple centuries later, modern scholars do not believe that Deuteronomy was merely ‘found’ in the days of Josiah. More likely is that the book was written during Josiah’s reign and then deposited in the temple so that the ‘lost’ book of Moses could be discovered.”

Thus the claim of some scholars is that Deut. was written around 622 BC and not simply found during that time. They claim that this is not simply theory but that there is evidence that the literary structure of Deuteronomy is patterned after Neo-Assyrian treaties of the 1st millennium BC, particularly Vassal-Treaties of Esarhaddon (VTE), which are dated to the 7th century BC. Thus the critic claims that he has external evidence which supports his theory. Let’s look at the evidence of this claim together (Structure of VTE: Preface/Title [1-12], Witnesses [13-40], Stipulations [41-413], Curses [414-665], Colophon [669f]).

B. Claim #2: Deuteronomy is Patterned after a Neo-Assyrian Treaty of the 7th century. These scholars want to show that if Deut. is patterned after VTE, then Deut will probably be dated to the first millennium. They claim that Deut is patterned after VTE on two lines of evidence and an additional historical reason.

1. The first line of evidence is the alleged Neo-Assyrian Influence on Deut.

a. Whole hearted devotion is stressed in Deut (10:12, 13:3, 26:16 et al) and VTE [26(302ff) “full loyalty” or “whole-heartedly”, 34(385ff)].

b. Instruction to Children (Deut. 6:6ff) and VTE [25. (283-301)].

c. Turning to the right and to the left as leaving the treaty (Deut. 5:32, 17:11, 20, 28:14) and VTE 96. (632ff).

2. Verbal Parallels: Many of the Curses of Deut. 28 are patterned after VTE (lines 414-665).

a. Deut 28:20 and VTE (414-416) – The sending of evil/calamity (?;absent in Kitchen)

b. Deut 28:21 and VTE (455f) – The destruction off the face of the land (?;absent in Kitchen).

c. Deut 28:23-24 and VTE (526-533) – The curse of heavens and earth becoming bronze and iron

d. Deut 28:25 and VTE (453f) – Curse of Defeat in Battle (Absent in Kitchen)

e. Deut 28:26 and VTE (425-27) – Corpses fed to birds

f. Deut 28:27 and VTE (419-21) – Curse of skin diseases

g. Deut 28:28-29 and VTE (422-24) – Curse of Blindness and Darkness

h. Deut 28:29b – and VTE (417f) – No Hope of a Savior or Helper (absent in Kitchen)

i. Deut 28:30-4 and VTE (428-30) – What is yours will be given to another/enemies (wife, possession, etc.)

j. Deut 28:35 and VTE (461-3) – Rather general according to Frankena (p. 146)

k. Deut 28:36f and Baal IV, 14 – Exile and Deportation

l. Deut 28:38-57 and VTE (440-452) – This is too long. Any parallel here would be so general that Deut. could be compared to anything. Frankena does not draw specific parallels here. (Kitchen sees a parallel based on cannibalism in Deut 53-57, VTE 448-450)

Of these 12 parallels R. Frankena considers g (422-24) and i (428-30) to be the strongest indicators that Deut is patterned after VTE, since these are close together in Deut 28:28-34. We must notice from this list of verbal parallels that the curses of Deut may only be based loosely on VTE since 1) the sections in Deut are usually longer than in VTE and are not exactly dependent on VTE (see l.) and 2) Deut selectively uses VTE and rearranges it to a great degree (see the placement of c).

Supposing we grant Frankena and Sparks these influences and parallels with Deut, what did the author of Deuteronomy stand to gain by communicating his message through the form of VTE? Sparks provides an answer in the form of a historical reason.

3. The historical reason: Sparks says, “Given this historical context, the publication of Deuteronomy in the form of a Neo-Assyrian treaty, and the pious ruse of depositing this new text in the temple, would have been an effective way of making the religious point that Judah’s covenant relationship with YHWH was older and more important than its treaty with Assyria. Consequently, the treaty form of the book of Deuteronomy is best understood as a polemic against New-Assyrian oppression.”

The author of Deut uses an Assyrian vassal treaty as a polemic to communicate that Israel is no longer honoring the covenant with Assyria but the older and more important one with YHWH. There are problems with this conclusion and the overall comparison, which I will address below, but we turn to one last reason to date at least portions of Deut to after the Exile.

C. Deuteronomic Prophecies (Deut 1-4; 29-31) appear to be ex eventu.

Sparks also says that scholars have suggested that the prophetic and predictive sections of Deut post date the Josianic reformation of 622 BC and are better dated to the exile or after it (after 586 BC). In particular, Deut 29-31 has been relegated to this time period and perhaps chapters 1-4 were added around the same time by the same authors. The evidence of this position comes from Jeremiah, who was of course familiar with the covenant and law of Deuteronomy, yet when he is predicting exile for Judah in 20-21 and 26 he never refers to these predictions in Deut. This omission leads scholars to claim that these sections were not available to Jeremiah at the time of his prophecies.

Implications of the Critical View

1. Instead of Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy, which is claimed by the book itself and  many other places in the Bible (Deut. 31:9; 24; Josh. 23:6; I Kings 2:3; Mal. 4:4; Matt. 19:7-8; Rom. 10:19), it is actually a product of the time of Josiah and it is attributed to Moses only to achieve authoritative status in the community.

2. Because the book arises to endorse Josianic reform at a very late date, the book actually represents another diachronic development in Israel’s religion. Thus Deut represents another advance towards a more complex religion which has evolved from a simple nature religion (so the theory goes). Thus Deut 12:1 and the centralization of worship is a very late development and not part of the original plan for Israel’s worship. As a corollary of this implication, Israel’s covenant with YHWH, expressed in Deut, is now part of the development of its religion and not the foundation of it. Thus the covenant, which was thought to be the basis of Israel’s relationship with YHWH and the very document which supplied them with an identity is actually a very late development in their history.

3. The reliability of the Deuteronomic claims is called into question if the prophecies are ex eventu. Not only is inspiration of Deut called into question, but so is the integrity of the authors who would pen these prophecies only after they had occurred.

I will post my response to these claims in a few days, but does anyone have any corrections to my presentation of the data and this argument so far?


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