Lecture on Deuteronomy (part 2)

[This is the second installment of a lecture I gave at SBTS recently. The first post may be found here.]

II. Response to the Three Claims of the Critics

A. Claim #1: 2 Kings 22:8ff indicates that Deut was written around the time of Josiah in 622 BC.

2 Kings 22:8ff says that the Book of the Law was found, not written. To project that the writer invents and records something entirely different than what happened is to project an alien writing technique on the biblical text. The Bible is not given to the propaganda of the type that Sparks and others project on it. The biblical text arises from a worldview, in which God transcends the material world and is not part of it;  therefore, the biblical worldview actually accounts for realistic history writing, for if the Israelite historian did not record carefully the events accurately or he fabricated the events in which God revealed himself, he would then deny the very understanding (God’s acting in history), which informed his task from the beginning (John Oswalt, 2009, 149). In Israel, history writing had the potential for a high degree of accuracy because YHWH would hold the nation accountable for its lies both in the reporting of his deeds among them and in the accurate recording of the interpretation of those events (Deut. 4:2; 13:1; Jer. 26:2; Deut. 18:18; Jer. 28:15-17; for the NT see Revelation 22:18-19).

The claim that the three reforms of Josiah (monotheism, iconoclasm, and centralization) and the message of Deuteronomy are so identical that the former must have created the latter has no more right to be accepted logically than the reverse proposition, which is the actual claim of the text: Josiah used the already existing Book of the Law or Deut to carry out reform. Regarding Sparks’ claim that that there would be a gap between the composition of Deut around 1400-1200 BC and the reform in 622 BC actually has precedent in Egypt, where the Hymn to the Uraeus first attested at the time of Ramses II (1300 BC) was then forgotten until the time of the Ptolemies 1000 years later according to the available evidence (Kitchen, 2003, 302).  The religion of Israel and its neighbors has such opaque periods or gaps, but this is not a reason to discount the historicity of the Bible or those documents. It is not altogether uncommon for documents to be written and then forgotten; however, the critics’ alleged gap between Deuteronomy written around 1300 BC and its discovery some 600-700 years later is probably illusory, since there is more continuity between these periods than gaps in the biblical corpus and the influence of Deut can be seen throughout the documents between the time of Joshua and Jeremiah (Judges 18 and Micah’s shrine seems to to contradict the place where YHWH set his name; 1 Kings 21:1ff tells the story of the stealing of Naboth’s vineyard, in which several commands of Deut are violated, and these by the King, who should certainly know better [Deut 17:14ff]).

Lastly, the critic claims that Deuteronomy expects a sole centralized worship center based on Deut. 12:4ff, which is usually interpreted to be Jerusalem. The critic then compares this Deuteronomic expectation with the history of Israel and observes that Israel has several worship centers, and this behavior is completely acceptable, for even Samuel endorses it. Therefore as the argument goes, Deut was not written by the time of the Judges and the beginning of the monarchy. Based on this reading of Deut. 12, the critic has a point to make, but one does not have to grant the critic this interpretation of Deut 12:4ff for two reasons. 1) The text says that Israel shall seek and go to the place where YHWH chooses to set his name for its dwelling. Yes, this place contrasts with the many places of the pagan gods in verse 12:2, so the reading requires that there be a pure and centralized worship place, but it does not require that Israel have only one worship place. Thus Deut. 12 expects first and foremost Israel to have pure worship of YHWH wherever he places his name as a dwelling.  2) There is another line of evidence which seems to confirm this interpretation. Deut 33:19 confirms that Moses actually desires Zebulon and Issachar “to summon the peoples to their mountain, there they shall offer right sacrifices.” There is little doubt that this is a reference to Mt. Tabor in Issachar, where there was a worship center of YHWH, which by the time of Hosea had already forsaken YHWH (Hos 5:1). Thus even in the book of Deut, right sacrifices may be offered on Mt. Tabor in Issachar, but clearly this will not be the centralized location of Jerusalem. Is this a place where the editors have made a mistake and they have created a contradiction within the text? Or are the sources consistent, but the redactors are inconsistent, to allude to Whybray? Thus Deut does not teach that there could only be one place of worship. Its restriction was on places where YHWH had not placed his name as a dwelling. In 2 Kings 23, the reform of Josiah was the cleansing of the pagan temples of the idols used to serve the other gods. This reform need not be read as setting up a sole sanctuary in Jerusalem.

Transition: Therefore, the internal evidence does not have to be read as the critic demands, but what about the external evidence? Was Deut patterned after a treaty form from the 1st millennium?

[In a few days I will post my response to the second line of evidence.]

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