Concluding Weinfeld’s Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School

For my write-up today of Moshe Weinfeld’s Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, I’ll write something about each chapter that I read today.

In “The Concept of God and the Divine Abode”, Weinfeld states that Deuteronomy 4:26 presents the commandments being “heard from out of the midst of the fire that was upon the mount, but they were uttered by the Deity from heaven” (page 207).  This is different from Exodus 19:12, in which Moses needed to prevent the Israelites from breaking through to gaze upon God.  Exodus 19 presumes that God is on the mountain, whereas Deuteronomy asserts the opposite—that God is speaking from heaven.  Another point that stood out to me in this chapter was Weinfeld’s interpretation of I Kings 8:27, which is Deuteronomistic: “The sanctuary is here conceived as a house of prayer and not as a cultic center” (page 209).

In “Sacral and Festal Observances”, Weinfeld contrasts Deuteronomy with P, with whom Weinfeld thinks that Deuteronomy is consciously disagreeing.  Weinfeld notes that Deuteronomy does not mention sin and guilt offerings, for it holds that “spiritual purification and repentance—consisting of confession and prayer—and not sacrificial offerings expiate sin” (page 210).  According to Weinfeld, “Deuteronomic sacrifice consists primarily of offerings which are consumed by the offerer in the sanctuary and are designed to be shared with the poor, the Levite, the alien resident, the orphan, and the widow” (page 211).  Deuteronomy also does not treat certain things as inherently sacred, as do the priests: While P regards the tithe as inherently holy, Deuteronomy regards it as “the property of the original owner (14:22-7)”, and so a person can use it for profane purposes as long as he pays “its equivalent monetary value” (page 215).  For Weinfeld, that means that Deuteronomy regards sanctity as something that flows from “the religious intentions of the person who consecrates” the tithe, not as something that the tithe inherently possesses.  Moreover, Weinfeld argues that P and Deuteronomy conceptualize the Sabbath differently.  P regards the Sabbath as something that redramatizes creation, and so his version of the Sabbath command uses the word “remember”.  Deuteronomy, however, being anti-anthropomorphic, is uncomfortable with the idea of God resting after creation, and so it chooses instead to provide a historical basis for the Sabbath: the Exodus.  Deuteronomy’s version of the Sabbath command uses the imperative “observe”.

In “Purity and Impurity in the Deuteronomic Conception of Holiness”, Weinfeld argues that P thinks that the land can be defiled through certain sins—and so he prohibits even non-Israelite resident aliens from committing them (violating rules on sacrificial procedure, eating leaven on the Days of Unleavened Bread, defiling a corpse, incest, Molech worship, spilling blood, blasphemy, and eating on the Day of Atonement)—whereas Deuteronomy views sin as a matter of personal guilt, not defilement of the land.  Moreover, Deuteronomy holds that a resident alien does not have to obey the Torah.  In fact, whereas the Holiness Code regards everyone—even a resident alien—of being impure after they eat what dies of itself, meaning that they have to wash after eating it (Leviticus 17:15), Deuteronomy 14:21 says that Israelites can’t eat it, but they can give it to a resident alien.

Another point that Weinfeld makes is that Deuteronomy highlights the holiness of Israel, whereas P and the Holiness Code regard holiness primarily as the quality of priests.  Consequently, while H only bans priests from eating what dies of itself, while allowing others to eat it, as long as they wash afterward (Leviticus 11:39-40; 17:15; 22:8), Deuteronomy says that no Israelite can eat it (Deuteronomy 14:1-2, 21), thereby extending a priestly rule to all of Israel.  Weinfeld believes that the villain Korah’s contention in Numbers 14:3 that all of Israel is holy reflected priestly polemic against the Deuteronomic School, which viewed all of Israel as holy.

In “The Judicial Reform”, Weinfeld argues that centralization of the cult closed down local sanctuaries, which also functioned as courts, and so that is why Deuteronomy sets up a court system for the nation, while leaving family law to the elders.

In “The Laws of Asylum”, Weinfeld contrasts Deuteronomy’s view of the cities of refuge with earlier views.  Before Deuteronomy, the cities of refuge were sanctuaries where the person guilty of manslaughter atoned for his sins, whereas Deuteronomy—which abolished sanctuaries through centralization—treated the cities of refuge as places of protection for the person guilty of manslaughter.  Moreover, according to Weinfeld, Deuteronomy locates the cities of refuge where it does on the basis of practical considerations—it places them where the manslayer can quickly reach them—not in order to place them at sanctuaries.

In “The Laws of Warfare”, Weinfeld says that Deuteronomy has nothing about the ark going out with the Israelites in battle, or spoils being dedicated to the priests.  And, when Deuteronomy exhorts warriors to keep away from doing anything indecent, Weinfeld thinks that relates to the camp’s cleanliness, not its sacred purity.

In “Sin and Punishment”, Weinfeld says that the Covenant Code prohibits the cursing of parents because it is “insubordination to authority”, whereas Deuteronomy focuses instead on how the incorrigible son brings “ruin upon himself and his family” (page 241).  Weinfeld states that P regarded sin as a “palpable substance…which rests upon the malefactor” and is expunged when the sinner was cut off from his people.  In many cases, this was automatic—as the land vomited up the sinner.  Sometimes, however, P required the community to carry out the death penalty—in which case the malefactor was taken to an impure place, where the congregation laid hands on him and thereby transferred to him the impurity of those whom the crime contaminated (Leviticus 24:14).  Deuteronomy, however, presents punishment as occurring in the city itself, as well as regards the death penalty, not as a matter of purification, but as a deterrent.  P also said that those who committed certain ritualistic sins (eating blood and fat, eating ritual meat while impure, contaminating the sanctuary, uncircumcision, eating leaven during the Days of Unleavened Bread, eating on the Day of Atonement) would be cut off by God, whereas Deuteronomy “is not interested in offenses of this sort” (page 242).

I’ll cover Weinfeld’s treatment of wisdom literature in one broad stroke.  Weinfeld thinks that wisdom literature influenced Deuteronomy, not the other way around, for Israelite wisdom literature overlaps with other ancient Near Eastern wisdom literatures (showing that it could have gotten its ideas from them rather than Deuteronomy), plus it lacks reference to Israel as a nation—which would be odd, if it were influenced by Deuteronomy.  Weinfeld also thinks that the Book of Proverbs was pre-exilic (the time of Deuteronomy, according to Weinfeld) because it lacked the national focus of post-exilic literature—including wisdom literature.

Weinfeld also refers to Yehezkel Kaufmann’s position that P came before the prophets, rather than vice versa (Wellhausen).  For Kaufmann, P focused on the cult and did not say anything about eschatology, and so it most likely was not aware of the prophetic writings, which elevated morality and had an eschatological component.

Weinfeld’s chapter on “Humanism” is beautiful, for it is about how Deuteronomy regarded the dignity of women, the poor, etc., beyond other Pentateuchal authors.  For example, while the Covenant Code in Exodus 22:30 bans Israelites from eating food torn by beasts and tells them to give it to the dogs, Deuteronomy 14:21 has them give it to the resident aliens.  According to Weinfeld, the humanism of Deuteronomy arose under the influence of wisdom literature, which (according to Weinfeld) maintained that all people were equal because they were made by a common creator.  (Job 31:15 has that sort of idea.)

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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