Four Editions of Deuteronomy

I started Karel Van Der Toorn’s Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible.  I’m not going to blog through this book as I have been blogging through other books—trying to sum up huge chunks in a couple of posts.  Rather, I’ll be employing the “one bite at a time” approach—blogging on topics of interest from this book until I decide to move on to something else.

In this post, I want to talk about Chapter Six, “The Teaching of Moses: Scribal Culture in the Mirror of Deuteronomy”.  Van Der Toorn’s argument in this chapter is that there were four editions of Deuteronomy.

On page 145, Van Der Toorn states that one might think that there would be a problem with his thesis: Because Deuteronomy was considered to be the Word of God (which Van Der Toorn supports with Jeremiah 8:8-9), one would think that tampering with it would be a “no-no”.  As a matter of fact, Deuteronomy 4:2 and 13:1 prohibit people from adding to Deuteronomy or taking away from it.  But Van Der Toorn states that the priests (who, according to Deuteronomy 17:18 and 31:9, had control of Deuteronomy, which was not unusual, since scribal schools in the ancient Near East were often affiliated with the temples) nevertheless did add to the text, notwithstanding their responsibility to “prevent textual alterations” (page 146).  Their goal was to make Deuteronomy relevant to new situations, namely, the exilic and post-exilic periods.  On page 169, Van Der Toorn states that the editors of one of the editions, the Torah Edition, viewed “scholars like himself as the successors of Moses in his prophetic office[, with] the authority to interpret and to update traditional law in light of the insights revealed to him.”  Van Der Toorn’s model for how this editorial process occurred is not that scribes added to the text here and there, but rather that a new edition of Deuteronomy was produced every forty years or so.  As Van Der Toorn notes, the “life span of a papyrus scroll was limited” (page 148).  When the priests produced a new edition, they added to the text.  And Van Der Toorn does not seem to presume that there were multiple copies of Deuteronomy floating around in ancient Israel.

According to Van Der Toorn, the four editions of Deuteronomy were the Covenant Edition, the Torah Edition, the History Edition, and the Wisdom Edition.  I’ll say something about each edition.

1.  The Covenant Edition.

According to Van Der Toorn, the Covenant Edition consists of “a prologue (beginning with Deut 6:4-9), then the treaty stipulations (Deut 12:1-16:17, 26), and, finally, conditional blessings and curses (Deut 28)” (page 153).  For Van Der Toorn, the Covenant Edition is modeled after a treaty, perhaps the Neo-Assyrian ones.  Its aim was to support the Josianic reform of cult centralization that had recently occurred.  The editor “used existing texts, most likely reflecting royal decrees sent out to local officials ordering them to discontinue worship at provincial shrines and temples” (page 154).  Moreover, “Cloaked with the authority of Moses, the lawgiver of old, he reinterpreted, adapted, and rewrote the legal traditions he was familiar with” (page 154).

2.  The Torah Edition.

According to Van Der Toorn, the Torah Edition emerged early in exile.  It envisioned an ideal post-exilic theocratic society (as did Ezekiel 40-48 in exile) in which the priests would run the show, the king would merely serve as a ceremonial figure who read Torah, and the prophets would largely be teachers of Torah.  Van Der Toorn regards the Torah Edition as exilic because he does not think that Josiah would sponsor such a picture of Israelite society, and he holds that Deuteronomy 18’s comments on identifying false prophets on the basis of their unfulfilled prophecy would make most sense after the false prophets had been proven wrong through the destruction of Jerusalem.  Van Der Toorn also identifies certain passages in Deuteronomy 28 as part of the exilic Torah Edition because they refer to the teaching of Moses, and they mention the curse of exile.  Specifically, Van Der Toorn maintains that the priests who were “administrators, judges, and scholars”—not the priests who had served at the altar—were the ones who produced Deuteronomy.  These priests—the ones responsible for Deuteronomy—were the “forerunners of the Levites as we find them in texts of the post-exilic era such as Chronicles” (page 160).

3.  The History Edition.

For Van Der Toorn, the History Edition fused the Covenant Edition and the Torah Edition, making the Book of the Covenant and the Book of the Torah interchangeable—as the Deuteronomistic story of Josiah treats them in II Kings 22-23.  The History Edition also made Deuteronomy into an introduction to the larger Deuteronomistic History—with its themes of the priority of Moses and Israel’s rebellion—its goal being to account for the exile theologically.

4.  The Wisdom Edition.

Van Der Toorn believes that the Wisdom Edition includes Deuteronomy 4, 30, and parts of Deuteronomy 19-25.  It is hopeful and talks of restoration—which Van Der Toorn thinks makes most sense in the Persian Period, when restoration looked like a genuine possibility.  It also reflects Babylonian elements, and so Van Der Toorn believes that the wisdom editor was a “Babylonian Jew in the early Persian Period” (page 163).  The Wisdom Edition talks about wisdom, presents Torah as consistent with the reason that is inside of each person, appeals to experience (in this case, what occurred at Horeb), and offers reasons for commandments (i.e., the deterrence of the death penalty, the senselessness of cutting down defenseless trees, etc.).  Moreover, on page 172, Van Der Toorn says that, “in the Wisdom Edition, the Law is taken to embody a superior form of wisdom to be appreciated as such by every human being under heaven.”  In short, the Torah has a degree of universal value and relevance.

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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