Sparks on Deuteronomy

For my write-up today of Kenton Sparks’ Ethnicity and Identity in Ancient Israel, I will look at Sparks’ summary of Chapter 5 (“Ethnicity and Identity in the Judean Monarchy”), and recall other parts of the book when necessary.  If I ramble, I ramble!

According to Sparks, the Deuteronomic movement came to Judah from the North after the destruction of Samaria in 722 B.C.E.  We can conclude this because the Book of Deuteronomy betrays “Northern origins”, Deuteronomy 18:6 “refers to Levites who made their way to Judah from Israel”, and Deuteronomy continues the Northern prophet Hosea’s view that Israel should worship the LORD alone, not foreign gods (pages 223, 283).  And yet, Hosea and Deuteronomy are different.  Hosea did not believe that Israel’s religious corruption occurred in the Promised Land itself but rather “on foreign soil during the Baal-Peor incident before Israel’s settlement (Hos 9:10)”, whereas Deuteronomy maintained that “the primary source of corruption was within the land through the influence of its primeval inhabitants” (page 232).  In addition, while Deuteronomy presented the Promised Land as God’s gift to the Israelites, Hosea treats the land as God’s property, on which the Israelites are tenants.  Still, Deuteronomy continues a Northern trajectory.  It also absorbs Southern ideas, such as a regard for the poor and the widows (which we see in Amos, a Southerner who prophesied to the North).

The Deuteronomic refugees from the North brought another idea with them: the notion that the Israelites were brothers (ethnicity).  Deuteronomy harps on this (see Deuteronomy 15:2, 7), and Sparks thinks this is because “it was probably a new notion for the Southern Judeans” (page 238).  This calls to my mind a passage in Sparks that confused me, which is on page 271, where Sparks is discussing Deuteronomy 33:

“The reference to Judah cannot necessarily be viewed as evidence of an ethnic connection between Israel and Judah (which would seem to be contrary to the views of Hosea, Amos and Isaiah), since the call to ‘bring him [Judah] in to his people [Yahweh’s people]’ may stem from the common Yahwistic heritage of Judah rather than any supposed ethnic ties.  In this regard, the blessing has something in common with the Song of Deborah, where the primary tie between the groups was also religious, and it stands apart from the clear genealogical schematics that are characteristic of later tribal lists.”

Did Hosea, Amos, and Israel not believe that the Northern Israelites were ethnically related to Judah, but were only tied to Judah religiously?  Sparks says that Isaiah (a Southern prophet) views the establishment of the United Monarchy under David as Israel’s Golden Age (as well as looks forward to its re-institution), whereas Hosea (a Northern prophet) largely ignores Judah.  The South obviously had fonder memories of the United Monarchy than the North did!  But were the ties between the North and the South religious rather than ethnic, in Sparks’ point of view?

Sparks argues that at least the North believed that its tribes were connected ethnically—as brothers.  Amos 1:9-11 (yes, Amos was from the South, but he’s speaking to the North, presupposing Northern ideas) says that Edom is the brother of Israel, and Sparks states that “it is difficult to imagine that Israel could have viewed the Edomite out-group as a brother without prominent notions of indigenous Israelite brotherhood” (page 237).  Moreover, according to Sparks, Deuteronomy 33 “reflects notions of brotherhood among the Northern tribal groups” (page 237).  According to Sparks, the Northern Israelite emphasis on ethnicity was a response to Assyrian threats and domination.  But, after Northern Israel fell to the Assyrians, the Deuteronomic refugees brought their notion of Israelite brotherhood to Judah—in order to promote Yahwism (probably in that it said that the same family should worship the same God, Yahweh) and also to encourage Judah to treat the Northern refugees well, since Northern Israelites and the people of Judah were all from the same family.

Deuteronomy exhorts Israel to treat the ger well, and gerim are often considered by scholars and translators to be resident aliens—Gentiles who are dwelling in Israel.  But Sparks argues that the ger could be an Israelite or a Gentile.  Deuteronomy 18:6 says that the Levites sojourn (“gar”) in Israel, and yet Deuteronomy 14:21 treats the ger as if he’s outside of the Israelite community, since the Israelite can give to him meat from an animal that dies of itself, which is prohibited to the Israelites.  For Sparks, Deuteronomy talks about protecting the ger because it wants to “protect Israelite sojourners [who fled] from the North”, and also on account of the “close sociological association that existed between Israelite sojourners and non-Israelite sojourners” (page 283).  And Deuteronomy advocated a system in which foreign gerim could easily assimilate into the Israelite religious community.

But isn’t Deuteronomy 23 exclusive towards certain foreigners?  Sparks states that Deuteronomy had laws that excluded foreigners who did not want to participate in the Israelite religious community or were born from “foreign cultic activities” (the mamzerim—and Sparks defines the mamzerim as such by associating them with the “sons of harlotry” and “strange sons” of Hosea 2 and 5), meaning that foreigners were welcomed if they “avoided contacts with foreign deities and foreign religious practices” (page 284).

Sparks argues that there were four stages of Deuteronomy 23.  First, there was the “religious exclusion of people involved in foreign cults”—and this was from the author of Deuteronomy.  Second, there was the exclusion of the Ammonites and the Moabites, which was added in post-exilic times because the Israelites returned from exile and found their land occupied by Transjordanians (Jeremiah 49:1-3), and so the Israelites excluded these Transjordians for the survival of their own community.  Third, all foreigners were banned from the Israelite assembly.  We don’t see this in Deuteronomy 23, but Lamentations 1:10 interprets Deuteronomy 23 in such a manner, as does Nehemiah in Nehemiah 13.  Finally, special allowances were made for the Egyptians and the Edomites because there was a significant Jewish population in Egypt.

But wasn’t Deuteronomy anti-foreigner in its support for the extermination of the Canaanites?  Sparks does not think that those groups existed in seventh century Judah, but that Deuteronomy was blaming the previous (and long gone) inhabitants of the Promised Land for religious practices of which it disapproved—as well as making those inhabitants look evil—in order to encourage the Israelites to practice pure Yahwism.  The Greeks did something similar in that they portrayed the “spatially and temporally peripheral” as cannibals, practitioners of human sacrifice, unusual in their cultic practices, and sexual deviants (page 262).  Deuteronomy also resembles Greek materials in its focus on migration.  On page 261, Sparks argues that Deuteronomy was influenced by Greece—perhaps through a mediator (such as Phoenicia, which he mentions elsewhere in the book)—and that this occurred in the seventh century B.C.E., when there was “growing contact between Greece and the Levant.”

I’ll stop here.

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.
This entry was posted in Bible, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.