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Deuteronomy 12 as an Example of the Threefold Deuteronomistic Editing

12 These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which the Lord God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it, all the days that ye live upon the earth.

Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree:

And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.

Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God.

But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come:

And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks:

And there ye shall eat before the Lord your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households, wherein the Lord thy God hath blessed thee.

Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.

For ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord your God giveth you.

10 But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety;

11 Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the Lord:

12 And ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God, ye, and your sons, and your daughters, and your menservants, and your maidservants, and the Levite that is within your gates; forasmuch as he hath no part nor inheritance with you.

13 Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest:

14 But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee.

15 Notwithstanding thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee: the unclean and the clean may eat thereof, as of the roebuck, and as of the hart.

16 Only ye shall not eat the blood; ye shall pour it upon the earth as water.

17 Thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy wine, or of thy oil, or the firstlings of thy herds or of thy flock, nor any of thy vows which thou vowest, nor thy freewill offerings, or heave offering of thine hand:

18 But thou must eat them before the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates: and thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God in all that thou puttest thine hands unto.

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The chapter contains a solemn statement about the centralization of worship in Jerusalem. The origin of this is related to some families who were home to the court of King Josiah and who wanted to undertake profound social and economic change.

The cap. 12 insists that YHWH chose one place for the worship. Three distinct narrative units are recognizable: 1) vv. 2-7; 2) 8-12; 3) 13-18. At the center of these small units there is a negative injunction to not behave in a certain way (in the biblical text are indicated in bold) and an invitation to rejoice (in the biblical text are the parts indicated in italics).

The scholars think that vv. 13-18 represent the oldest part to which the other two were added, first 8-12 and then 2-7. We may consider these different editorial phases – as Römer says – as the various prefaces that publishers add to the books they sell. Here, in fact, we have the opening of the so called alliance code (cc. 12-26).

Vv. 13-18 would be directed to wealthy landowners; vv. 8-12 would be a first actualization of the commandment (i.e. the centralization of worship) during the Babylonian exile (587 BC); finally vv. 2-7 would be set in the first century of Persian domination. The attempt to separate themselves from foreign nations recalls the main theme of Esdra and Nehemiah who distinguish the true Israel (the community left to Babylon and that returned to Jerusalem) from the people of the country, i.e. the people contaminated by pagan presences established during the exile.

The three editorial stages would be evident in the verses – indicated by the chronological succession above proposed – reported in red in the biblical text above: v. 14, v. 11, v. 5.

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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