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The First Edition of the Book of Deuteronomy (Second part)

According to T. Römer, the first edition of Deuteronomy began in 6:4-5 and ended with the curses in Dt 28. At the center were the prescriptions that presupposed the ideology of centralization in Jerusalem. Within this section – i.e. the cc. 12-26chapters 12 and 13 stand out. These texts speak about the law of centralization and the loyalty to YHWH. A large part of the provisions in 12-26, which update the code of the Exodus covenant, presuppose the social situation under King Josiah. For example, in Dt 14:21-29 the payment of annual fees, first made in the local sanctuaries is centralized in Jerusalem. In fact, King Josiah closed all the sanctuaries.

All this happened following the upheaval that the Assyrian politics and culture caused in Judea. The traditional social structure consisting of families and clans was broken. Part of the rural population was deported, while the remaining one resided in the fortified cities of King Hezekiah. On the contrary, the urban population grew and needed to unify procedures and structures that were scattered throughout the territory.

Even the three main religious festivals (Easter, Shavuot and Sukkoth) were centralized in Jerusalem (see Dt 16:1-17). There is the new figure of the professional judge (see Dt 16:18 and 17:8-13) who deal with administration and justice outside the capital and on behalf of the king.

The establishment of the so-called cities of refuge (see Dt 19) reflects the closure of the local sanctuaries and the consequent need to create special cities that provide shelter for the outlaws. As in any other oriental code, the king was to protect the poor and the weak, as reflected in some parts of chapters 21; 22; 23; 24.

In short, the parts of the deuteronomic code – i.e. Dt 12-26 – dating back to the VII B.C. reflects the reorganization of the Jewish state, aimed at giving more power to its center, that is, to Jerusalem. As we have seen, the code presents clear parallels with the Esarhaddon treaty, evidently well known by the deuteronomist scribes, who used it to outline the relationship between YHWH and Judah. They probably also wanted to exercise some control over the king, because he too was subject to the Law.

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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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