The Composition of the Pentateuch: A New Theory (First part)

Although the book of Deuteronomy is located at the end of the Pentateuch it plays a central role in the formation of the Pentateuch. Substantially Deuteronomy invites the readers to remember (in Heb. zaqar) and to listen (in Heb. shama) the commands given by God to Moses and to observe them in everyday life.

Dt 6,4-5 is the most significant text to understand why Israel have to listen: Hear, O Israel: The Lord (i.e. YHWH – to be read Adonai) our God is one LordAnd thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

This is not a law like many others in the Ancient Near East. The injunction to listen is a consequence of the uniqueness of YHWH. Given that God loves Israel, Israel have to love him observing his commands. Given that YHWH is the only God of Israel, Israel have to belong totally to him.

The commands God gives to Moses are to be grounded on the glorious past of Israel. The faith and the life of Israelites have to be found on what can be called “theological memory of the past”.

These two verbs – to listen and to remember – which summarize the language of Deuteronomy, do not refer only to some aspects of the life of Israel. The Deuteronomy’s laws, as outlined in Deuteronomy, gave rise to the historical and theological entity we call “Israel.” This entity appeared in Judea after the exile during the time of the reconstruction of the Second Temple, around 515 BC.

This doesn’t mean that what happened before that time is not historically relevant to the conscience of Israel. The new reading of the past occurred in the post-exilic period, and culminated with the publication of the “Book of the Law” (in Heb. Sefer-hattorah). This new reading of the past is called by scholars deuteronomism.

This deep reform movement was anchored to an event of the past, the so-called “reform of Josiah” (cfr. 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chr 34). Scholars believe that the “reform of Josiah” is a founding myth – not a proper historical fact. It is a reference point that the Jews who lived after the Babylonian exile established to justify the structural changes introduced after the reconstruction:

  1. the centralization of worship in Jerusalem and the building of the Temple
  2. the worship and a new rite for the Easter’s celebration
  3. the calendar with the weekly Sabbath
  4. the new political and social life

(To be continued)

Simone Venturini


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