The Pentateuch: A Long History of Study and Research (Fifth part)

Deuteronomy (D) and Deuteronomist. In the nineteenth century, scholars have discussed a lot about the origin of the Pentateuch. Wellhausen, for example, thought that there were originally two parts (Dt 1-4:44; 12-26; 27 and 4:45-11:39; 28-30) which were then merged together in the final stage of the Pentateuch’s redaction. Regarding the dating of the source, many argue that it is to be related to the discovery of the “roll of the Temple” in the time of King Josiah (2 Kings 22-23) i.e. in 622 BC

Studies on Deuteronomy had great impulse thanks to Martin Noth‘s research on the so-called “Deuteronomistic work”. He argued that a single author, who lived at the time of exile, wrote his work in Mizpah, or at Bethel, then in Judea and not at Babylon. It was the story of YHWH’s faithfulness to his promises and Israel’s infidelity to the Law of Moses. The work extended from Deuteronomy – a sort of “theological introduction” – to the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings. So Deuteronomy was not part of the Pentateuch. According to Noth the Pentateuch includes only the books from Genesis to Numbers and it is called “Tetrateuch”. To justify this distinction, Noth holds that there are no texts inspired by the theology of Deuteronomy in the first four books of the Pentateuch.

This is the first of the weaknesses of the theory of Noth. In fact, in the Pentateuch the theology of Deuteronomy (sin-punishment-repentance-renewal of the covenant) is present too; for example, in the episode of the golden calf (Exodus 32-34).

It is difficult to say that the Dtr (= the Deuteronomistic work) is the work of a single author. However the Dtr appears to be an “official history” written to give an identity to the jews that lived in the Persian province of Jehud, reconstructing the memory of their past. So after Noth scholars divided the Dtr in two or three editions.

The theory of two editions (Frank Moore Cross) postulates a first Dtr edition written at the time of the cultic reform of King Josiah (2 Kings 22-23) and another one written during the exilic period.

The theory, instead, of the three editions (Alfred Jepsen) postulates that the Dtr was composed entirely in the exilic period, from 580 at the end of the sixth cent. B.C.

After that Rudolf Smend identified an “old layer” (the DtrG) ranging from Dt 1:1 to 2 King 25,30 and written around 550 B.C. Then was added the “prophetic” layer (DtrP). At the end of the process wad added the “monistic” layer (DtrN) who extended deuteronomistic language to the rest of Tetrateuch that was finally reunited to Dtr work.

These principal theories were followed by other ones, which have made the issue of Deuteronomy (and Dtr) very complex. The problem is that we need to find an historical anchor to the alleged “Deuteronomy movement” from which concretely come the final redaction of the Pentateuch and of the historical books.

Simone Venturini


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