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The Pentateuch – An Overview (Deuteronomy)

Topography of Paradise – A. Kircher (1602-1680)

In the most crucial and important periods of the Israel’s history when the Pentateuch was written, the Jews wanted to recap the events that have marked their lives, as individuals and as a people. Thus it was born the last book of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy. Its name derives from the Greek and means “second law” (Deuteronomion). The Hebrew name – devarìm  – “words” – derives, like the other names of the books of the Pentateuch, from one of the first words of the book: “These be the words which Moses …” (Deut 1,1).The book is composed of three speeches that Moses spoke, in just one day, forty years after the departure from Egypt (Deut 1,3) at the east of the Jordan and at the gates of Canaan.

In the first discourse (Dt 1-4:43) Moses recapitulates all stages of the journey through the desert after the exodus from Egypt and until to the borders of the Promised Land. The speech ends with the injunction to observe the law of the Lord – the Torah – as a guarantee of the survival of the people in Canaan (Deut 4:1-43).

The second discourse (Deut 5-28:68) begins with a new formulation of the Ten Commandments (Deut 5). The following is a small part – chaps. 6-11 – which is a collection of exhortations to respect the laws of the Lord, on the basis of what the Lord has done for Israel along the desert road. Then begins the central and most important part of Deuteronomy (Deut 12-26), usually called “Deuteronomic Code”, where are collected and updated the old laws contained in the “code of the covenant” (Exodus 19-24), while adding new ones. The speech ends with a series of blessings and curses related to compliance or non-compliance of laws (Deut 28:1-68).

The third discourse (Deut 28:69-30) begins with the information of the place – the land of Moab – in which the Lord delivered to Moses the laws exposed in previous sections (28,68). Below is a new re-enactment of the stages of the exodus, and the recommendations to observe the law, with its blessings and curses.
Finally the chaps. 31-34 represent the last acts of the life of Moses and also report of his death.

The reason why I have dedicated a special section to the book of Deuteronomy is because it has a very special nature and appearance than the other books of the Pentateuch. Without going into details that I will illustrate in the following parts of the course, we can say here that the Deuteronomy highlights a style and a language very different from the rest of the Pentateuch. There is a continual reminder to comply with the law as a guarantee of prosperity in the country in which Jews are preparing to enter  (Dt 4,1-2; 5,1-3; 30, 15 ff.). It is, therefore, a book that not only closes the Pentateuch, but anticipates the content and language of the following parts of the Bible: the “historical books” that tell the story of Israel until the Babylonian exile (587 BC) (To be continued)

PS: If you want access to a full course on the Pentateuch write to: press@simoneventurini.it

Simone Venturini


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