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Who were the Deuteronomists?

As is often the case in the Bible, especially in the Pentateuch, it is very difficult – if not impossible – to describe the authors/editors a little more in detail. It is also for deuteronomists, those who wrote for the first time a history (not a historiography) of Israel. Here’s what the experts say.

According to Martin Noth, dtr history was written by one author who wanted to know the reasons why Israel was destroyed end exiled. The Martin Noth’s theory – which also reflects the Second World War’s time in which the scholar lived – finds no confirmation from the socio-archeological research. In fact, it is evident that at the time of the monarchy, literacy was very limited and restricted to court and religious circles, such as those of the Temple of Jerusalem. It is very difficult to think that an isolated individual could write a story like the dtr for his delight. Only in the Hellenistic period, literacy became a widespread phenomenon, as the Qoelet book demonstrates. Archaeologists believe that before the VIII sec. BC, Judah was never a monarchic nation developed, compared to the north, Israel. Only after the fall of Samaria – in 722 BC – many israelites moved to the south and from that moment onwards, Judah and Jerusalem underwent an important demographic and cultural increase.

The so-called deuteronomists were to be high officials of Jerusalem, perhaps the scribes, but also the priests of the Temple. Since in the dtr history there is a particular style and certain editorial techniques, one can think of a true dtr school, a sort of circus made by intellectuals of the time, that is, scribes and priests. The scribes were to keep the archives and make the annals. They were also those who were dealing with diplomatic correspondence and even drafted laws. They also made propaganda through inscriptions and texts. Their great intellectual skill and this literary production gave them a great prestige – and also autonomy – with respect to the same king, which was not infrequently illiterate.

The scrolls on which they wrote their works were kept in the palaces of power or in the Temple. There is no archaeological evidence that individuals possessed rolls that were read in front of the king on particularly solemn occasions (see Ger 36). So the deuteronomists probably were the scribes of the court’s intellectual caste. But they were authors or editors? Both things. They collected older documents (or even oral traditions) (see references to the annals in the books of kings, or the stories of Judges) that integrated into their literary production. However, in ancient times it was very difficult to distinguish between authors and editors, because the task of writing and collecting could be unified in a single person or group.

Simone Venturini


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