The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: D

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D source, problems

One of the absolute cornerstones of the entire Documentary Hypothesis (DH) is that Deuteronomy was written during the early part of the reign of Josiah, so as to provide justification for his reforms. According to the critical scholars, the "book of the law" that was found by Hilkiah was this brand-spanking-new book of Deuteronomy, written down as a "pious fraud" so as to convince the people that the reforms of Josiah were exactly that: reforms that hearkened back to the words of Moses hundreds of years before. This issue of the dating of Deuteronomy is so important to the DH that I would like to take the time to explain the DH position just a little bit more. The easiest way to do this is to quote a few paragraphs from "Who Wrote the Bible?" by Richard Elliot Friedman.

P 23: "By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the two-source hypothesis was expanded. Scholars found evidence that there were not two major source documents in the Pentateuch after all -- there were four!... [In 1805] a young German scholar, WML De Wette, observed in his doctoral dissertation that the fifth of the Five Books of Moses, the book of Deuteronomy, was strikingly different in its language from the four books that preceded it... De Wette hypothesized that Deuteronomy was a separate, fourth source."

Pp 101-102: "The book that the priest Hilkiah said he found in the Temple in 622 BC was Deuteronomy. This is not a new discovery. [Many early church fathers held this position.] In Germany in 1805, W. M. L. De Wette investigated the origin of Deuteronomy. He argued that Deuteronomy was the book that Hilkiah handed over to King Josiah. But De Wette denied that the book was by Moses. He said that Deuteronomy was not an old, Mosaic book that had been lost for a long time and then found by the priest Hilkiah. Rather, De Wette said, Deuteronomy was written not long before it was 'found' in the Temple, and the 'finding' was just a charade. The book was written to provide grounds for Josiah's religious reform... From the law of centralization and other matters, De Wette concluded that the book of Deuteronomy was not a long-lost document, but rather was written not long before its 'discovery' by Hilkiah. Though it may have been written for legitimate purposes, it was nevertheless falsely attributed to Moses. De Wette referred to it as 'pious fraud'."

No wonder Wellhausen, considered the father of the Documentary Hypothesis, himself described De Wette as the real father of the idea! This idea of Deuteronomy being a 'pious fraud' written during the time of Josiah is absolutely essential to the DH. I intend to show that it could not possibly have been written during this time period.

For starters, the reforms enacted by Josiah were not without powerful opposition. Prior to Josiah's reign, Manasseh had reigned for 55 years and Amon had reigned for 2 years. In 2Ki 21 and 2Ch 33 we read about the idolatrous practices that went on during their reigns, and it is easy for us to forget that these practices were conducted with the assistance of professional "priests". These were powerful people who would not have stood by and allowed Josiah to pull off this stunt of '"finding" a supposedly ancient book that was really just a recent creation. Now we would not expect their literature to last, although we would reasonably expect to find some hints, either in Kings, Chronicles, or prophets like Jeremiah, or their opposition. But none is to be found.

In Deuteronomy we find several things that would be expected were the book really intended as a "pious fraud" to help Josiah's reforms along, and also several things that are either irrelevant or even potentially counterproductive to his reforms. I will now concentrate on the "expected but missing" elements, and later on the "irrelevant or potentially counterproductive" ones. Both sets are devastating to the DH.

The first of the "expected but missing" items relates to what critical scholars claim is actually a supporting element of their theory -- the mention of kings in Deu 17. In Deu 17:14-20, we read of how the Israelites will one day "want a king like the nations around them", about how this king should not multiply horses or wives for himself, and about how he should write out a copy of the law for himself so that he will constantly consider it. According to critical scholars this is just a little too neat. Surely Moses could not have written these things hundreds of years before they were fulfilled in detail. In other words, the critical scholars believe that whenever prophetic words are closely or exactly fulfilled the only reasonable explanation is that the words were not prophecy, but were rather written after the fact. Thus, they cite this section in support of the DH.

On the contrary, it must be remembered that the primary goal of Deuteronomy, according to the DH, was to provide justification for Josiah's reforms. If that is the case, and if the writer of Deuteronomy was willing to create the supposed prophecy of Moses with regard to kings of Israel, then why stop there? Only seven vv about kings? Surely any effort at creating Deuteronomy as a work of pious fraud would have gone on, making it look as if Moses were saying that people should honor and follow any kings who do obey the law. Where are the words about a king supporting the priesthood? And if these words were written in a way that condemned the particular weaknesses of Solomon, where are the words that condemn the idolatrous practices of Manasseh and other unfaithful kings? It seems ridiculous to suppose that the writer of this pious fraud would condemn Solomon's practices but not the practices or the kings previous to Josiah, especially when (a) these later practices were the ones that Josiah was trying to get rid of, and (b) these later practices were the height of the evils conducted by the kings of the southern kingdom of Judah.

Deuteronomy also says absolutely nothing that deals with the division of Israel into northern and southern kingdoms. By the time of Josiah the northern kingdom had come and gone, and only the southern kingdom of Judah was left. Where are the words in Deuteronomy in which Moses exhorts those of the faithful remnant to learn from the lessons of what would happen to their unfaithful brethren?

The next item concerns another item that critical scholars use to bolster their theory about Deuteronomy. This relates to the phrase "beyond the Jordan" or "on the other side of the Jordan". At issue is the opening verse of the book, the first part of which reads "These are the words which Moses hath spoken unto all Israel, beyond the Jordan." (YLT -- I cite this one here because in the refs in Deu and Jos where this phrase literally occurs in the Heb, most modern translations seek to obviate the confusion by wording the translation less than literally, which in this case obscures the evidence.) Why, the critical scholars ask, would Moses describe the side of the Jordan that he was on as "beyond the Jordan"? The critical scholars submit that this is a mistake in the "pious fraud". But an honest look into the phrase reveals that, just as "Transjordan" has been used in modern times to describe the area east of the Jordan even by those in the region, so Moses used this phrase properly. Even in Deu, "beyond the Jordan" is used in Deu 3:8,20,25; and Deu 11:30 to describe the area west of the Jordan. If you read these in context they might not seem like problems because the speaker is admittedly on the eastern side of the Jordan at the time the words were spoken, but in Jos 9:1 and Jos 22:7 we come to a different situation. In these refs the speaker is on the west side of the Jordan, and refers to the west side as "beyond the Jordan". This is permissible because in context the speaker has been dealing with the eastern part of the Jordan, and is now referring back to the western part. In Deu 1:1; 4:41,46,47,49, Moses is likewise "permitted" to speak of the side of the Jordan that he is on as "beyond the Jordan" because in context he is exhorting the Israelites concerning how they ought to live once they cross over.

If Deuteronomy was written as a "pious fraud" to provide justification of Josiah's reforms, then why does it deal with so many things that are irrelevant to Josiah's reforms, along with some things that would actually speak against them?

For example, in Deu 20, there are laws about how warfare is to be conducted by the Israelites. These have nothing to do with any of the events of Josiah's reign. What is the point of the detailed laws about identifying clean and unclean animals in Deu 14? Even though the Jews were quite idolatrous during Josiah's reign, there is no evidence in Kings, Chronicles, or the prophets that they had forsaken this particular aspect of the Law. What would be the point in describing the cities of refuge in Deu 18, particularly when some of the cities were outside the territory controlled by Josiah? The rule about taking foreign women captive in battle, or 'cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree', making a parapet upon your roof, not mixing wool with linen, and not muzzling the ox while it is treading out the grain? These are just samples that I selected while skimming through Deuteronomy that have nothing to do with Josiah's reforms, but make sense as part of Moses' final exhortation to the people.

In skimming through Deuteronomy there were an item that struck me as being contrary to the aim's of Josiah's reforms: the mention of the exclusion from the assembly of those of the Ammonites or Moabites and their descendants. Introducing these as part of this "pious fraud" strikes me as incredible because they would speak against the founder of the dynastic line to which Josiah belonged: David. This matter is further complicated by an issue that is in fact magnified when the full claims of the DH are considered. While in this study we have particularly been focusing upon the issue of the authorship of the Pentateuch, it is worth realizing that according to the DH the "Deuteronomistic History" was written at the same time as Deuteronomy. This "History" refers to the historical books that begin where Deuteronomy ends and ends essentially with Josiah, and refers to the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, and Kings. (Yes I am aware that Kings deals with events past the time of Josiah. The DH posits a second Deuteronomistic writer who wrapped things up for the period from Josiah to the release of Jehoiachin, and that this second writer may have even been the first writer just tying up loose ends a few years after the "first edition" came out only to be followed by Josiah's sudden death. See ch 7 of Friedman's "Who Wrote the Bible" for more information about this second Deuteronomist, but note that this "second edition" talk only concerns the books that follow Deuteronomy, not Deuteronomy itself.)

Back to the main point: this issue of Deu 23:3 effectively speaking against David, I mentioned that this matter is further complicated by an issue that is in fact magnified when the full claims of the DH are considered. I am speaking here of the book of Ruth. My question is, why in the world would the Deuteronomist write a section of law that would effectively speak against David because of the Moabite blood in his veins, and then proceed to write a book whose main point is the faithfulness of a Moabite ancestor of David?? In fact, why write the book of Ruth at all during the period of Josiah's reign?

But the most fundamental problem with the DH as it relates to Deuteronomy is the commandment to build an altar and assemble at the Mt Ebal/Mt Gerizim/Shechem area, commanded by Moses in Deu 11:26-32; 27:1-14 and fulfilled in Jos 8:30-35. Related to this is the matter concerning "the place where God's name will dwell", mentioned repeatedly in Deuteronomy.

According to critical scholars, the key reason for writing Deuteronomy was to provide a justification for the centralization of worship in Jerusalem. So then why in Deuteronomy would we find this key scene being twice described, whereby Shechem would be so honored and Jerusalem would not be mentioned in any way whatsoever? In fact, the only explanation that would even be remotely plausible would be to note that the Deuteronomist had no choice but to mention this because it was a well-known authentic part of national history. But even this explanation defeats the purpose of the book, and even if it were a historical event it would be fully expected to either (a) leave the incident out, or (b) construct it in such a way that the event was intended to foreshadow the different place where God would cause His name to dwell. Including the event and relating it the way that it is recorded is not at all helpful to Josiah's reforms, it that is in fact the purpose for writing Deuteronomy.

There is no mention of Jerusalem at all in Deuteronomy; not even a hint. (Some would argue that there are maybe a couple of hints. I will not debate the point. My point is that there are no clear hints that would be readily apparent to the people of Josiah's day.) The later importance of Jerusalem was certainly known to God in Moses' day, and in Gen 14 (Salem) and Gen 22 (Mt Moriah) there are the first hints about the appropriateness of this later importance. But there is nothing in Deuteronomy, which makes no sense if indeed it was written as a "pious fraud" during Josiah's reign.

This is also the issue of "the prophet like me" in Deu 18. What purpose does this serve if indeed Deuteronomy were written to bolster the claims of Josiah's call to reformation? Nobody in Josiah's reign would fit this, except perhaps Josiah himself. But in the book of Joshua, Joshua very clearly fulfills the initial aspect of this prophecy, thus deadening the claim that it was written so as to get the people to follow Josiah. If Deuteronomy really were the "pious fraud" that the critical scholars claim, then the "prophecy" of the coming prophet should have been left unfilled by the Deuteronomistic Historian, so that Josiah could be claimed to fulfill this prophetic role.


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