Deuteronomy and History: Anticipation or Reflection? -- By: Eugene H. Merrill

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 18:1 (Fall 2000)
Article: Deuteronomy and History: Anticipation or Reflection?
Author: Eugene H. Merrill

Deuteronomy and History:
Anticipation or Reflection?

Eugene H. Merrill

Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Studies
Dallas Theological Seminary
3909 Swiss Avenue
Dallas, Texas 75204


The Present Situation

Since the publication of W. M. L. DeWette’s ground-breaking thesis nearly two centuries ago, it has become a commonplace of the historical-critical method (1) to identify Deuteronomy as the “book of the law” (2 Kings 22:8, 11) or “book of the covenant” (2 Kings 23:2, 21) discovered in connection with King Josiah’s reformation; (2) to date its initial composition not long before that event; and (3) to separate Deuteronomy from the rest of the Pentateuch, leaving what many scholars refer to as the Tetrateuch.1 This is so much a consensus position that any challenge to it is viewed at best as an exercise in futility and at worst as a throwback to a precritical and fundamentalist mentality. To be sure, DeWette’s original postulate has undergone course corrections in certain details and, in fact, has given way in some circles to suggestions of rather major redactionary processes that have resulted in an exilic provenience of the book as it stands today.2 The present prevailing stance toward Deuteronomy is that it is fundamentally a late work whose purpose was not to anticipate Israel’s sacred history but to reflect upon it, and to assess and critique that history in terms of Israel’s adherence to or disobedience of the covenant principles enshrined within it.3

The History of Criticism

DeWette, in the brief compass of sixteen pages, argued that (1) Moses did not write the Pentateuch, Genesis through Numbers being a complete but composite work by later hands; (2) the beginning of Deuteronomy is only a paraphrase of Numbers; (3) Deuteronomy is an expansion of earlier material and has its own peculiar style; (4) Deuteronomy manifests a sophisticated theology similar to that of late Judaism; (5) Deuteronomy first introduces the idea of a

single legitimate central sanctuary and emphasizes the role of the Levites, monarchy, and prophets; and (6) Deuteronomy frequently contradicts, supplements, and corrects the earlier writings.4

In addition to removing Deuteronomy from Mosaic authorship and...

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