Social Justice And The Vision Of Deuteronomy -- By: Peter T. Vogt

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 51:1 (Mar 2008)
Article: Social Justice And The Vision Of Deuteronomy
Author: Peter T. Vogt


Social Justice And The Vision Of Deuteronomy

Peter T. Vogt

Peter T. Vogt is associate professor of Old Testament at Bethel Seminary, 3949 Bethel Drive, St. Paul, MN 55112.

I. Introduction

It has long been argued that the book of Deuteronomy presents a “humanitarian vision” for community life in Israel. Indeed, Moshe Weinfeld argues that “the primary aim of the Deuteronomic author is the instruction of the people in humanism, and in furtherance of this goal he adapts the various literary traditions which were at his disposal.”1 Weinfeld divides the humanist laws of Deuteronomy into three major categories. They are:

(1) Laws emphasizing the value of human life and human dignity. Examples of these laws include the treatment of runaway slaves (Deut 23:16) and women war captives (Deut 21:10–14); restrictions on excessive corporal punishment, lest the victim be “degraded” (Deut 25:1–3); proper disposition of a corpse after an execution (Deut 21:22–23); and the regulation of the construction of roof parapets in order to minimize danger to human life (Deut 22:8).

(2) Laws dealing with interpersonal social relations. These include calls for assisting aliens, orphans, widows, and the poor, as well as enjoining a positive attitude toward these marginal groups (Deuteronomy 15; etc.), regulation of property rights (Deut 23:25), and warnings regarding the treatment of a hated wife and her son (Deut 21:15–16).

(3) Laws dealing with the humane treatment of animals. Examples include prohibition of taking both mother and her young from the nest (Deut 22:6–7), and the requirement to refrain from muzzling an ox while it is treading out grain.2

Each category of laws may be seen as having a practical, human-centered basis rather than explicitly religious or theological ones, in Weinfeld’s view. This humanistic tendency is seen as having its roots in ANE wisdom literature. Weinfeld notes that similarities in language between Proverbs and certain points in Deuteronomy suggest that the editorial framework of Deuteronomy, at least, was composed subsequent to the book of Proverbs, and maintains that the authors of the book were scribe...

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