Last week, I was watching a television series about the history of Jerusalem when I noticed their Bible specialists were saying things that seemed to omit the existence of Deuteronomy. For example, they referred to king David’s rape of Bathsheba and said that that was just how kings behaved in those days. They made no reference to the fact that David had broken the Law regarding Israel’s Kings, specifically spelled out in Deuteronomy 17. After a few of these instances, it occurred to me that they might omit all the references to Deuteronomy because they didn’t think Deuteronomy had been written until Hilkiah the priest who brought it to king Josiah or more likely, not until after Judah went into the Babylonian Exile.
This aspect of Critical Scholarship was once very popular, but it still surprises me when it comes up. What follows is an oversimplification of why people don’t believe in the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy, followed by some very quick thoughts regarding why I think it was written in the time of Moses.
The logic behind the idea that Moses could not have written Deuteronomy is simply because it’s too accurate. As its author, Moses would have prophetically spoken of things that would happen 900 years later. If our assumption is that prophecy doesn’t occur, Deuteronomy must be a later composition. If we are going to accept the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy we will need to be open to miracles or at least vast coincidences.
One of these key prophecies is the Exile of Judah culminating in 586 BCE. This brings us to the second argument in which runs like this:
“The generation of Moses had no reason to anticipate an exile. It’s a kind of punishment that wouldn’t even occur to them in that time. Where would they get the idea of being stuck by God outside the land? It would make more sense that they would write Deuteronomy from the Exile to explain why they had gotten there.”
There is a good reason why while Israel was in the wilderness getting ready to enter the Promised Land that the LORD would warn them of a future exile if they disobeyed the Torah- for forty years God forbade them to enter the land right up to the very moment that Deuteronomy was penned. The LORD was not simply saying, if you don’t keep My commands here is what will happen. He is saying “Remember what happened here and know I will do it again if you continue to disobey me.” Being removed from the blessings of the Land speaks directly into the situation of the wilderness generation.
But the evidence of Moses as the author runs deeper still. Deuteronomy, in form and purpose shows it is a 15th century or 16th century BC composition. More specifically, it is in the form of a “covenant renewal.” Covenants needed to be renewed for three key reasons, a change in leadership, a change in territory, or to reconcile a breach of the covenant by one or both parties. All three of these were occurring as Moses wrote Deuteronomy.
They were about to change leaders from Moses to Joshua, they were about to leave the time of the wilderness and enter the land, and they were about to complete their years of judgment in the wilderness for not obeying the Lord. In this new circumstance, the covenant between the LORD and His people needed to be reestablished, the history of why needed to be reviewed, and new provisions for living, not as wilderness wanderers, but as settlers needed to be established.
So, in purpose, the second giving of the covenant essential at this very moment. But its structure also indicates that it was a second millennia BC covenant. First Millenia BCE covenants, the sort that Hilkiah and Josiah or Zedekiah or Zerubbabel would recognize contained only curses for disobedience. Covenants in the time of Moses contain both blessings and curses, as does Deuteronomy. First Millenia BCE covenants tended to omit the historical prologue. Covenants in the time of Moses had a historical prologue that recounted the history your nation had with this King and why you ought to serve Him. In the first giving of the covenant, you might go as far as to say that from Genesis 1:1 to Exodus 19 was a massive covenant prologue. Deuteronomy had a unique addition or amendment to the covenant prologue updating the history since the giving of the first covenant. This is specifically a second millennia BC covenant renewal form. All these things would’ve been very different had it been composed in the first millennia BCE.
Deuteronomy was either a complex forgery done by someone studied in the changes covenant forms had undergone in the past thousand years. Or it could be what it claims to be. Is there a historical precedent for creating this sort of forgery or fiction? Or might we say the First Millenia author was so ingenious that they created this form of historical fiction two thousand years or more in advance of that genre appearing anywhere else? Given the odds, I am more likely to believe in the fulfilled prophecy created by God than a miracle of genre anachronism created by a single person. Either way, you gotta believe in miracles. If someone is going to do a miracle, and I have to bet, I am betting on God.