The picture above is from the 1923 version of De Mille’s Ten Commandments.,
Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Deuteronomy is different in tone and style from Exodus, or the other books attributed to Moses. Under the theory of multiple authorship of the Pentateuch it’s usually assigned to an author called “D,” or the Deuteronomic author, if I recall my world religions class correctly. It breaks down into a large introductory section that situates it as being delivered towards the end of the stay outside Israel. Then there follow several legal sections, and a final section that concludes with the death of Moses. Rather than trying to write about all 34 chapters I’ll try to hit, as difficult as it may seem to some, the highlights.

4:32 is the beginning of a passage about the splendor of God’s word, “Was there ever a word so majestic, from one end of heaven to the other….”

4:41 sets aside cities of refuge for manslaughter and accidental death.

5 sets forth the 10 commandments.

6:4 is the Shema. “Hear O Israel….”

7:1-6 sets Israel apart, and forbids intermarriage. Here I think the idea is for Israel to come together as a unified nation. A pattern of exogamous marriage would result in the ultimate destruction of Israel. This is a bone of contention in modern day Judaism. Religously exogamous marriages, in terms of marrying Christians, for the most part, can result in strange things, a blending of customs, so that you have Chrismakkah, a blend of Christmas and Hanukkah, and an ultimate falling away from Judaism and conversion to either religious indifference or Christianity. Religiously endogamous marriages preserve the Jewish heritage, but somehow violate our standards of romantic love. Here is the crux of the situation in Fiddler on the Roof.

10:12 refers to the circumcision of the heart.

12 is the beginning of the Deuteronomic code.

14 contains further instructions about clean and unclean animals. In a previous entry I had a picture of a hyrax. The hyrax processes its food by excreting it, and the eating it again. In the book about Borneo that I blogged about a while ago it mentioned that the residents of the longhouse would perform their excretory functions outside, and that the pigs would consume that. Apparently pigs will eat just about anything. (Note: Thomas Harris uses pigs as a tool of murder in Hannibal.) Most of the animals that are listed as unclean are eaters of carrion, carnivores, or simply disgusting in their dietary habits.

14:22 is the start of a passage about the annual tithe. What is strange is that if the place where Yahweh dwells is too far away, you’re supposed to turn it into money, and then go to the place chosen by Yahweh, and spend it “on whatever you like, oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, anything your heart desires” (14:26). Not on anything for the synagogue or temple, and apparently they had something that was equivalent to distilled spirits (strong drink). This is rather strange.

20 contains the law of war. Certain men are excluded from combat, and when a city is taken its menfolk are to be put to the sword (20:13). Women, children, and livestock are booty. Fruit trees are exempt. (In the Peloponnesian war, which was Greek, and not fought under Biblical rules, Athenian olive trees were attacked, and grain too, but neither suffered irreparable harm.)

21:18 gives the fate of rebellious children. So much for prodigal sons.

22:22 is about rape. If a girl is raped in the city, and doesn’t cry out, that is taken as meaning that she consented, so both she and her attacker are stoned. If it happens outside the city, where the probability of anyone being with hearing distance is low, she gets off. I think this has to do with the idea that in a heavily populated area someone would come to her aid. Now at this point someone is thinking Kitty Genovese, as the linked article makes clear the common idea about the case is not quite right.

32 is the song of Moses. I think from the subject matter that this is probably from the period of Josiah rather than Moses.

33 is the blessing of the tribes, and 34 is the death of Moses.