Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch

Written by Jeffrey Stackert Reviewed By Mark Steven Francois

For the past two hundred years, critical scholarship has feverishly been engaged in the task of investigating the origins of Deuteronomy. Quite understandably, non-specialists often find it challenging to stay abreast of recent scholarship on this issue. In Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch, Jeffrey Stackert, professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Chicago, presents his understanding of the origins of Deuteronomy but, in the process, also provides readers with a much-needed overview and analysis of recent scholarship on this issue.

Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch consists of seven chapters. The introduction focuses on two starting points that shape the author’s approach. First, Stackert approaches Deuteronomy from a Neodocumentarian perspective, an updated version of the Documentary Hypothesis popularized by Wellhausen. The Documentary Hypothesis suggested that the Pentateuch was composed by combining four originally independent literary sources: the Jahwistic (J), Elohistic (E), Deuteronomic (D), and Priestly (P) sources. Second, Stackert approaches Deuteronomy not as Scripture but as literature. For Stackert, this means that the primary audience for the speeches of Deuteronomy needs to be found within the narrative world created by Deuteronomy rather than readers from the seventh century BCE or the exilic/post-exilic periods.

In chapter 1, Stackert argues that a distinction should be made between D (Deut 1:1–32:47) and the Scroll of Deuteronomy. According to Stackert, D originally existed as an independent work. The Scroll of Deuteronomy, on the other hand, is the form Deuteronomy took when it was incorporated into the Pentateuch to form a single, five-scroll work. The balance of the chapter focuses on repudiating what Stackert identifies as an allegorical approach to interpreting Deuteronomy that strips its speeches of their narrative setting and views them as direct speech to people in seventh-century BCE Judah.

Chapter 2 addresses D’s reuse and modification of material from earlier Pentateuchal sources. Stackert argues that the laws of D should be viewed as an adaptation of the Elohistic Covenant Code (Exod 20:22–23:19/33). D’s non-legal material, on the other hand, reused and adapted narrative material from both E and J. A key example is the fate of the exodus generation. According to Stackert, J presents Israel’s time in the wilderness as a period of punishment, resulting in the deaths of the entire exodus generation (Num 13–14). D, on the other hand, presents it as a time of testing (Deut 8:2–5) and indicates that the exodus generation survived its time in the wilderness (e.g., Deut 11:2, 7). Passages in D that align with J’s view (Deut 1:35, 39; 2:14–16) are viewed as later interpolations.

Chapter 3 addresses possible influence from Hittite vassal treaties and the Assyrian ruler Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty (EST). Stackert argues that the parallels between D and Hittite treaties are insufficiently precise to suggest that D was influenced by them. By way of contrast, Stackert argues that the similarities between EST and Deuteronomy 13 and 28 show that D used EST as one of its sources.

Chapter 4 deals with the reception of both D and the Deuteronomy Scroll in biblical and post-biblical literature. Stackert suggests that the authors of Jeremiah and the Holiness supplement to P had access to D as an independent work. Chronicles, Nehemiah, and the Temple Scroll, on the other hand, only had access to the Scroll of Deuteronomy as part of the Pentateuch.

Finally, in chapter 5, Stackert argues that D was written in the first half of the seventh century BCE. This is based on the parallels between EST and Deuteronomy, the connection between the law of the king (Deut 17:14–20) and the reign of Manasseh (2 Kgs 21:2–9, 2 Chr 33:2–9), and the archaeology of seventh-century BCE Judah.

The greatest strength of Stackert’s work is its ability to acquaint readers with recent scholarship on the origins of Deuteronomy. His discussion in chapter 3 about the relationship between EST and D is particularly helpful. With regard to the relationship between EST and Deuteronomy 28, Stackert should be commended for avoiding the less convincing parallels identified by Hans Ulrich Steymans (Deuteronomium 28 und die âde zur Thronnachfolgeregelung Asarhaddons: Segen und Fluch im Alten Orient und in Israel, OBO 145 [Freiburg: Universitätsverlag, 1995], 239–312) and championed by Eckart Otto (Deuteronomium 23,16–34,12, HThKAT [Freiburg: Herder, 2017], 1988–1990) and others. Stackert rightly notes that the parallels between EST and D are limited to isolated portions of D and identifies the implications this has for why D may have adapted material from EST. Also noteworthy is Stackert’s critique of the parallels between D and Hittite vassal treaties, which are difficult to maintain in light of the methodological advances that have been made since these parallels were first identified. Finally, Stackert’s emphasis that the primary audience of the speeches of D needs to be found within the narrative world of D will resonate with traditionalist readings of Deuteronomy.

Despite these strengths, there are a few drawbacks. First, Stackert’s adherence to a Neodocumentarian perspective may limit its usefulness for readers who, for example, view the sources of the Pentateuch in terms of P, non-P, and D material or from a traditionalist perspective. For an alterative approach to the composition of Deuteronomy from a traditionalist perspective, see the excellent article by Daniel I. Block, “Recovering the Voice of Moses: The Genesis of Deuteronomy,” JETS 44 (2001): 385–408. Second, Stackert fails, at times, to situate D’s reuse of earlier non-legal material within the rhetorical aims of Deuteronomy. For example, does D’s depiction of the wilderness experience differ from the depiction in J because they have different perspectives on these events? Or is D’s depiction shaped by the rhetorical strategy of Deuteronomy 8?

Stackert has produced a well-researched overview of recent scholarship on the origins of Deuteronomy. Even if one disagrees with his conclusions, this work provides an excellent window into the current state of debate on this issue.

Mark Steven Francois

Mark Steven Francois
Calvary Gospel Church
Blind River, Ontario, Canada

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