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Book 3. Ezra & The Law

Deuteronomic Second Law? or First?


Moses and The Pentateuch


Distinguished scholars have been obliged to recognize that Deuteronomy is neither as old as it pretends to be nor written by Moses, but since getting Christian scholars to accept any alternatives to their preferred supernatural beliefs is like getting them to extract their own teeth, they will attenuate all such truths as best they can. While conceding that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, Christians feel it necessary to say “but fragments are from his time or even earlier”. Perhaps so, but these early elements show no signs of being of Israelite or even Egyptian provenance. They are Mesopotamian!

If the early history of Israel was written by a man from Egypt, or even simply relates events that had their origins in Egypt, as Moses and the Israelites were supposed to have had, then it is hard to see why their main mythological traditions are from another civilization. It is even harder to understand in view of the constant theme in the Israelite tradition of lack of respect or interest in their own traditions shown by most of the Israelite and Jewish people throughout history. “Oral transmission”, is the permanent cry to explain difficulties of continuity. The slaves of the Egyptians told each other the stories of Abraham for hundreds of years in slavery, but as soon as they left Egypt with Moses they lost interest in their own traditions and began to worship Egyptian bulls in only a few years. Such excuses are only believed by believers, because they do not hold the water of reason. The story of Moses is fraudulent, and excuses are invariably needed by Jewish and Christian believers in these tall tales.

Exodus—History or Just-so-Story

Often it is hard to understand what believers actually do believe. H H Rowley, a well known scholar of a few years ago, tells us it is unlikely that the Israelite tribes entered the land as a united group. They had spent 400 years in slavery in Egypt and emerged under the leadership of one man, Moses, who remained their leader for forty years of wandering. Yet they finished up separated into a diversity of different tribes. What made them split up into tribes in only a few decades despite their charismatic leader? Since there were supposedly around two million people, they might have needed leaders below the level of Moses, but it is a poor reflexion on Moses that these subordinates had allowed the tribes to become disunited. Not all of the tribes were even enslaved in Egypt, including the tribe of Judah, according to some scholars who see Judah joining the federation through the success of David!

Rowley assures us that the tribes must have had laws before Moses. Yet how do slaves have laws? Slaves are deprived of all the rights of citizenship. How can they have laws? Some of the slave owning countries of antiquity had laws concerning slaves, but they were not the slaves’ laws. In the myth, Moses was a senior Egyptian administrator, so knew something about law, but the average Israelite slave could not have. So, ignorant former slaves were given laws by an Egyptian administrator, accepted them in unity, yet still entered Canaan as different tribes and at different times—as nomads! A mass of ex-slaves wandering around aimlessly for a few decades do not just become nomads!

To believe these Christian ploys is to disbelieve the myth of Moses, but it becomes somewhat more believable, historically, that Palestine was infiltrated by a variety of different people over a long time. Christians will see no discrepancy in the two versions, such is the wonder of faith. Christian commentators and scholars will propagate such incompatible views, though they know better, because their sheepish readers are desperate to accept anything to bolster their faith. The truth is that no Israelite tribes were enslaved in Egypt, and anything was possible in the story of Moses and the Exodus, because it was only a story—not a history!

Babylonian Links

And what of the plain enough Babylonian links that are undoubtedly present in Genesis? Rowley dismissed them as unimportant because the Jewish scriptures are “permeated with a religious quality which is quite different”. He thinks they are quite different because he has to believe somehow that God revealed these things to Jews first, then to Christians, even though some of the stories are traceable to ancient Akkadian mythology. In God’s revelation of them they were transformed and so were different! A historian would want to know what is different and why it is, but a believer does not ask such questions. They know the answer—it is faith—and no amount of scientific evidence will persuade them otherwise.

For more enquiring Christians, there is now too much evidence against the historical truth of most of the scriptures, so they are now retreating to the blatant acceptance of it as mythology, though they admit this only when pressed by skeptics and not to their flocks—it is “religious literature” not “literal truth!”

Still, what are the ancient fragments, they hang on to to keep the bible ancient? The Song of Deborah is “probably” contemporary, the Balaam oracles in Numbers “may” be even older, though some scholars disagree and do not consider them ancient! The Song of Lamech and the blessings of Rebekah and Jacob “may well” be of great antiquity. The quizical marks simply highlight the degree of scholarship involved in biblical scholarship. Students who turn newly to this “scholarship” find “probablies”, “mays” and “mights” everywhere—far more than anything positive. These scholars want to use the scriptures as historical proof of their belief that they demonstrate God’s plan for human salvation, but they then find little historical in them. So, they use these weaselly qualifiers to fool unwary readers into thinking that scholarship upholds their irrational beliefs by verifying the truth of the biblical texts. Instead of the scriptures being a book of history, for Christians it is a book of “probablies”. The truth is that it is a book of “improbabilities”.

Christian teachers will blandly assure us that the laws in the Pentateuch have their parallels in Babylonia and Northern Mesopotamia, and the sheep are duly satisfied, but others do a double-take and remind them that these slaves were escaping from Egypt not Mesopotamia. How did slaves, or tribes as they became in no time at all, get to know the laws of Hamurabi. Well, of course, they remembered them from the time of Abraham who would have known them, and they remembered them for several hundred years even though they were illiterate brick-makers! Then again, perhaps God just handed them down on tablets of stone, but based on the models he had tried out in Babylonia where he had pretended to be a Pagan god, just to see if the laws he was working out, would work in practice. Apparently they were all right, so he handed down a version of them to His pal, and outstretched right hand, Moses. The historical truths of the bible have to be justified somehow!

The laws had a great deal in common with Babylonian laws because they came from Babylonia, but at a time much later than Moses is supposed to have lived—when Babylonian and Assyrian, then Persian, people conquered the hill country of Palestine. The laws of Moses are much later laws imposed on the Israelites from outside but projected into the past to allow the local people to believe they were their own! The way the laws are set forth is said to be peculiarly Israelite, but it is essentially because the laws are commands rather than examples. Someone must be doing the commanding. “God”, is the reply, but no god has yet been able to enforce his commands. The commands of gods are enforced by humans—here the suzerain to whom the Israelites were vassals—the Assyrians initially, accounting for the myths of Abraham and perhaps the earliest forms of covenant, but then the Persians.


Ronald Clements, a Cambridge Old Testament scholar and Baptist minister, says Deuteronomy is “the textbook of a programme of religious education” which “was theological comment and interpretation as means for renewing and reforming faith” (God’s Chosen People, 1968). It notes the variety of religious practices current in the land when it was introduced, causing social unrest and moral decline. A central aim of it was to give the people a clearer understanding of God, and the meaning and purpose of religion. Vitally, the novel teaching of Deuteronomy was directed at the whole nation. Deuteronomy was meant to be heard by everyone! It was meant to be read out, and was meant to be spoken about continually from childhood onwards. G von Rad notes that “Deuteronomy is motivated by the desire to instruct…” calling it “preached law”. It calls itself, “Torah ” (Dt 4:44; 17:19f), explained (Dt 4:45) as “testimonies, statutes and ordinances”. It was propaganda meant to indoctrinate. Clements tells us it was “directed at moving the minds and wills of men”, and its vehicle was the sermon. It is the very origin of the sermon!

Deuteronomy is presented as a long speech uttered by Moses with some additional material enclosing it. In the speech, Moses refers to the making of a “copy” of “this law” for the use of the king (Dt 17:18), an expression rendered in the Greek of the Septuagint as “deuteronomy”. A simpler translation is “second law”, a rendering that the Hebrew will also bear!

Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Pentateuch, the Jewish Torah, supposedly written by Moses himself, yet this ends with Moses’s death on Mount Nebo, and Moses refers to himself continuously in the third person rather than the first, as he does elsewhere, showing that he is written as a character in a story by an anonymous author. Furthermore, the first verse of the book shows that the account was written in Canaan itself, and not on the east bank which is as far as Moses got to before he died, and the concluding verses add that the account was written a long time after Moses had died—long enough to make the comment that no one since had equalled him meaningful. So, the account was written by people already settled in Palestine not by Moses himself as Jews and Christians persist in believing contrary to the evidence, and at a much later date.

Curiously, the speeches of Moses are sometimes addressed to a singular audience and sometimes to a plural one. It suggests that two texts have been clumsily merged or that a change from the singular to the plural, since the singular version is thought to be the oldest, has been clumsily effected. It seems that the Persians initially issued a code of law to the person who had to administer them—presumably the Chief Priest—so the instructions were singular. The Chief Priest will have used this to read out the law to the people on ceremonial occasions, thus addressing the people plurally while sometimes reading from his singular text, and an amanuensis captured it as it was read.

Martin Noth, in 1943, placed the author of Deuteronomy and the succeeding history books in the mid-500s BC. He thought it was a man left behind when the rest of his class were exiled by the Baylonians. Not all the population were exiled but only a small proportion—but they were the educated classes, the intellectuals and the artisans, and so those left behind were only poor peasants and farmers. It seems unlikely that anyone left behind would have been able to write such a book or had reason to—the country was occupied by a foreign army. Nor could he have had access to the records he needed.

The date of Deuteronomy has to be brought forward another hundred years or so to the fifth century BC. The Persian administrators wrote the book to back up the deportees being taken from Babylonia to Palestine, in the Persian province of Abarnahara. Accepting that Noth and Rupert Smend had good reason for accepting the internal evidence that the place of composition was Palestine, then it must have been written in the Persian period because it was the only time after the Babylonian conquest when authors would have had the education and resources to write it and its accompanying history. Writing about the same time as Noth, I Engnell put its composition in the Persian period.

To imagine that Moses in the thirteenth century BC was legislating for accurate weights and measures among ex-slaves and shepherds is so absurd as to be laughable. Deuteronomy 25:13-16, where this is done, is proof of the Persian origins of these laws, these being measures taken by Darius to stabilize his vast empire and to stimulate trade. Persian kings were keen to promote private enterprise rather than having all important transactions and merchanting done by the state.

Akkadian “shekalu” meant to “weigh”, and thence came to mean to “pay”. What was weighed out for payment became known as a “shekel”. Darius provided for fair payment to hired hands, and Persians introduced coinage, from the Lydians who were among the earliest of Cyrus’s conquests, but it did not prove as popular in the east—where people preferred to be payed in produce like grain—as it did in Greece and Anatolia, so the Persians also legislated for fair exchange by regulating and standardising weights and measures. With these and coinage, everyone could be confident they were being payed properly.

After grain, silver was the customary valuable weighed out for payment, but no one had the idea of minting the irregular shaped weights used until the Lydians did it. It left opportunities for crooks to cut or file off bits of the precious metal, leaving a short weight. A minted weight could not be ill-treated or filed without it looking obvious. The Persians and Greeks took up the idea from their neighbour, the Lydians, and Darius the Great introduced the Persian Daric. Every scholar must know that to place such legislation 800 years earlier is wrong, and its presence here points to the true date of composition in the fifth century BC.

Though standardised measures were not enforced until the Persians did, biblicists like to find standard measures in Israel to agree with the traditional Moses. Not a single measuring rod has been found, and only three volume measures have been.

Our data are very incomplete.
B S J Isserlin, The Israelites


The jars are unlikely to have been standard measures at all, but just jars with a measure marked on them, the “bath”, indicated by “b” or “bt”. One is a royal bath, as if it were different. More common are weights in the form of stones or less often metal. The standard unit is the shekel, and various sub units are also found, including the pym. The value of the weight is uniformly written in Egyptian hieratic. No one seems to have tried to check these weights to see to what extent they were standardised.

Josiah and Deuteronomy

Scholars accept that the core of Deuteronomy is the list of laws in Deuteronomy 12-26. The bible has, within its Deuteronomic History (2 Kg 22:3f), a description of the discovery of an unknown scroll of the law in the Jerusalem temple that motivated Josiah, the reforming king, to reform the cult of Judah. The book was found by Hilkiah, the High Priest, in the reign of Josiah, when the temple was being renovated. Christians since the time of Jerome have understood that this book was Deuteronomy. The first scholar to consider Deuteronomy, De Wette, branded it a forgery, written shortly before it was “found” and not by Moses. Few people disagree.

Since the story about the discovery of the book (2 Kg 22-23) was written by the same school as the authors of Deuteronomy, it is doubtless part of their scheme of deception. Josiah is supposed to have initiated religious reforms on the basis of the book, though some scholars think that this too is false. The reformations mentioned in 2 Kings 23 as undertaken by Josiah as a result of finding the book are the reformations mentioned in Deuteronomy, and some of them occur nowhere else. Plainly the history was meant to accompany the book.

The nature of the “reforms” disprove their claim to be reforms. They utterly suppressed all freedom of religion under pain of death:
Canaanite altars had to be put away, so that the people would be obliged to turn to the new universal god (Dt 4:16-18,23;7:5,25;12:3).
High places where the former gods were worshipped had to be destroyed (Dt 12:2).
Abominations to the new god must cease (Dt 12:29-31;18:9).
Sorcery must cease and instead only the new god’s prophets obeyed (Dt 18:10-22).
Religious prostitution and dog priests were banned (Dt 23:17).
Heavenly objects, nor any of the host of heaven may be worshipped (Dt 4:19;17:2-7).
The god replacing the Canaanite pantheon is a god of heaven like Ahuramazda (Dt 10:14,17) who has given the Land to the people (Dt 4:38,40; 6:18f,23).


The specific reference to kingship, in Deuteronomy (Dt 17:18-20), tells us that the king had to be approved by God as an administrator of the law which he had to study diligently all his days, but otherwise was an ordinary man.

Josiah allegedly centralized the cult on the temple of Jerusalem, but as Clements observes, “Deuteronomy grew up on the basis of traditions which did not originate from Jerusalem, at least not from its priesthood.” The distinct traditions of the Jerusalem priesthood are clear in the Holiness Code of Leviticus, the restoration programme of Ezekiah, and the priestly documents in general. C F Burney, supported by A C Walsh and G von Rad, associated Deuteronomy with cult centers to the north of Jerusalem, at Shechem and Bethel, but Clements remained more non-commital:

Josiah’s reforms witnessed the adoption and enforcement in Jerusalem of traditions which derived from outside…


These are not internal reforms of a corrupted religion, but the imposition of a completely new one, and historically that happens through conquest rather than internally. Josiah’s reforms are dated to 621 BC, a mere 25 years before Judah was initially wasted by the Babylonians, and only 35 years before it was finally destroyed by them.

Scriptural scholars, like R H Pfeiffer and G von Rad, consider that Deuteronomy was the written document that began the collection and compilation of the Jewish scriptural canon. Beginning with this as the core of the Jewish scriptures, the other books were added to form the complete corpus. This is quite a different story from the one presented in the bible itself. The words of 2 Kings 23:2 rendered as Book of the Covenant may be better translated as the “covenant document”. The ancient Hittite and Assyrian treaty documents were written as covenants between the suzerain and the vassel. They closely follow the form of the covenants mentioned in the Jewish scriptures. G E Mendenhall noticed this and there is now no argument about it, although some biblicists futilely still try to deny it. If it is denied, believers have to ask why God should have chosen to represent His own covenant with His Chosen people as a covenant on the lines of ancient vassalage treaties. If it is accepted that it is indeed a vassalage treaty, and the Jews were the vassals, then who could the suserain have been? It could only have been Persia.

The central, older part of Deuteronomy betrays no knowledge of any other biblical covenants, except a brief identification with the Sinai covenant (Ex 19-34), though the author of Deuteronomy mysteriously calls Sinai Horeb. The covenant of Deuteronomy is made directly with the people addressed and not with their fathers (Dt 5:1-2). It is a new covenant, not a renewed one, but reference is repatedly made in the introductory chapters and the concluding ones, though only a few times between, to the covenant made with the three patriarchs, described as “your fathers”. The speaker, Moses, has the authority of God, and will have been God originally—Ahuramazda (Lord Mosha)! He refers to promises made to earlier colonists, represented by the patriarchs, men who were sent to the colony only a generation or two before the main settlement. The later false history made Abraham anachronistically travel from Ur of the Chaldees before it ever existed, a millennium before. Abraham is a symbolic “returner” from “exile”, given a promise of land by the Persian shah. The ill discipline of these earlier colonists led to the sterner rule imposed by Ezra on a new band of settlers. Deuteronomy is pervaded with a sense of urgency.

Returners as Deported Colonists

The Deuteronomists wrote the books immediately following Deuteronomy in our bibles up until 2 Kings, so they included most of the history of Israel until the conquests. Among the aims of the Deuteronomic History is to give the impression that the laws in Deuteronomy had already been introduced in the seventh century, a few decades before Judah was conquered by Nebuchadrezzer. In fact, these laws were imposed by Persian deportees being transported into Palestine to further Persian foreign policy. So, the time was at least 100 years after the time presumed in 2 Kings, perhaps when Zerubabel and Joshua returned, or when a later phase of deportees arrived a few decades later. Israel is always described a “few” or a “small nation”, yet millions are supposed to have left Egypt just a few decades before. The “few” were the deportees being transported into Abarnahara.

No one either in the Land or in among the deportees could dispute the facts. The deportees were presented as “returners” who somehow “remembered” what their great grandparents knew, indeed who preserved an Israelite tradition though they were transported elsewhere and undoubtedly given equally onerous duties by the Babylonians. The Babylonians would not have allowed them any records, and would have destroyed any that they tried to take with them as subversive. The Persians equally would not have allowed any records, even supposing there were any, to be taken back to Israel. And what could these records have been? In Mesopotamia, they were written in cuneiform on clay tablets. Inasmuch as any permanent records were taken into Israel by the deportees, they were on tables (tablets) of stone (Dt 4:13; Ex 32:15)!

The “returners” were given their “records” by the Persian administrators to suit Persian policy. Jewish “history” became whatever their conquerors wanted it to be, to suit their pacification policies. These were the introduction of a new universal religion and laws acceptable to the new god and his earthly agent, the Persian king. Deuteronomy 21:23 is purely Persian in forbidding a crucified man from being allowed to defile the sacred land. The “returning” deportees could claim that king Josiah had already introduced these laws before the Babylonian conquest, and the Deuteronomic Historians backed up this claim with the “authentic” records they brought back with them. The people would have had to have accepted what they said. They could not read!

The chief incentive for the colonists was the promise of land forever (Dt 1:8;21,25; 2:12,19,29; 3:20; 4:1,14,26,40; 5:16,31,33; 6:1,3,10,23; 7:1,13,19; 8:1; 9:23; 10:11; 11:8,9,11,21,29,31; 12:1,10; 15:4; 16:20; 17:14; 18:9; 19:8,14; 21:1,23; 23:20; 24;4; 25:15,19; 26:1,3,15; 27:2,3; 28:8,11,21,63; 30:5,16,18,20; 31:7,13,20,21,23; 32:47,49; 34:4). Any reader has to admit that this emphasis on the prize looks like overegging the pudding, but shows how important the incentice was! Nor is the assurances of land given to a people who are resuming their place in a land which is rightly theirs, who know the land and long to be back on it. It tells them how good the land is because they knew nothing about it (Dt 8:7-10). They are being given a land which rightly belongs to the Canaanites. The true situation is stated as clear as daylight in Deuteronomy 12:1-7, where the people being addressed were to dispossess the the native inhabitants of their land. Their native religions were to be destroyed. Deuteronomy lays down that God is one, Yehouah is the one, the people are his holy people who must worship Him ultimately at one place according to one law. The people were being offered a new faith in a new country. Deuteronomy 8:19-20 has threats for those turning to the idolatry of the native Canaanites or reverting to their own. They are not receiving the land because they deserve it, but because the Canaanites did not (Dt 9:4-5)! Their good fortune in receiving the gift of the land is entirely due to the grace of God (Dt 8:17-18).

All of this posed a problem when the bible was being recast by the later editors convinced the return really had to be a “return” from “exile” into familiar territory they had never forgotten. The God-like figure of Moses also had to be explained. And so the myth of the Exodus from Egypt was invented around 300 BC, initially. It is cast back in history to the thirteenth century BC, but historians now know that no such conquest happened then. The true circumstances are more recent, the enforced deportation of people from Mesopotamia to Canaan (Abarnahara—Beyond the River), misnamed “The Return from Exile”, because the deportees were falsely told they had previously been deported out of this land. Deuteronomy 7:8 refers to God redeeming the people “from the House of Bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt” but with no mention of an Exodus. So Egypt had been cast as the villain, but the myth of the Exodus was still to be written.

In Deuteronomy 26:3, when the gifts of the first fruits of the land were brought as payment to God for the use of the land, the offerer has to say to the officiating priest:

I declare this day to Yehouah Elohim that I have come into the land which Yehouah swore to our fathers to give us.


It shows that the people making the offerings were not the natives of the temple state of Yehud—the priests and functionaries—the nation of priests. The temple state acted as the focal point for tax collection. It collected the taxes of all of the people of Abarnahara, not simply the local Jews. The giver then had to say a creed beginning:

A wandering Aramæan was my father—


to remind him of his ancestor’s previous unsettled state, and their oppression by the Egyptians. This short creed, combined with others (compare, for example, the creed of Deuteronomy 6:21-25) and expanded by degrees, was the basis of the Exodus myth, composed later.

What was the purpose of the law? The answer given by Deuteronomy is “that it may go well with you” (Dt 4:40; 5:16,33; 6:3,18; 12:25,28). The implication is that disobedience of the law meant things would not go well! In what sense? Again, Deuteronomy is plain enough that obedience of the law meant “that you may live, and that good may be to you, and you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess” (Dt 5:33, etc). So, failure to obey the law might mean various misfortunes or punishments, a curtailment of life, or even mass deportation. Since the reward for righteousness is the land, the punishment for disobedience, dissent and rebellion was to lose it (Dt 4:25-26; 8:19-20; 28:21,24,33,36,42,51,64). A breach of the covenant—the suzerain-vassalage treaty—is that the vassals are expelled from the land. They are deported to a less favourable situation, to start again.

Deuteronomy is followed by the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, which justify the principles of Deuteronomy by highlighting the effects of apostasy throughout the history of the Israelites. Deuteronomy 13 explains what must be done when people tempt the Hebrews into apostasy. False prophesy—the category into which Jesus falls—the punishment of stoning so that the avengers will not be polluted by contact with the sinner, and the “ban” or total destruction of apostate cities are mentioned. The “ban” is an older law—or rather a vow for vengeance or justice—being used against the native Canaanites here.

More warnings of destruction for disobedience appear in Deuteronomy 7:10-11, and the idols and shrines of the native Canaanites were also ordered to be utterly destroyed. The purpose was plainly not humanitarian as modern commentators try to pretend, but to impose the foreign religion and laws of the Persians in pursuit of their forign policy. It is impossible for anyone rational to read Deuteronomy without seeing coercion and propaganda in every word.

In Deuteronomy 10:12-22, the god being imposed to replace the pantheon of the Canaanites was a god of heaven, like Ahuramazda. In Deuteronomy 10:17, appear the expressions “god of gods”, and “Lord of lords”, reminescent of the Persian title for their emperor—king of kings. The people were obliged to love and obey the new god when he issued his commandments and laws. Deuteronomy 4:19 is the Jewish Shema, the confession of faith in one god. It was necessary to assert it because the deportees are formerly believed in more than one, and the Canaanites whom they were being sent to rule were also polytheistic. Deuteronomy frequently speaks of “your god”. Who is saying “your” as if the speaker were not included? Moses? Moses says “our God”. It is always assumed to be an impersonal way of saying “I”, when God is speaking but it strongly suggests that someone is imposing a god. Someone is ordering someone else to obey “their” god. Fortunately for the Jewish and Christian leeches who live off widows’ mites, the scriptural story is extremely mixed up. The various stages of “returning”, each with an improved approach to their imposed task, gave us several layers of false tradition possibly added to a previous layer from Assyrian times. Later, changes were made under Greek influence and then by the Maccabees.

The Royalty law of Deuteronomy (Dt 17:14-17) has been altered or inserted by a later redacter because the shah would not have allowed Yehud an independent king, and nor would the later rulers, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. The bible was thoroughly edited when the Hasmoneans won the civil war, allowing Judah to have a native king. It was specifically intended to count out the Greek kings of the previous 150 years in favour of a Jewish king, preceding the idea of a Davidic covenant. The author of Deuteronomy seems to know nothing about the covenant with David, or ignores it. The so-called divine election, whereby God chose the Jews before all other nations on earth to be His holy people, is entirely dependent on the Horeb covenant and the law which Deuteronomy consituted. The original work cannot have made indirect references to Solomon, and his excesses, and, if that is what they are, the words must have been added when the myth of the united monarchy was invented by the Hasmoneans to give their own rule a historical legitimacy.

The ascription of the same words to different prophets is one of the clues that the claim in 2 Maccabees that Nehemiah’s library—the official scriptures—were destroyed in the Maccabæan War and had to be put together from the remnants with a good deal of imagination is true. This was effectively a major redaction in the middle of the second century BC and accounts for whole chunks of a book allegedly written over a period of two millennia being so uniform. Most of it was written only a century before the birth of Christ!

Scholars recognize a uniformity of style and phraseology across several books from which they deduce the hand of one editor or a school with a house view and style. The original scriptures were damaged in the Maccabaean wars and the Maccabaean scribes re-wrote them, to reflect, glorify and justify the actions of the Hasmonaeans. They will have used the older stories of the Deuteronomists but re-written them into a continuous narrative. Doublets and triplets show that the older sources were not uniform and the Deuteronomistic school used all the fragments they had rather than omit any. The sources of the monarchic history in 1 and 2 Kings must have been the Assyrian and Babylonian archives. The Deuteronomists actually name some of their sources (The Book of the Acts of Solomon, 1 Kings 11:41, The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel, 1 Kings 14:19, and The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah, 1 Kings 14:29). The Annals of the Kings might have been the original books written from the Assyrian archives by the Persian administrators, lost in the war. David and Solomon, conceivably based on some earlier myths, were converted into an allegorical history of the Maccabees.


Deuteronomy, though fairly uniform, has not been written by a single author. Deuteronomy is the only scriptural law code to mention the prophets. No prophet could be allowed to prophesy against Yehouah, and those who did were false prophets and had to die (Dt 13:1-5). Prophets were therefore contemporaries of those who wrote out this law.

Christians will accept that Deuteronomy reflects the work of the prophets who warned about apostasy in the eighth and seventh centuries—according to the scriptures—and was supposedly written in the sixth century. Linguistic and conceptual details are common with the so-called eighth century prophets, and so Deuteronomy is dated from them, but the only evidence of these prophets in the eighth century is the bible! Once the scriptures are ignored, the cause and effect relationship between the prophets and Deuteronomy has no basis. There is a little circularity here, but no Christian commentator cares to point it out. If Deuteronomy and the books in the scriptures attributed to some prophets have certain stylistic points in common, then there is justification for saying they were written in the same period or by the same school, but if any of this could be pseudepigraphy, then the date cannot be deduced internally, as these “scholars” like to do. Perhaps Deuteronomy preceded the writings of prophets, or perhaps they were written at the same time, or almost so.

This law recognizes that “prophets” were propagandists arguing for one or another party active in the politics of the country. Prophets obviously had been able to take a position opposed to the imposed God and His supposed law, but the law put an end to such liberalism. Those opposed to the new religion and regime were not to be tolerated and would be punished by death! Elsewhere (Dt 18:20-22), prophets could be false even when they were in favour of God and His law, and still suffered the fate of death. The criterion was whether the prophecy was fulfilled or not. The Persians were legislating against prophets, seemingly supporting the regime and religion, but promising impossible things to the people and thus creating dissent. This could have been as intolerable as outright opposition, and so was neatly nipped in the bud with this law. Whatever the Persian king was willing to allow happened, and all other promises were false, with deadly consequences for the prophet.

As propagandists, the prophets, could not accept any authority except their own, and so claimed they were speaking directly from God. No priests or princes could gainsay them. Deuteronomy claims the same authority, and many “scholars” have thought it was the work of prophets or expressed the view of a prophetic school. In fact, both the prophets and Deuteronomy expressed the views of the Persian shahs, who wanted to control their subjects by getting them to accept the law as being directly from God. The prophets spread a similar message of what God wanted in a peripatetic revivalist way. The authors of Deuteronomy did not pretend to be prophets as such, but were nevertheless writing the law with God’s authority. They could only have been the servants of the shah. The shah was the only man able to claim the authority of God, and that is plain in the Jewish scriptures where Cyrus is the messiah, and the prophets commonly have names relating to salvation. Covenants were agreed between rulers under the authority of their gods. That people in the 21st century still think old propaganda is the work of God is an indictment of religious liars, and an exposure of many people’s lack of discernment.

At Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses becomes a prophet, though previously his had been the voice of God speaking. Moses was downgraded from being God to being God’s prophet, and, in the Persian fashion of Zoroaster, a prophet like him would return. So, Deuteronomy and the prophets were giving the same message, but the books of the words of the prophets that appeared later in the scriptural canon were written as pseudepigraphs, making their message seem much older than its true age, and coming from a different, though comparable situation, where the Persians became their predecessors, the Assyrians. Deuteronomy came with the authority of the Persian minister of religion—apparently Ezra—and so was an official document of the ministry, a law imposed on the colonists, and for them to impose on the native people. The colonists were to be a nation of priests, so Deuteronomy appears as a Levitical book. It is depicted as the law given by Moses (Ahuramazda/Torahmazda) on the plains of Moab to the colonists about to enter the land.

The books of the prophets are pseudepigraphs, a type of forgery. If the purpose of the writings was to set up a false history, then all of it was written much later than it purports to have been, having been compiled and written after 538 BC in the Persian period, centuries after the putative prophets. Once the scriptures are seen as Persian propaganda, nothing prevents the core of them having been produced in the fifth century BC to enforce Persian rule over an important buffer state. Most of the Jewish scriptures are forged.

Eretz—Land and Earth

Deuteronomy 1:7 describes the land the colonists were being given. It was the Persian and former Assyrian province of Abarnahara which yielded the word “Hebrews” for the people who lived there. In Deuteronomy 32:49, “Abarim” means “Hebrews”. Commentators, accepting the biblical sequence as true history, tell us that the Israelites were being given the land which later became the empire of David and Solomon. In fact, this mythical empire appeared in the human imagination later on and its fictitious dimensions based on this passage. The Euphrates is the north eastern boundary, whence the name of the land for the Assyrians and the Persians as “Beyond the River”, and the name of the people therein as the “Beyonders!”

The court history of David of 2 Samuel and 1 Kings is always presented as having been written by someone close to the events, as if the events ever happened. Many modern historians cannot accept that such a notable empire, though short-lived, could pass by without leaving any external impression. The “events” that the writer of the court history of David were so close to seem never to have happened, certainly in the way and on the scale they were depicted as happening. A Christian scholar can write a statement like “we know that court records were kept during the monarchy”, giving the impression that there is some additional evidence, when the statement is a deduction from the biblical mythology of David itself. It is more circular reasoning. We know nothing about David and his monarchy except what the Jewish scriptures tell us. Christians typically invite us to believe the scriptures because of the scriptures! Christian scholars are clever men who would be scientists or philosophers if they had chosen a useful career, so they tell us these things knowing it is wrong or falsely reasoned. They aim to deceive.

The theses of the Deteronomistic historian are that kings should be faithful to god’s commandments and they never are, and kings should see to it that the pure cult is maintained centralized in Jerusalem, and they never do. The Persians could never have contemplated the idea of a king in its satrapies, and plainly this history began its life intended to deter the people from any ideas they might have that local kings would be any good. Margaret Gelinas sums it up as:

All the kings of Israel except Shallum, for whom there is no evaluation given, and Hoshea, the last king of Israel are condemned by the Deuteronomist with a standard formula: “He walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel to sin”.


Later writers have diluted the message slightly but obviously felt unable to completely change what had become to be well known as a sentiment and a history, so the best they could do was to make some kings seem better, particularly the great kings invented as having started both states. Even though these were shown as noble kings, doubtless by the Maccabees, they had to be shown as being flawed, since otherwise the whole of the familiar history of God’s struggles against good and bad kings would have been retrograde. The Judaean kings were not so fully condemned, although many were shown as wicked. A few were shown to have transcended the fate of kings, but this might have been ameliorative writing in Judah, none being possible in Samaria.

Centralized Sanctuary

The Ark of the Covenant was built to hold the tablets of the law, this very law itself, and, if this was a mobile ark to transfer the holy words from sanctuary to sanctuary in the decades before worship was centralized at Jerusalem, it implies the draft borne about was a draft which did not specify the central place, whence the repeated circumlocution, “the place which Yehouah Elohim will chose” (Dt 12:5,11,14,18,21,26; 14:25; 15:20; 16:7,11,15,16; 17:8; 18:6; 26:2), showing that no place had been selected, and thus that the foundation of the temple in Jerusalem by David and Solomon is mythical. The Ark was a mobile container for the words of the covenant of Horeb. Deuteronomy 31:24-26 says the law should be placed “beside” the Ark. “Inside” is the preposition intended. R Clements recognizes that Deuteronomy is stark confirmation there was no unity of religion before it. Yet, even supposing that Hilkiah found Deuteronomy in the temple, Moses was supposed to have done his legislating 800 years before! It is yet more evidence the early biblical history is myth. Deuteronomy does not suggest that God’s chosen place would be the sanctuary “for ever”. It could not have been so because the threat of punishment for disobedience of the law was the loss of the land, and with it the loss of the sanctuary. God could choose some other people, a circumstance that Christians claim happened, yet they still treat Jerusalem as particularly holy!

The Deuteronomic historian tells us that Hezekiah centralized religion in Jerusalem, so how did Solomon? The author of Deuteronomy does not know where the new religion would be centralized. The truth is that the Persians, after initial failures with several shrines, centralized worship of Yehouah in Jerusalem. Writing about the time of Nehemiah and before Ezra, in about 450 BC, Herodotus has nothing to say about a great temple to Yehouah in Palestine! It seems that the late fifth century was when the temple of Yehud in Jerusalem was actually set up by the Persian administrators led by Nehemiah. The scriptures are notoriously indistinct except when they are telling stories, when they become remarkably precise, but they suggest that the deportees at first did not try to set up a central sanctuary, but set up several local ones, including one at Gerizim. Later, it was imposed, perhaps in the time of Xerxes, but little progress was made until Nehemiah and Ezra, later in the fifth century. The decision was retro-written into the scriptures, and was assumed by the immense revision of Ezra and his Priestly School. Thus the decision was given the implied authority of the mythical Moses. H H Rowley can admit that the Deuteronomic Historians wrote with a “religious and didactic purpose”, but they imagine it to be a purpose sent down to His prophets by God. It was the purpose of the Persian conquerors.

Deuteronomy chapter 26 describing the rites and rituals associated with the first fruits ceremonies again shows these laws pertained to a time before the sole sanctuary at Jerusalem had been set up. This does not show that the work was composed before Solomon, but that it was a composition of an earlier group of deportees from Babylonia, before the decision was taken to have a central temple rather than regional ones.

In Deuteronomy 11:29, the “blessing” is placed on mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans had their temple, suggesting that this was the originally chosen centre for the worship of the new Persian god. It was a Persian habit to put their temples on hills. The eventual choice of Jerusalem is on the top of a hill. The word used for “habitation” in Deuteronomy 12:5 is “shakhan”, a word used nowhere else in the Old Testament and one that has a remarkably Persian look.

God’s Purpose

In Deuteronomy 4:44-49, the introduction of Deuteronomy 1:1-5 is repeated with variations showing that the work is not uniform. The priests, the Persian administrators accompanying the deportees into Abarnahara, constantly remind the people who they are and their covenant obligations to the God of Heaven. It shows that Deuteronomy was written as an example of the procedure of reading the suzerain-vassal covenant that was placed in appropriate shrines to be read out periodically to the subject people to remind them of their obligations to their ruler. They are constantly reminded that they have crossed over into this land from the east.

The speaker is given the name, Moses, but was really a Persian administrator or appointed priest speaking for the Persian shah and so for the Persian god, Ahuramazda. The audience are the Israel of Horeb, even though they were not supposed to have been allowed to see the promised land. Though Moses is depicted often as speaking as if the Israelites and therefore he himself were already in the Promised Land, his generation were later forbidden to enter it. The implication is that the earlier generation failed, and Ezra suggests that some of the earlier deportees did fail to fulfil their obligations and had to be replaced by more committed people.

Deuteronomy calls upon the people to love Yehouah (Dt 6:4; 7:9), and remember what he had done for them. In some of the vassalage treaties, the vassal was obliged to “love” the suzerain! W Schottroff noted that 12 of 16 occurances of the verb “to remember” in Deuteronomy referred to past events like the deliverence from slavery in Egypt. The fact of slavery in Egypt is repeated several times (eg Dt 15:15; 16:12; 24:18,22), and the ancient harvest feast of Unleavened Bread was given a new interpretation as a celebration of a deliverance from Egyptian rule (Dt 16:2-3). The obvious purpose of this was to maintain the antipathy of the Jews for the Egyptians, and the people to benefit from this were the Persians. It is another feature of the vassalage treaties. The sense of urgency, in Deuteronomy, suggests a sense of crisis and impending destruction. This places it in the context of a recent rebellion against the Persians, and the threat of a once-and-for-all punitive expedition agaisnt the rebels in which Yehud would suffer. It happens that serious rebellions against Persian overlordship occurred in the mid-fifth century BC, in which Egypt might have been supported by the Canaanites who were traditionally in the Egyptian sphere of influence—their colonials or slaves, if you wish. Thus, the danger to the Jews of maintaining any such alliance against the Persians was highly topical when Deuteronomy was being read out to the assemblies in the sanctuaries of Yehud.

The choice given to the deportees is to love God and be obedient, when God will reward them, or do not and be punished. The purpose of the histories that went with the commandments was to show how God punished or rewarded His people in real life. So the people had to love God (Dt 6:5), but fear Him (6:13) lest He anger and destroy them (6:15). The agent of God’s anger would have been quite clear to those being moved into Palestine as colonists for the Persians—the Persian king! In Deuteronomy 6:20, the Persian priests tell the deportees that they have to indoctrinate their own children with the anti-Egyptian propaganda that was the real reason why the Persians wanted a tame puppet state on Egypt’s borders.

God is shown as personally declaring the Ten Commandments from the midst of fire, plainly a Persian allusion, showing its origins. The Persian kings could have no truck with rebellion as Darius proved. The empire was too large and loosely administered at first, and rebels took advantage of it, but Darius ruthlessly suppressed a whole series of rebellions and imposed stronger Persian rule.

Keeping a Pure Religion

There was only one God (Dt 6:4-5, where both “our” and “your” are used of God, suggesting at least two authors, one of whom did not identify strongly with the Jews). The gods of other nations were not allowed to influence the god of the Jews, even if the foreign nations had to be exterminated to prevent it (Dt 7:1ff; 12:29ff). This is the attitude of the Persians to the Devas, the wicked gods, opposed to the Ahuras and Yazatas, the good gods. The Devas and their worshippers were to be exterminated. The Persians, of course, were a mighty enough nation to do it, but Yehud was not. Clements tries to justify this as conditioned by earlier times, but even then Judah, and even Israel, were in no position to eliminate their neighbours. It is not merely a clear out of the remnants of Canaanite religion, as the orthodox explanation has it. It is more strongly worded than that, and assures the reader that the Persians would exterminate those opposed to the universal God. God is the God of heaven and earth, and God of the heaven of heavens (Dt 10:14), as well as the God of gods and the Lord of lords, a god “who is not partial and takes no bribes”. All of this is Persian, the titles reflecting the Persian title, Shahanshah, king of kings, the qualities highlighted being the archetypal qualities of Mithras, the god of covenants and therefore uncorruptible, the Yazata who served as the visible face of the hidden God, Ahuramazda. That other gods exist was not denied, and they are legitimately worshipped by their own people (Dt 4:19), but they are not gods of this people. In fact, there was the idea of a heavenly court attended by the god of each nation, each a son of the High God, so that there were as many sons of God in heaven as there were separate nations on earth. Yehouah was the son of God who represented the Jews, but later became the High God Himself, in the eyes of His worshippers, and so has remained since for Christians.

In Deuteronomy 7:3, marriages with the women of the seven peoples of Abarnahara were forbidden, matching the practices of the Zoroastrians who were not allowed to marry outside their own religion, and Deuteronomy 7:5 makes it absolutely clear that the aim of the ban was religious not ethnic. The law of mixing in Deuteronomy 22:5 is another reminder that Jews must marry only within their own religion.

Deuteronomy 22:13-30 are laws concerned with maintaining a pure bloodline, a concern of the Persians, who were not a vastly numerous people when they first built the empire, and wanted to avoid dilution as well as keeping their religious line pure. Mary Boyce confirms that for Persians their ethnic and religious identities were the same, and so they were known to foreigners. Exactly the same has happened to “Jews”, great confusion existing about whether it is a religious or ethnic term. It is, of course, religious, Jews always having been thoroughly mixed racially.

The relationship of this with the cultic disqualifications in Deuteronomy chapter 23 is plain. Foreigners were not to be admitted, nor bastards, nor eunuchs, who presumably were not well regarded because they could not procreate, and perhaps because the Persians wanted to avoid anything like the Galloi of Rhea and Cybele ever arising. Deuteronomy 23:17, adds to this by refusing to allow cultic sex, including the “dog” priests who dressed as females for the purpose of religious sodomy. The provision for the children of the third generation will have been added by Herod and his Egyptian priests, known as Boethusians.

Second Law

Chapters 12 to 26 of Deuteronomy are a list of apodictic laws that are largely original but with some changes. “Apodictic” means they are commands—instructions that cannot be gainsaid. There is no need to believe that all the laws imposed reflected Zoroastrian practice. The Persian administrators were not so crude. They seem to have included old laws that seemed to the priests innocuous, or capable of being given a new moral justification. The practice of leaving a corner of a field unreaped or of leaving a sheaf behind (Dt 24:19) was an old animistic superstition based on the belief in a corn god or spirit who should not be left destitute lest he be angered. The Persians allowed it to continue with the justification that the corn was to be left for the poor to glean.

Deuteronomy 12:31 refers to people in Abarnahara burning their sons and daughters in the fire, to their gods, a known practice of the Phœnicians, the Greek name for the Canaanites, in the Tophet, a most venerated repository of the burnt bones of sacrificed children. Plainly, it was the Persians who put a stop to human sacrifice in Abarnahara. This has a bearing on the interpretation of the myth of Abraham and Isaac, which seems to have been created at that time to denote that human sacrifice was to end in favour of sacrificing sheep and doves. If the myth were true, there should have been no human sacrifice among the Jews and Israelites from a very early time, but history declares otherwise. The myth was invented to give the ban on child sacrifice an ancient provenance.

Deuteronomy 14:3-21 give the laws on the prohibitions on foods, directly introduced from Zoroastrianism but with some variations to suit local idolatrous practices and some later changes. Deuteronomy 14:22-29 provide for collections of first fruit for a sanctuary feast. This suggests that Deuteronomy precedes Leviticus and other priestly writings where the collections are for the priests not for communal use. It is the way all religions go!

In Deuteronomy 15, the release from debts every seven years has a Babylonian or Persian ring (compare the seven days of creation, and the sabbath rest on the seventh day). Release of slaves and firstlings follow, the latter requiring unblemished firstlings to be dedicated to God, but consumed by the family not the priests, again sounding to be pre-Leviticus. Blemished firstlings can be eaten but not dedicated to God.


Deuteronomy 16:1-8 is the prescription for the Passover, previously a vegetative feast related to the spring equinox when the sun “passes over” the celestial equator. The Persians re-cast it as a memorial of the Israelites’ hypothetical captivity in Egypt, with the aim of annually reminding the Jews of who was their traditional enemy. Deuteronomy 16:7 says the Passover sacrifice had to be boiled, a Persian sacrificial custom. Persians revered the sacred flame and would not risk its pollution by touching an improper sacrifice directly as it would in burning and roasting. Boiling used the element of water to keep the element of fire from directly contacting the meat.

An idea appears in the Jewish scriptures that sacrifices at the altar were meant to be God’s food (Ezek 44:7,16; Mal 1:7,12; Num 28:2; Lev 21:6,8; 22:25). Scholars, mostly accepting the bible’s own chronology, take these references as ancient, and so reflecting the primitive stage of the religion (thus admitting the idea of Yehouah evolving!). Father De Vaux thought it was not so, but it was a late intrusion into Judaism. Both are correct, because Judaism is a late invention of the Persian imperial ministries. The intrusion was later by about a century, but the religion was still not so advanced. It came from the belief of the Egyptian priests who wrote much of the Exodus saga around 300 BC. The concept of a God in such anthropomorphic terms was quite alien to the Persian idea, which was essentially that held by believers still—that of a transcendent God who did not need to be fed by human beings. The real beneficiaries were the Levites, the caste of priests.

Deuteronomy has nothing at all to say about any priesthood of the line of Aaron or Zadok, all of the many mentions being to the Levitical priests (Dt 12:12,18,19; 14:27,29; 16:11,14; 17:9,18; 18:1,6,7; 24:8; 26:11,12.13; 27:9,14; 31:9,25). In the conventional chronology of the bible, Zadok appeared later, so could not have been allowed to appear in Deuteronomy, but Aaron, who was a Levite, was the founder of the hereditary role of High Priest, yet is not featured in this respect. In Deuteronomy 18:1, the Levitical priests are called “all the tribe of Levi”. Not until Aaron was dead, does Deuteronomy relate the appointment of the tribe of Levi to the privileged role of priests (Dt 10:8-9). Herodotus calls the Magi a “tribe” of the Persians, where he is using “tribe” to mean a class or a caste. It seems that the Levites were the Jewish title of the Persian “tribe” called the Magi, and the inventers of the myth of the Exodus, following Herodotus as they did, made the Levites into an actual tribe of the Jews. The Levites were the priestly caste of Yehud. They seem to have existed as priests of regional sanctuaries before the centralization of worship. Deuteronomy recognized that centralization would leave the village Levites destitute, yet they had a duty to teach the law (Dt 17:18;31:9, 24)) and so had to be supported. So it classed them with widows and orphans as meriting charity, and recognized (Dt 18:6-7) that Levites from towns away from the central sanctuary should be allowed to officiate in the sanctuary on set occasions. After the Persian period, in Hellenistic and Hasmonaean times, the Levites were relegated to lesser roles, and the rights of a new class of priests, the Zadokites was established by writing their founder into the mythical history.

Other feasts are also prescribed. In Deuteronomy 16:9-12 a Canaanite harvest festival is converted into the feast of weeks, a celebration of the giving of the law at Horeb. In Deuteronomy 16:13-15, is the prescription for the feast of booths or tabernacles, originally the Canaanite wine harvest festival, re-cast as a memorial of the time spent in the desert with God in tents. Deuteronomy 16:16 is a deliberate mistranslation. It is not “appear before the Lord” but “see the face of the Lord”, implying a thrice yearly revelation of an otherwise hidden image of Yehouah, probably the double Ahuramazda-like image in the original mobile Ark, used before the sanctuary was settled at Jerusalem, and later placed in the Jerusalem temple.


Deuteronomy 16:18 to 18:22 lists the officers to be appointed in the new colony. Here there have been subsequent changes to suit the changing situation of the Jews. No one considers the unlikelihood of slaves or wandering shepherds having much idea of the institutions and offices necessary for running a sophisticated state. Like much of the bible testaments, old and new, it is just blindly accepted without question by the faithful. Should anyone have the temerity to ask they will be told that “God knows” and told Moses! The reasonable answer is that these officers and offices were prescribed by the conqueror, the Persians, and their priestly administrators.

Ranks of judges, priests and prophets are mentioned, with some of their duties. The reference to a king was probably added at the time of the Maccabees. Nowhere in the Pentateuch, except here, are kings mentioned and nor would they be expected in a law being set up for a colony! Indeed the distribution of power among officers of equal status but representing different functions is the way power in a colony is diffused so that the emperor would not be challenged. Besides the king, we see here power being distributed. The implications of Deuteronomy 17:14-20 are of a king like Solomon with many wives and chariots, so the passage was inserted after the myth of Solomon was invented by the Maccabees. The mention of a “foreigner who is not your brother” will refer to the Greek kings who succeeded Alexander, like Antiochus IV Epiphanes who was hated by many Jews.

In Deuteronomy chapter 20, further Maccabaean additions are found, it being impossible to imagine the Persians allowing the colonists of Yehud to raise armies against other Persian colonies. Doubtless what was here was more about the “ban” on idolatrous cities. Destruction of Canaanite cities that refused to convert from their old religion evidently was required, whence the need for cities of refuge, but armies and kings would not have been allowed. That something is odd about these passages is the provision for taking a wife from among captured women, and the law about later releasing her. Marrying foreign wives had already been forbidden and it does not match Zoroastrian practice. The additions are therefore post-Persian, most likely from the time of the Maccabees.

The symbols of worship mentioned in Deuteronomy 16:21-22 imply several sanctuaries, again suggesting this is a set of laws preceding the Jerusalem sanctuary. The priests, identified with the Levites and the tribe of Levi, were not to have any territory of their own.

The institution of prophet was the chief way the Persian would combat the Canaanite religions which seem to have been quite shamanistic, the shaman perhaps being considered a prophet. Thus prophets were needed to advocate the worship of the universal god in opposition to the native prophets of the Baals. Thus prophets were the first propagandists, reminding the people of their duty to obey the new god and the law being introduced by the Persians.

Cities of Refuge

The beginning of Deuteronomy chapter 19 is strange. It provides for cities of refuge, an utterly mysterious concept until it is realized that the colonists, the people being transported in, were extremely unpopular. This is clear from Ezra and Nehemiah, but the degree of unpopularity is made clear here by the need for cities of refuge. They were places where people could flee to when pursued by those wishing to avenge a murder.

The deportees were given the authority of a ruling class but they were necessarily weak at first when they were in small numbers and their novelties were seen as particularly intrusive. They had to destroy Canaanite shrines, and that could only create hatred. They would have had to protect and defend themselves and would have needed to retreat from time to time into secure refuges when Canaanite mobs got out of hand. A clumsy attempt has been made to justify the cities as being places where people could flee after “accidentally” killing someone else! Of course, there was no refuge for a murderous act upon a deportee, a neighbour. The requirement of two or three witnesses to bring a charge, mentioned in the trial of Jesus, appears in a context where multiple sanctuaries are assumed.

At the end of Deuteronomy chapter 21 is the law not to allow an executed man to hang after sunset. The Persian method of execution was crucifixion—hanging—so the reference here is to not letting a crucified man hang after sunset

Periodic Readings

“This day”, in Deuteronomy 26:16, means the day when the law was read out to the public, as the covenant treaties require—at each of the main festivals.

Much of the style of Deuteronomy is that of material read out, or orated, and it might be that the Deuteronomist took this from the purpose of the original which was to be read out as a covenant treaty with the Persian kings. The reader would have used all his oratorical powers to get acceptance for these policies and laws by his audience. We read frequent appeals, perhaps colloquial expressions and repetitive emphasis directed at exhorting the people to pursue the rquired course of action.

August Klosterman in 1907 realized that Deuteronomy was originally meant to be read out. Thus the addition of the plural was the adptation of a set of instructions to the Jewish leader to a recital of the laws of the land to the congregations at the Jewish shrines. Characteristic phrases allow Deuteronomistic material to be distinguished form other writing. They are even found in Jeremy. These Deuteronomic editors assume a single sanctuary in Jerusalem while the earlier work implies several local shrines, though sometimes with an anticipation of their eventually being just one.


Douglas Knight says that, without the Deuteronomic History, the history of Israel “would be as thin as the histories of many of the surrounding countries during this period”. The Deuteronomic history is the source of our knowledge of Jewish history. Without it we know little about it, with it we know too much—it is novelistic in its detail of distant events like the kingdoms of Solomon and David. It should give believers pause for reflexion.

Is it mythical? Not all of it is, because some of the characters appear in external records and monuments, but many of the central characters, Moses, David, Solomon, are! It is myth, but some of the myth is built on a partially historical core provided by Mesopotamian historical records.

Knight also says it is a product of the end of monarchy, “at the very earliest”. Biblicists will try to put it in the period of the Exile, but the only reasonable period after the monarchy when it could have been written is the Persian period. Later amendations occurred under the Greeks and the Maccabees. Only the Persians could have access to the Assyrian and Babylonian records needed for much of Kings to have been written.

If scholars are right that the central part of Deuteronomy is associated with Israel, then it shows it is early. The earliest colonists seem to have been ready to set up the god, El, as the local equivalent of the God of Heaven.

Knight also recognizes that the work was “self-seeking and tendentious”. The authors “sought to write a history that would cause their contemporaries to understand better their current situation”. What biblicists will not accept is that these people had been deported into Israel against their will, but were being given a privileged position as rulers of their adopted country as long as they imposed laws acceptable to the Persians and devotion to a universal Persian-like god. They were told they were being “returned” not “deported” from their previous homeland. And so the myth of the Babylonian Exile was created.

To oblige them to be obedient, and eventually the natives they would rule, they were told the Exile was a punishment for disobedience. Thus the need for a history arose—to show how God punished their “ancestors” for apostasy, and rewarded them for being obedient and faithful. The colonisation of Palestine by the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Persians were judgements by God and His punishment, but the Persians claimed to be God’s saviours, sent to redeem His wayward people. It was a brilliant policy, so successfully executed after some initial trouble that its consequences are bigger 2500 years later than Cyrus could ever have anticipated.

“The Deuteronomic historiographical principle can be depicted as a theology of the two ways: do good and be blessed—do evil and be cursed”. It is a “moralistic, controlling and opportunistic interpretation, that favours groups in power or in search of power over people”. This was happening in the Persian period, the dualistic Persian being clear in Douglas Knight’s words, and who but the Persian kings were the people that wanted power over the inhabitants of the Levant at that time? They did it by placing in power a foreign ruling class, whose own security depended upon absolute fealty to their Persian protectors, but otherwise whose future depended on their controlling the native inhabitants of the land they had been granted—the Canaanites.




Deuteronomic History and the Prophets




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