& CREATION OF JUDAISM
4. Sacred History or Phoney History?
Pentateuch; Expanding Deuteronomy
Professor Alberto Soggin declares that the outlook of the myths of the Pentateuch,
the Former Prophets and the Major Prophets was that of
people in Mesopotamia who were emigrating to the new land (to them) of
Canaan where they would meet opposition from the natives sympathetic to
The Patriarchal and Mosaic sagas in the Pentateuch serve as a
metaphor for this colonization, depicted as a “return” from
“exile”, and to form a basis for a new interpretation of cult
practices like Passover, the names of people in different taxation areas
and the covenant with God at Sinai. It also contains the laws laid down by
various phases of “returners”, some poetic and some hortatory
material. The Pentateuchal literature can only be understood in relation
to the cult (C R North) because it was written at least in
essence to justify the cult by the Persian administrators of the fifth
century BC. Some of the Canaanites of Palestine before the
“return” might have worshipped a Baal called Yehouah but no honest
scholar would pretend that the cult was the same. The only common feature
will have been the name of the god.
The population of the Persian district of Yehud was only about 20,000
even though two million left Egypt, we deduce from Exodus. Even if
other places besides Judah were settled, it is a huge discrepancy. What is
the purpose of this exaggeration in the scriptures? It is to show what the
scriptures always show, that the Jews have been constant sinners against
the true god, who had punished them by reducing them to a remnant. The
Jewish “returners” were to be made dependent on the Persian conception
of god for whom the Persian king was the earthly representative. That they
previously worshipped Canaanite Baals and Egyptian deities was attributed
to apostasy from the true God, which is why they had been reduced. Thus
the Persians used religion as a factor in their foreign policy, and that
is why today we have Judaism and Christianity.
The disparate group of twelve tribes uniting in a religion built around
the temple reflected only the disparate groups of people sent as
“returners” by the Persian king to found a unity around Ahuramazda,
renamed as the local god, Yehouah. Isaiah 41:18ff speaks of a
“Second Exodus” just as there is a “second temple”. The truth is
that here “second” means “first” because the story given to the
emigreés was that they were “returning” to resume proper worship of
their god. Most were not, they were new settlers, themselves uprooted as
the biblical Israelites were by the Assyrians and the Jews by the
Babylonians. Even if any of them had had Canaanite ancestors, they were
not personally returning because they had been about three generations in
a foreign country. So, they were merely “returning” in a propaganda
sense, with a mission given them by the Persian king and with a god in the
mould of the Persian God of Heaven.
Biblicists, like Nelson Glueck and W F Albright, ignored the
propagandist nature of the stories of the Patriarchs and persisted in
trying to tie them into history. They could find nothing convincing that
did, but the Jewish and Christian churches are never short of finances to
pay willing dupes to lie for God.
If ancient propaganda is to be truth then Christians and Jews can make
it true simply by saying so as often and loudly as possible, until more
reasoned views are drowned out. Discoveries are ignored—discredited not
by evidence but by by sheer weight of pious opinion—and forgotten for
the time being. Each time someone realizes, points in amazement at the
dishonesty and highlights the arguments counter to these religions, but
each time the truth is overlaid afresh with layers of pious defaecation
from the holy Joes with easy livings to defend. These truths have to be
rediscovered every generation, but now mass communication offers the
chance of people taking notice.
Though the Biblicists know better than most people, being scholars and
even archaeologists, they persist in using expressions that they know to
be at best questionable—the “Patriarchal Age”, the “Exodus”, the
“United Monarchy” and the “Davidic Empire”. This really is
Even honest scholars like Professor Soggin can say we must take the
utmost care in using the material “without adopting a skeptical
attitude” to it. Religious apologists always say this, but knowledge
advances by being skeptical, not by being gullible. Skepticism invites
inquiry and inquiry can prove a view right or wrong. Scientific inquiry
demands skepticism, but Christians will not be shown to be wrong. Biblical
scholars say: “We will not look! We do not want to see! We do not want
Even worse! the Albrightians are saying: “We know but we will not
admit it!” Biblical scholars know already that none of the scriptures is
true, if taken to be the word of God and not the instrument of Persian
foreign policy, and the policies of the later Greeks and Maccabees. That
is why they resist any proper scientific investigation and put fellow
Biblicists in charge of every crucial excavation and inquiry to confuse or
even destroy damning evidence. Rumours abound from students engaged in
biblical archaeological fieldwork about important evidence being removed
from the site and disappearing or being deposited somewhere irrelevant. Is
it the Hebrew God who needs this crookery, or professional Jews and
Christians comfortably picking the pockets of gullible innocents?
The Elements of the Pentateuch
The Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible—is
traditionally said to have been written by none other than Moses himself.
Doubtless believers will still believe this myth too, but it is manifestly
untrue by the evidence of the Pentateuch itself. In Deuteronomy
34:7, anyone can read of the death of Moses, and the fact that he never
got to enter the Promised Land. They “buried him in Moab, in the valley
opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is”.
Then we are told:
Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses. (Dt 34:10)
It should not need to be said that Moses cannot describe his own death
and burial and, if he could, he could remind people where he was laid
down! The final point shows that the true author was writing such a long
time later that he thought it worth commenting that no one like Moses had
ever been known since. These excerpts are from the appendix to Deuteronomy
that is unquestionably later than the main part of the book, but the book
is also late in the supposed historical sequence of the bible because it
is from the time of Ezra in the Persian period. The fact that the
“Exile” is also alluded to in Deuteronomy proves that the Pentateuch—at
least in its present recension—is post-exilic. Scholars such as S H Hooke
in Peake’s Commentary unanimously accept that Genesis was
written in the Persian period to explain why Yehouah (or at first El) had
The Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but by different
writers compiling some older material, instructions by Persian officials
setting up the theocracy of Judea, and later priests influenced by the
Greeks. The Persian instructions were the central portion of Deuteronomy.
The older material consisted of Mesopotamian myths, elements of Syrian
myths, and folklore. The priests added detailed laws to do with temple
worship (Leviticus is a manual of temple sacrifice), genealogies to
give credence to their authority, and bogus history to justify the temple
cultus from a putative antiquity. It all showed the Israelites as serial
apostates from the worship of Yehouah, their new God of Heaven under the
Persians, and a lucrative meal ticket for the priests.
Yet Jeremiah and the Psalmist, for example, contradict the Pentateuch
utterly regarding temple sacrifice, writing that Yehouah said:
For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I
brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or
The Psalmist replies:
Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire. Mine ears hast thou
opened. Burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.
These were writing in opposition to the temple cult—which must
therefore have already been established—not necessarily in the Persian
period but possibly in the time of the southern Greek kings, the Ptolemies.
Note that Jeremiah travels to Egypt, and that many of the psalms have the
hallmark of the Essenes who also had Egyptians connexions.
Whoever did write these books were writing in the knowledge that the
Israelite state existed as a settled community and the Canaanites no
longer lived in the hill country, yet the Pentateuch ends before
the land had supposedly been taken by conquest.
|As Abram reaches Shechem we read: “The Canaanite was then in the
land”, (Gen 12:6) an expression that presumes they no longer
were, and so must have been written much later.
|When Abram’s and Lot’s herdmen were quarrelling, we read: “The
Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land”, (Gen
13:7) again implying they no longer were. If Perizzites were Persians,
then the author is in Hellenistic times.
|Dan appears twice (Gen 14:14, Dt 34:1) in the Pentateuch
even though the tribes had not yet settled in Canaan. Elsewhere the
bible explains that before the supposed conquest, Dan was Laish (Jg
|If laws implies a settled, agricultural society (Ex 23:10-11,
Lev 19:19), then Moses could not have written them.
Furthermore, the Royalty Law of Deuteronomy 17:14-15 applies to
a state with a king, presuming a monarchy, probably the Maccabees, in
|Abel Mizraim east of the Jordan is called “beyond Jordan” (Gen
50:10), implying an author living in Palestine already.|
Translations of the bible hide the fact that God is not just called
God, but has several names:
|the most common is “Yehouah” (YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah, and now
Jarvay) with about 7000 occurences;
|“Adonai” (Lord, properly “My Lords”, a plural of majesty)
which is the common substitute for Yehouah because the latter is
|“Elohim” (~3500), literally, “Gods” but declared another
“plural of majesty” to justify its singular translation, and used
by the authors of the Priests’ Code;
|the combination “Yehouah Elohim” is common and translated as
“Lord God”, an obvious mistranslation when “Yehouah of the
Gods” looks literally more correct;
|El is the Canaanite word for their high god but also more generally
is taken to mean a god;
|“El Elyon” is “God the Highest”, implying other gods, and
apparently a Phœnician name of God, according to Eusebius citing
|El Shaddai is translated as God Almighty, but no one knows what it
means, but the few clues suggest it is the name of a mountain or storm
|“Yehouah Sabaoth” is “Yehouah of the Hosts (of heaven)”,
also implying other gods, and is the word favoured in the early
Persian works of the bible.|
Frank Delitzsch thought the first books of the bible were stitched
together by an editor from earlier sources called, after their name for
God or style, J, E, P and D. Wellhausen took up this idea and championed
it but putting the Priestly stage at the end instead of the Deuteronomist,
and not first where it had been thought to be from the biblical story.
Scholars squabbled about whether the first source was E or J. The
different names for God must have had a purpose, at least at first. El and
Elohim, implying El, must have been competing names with Yehouah. Both had
to be retained to satisfy competing factions.
J saw God as a man, so that man could be formed in His image. This
anthropomorphic God closes the door of the ark (Gen 7:16), visits
the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:5), takes walks in gardens, and so on.
The author E has God revealing himself not directly but through the
“angel of the Lord” (21:17 and 22:11), through dreams and
interpretations (Gen 40:8) and through his prophets, typified by
Moses (Num 12:6-8). The Elohist only begins with Abraham. The
author P combined the books of J and E (or used a prior combination of
these books), adding new material. P has a much more impersonal grand God,
and was more concerned with points of doctrine and ritual than narrative.
P is mainly lists of laws and presupposes an active temple. D is the
author of Deuteronomy and has a consistent style of his own that
some say can be detected throughout the histories. Much of it, though, is
explained by the overall purpose of the Persians in presenting these laws
and books—to persuade the Hebrews to be loyal and obedient to God
through His king, the Shahanshah.
There is a modern preference for the view that much of the Yehouistic
material was written later than originally thought, implying an absurdly
long period of oral and written transmission of the Pentateuchal
narratives for them to be genuinely old. Julius Wellhausen thought the
editing process was completed in the Persian period. There were later
changes surely in the histories and prophets, and Exodus/Numbers is also
late. More and more Old Testament texts are considered postexilic,
and their historical allusions are not reliable.
The stories that were put together at the start of Genesis were
fragments of older myths used to explain God’s purpose in history and to
place Israel central to it. None of them are Canaanite—all are
None of the myths [of Genesis 1-11] has been shown to be of
distinctively Hebrew origin, while most of them, the Flood story in
particular, are of Mesopotamian origin.
S H Hooke, Peake’s Commentary
The aim is always to show the Jews as disobedient and rebellious toward
God and needing to seek perfect righteousness to escape retribution.
Syrian myths such as those of the Patriarchs were added. Mainly they were
originally unrelated stories, some of which were associated with different
local shrines and doubtless the people who worshipped at them. An editor
has merged them as a genealogical assembly ultimately to promote the idea
of the unity of Israel.
Noth thought that there was a common source behind J and E which he
called G (Grundlage). Since J and E seem to represent two factions,
he could be right, because they were telling essentially the same story
but could not agree on who was the High God. The different factions wrote
them in their own preferred way and the compromising editor has merged
them judiciously to satisfy both.
This suggests that the beginning of Genesis, not including the
Priestly additions, is early. Rolf Rentdorff believes that large units of
composition agglomerated already soon after Genesis was composed:
|the Primordial Unit,
|the Patriarchal Unit.|
From Genesis 12 the Patriarchs are shown as arriving from
Mesopotamia instructed by God to set up proper worship of Him and begin
the redemption of mankind through obedience to God’s commands. Genesis
37 to 50 give the story of Joseph as an explanation of how Israel got into
slavery to Egypt in preparation for yet another “return” when Moses
takes the Israelites on an Exodus from Egypt back to Canaan. The
connecting together of all the units of Genesis was undertaken by
an editor who inserted chronological signposts (Gen 16:16; 17:24)
and theological passages (Gen 17; 35:9-13).
The Pentateuch is the Jewish law or Torah, often defined
as “teaching” rather than “law”, but S Dean McBride Jr, in an
essay in Old Testament Interpretation, is much more precise:
Torah is closer in meaning to decree than to edifying discourse,
mandatory instruction rather than insightful counsel…
Baruch Spinoza in 1670 AD announced that Ezra was Moses (Tractatus
theologico-politicus), and he attributed the Pentateuch to the
Persian minister. The reaction of the authorities of the Church was to
place the Tractatus on the Papal Index of proscribed books in 1677 AD.
Leibnitz and Newton invented the calculus at the same time and now it is
taught to every schoolchild, yet the same child is still taught the myth
of Moses as if it were history. That over 300 years later Christians and
Jews are no wiser goes to prove the might of religious ignorance.
As in Genesis, large units can be seen in the rest of the Pentateuch:
|Moses and Exodus (Ex 1-18),
|Sinai (Ex 19-24),
|the journey to Moab (Ex 16-18 and Num 10:11-36:13),
The conquest in Joshua and the early parts of Judges
could perhaps be added to this scheme. Five covenants are found within
- with Noah (Gen 9:9-17),
- with Abraham (Gen 17:1-14 (cf 15:1-17)),
- with Moses ( Ex 19:1-34:28),
- with Phinehas (Num 25:11-13),
- the original and proper one, upon which the others were modelled, Deuteronomy
Each covenant has attached laws, so the later priests introduced
retrogressively new covenants to impress new laws. The expressions of
these laws are:
- the Deuteronomic Code or the Law of Moses (Dt
4:44-28:68)—the original law laid down by Ezra for the Persian king,
- the ethical decalogue (Ex 20:2-17 (cf Ex 34:28; Dt
- the Book of the Covenant (Ex 20:22-23:33 (cf Ex
- the description of the tabernacle and its rites (Ex
25:1-31:17) and a plan of how they were implemented ((Ex
- the cultic decalogue or dodecalogue (Ex 34:11-17),
- the Priestly code (Lev 1-26) which includes the Holiness
code, possibly a somewhat earlier stratum,
The philological problems of The Decalogue are considerable,
Garbini tells us. Of the three versions in the bible the one that is least
altered and therefore likely to be the earliest is that in Deuteronomy
5:6-21. It presuposes a sedentary not a nomadic life, and therefore could
not have been devised by migrating tribes with no settled home. The
Decalogue was produced in a settled society, contradicting the
biblical myth, and, right from the outset, it is in conflict with the
worship of gods other than Yehouah, called idolatry. Since the native
Canaanite religion was a polytheistic idolatry, the religion of Yehouah
certainly fits the idea that it was imposed. As Garbini puts it:
The initial part of the Decalogue becomes completely relevant if
seen in the perspective of a religious reform which originated in
Palestine and which with its monotheistic message tended towards a
conscious and total revolt against the Phœnician religion…
Why the reform had to originate in Palestine, Garbini does not explain.
It originated in Persia.
The whole structure of Exodus/Numbers is set in a large chiasm
(a symmetrical entry and return compositional structure) about Exodus
33 where God promises to be with Israel, which stretches from Exodus
14 to Numbers 32. It is a cycle from success through apostasy to
covenant to renewed success in which at the centre the covenant is
instituted and then the cult. Exodus and Numbers are
therefore all one composition.
The legal parts of the Pentateuch start at Exodus 19.
Then we have definitions of Torah:
|a divine edict: For out of Zion shall go forth the
law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isa 2:3).
|a formal judicial decision: According to the
sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the
judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do. Thou shalt not
decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, to the right
hand, nor to the left (Dt 17:11).
|a sacred atoning ritual: Likewise this is the law
of the trespass offering: it is most holy (Lev 7:1).
|a priestly instruction: Thus saith the Lord of
hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the law (Hag 2:11).|
The law demands immediate attention and the faithful obedience of those
to whom it was addressed, if prosperity and not disaster is to ensue:
|Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to
do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee.
Turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest
prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not
depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and
night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written
therein. For then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou
shalt have good success (Josh 1:7-8).
|Yet the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the
prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways,
and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law
which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants
the prophets (2 Kg 17:13).
|My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because thou hast
rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no
priest to me. Seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will
also forget thy children (Hos 4:6).
|Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come as an eagle against the
house of the Lord, because they have transgressed my covenant, and
trespassed against my law (Hos 8:1).|
The Torah was promulgated publicly, that everyone might know it,
and implemented with the force of any law under the royal auspices of the
|When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God in the
place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all
Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women,
and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may
hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe
to do all the words of this law. And that their children, which have
not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as
long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it (Dt
|Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in
the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days, and on
the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner (Neh
|And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand,
set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are
beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God, and teach ye
them that know them not. And whosoever will not do the law of thy God,
and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him,
whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of
goods, or to imprisonment (Ezra 7:25-26).|
The reason for all this is plain. Who is addressing Ezra in the last of
these citations? God? Obviously not. It is the Persian king! He begins,
saying (Ezra 7:13), “I make a decree”. The law was imposed upon
the Jews by their Persian masters by decree and they were obliged to learn
it. As we would still say today: “Ignorance of the law is no defence”.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, W M L de Wette,
following S Jerome long before, identified the laws in Deuteronomy
as “the law” and proposed that it was the Book of the Covenant
found by Hilkiah in the reign of Josiah (2 Kg 22:3-23:25). The
laws mentioned in the Pentateuch were the laws of a settled
agrarian society and could not have been formulated by wanderers in
Julius Wellhausen in Prolegomenon told everybody that the law of
Moses was introduced as the basis of Judaism—a post-exilic cult—not a
millennium before as the basis of a fictional ancient Israel. Deuteronomy
12-26 were laws imposed by the Persians when they deported colonists to
Yehud to begin a temple state for financial reasons. One of its main
intentions was to centralize authority and worship in Jerusalem, and this
not just for the small local population, but for all the “nations” of
Several references within Deuteronomy itself mention the
dispersion among the nations whence the Jews returned, though they are
among the parts added by later editors to frame the laws.
And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left
few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you.
And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the
blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt
call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath
That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion
upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither
the Lord thy God hath scattered thee.
The first mention of Moses after the exile in the biblical chronology
is in Nehemiah 8 where we find, the “Book of the Law of Moses”,
when it was publicly read to the people at the feast of tabernacles. The
prayer of the Levites which follows, and is a later composition containing
insertions from other books of the Pentateuch, is mainly from Deuteronomy.
Moshe Weinfeld, in Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School
(1972), noted that the structure and content of Deuteronomy was of
the form of the ancient near eastern vassalage treaties. This is so near
the knuckle for professional Jews and Christians that they had to thrash
around for an explanation. It was that the royal court of Israel had a
school of professional court scribes—sort of proto-Christians, you might
say—trained in secular humanism and wisdom, and also vassalage treaties!
They promoted Deuteronomy in the time of Josiah as a secular law to
counter the influence of the temple cult. Aren’t these “scholars”
amazing? Doubtless this might still be heard in certain high school RI
classes, but it is manifestly bunkum.
Why, though, should books of law contain a lot of narrative? Was it
always thus? It was not. The central, legal, parts of Deuteronomy
were the original law, perhaps with some parts now transferred into Exodus
and some lost altogether.
The bulk of Deuteronomy is a compilation of laws. A framework
based on the departing of the aged Moses has been added, but it does not
further the story of the fulfilment of the promise of land. Some scholars
think they can detect a Deuteronomic hand at places in the Tetrateuch,
though Noth could not see it in Genesis. Rentdorff could see the
Deuteronomists in all four Tetrateuchal books. A likely candidate is the
“Book of the Covenant” in Exodus 19-24, where Moses should be
called Ezra and the whole affair set on Mount Zion where the Persians laid
on a show for the gullible Canaanites (Israelites) making sure they were
not allowed near to see the preparations and trickery by keeping them at a
distance. The introductory review of Moses in Deuteronomy naturally
refers back to this spectacle but says it was at Horeb, not Sinai.
The trouble is the usual one of multiple ediing. Douglas Knight tells
us frankly that the evidence is overwhelming that the biblical texts are
not by any single author but have mostly been reworked by successive
editors with “distinctive styles, language, perspective, themes and
intentions”. These editors often recast their material and rearranged
them according to their own plans. In short, the books have been partly
mixed up. Editors could have moved a chunk of Deuteronomy to what
they thought they saw as a better place in one of the books they were
preparing, and, naturally, these were men who would use the didactic
Deuteronomistic style when they wanted to, either simply because it was
appropriate in context or to give the passage a gravitas they needed, for Deuteronomy
at first was seen as God’s law.
Noth thought that P was restricted to Genesis to Numbers
with only a trace in Deuteronomy concerning the death of Moses (Dt
32:48-52;34:1;5;7-9). Noth had his own theory of the Deuteronomic history
beginning with Deuteronomy and extending to 2 Kings. In
fact, there are additions to Joshua that might be from the Priestly
school. The Deuteronomic history, according to Noth, has a distinctive use
of language and a distinctive style. The author inserted homiletic
speeches by the chief participants at certain points Joshua (Josh
1;23), Samuel (1 Sam 12), and Solomon (1 Kg
8:14ff)), and conjunctive notes in a similar didactic style. The beginning
of Deuteronomy, Noth took to be the introduction to the whole work.
Deuteronomy was the original law and also began the
Deuteronomistic history, so any added laws had to be added before Deuteronomy,
out of necessity and to give the new laws invented by subsequent priests
the authority of age, the foundation history obviously having to precede
the history culled from the Assyrian annals of the kings. Van Seters saw D
as primary, followed by J and then P (DJP), E being an illusion. There
seems to have been a genuine conflict over the name of God, so E is
perhaps not so illusory, but otherwise, Van Seters is correct, as he often
is. Though Hooke tells us that much of P has been shown to be early, it is
surely the last layer of legal tradition added.
The promise of land pervades much of the Pentateuch except the
Primordial unit, and Rentdorff sees it as being attached to Deuteronomy.
In Deuteronomy, although it concludes the Pentateuch, its
narrative sections do not advance the position of the wandering tribes.
They are on the plains of Moab at the end of Numbers and they are
still there after Moses’s speeches at the end of Deuteronomy. If
the promise of land is to be fulfilled in this unit then Joshua
should be added making the Pentateuch into a Hexateuch. Yet,
Deuteronomy is the odd book in the Pentateuch and looks as though
it should not be there, in which case the Pentateuch is reduced to
a Tetrateuch. This classification supports Noth’s idea that Deuteronomy
is properly the beginning of the Deuteronomic history, not a part of the Pentateuch
This ambiguous quality of Deuteronomy places it at the centre of
interpretation of the Jewish scriptures. If biblical history were sound,
then Deuteronomy is an anachronism added where it is, because far
more detailed laws precede it and it seems strange that an editor should
have added the older looking Deuteronomy rather than altering the
more refined laws, if necessary. It follows that Deuteronomy was
the earliest of these books, in fact, but that it could not be moved
because the Deuteronomic history had been written based on it. The other
laws and sagas therefore had to be added before it. D Petersen says
that the Tetrateuch was written as a prologue to the Deuteronomic
history. The order of composition implied is therefore Deuteronomy,
DH and then the Tetrateuch.
Rudolf Smend could not see the uniformity of style that Noth saw, and
claimed that its unevenness and diversity suggested multiple authors and
editors. Smend saw an editor with a particular interest in the law and
Walter Dietrich saw one interested in the prophets and whose rhetoric is
that of Jeremiah. Both are probably among the interests of the
original authors, but later editors are also certain. Many scholars though
persist in believing de Wette’s idea that the book found by Hilkiah is Deuteronomy.
They cannot accept the subtlety of the biblical authors. Were it not for
this clever touch, one wonders whether any such idea could be held.
Without it, few scholars would be ready to believe that Deuteronomy
made more sense in the seventh century than in the fifth. Engnell seems to
have no doubt that its proper date is the fifth century and he points to
the exilic references, which he plainly does not accept as making any
sense as interpolations. Biblical editors tended to want their compilation
to seem older than it was, not younger.
The homiletic or didactic style of Deuteronomy shows it was
intended to be read out by the priests to the people on the occasions when
they met for service. This was August Klostermann’s view, and Georges
Minette de Tillesse pointed out that the singular and plural used in it
showed that the message was being redirected from a singular recipient,
the High Priest, to the body of the people—all Israel—via the
The verbal chracteristics and concerns by which the Deuteronomists
might be recognized are:
|Idols. Following, worshipping foreign gods, burning
incense to them, burning or passing a son or daughter through the
fire, abomination, and detestable things, used of Canaanite gods and
|Central. The site or city that Yehouah will choose,
his chosen, and making his name live there.
|Captivity. Ransome, house of bondage, the iron
furnace, choosing to be a people to him, a strong hand and an
|One God. Know that Yehouah alone is God, in the
heaven above and in the earth below, you alone are the God.
|Obedience. Following, serving, fearing, loving
Yehouah, walking in the way(s) of Yehouah, with all the heart and with
all the soul, doing what is right or good in the eyes of Yehouah,
doing what is evil in the eyes of Yehouah, turning away or aside,
keeping commandments, testimonies, judgements.
|The Land. The land which Yehouah, your God, is
giving you as an inheritance, dispossessing nations, the good land or
ground, being strong and resolute.
|Reward. Prolonging days in order that Yehouah may
bless you, living (prosperously) or (prosperous) life, was incensed,
destroying, punishing, putting to an end, uprooting.
|Fulfilment. Establishing the word of Yehouah, as at
this day, behold I will bring evil upon.
|David. For the sake of David, my (his) servant,
doing that which is right as David… or not as David…
|Rhetoric. Hear O Israel, pouring, laying upon,
filling with innocent blood, know therefore.|
Of course, it stands to reason that later editors or even writers could
have used the same ringing phrases, so they cannot be used mechanically to
distinguish different hands, but where they are not used the tradition is
likely to be independent—either from elsewhere or an earlier period. Job
and Proverbs are plainly quite independent works in the bible,
showing almost nothing in common with the rest of the books. The
Deuteronomic editors assume Jerusalem is the centre of the cult, but Deuteronomy
is just establishing it. Thus there is no Zion philosophy in Deuteronomy,
no reference to the Holiness code, no mention of David, and little else
attributable to P. It precedes them. Some scholars see a lot in common
with the prophets. It is because they were close contemporaries and had a
similar purpose—achieving Persian foreign policy in Yehud. The only
doubtful bits of later editorial in Deuteronomy are in the topping
and tailing. So the earliest Deuteronomistic editors follow Deuteronomy
by some time, probably several decades at least. The last editors were
probably centuries later.
The importance of the Deuteronomic history to the religions of the Jews
and Christians is expressed honestly by Douglas Knight:
If one removed DtrH as a source, our history of Israel from 1200 to 550 BC
would be so sparse as to be unrecognizable—and probably unusable for
modern religious, moral or other ideological ends as well.
John Van Seters examined all the historical traditions of the ANE and
disputed the idea that any extended histories or collections of shorter
historical works could have preceded the Persian period. All that existed
then, were folk tales and lists of chronicles, kings and administrators.
Earlier Professor E Voguelin had written:
The concern for the past as the paradigmatic record of God’s way with
men, extending over a period of more than 1000 years could hardly
translate itself into practice without a considerable apparatus of both
personnel and material installations, for preserving this enormous body
of traditions not only mechanically but with the necessary intelligence
(Israel and Revelation 1956)
Much bigger countries like Assyria could not provide this intelligent
apparatus, it seems, but a tiny country of 60,000 shepherds could.
Doubtless it is another one of God’s miracles, but Voguelin is really
saying it is impossible. The Deuteronomic History must have stood out as
the equal of Herodotus and Thucidydes, but supposedly preceded them by
hundreds of years! It is certainly later than Herodotus even in its
inception, and much of it was written by Hellenistic writers.
Giovanni Garbini has observed on the peculiar absence of monumental
inscriptions in the hill country of Palestine. He thinks all early
monuments were destroyed by people with a vested interest in preserving
the mythical history of the bible. The Maccabees might have been the most
likely candidates. What is interesting though is that Jews and Christians
have conspired ever since in this one endeavour—to disguise the true
history of the Levant. Now scarcely anything remains written from any of
it, even Phœnicia—and Phœnicans were not illiterate. The history of
the Persian empire and the pre-history of Iran is almost blank by
comparison with Egypt where Moses is supposed to have come from. Was there
a rush to find out about Persia when Spinoza made his discovery? As we
saw, the book was blacklisted. And we are taught that Stalin re-wrote
history… as a student priest, he was doubtless taught how to do it
Jan-Wim Wesselius of Amsterdam thinks the structure of the history of
Israel from the patriarch Abraham to the arrival in Canaan and the
conquest of it in the book of Joshua, derives from the Histories of
Herodotus of Halicarnassus. The parallel is not merely literary but in the
framework of the narrative. The genealogy of the family of the patriarchs
matches that of the Persian royal family in Herodotus, especially in
connexion with their contacts with the land where the great campaign of
both works starts, Lydia in the Histories and Egypt in the Bible.
Application of the Histories’ narrative framework, for
Xerxes’s campaign against Greece, to Israel campaigning to enter Canaan,
automatically leads to an account like the Bible’s. For Israel to get to
Canaan in a great campaign from another continent, Egypt was the only
starting place. The reason why the Israelites were in Egypt then needed
The basis of this is found in the Histories in the early life of
Cyrus the Great, Xerxes’s grandfather through his mother Atossa—the
two dreams describing his future power, the family members wanting to kill
him, his being hidden from them for a number of years, the fulfilment of
the dreams as a result of the actions meant for preventing it, and his
attaining power over Lydia, the land where the great campaign is to start
in the time of his grandson. The contact of Joseph’s great-grandfather
Abram with Egypt in Genesis 12 quite naturally derives from the
contact of Cyaxares, Cyrus’ great-grandfather, with the Lydians. Joseph
is Cyrus. The episodes of Exodus, journey through the Wilderness and
Conquest issue autonomously from this literary dependence, and are
non-historical. The Exodus as recounted in the Bible is most likely a
The derivation of the structure of one work from another one is a
well-attested literary phenomenon, the classic example being Virgil’s Aeneid
and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The first half of the Aeneid
reflects the Odyssey, the second part the Iliad. Within the
Jewish scriptures, the structural similarity between Nehemiah, Ezra
and Daniel is notable.
It is incredible, as Wesselius says himself, that nobody has accepted
the literary link even though scholars have noted that the theme of both
works is the same—a tremendous campaign of millions to conquer a rich
and fruitful land on another continent, starting with the crossing of the
water between the two continents as if on dry land. Mandell and Freedman,
Whybray and Van Seters, and recently Flemming Nielsen, found many
agreements between Herodotus and the History of the Patriarchs, Exodus
and Conquest, but all have been blind to a direct literary dependence.
J Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch. An Introduction to the First
Five Books of the Bible (1992) knew of the link, but pooh-poohed it on
the grounds that the description of military events leading to the
decisive defeat of Xerxes occupies three of the nine books of the Histories,
but nothing like it is found in the Pentateuch. It is a case often
used by apologists that what is not exactly matching is not matching at
all. Wesselius has shown that the scriptural History of the Patriarchs,
Exodus and Conquest reflects the Histories, like a mirror. Both
have the structure:
- Ordinary history.
- Great campaign.
The importance of this is that the date of this part of the Pentateuch
must be after 445 BC, the earliest possible year of the Histories,
but before most of the Jewish scriptures suddenly emerged around 250 BC.
It suggests the bible was composed between late Persian and early
Hellenistic times. Wesselius highlights the Passover Letter, from
Elephantine of 419 BC, requiring the Jewish community there to
celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. He links the letter with
Nehemiah because its author Hananiah could be Nehemiah’s brother Hanani
(Neh 1:2 and 7:2). If the letter signifies the same reforms being
introduced by the Persians via Ezra and Nehemiah in Yehud, the History
of the Patriarchs, Exodus and Conquest will have been published about
420 BC to accompany the changes being introduced. A later rewriting
using Herodotus in the time of the Ptolemies nevertheless seems more
The festival of Passover is older than the writing of the Pentateuch.
It is mentioned, B Porten and A Yardeni note in Textbook of
Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt 4: Ostraca and Assorted Inscriptions,
on what are probably early fifth-century ostraca from Elephantine, but it
was probably the earlier seasonal or fertility festival, not the one
associated with the Exodus. Its association with a liberation from Egypt
(not necessarily an exodus) will have been in these Persian times, and
explanation of the right way to celebrate the new form of Passover would
be expected when the change was being introduced, but association with an
exodus must be more recent. The Canaanites must have been in the habit of
sacrificing their first born sons on the day of Passover. The original
Passover story, which preceded any notion of the Israelites being Egyptian
refugees, included this custom of killing the first born. When the exodus
story was devised, the sacrificial victims were made into Egyptians rather
than Israelites to remove an embarassment, and the aborted sacrifice of
Isaac by Abraham, with the substitute of a ram was anachronistically
inserted to signify the earlier end of it. The original custom might still
have been remembered by some at the time of the Passion of Jesus, the
first born son(!) of God, influencing how it was recorded, even though it
was simply a judicial murder.
Wesselius believes that many of the apparent contradictions in the Deuteronomistic
History are deliberate, a literary device. The author deliberately
indicated uncertainty about vital episodes such as the early history of
mankind and of the world, the entire complex of Exodus, Wilderness journey
and Conquest, and events during the early monarchy in Israel, by means of
giving alternative versions, different accounts of certain passages, the
different names used for God, and so on, and ultimately causing a collapse
of the narrative.
Such devices might offer a sort of reconciliation of two viewpoints, or
deliberately create ambiguity when otherwise two views would be in
conflict or one would have to be discarded, to avoid non-acceptance or
external conflict. Especially when the conflict is resolved by collapsing
the story, it is meant to show the story is not historical but mythology.
The absence of such collapsing of the narrative in the history of the two
kingdoms suggests the author saw it as more historical.
The Samaritans, as the Israelites, were the main target of the
Deuteronomist and they must have rejected the Deuteronomistic History
at some later stage.
E Theodore Mullen, Jr in Narrative History and Ethnic
Boundaries (1993), sees the Deuteronomistic History as phony.
The Deuteronomistic History is an ethnomythography—an idealized
past for the formation and maintenance of a distinct ethnic identity in
the present. He thinks a literate elite in Babylon imagined a new
community and gave it a history via ancient and invented traditions c 550 BC.
In this he was correct, but he was wrong to think Jews conceived of
it—it was the Persians—and he was about 100 years too early.
Ethnic identity dominates and shapes the Pentateuch. In a second
book, Ethnic Myths and Pentateuchal Foundations: A New Approach to the
Formation of the Pentateuch (1997), Mullen says the Pentateuch
was written for an audience of contending groups to unify Israelite ethnic
identity. Mullen argues Genesis to Numbers was composed in
the Persian period as a prologue to the previously composed Deuteronomistic
History. Mullen is seeing clearly, but not clearly enough.
F V Greifenhagen in a paper in JRS also observes that
much of the Hebrew Bible, including the Pentateuch, serves to
establish a particular Israelite ethnic identity, based on a mythology of
common origins and kinship. Ethnicity is most important on the margin of
states. The best time for the elaboration of Israelite ethnicity would
have been during one of the Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Persian empires.
A phony ethnicity will project an ideal norm that will not necessarily
coincide with society. Ethnic boundaries are often rigidly defined
circumscribing contact with those considered “others”, but, in
reality, movement across, or deviation from, these boundaries often
The scriptures plainly try to separate the Canaanites from the
incomers, the Israelites, but there is also a tension between the
Israelites and the Egyptians. Egypt is the important ethnic “other” in
the Pentateuch, being mentioned in it 376 times against 96
references to Canaanites.
The Pentateuch promotes a narrative that places Israel’s
origins in Mesopotamia, and the sojourn in Egypt is only temporary. This
ethnomyth competes with an Egyptian origin tradition for Israel.
Elsewhere, the Hebrew Bible seems to know only an origin tradition
beginning in Egypt (Amos, Ezekiel 20, and Psalms 78,
106, and 136), as does some of the oldest accounts of Jewish origins in
The narratives of Joseph and Moses on their own could stand as
testimonies to Egyptian Israelite heroes, but are linked in the Pentateuch
to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, making Israel’s time in Egypt a detour
rather than a point of origin. This is an editorial device for the two
different narratives of biblical Israel’s origin, with the story of
Joseph as a link.
The Pentateuch integrates two conflicting origin traditions by
subordinating one to the other. The covenantal prophetic model of Exodus
to Deuteronomy (and also the Deuteronomistic History), with
its Mosaic myth of Israelite origins beginning in Egypt, is made to fit
within the genealogical model of Genesis, with its patriarchal myth
of Israelite origins in Mesopotamia.
The Pentateuch constructs a strong sense of discontinuity
between Israel and Egypt by insisting that Israel, to be truly Israel,
must be purged of all things Egyptian. The plundering motif (Ex
3:21-22; 11:2-3; 12:35-36) could be an attempt to fit the positive image
of Egypt as a place of enrichment into the more negative frame of the need
to separate from Egypt. The Egyptian Hagar and her son are rejected from
the lineage of Israel (Gen 16, 21), the Israelites are persuaded to
leave Egypt (Ex 1-14), the blaspheming half-Egyptian son (Lev
24:10-23) is stoned, and finally the entire Egyptian-born generation,
including Moses, must die in the wilderness and only an entirely new
generation, untouched by Egypt, can inherit the promised land (Num
14). Egypt, in much of the Pentateuch, is treated negatively.
Yet the Pentateuch also shows Egypt positively as a place of
refuge, of plenty, and of enrichment—an alluring and attractive
place—especially in the Joseph story where Israel leaves the
famine-ridden territory of the Canaan to enter an Egypt that promises
survival and prosperity. The motif of rebellion in the wilderness (Ex
16, 17; Num 11, 14, 16, 20) recognizes Egypt as a pleasant place,
while suggesting such a thought was a rebellion against the divine. Are
the Israelites different from Egyptians? By insisting that Egypt and
Israel are distinct, the Pentateuch implies that some people needed
to be convinced of it. It seems that many Israelites considered themselves
Egyptian or closely linked to Egypt. In the Persian period, the obvious
aim was to dissociate Israel from any positive leanings towards Egypt so
as to encourage loyalty to Persia instead. The mixed perspective could be
intended to assuage a pro-Egyptian element in the population while leaving
an overall negative impression. If it were omitted the Egyptian faction
would have been thoroughly alienated.
Contradictions spring from these ambiguities. Laws that speak of Israel
as native to the land conflict with the tradition of Israel’s origins
elsewhere, and laws that speak of Israel as a sojourner in Egypt conflict
with Israel’s experience of slavery in Egypt. A rejection of Egypt
cannot sit comfortably with an origin in Egypt.
The anti-Egyptian propaganda is best explained from a Persian
perspective. The Persian empire’s troubles in Egypt during this period,
the location of Yehud between the empire and Egypt, and the presence of
Judeans in Egypt, explain the Pentateuch’s anti-Egyptian
rhetoric. There were Judeans favourable to Egypt, and potentially
subversive of the Persian backers of the colonists in Yehud. Canaan had
been under Egyptian control or influence for most of its history. The
original Pentateuch written in the Persian period sought to
denigrate the Egyptians by emphasising the slavery they subjected the
Israelites to. The Ptolemies, who were faced with the results of this
propaganda in what was again an Egyptian subsidiary state, added a more
favourable impression of Egypt than the Persians had left in their version
of the Pentateuch, and the Maccabees, whose allies the Egyptians
were against the Syrians, will have tended to add additional elements
favourable to Egypt.
The Priestly Books
Moses was a misunderstanding of the Persian name for God, whose name
was attached to the sacred law of the Jews. About this time, when Joseph
was added, the idea of explaining the name Moses arose. At first he was
depicted as a Jewish leader who had received the covenant at Sinai or
Horeb—in short as a retrogressed Ezra. This story too was then
elaborated into a massive saga, but now the Egyptians are again the enemy!
The Ptolemies wrote the Moses saga too, but it seems strange that the
Pharoah should be depicted so badly if the story was sponsored by an
Egyptian king. It will have been rewritten in the time of the Seleucids
whose enemy was the Ptolemies of Egypt.
The Seleucid or northern Greek kings took control of Palestine about
200 BC and apparently sponsored the elaboration of the story of
Moses. Exodus and Numbers are therefore early second century BC.
The Wisdom of Ben Sira, accurately dated to about 180 BC does
not mention Moses. Though he was by then surely accepted as the great
lawgiver of the Jews, his dramatic biography had not yet been written.
The great book of priestly laws called Leviticus was most likely
written under the sponsorship of the Ptolemies when they were adding the Septuagint
to the library of Alexandria. The aim of the priests was to maximize their
income because they had been essentially treasurers and taxation officials
of the Persian empire. When the empire fell however, they had the chance
to raise money for themselves exclusively. Sacrifice might well have been
a way that the temple was intended to raise money under the Persians, but
certain passages contradict the idea that Yehouah wanted sacrifices made
to him (Isa 1:11; Ps 51:16; Jer 6:20; and Amos
5:22). These express the later ideas of the Essenes, signifying a second
or first century date.
The priests who set down the laws in Leviticus, provided for
fields not to be fully reaped (Lev 19:9-10). They did not want to
waste their wealth on welfare handouts and so made sure the cost came from
the farmer. A corner was to be left, for the poor to pick so that they
would not starve. It seems a humane act on the part of the priests of
Yehouah, but it is curious that it also justifies the continuation of an
ancient custom to mollify the corn-deity. The spirit of the corn fled
before the reapers with their flashing scythes until it was trapped in the
last corner. To avoid angering the spirit unnecessarily, the last corner
was therefore left as a refuge for the spirit. So, the law in Leviticus
merely condoned and gave a justification for an ancient practice.
Christians often claim that the Jewish scriptures were translated into
Greek as the Greek Septuagint by 280 BC. The books of the Pentateuch,
in the form they were in at the time, perhaps were but the rest of the
biblical books were translated later, the whole process extending from c 250
to about the time of Herod. The documents found at Qumran show that the Old
Testament was still being edited, and even written, in the times of
the New Testament.