“New winds are blowing on the bark of Deuteronomic studies. It has managed not to drift very far from its Josianic (7th century B.C.) dock only because of the unusually stout cables of critical traditionalism which tie it there. [1] The fate of so much higher-critical treasure rides with this vessel that the scholarly merchants have been understandably anxious about its moorings and timid about entrusting it to the gods of wind and wave — especially since the winds appear to be blowing in the general direction of the Mosaic port, whence (so some say) the merchants pirated the craft.

Over twenty years ago Gerhard von Rad signalized the need for discovering the nature and meaning of the over-all form of Deuteronomy. [2] Attention had been paid to the individual Gattung, whether parenesis, legal precept, or curse and blessing formula. But what was the structural coherence of the several parts within the whole? In current discussions this question is of crucial significance because the problem of the unity of Deuteronomy is judged to be not stylistic but structural. [3] Higher criticism has sought to distinguish an original core of Deuteronomy from the alleged accretions. Wellhausen and others have limited this core to chapters 12-26 but due to the stylistic homogeneity most would now expand this to chapters 5-26 and 28. It is the remaining chapters which are thought to disturb the structural unity and are regarded as editorial appendages. A. C. Welch, who distinguishes a Deuteronomic code (beginning in chapter 12) and framework, finds confusion throughout, but deems the framework in particular so hopelessly disordered that he declares it misleading to speak of editing since that would suggest that a degree of order had been introduced into the chaos! [4]

It is then with this issue of the structural unity and integrity of Deuteronomy that the present investigation is concerned. The question resolves itself into one of literary genre and Sitz im Leben. We believe it can be shown that what Mendenhall tentatively suggested concerning biblical history and law in general is certainly true in the case of Deuteronomy: ” . . . the literary criticism of the past has been proceeding with completely inadequate form-critical presuppositions”. [5] The position to be advocated here is that Deuteronomy is a covenant renewal document which in its total structure exhibits the classic legal form of the suzerainty treaties of the Mosaic age. [6] Our procedure will be to trace the parallelism from beginning to end, observing especially the integrity of those sections of Deuteronomy whose presence has posed problems for the unity of the book. In a brief article only major blocks of material can be considered but this will be sufficient to determine the validity of the thesis.

It will be useful to have a simple outline of the matter before us: [7] 1. Preamble (1:1-5). 2. Historical prologue (1:6-4:49). 3. Stipulations (5-26). 4. Curses and Blessings or Covenant Ratification (27-30). 5. Succession Arrangements or Covenant Continuity, in which are included the invocation of witnesses and directions for the disposition and public reading of the treaty (31-34).

To analyze Deuteronomy in terms of a documentary pattern is not incompatible with the obvious fact that the book according to its own representations consists almost entirely of a series of addresses. For the specific kind of document in view would be orally proclaimed to the vassals at the covenant ceremony. Stylistically, this is reflected in the characteristic “I-thou” form of the suzerainty treaties, which is itself a point of correspondence with Deuteronomy. Also indicative of the oral proclamation of the covenant text is the evidence for the act of response by the vassal during the covenant ritual. Such a response is, in fact, incorporated into the very text of Esarhaddon’s Nimrud treaty where it consists of a self-maledictory oath binding the vassal to the lord’s stipulations, which are repeated in summary in the response. [8] Deuteronomy also mentions the Amen to be uttered by the Israelites in the course of their ceremony (Deut. 27:15-26; cf. 26:17, 18; 29:12; Ex. 24:7; Josh. 24:16-18, 21, 24). [9] The treaty document was thus the libretto of the covenant ceremony, sometimes including the response of the vassal as well as the declarations of the suzerain. When, therefore, we identify Deuteronomy as a treaty text we are also recognizing it as the ceremonial words of Moses. The customary conception of these Mosaic addresses as a freely ordered farewell must be so far modified as to recognize that their formal structure closely followed fixed ceremonial-legal traditions, though they are certainly no stereotyped liturgical recital nor the dispassionate product of an imperial foreign office…….

It will be recognized that this approach has a degree of formal affinity with the views of von Rad. Noting the succession of parenesis based on historical recital (1-11), laws (12-26:15), covenant engagement (26:16-19), and blessings and curses (27 ff.) — a combination found also in the Sinai pericope in Exodus 19-24 – von Rad concluded that this pattern points to the course of a great cultic celebration, specifically, an ancient covenant renewal festival at Shechem. [10] We have no sympathy for von Rad’s failure to recognize the historicity of the covenant renewal presented in Deuteronomy as a particular ceremony conducted by Moses in Moab. Neither are we persuaded that there was a periodic cultic ceremony held at Shechem. However, von Rad’s formal analysis of the literary structure of Deuteronomy, based on his association of it with an alleged covenant renewal ceremony, did approximate to what we judge to be the truth of the matter as that is now illuminated by the more recent studies of the international treaties. In their light the answer to the problem of Deuteronomy’s literary genre can be formulated more accurately and fully than was possible in von Rad’s studies.

Deuteronomy begins precisely as the ancient treaties began: “These are the words of . . . “. [11] The Jewish custom of using the opening words of a book as its title turns out in the present case to be most felicitous for it serves to identify this book at once as a treaty document. [12] Deuteronomy 1:1-5 then goes on to identify the speaker of “the words” as Moses, one who receives divine revelation and communicates the sovereign will of the Lord to Israel. Yahweh is, therefore, the Suzerain who gives the covenant and Moses is his vicegerent and the covenant mediator. This section thus corresponds to the preamble of the extra-biblical treaties, which also identified the speaker, the one who by the covenant was declaring his lordship and claiming the vassal’s allegiance. [13]

“A major problem concerning the unity of Deuteronomy has been the presence of the two introductions (chs. 1-4 and 5-11) to the legal section in chs. 12-26. Neither introduction needs the other; they seem to be independent of each other.” So states G. E. Wright, [14] and then adopts M. Noth’s solution. This solution is bound up with the larger issue of Deuteronomy’s relation to other canonical books. Noth, [15] like Engnell, would detach Deuteronomy from the Pentateuch and attach it to the Former Prophets thus making it the beginning of and philosophy for a Deuteronomic history continuing through II Kings. The opening chapters of Deuteronomy are, according to Noth, an introduction to this history as a whole and that leaves the Deuteronomic laws as such with only one introduction, i. e., chapters 5 (or 4:44) – 11.

But Noth’s view (and every attempt to separate Deuteronomy 1-4 from an original core) is contradicted, the supposed problem of the two introductions is obviated, and the real structure of Deuteronomy is further clarified by these facts: an historical prologue regularly follows the preamble and precedes the stipulations in the suzerainty treaties [16] and Deuteronomy 1:5-4:49 qualifies admirably as such an historical prologue. [17] When covenants were renewed the history was brought up to date. Agreeably, Moses takes up the narrative of Yahweh’s previous rule over Israel at Horeb where the theocratic covenant was originally made (though Moses, as often elsewhere, roots that development in the earlier Abrahamic Covenant, 1:8) and he carries the history to the present, emphasizing the most recent events, the Transjordanian conquests and their consequences.

Deuteronomy 4 is noteworthy in that it exhibits to a degree at least each of the constitutive features of the treaty pattern: the identification of the speaker (1, 2, 5, 10), the appeal to covenant history (10 ff., 20 ff., etc.), the basic stipulation of undivided allegiance (15 ff., etc.), the blessing-curse sanctions (27 ff.), the invocation of witnesses (26), and the arrangements for the perpetuation of the covenant (9, 10, 21, 22). This reflection of the total treaty pattern within the undisputed unity of this brief passage is a significant clue to the nature of the larger document in which it is embedded and an interesting indication of how Moses’ thought and expression this day were operating within the traditional forms required by the occasion. In his mind he sees the whole course of the ceremony with its call for decision and solemn sanctions and in the urgency of these his final words to the people whom he has so long served he summarily anticipates all that is about to transpire.

The third division of suzerainty treaties was the stipulations; [18] and this division in Deuteronomy can be readily identified with chapters 5-26. Von Rad, as noted above, included 5-11 with 1-4 as a parenetic historical survey. Others, separating chapters 5-11 from 1-4, regard them as an introduction to 12-26. But 5-11 must be recognized as expounding the covenant way of life just as do chapters 12-26. Together they declare the suzerain’s demands. The differences between 5-11 and 12-26 only represent differing treatments of this one theme. The former section presents in more general and comprehensive terms the primary demand for consecration to the Lord, both as principle (6) and program (7); the latter adds the more specific, ancillary requirements. Of particular interest is the fact that this sequence from the fundamental to the auxiliary commandments corresponds to the arrangement of the stipulations observable in the extra-biblical treaties. They first formulate the basic demand for tributary allegiance, then proceed to the details of military cooperation, extradition, etc. [19]

The hortatory character of the Deuteronomic stipulations, even of those in 12-26, exposes the inaccuracy of speaking of a Deuteronomic law code. But this feature is not without parallel in the formulation of the treaty stipulations. We are reminded of Moses recalling the lessons of Israel’s past history when Mursilis enforces his demand for three hundred shekels of gold by exhorting Duppi-Tessub: “Do not turn your eyes to anyone else! Your fathers presented tribute to Egypt; you [shall not do that!]“. [20] This documentary feature would naturally be fully exploited by Moses in conducting the renewal ceremony which was also his personal farewell and as impressive an occasion as ever challenged orator. It is, therefore, a quite unnecessary and misguided effort when von Rad seeks to account for the interspersion of the commandments with parenesis in terms of later Levitical preaching of the law at a cultic festival. [21]

One further point of correspondence to the treaties may be mentioned in connection with the stipulations. Deuteronomy’s repetition of the Decalogue and other earlier legislation with such modifications as were required by Israel’s imminent change of environment from desert to city and sown accords with the suzerains’ practice of repeating but modernizing their demands when renewing covenants. [22]

In the covenant ceremony the vassal took his oath in response to the stipulations and under the sanctions of the curses and blessings, which are found as a fourth standard section in the treaties. [23] This decisive act in Israel’s ceremony in Moab is reflected at the conclusion of the Deuteronomic stipulations (26:17-19; cf. Exod. 24:7) and within chapters 27-30 (especially 29:10-15; cf. 27:15-26), the Deuteronomic curse-blessing section. This element of promissory and penal sanctions which chapters 27-30 have in common, finding as it does its counterpart in content, context, and function in the extra-biblical covenant documents, evidences the unity of these chapters and their integrity within the total original Deuteronomic document. The usual scholarly conclusion that chapter 28 belongs with chapters 12-26 while chapters 27, 29, and 30 are unoriginal appendixes of unknown but late date betrays a lack of appreciation for the relevant form-critical data. [24] The fact that the curse-blessing motif in Deuteronomy 27 takes the form of directions for a subsequent ceremony to be conducted by Joshua at Shechem has lent itself to the dissociation of this chapter from its context. But, as will be shown below, if Deuteronomy’s own account of its historical origins is respected and the significance of the theme of dynastic succession is properly appraised, the integrity of Deuteronomy 27 becomes apparent.

In this section as in Deuteronomy 4 an accumulation of the major treaty elements is discovered within short compass, forming a concentrated covenant pattern as the framework for the great call for decision (30:15-20). There is historical recital of the Lord’s mighty acts of grace (29:2 ff.); a reiteration of the primary stipulation to love God, with the corollary prohibition of alien alliances (29:18 ff.); the invocation of heaven and earth as witnesses (30:19); and, of course, the curses and blessings throughout chapters 27-30.

The closing chapters (31-34) have been generally dismissed as miscellaneous appendixes. If, however, one looks beyond the surface fact that there is a variety of literary forms in these chapters and takes his analytical cue from the treaty pattern observable in the book hitherto, he is bound to come to quite another conclusion. For Deuteronomy 31-34 is consistently concerned with the continuity and perpetuation of the covenant relationship and all the elements in this section serve to corroborate the identification of Deuteronomy in its entirety as a unified suzerainty treaty.

Included here are the final two standard elements in the classic treaty structure. One is the enlisting of witnesses to the covenant. [25] Heaven and earth are again summoned to this office (31:28; 32:1; cf. 4:26; 30:19) but most prominent is the Song of Witness (31:16-22; 31:28-32:45), which is to be in Israel’s own mouth as God’s witness against them in the days to come (31:19). The other customary feature is the direction for the deposit of the treaty text in the sanctuary and its periodic reproclamation (31 :9-13). [26] This arrangement, while it served the ends of perpetuating the covenant in that it was a means for the inspirational instruction of successive generations in the words of God’s law (31:12, 13; 32:46), was yet another witness to the covenant (31:26).

For the rest, the closing chapters are concerned in one way or another with the Moses-Joshua succession. This succession was appointive and charismatic, not genealogical, but in so far as these men were mediators between God and Israel and thus successive representatives of the unchanging rule of Yahweh over Israel their succession may be designated dynastic. [27] It is, of course, only in terms of such human mediatorial representatives that dynastic succession is predicable of the rule of the King eternal, immortal, invisible but at that level there does exist a theocratic analogy to dynastic succession in human kingdoms.

This subject of the royal succession clearly contributes to the motif of covenant continuity and hence enhances the thematic coherence of Deuteronomy 31-34. But it is also a further mark of Deuteronomy’s literary identity. For the throne succession of the suzerain’s house figures very prominently in the suzerainty treaties. [28] In fact, the vassal’s oath of allegiance was directed to both the suzerain and his successors. Most significant of the available evidence on this point is the Nimrud treaty of Esarhaddon, for it is occupied exclusively with this one subject of royal succession. [29] It is the text of the covenant ceremony at which Esarhaddon’s vassals were required to acknowledge by oath the succession rights of Ashurbanipal as crown prince of Assyria and of his brother Shamash-shum-ukin as crown prince of Babylonia. [30]

In this connection there comes into focus the two-stage nature of Yahweh’s ceremonial renewal of his covenant with Israel. The ceremony insuring Ashurbanipal’s throne rights was held, as it turned out, just four years before the elderly Esarhaddon’s death. Then, as was customary, soon after the accession of Ashurbanipal there was another ceremony for the confirming of the vassals’ fealty to him. [31] Such, we take it, is the relationship of the covenant ceremony conducted by Moses in Moab and documented by the Book of Deuteronomy and the covenant ceremony conducted by Joshua at Mounts Ebal and Gerizim and reported in Josh. 8:30-35. The first stage takes place when the death of Moses, the Lord’s representative, is imminent. [32] Yahweh’s continuing lordship is reaffirmed in a ceremony in which his appointment of Joshua to be Moses’ successor as his vicegerent is announced (31:3) and Joshua is divinely commissioned (31:14,23; cf. 31:7 ff.). Accordingly Israel’s renewed oath of obedience to the Lord embraces a commitment to follow Joshua (cf. 34:9; Josh. 1:16-18), that is, to submit to Yahweh’s expressed will regarding the dynastic succession. The second stage of the ceremony was held at Shechem not long after Moses’ death and Joshua’s accession, when the Lord had attested his presence with Joshua as with Moses by duplicating the Mosaic signs of victory over the waters and hostile hosts. There Israel was summoned to confirm its consecration to the Lord according to all the words in the Mosaic book of the law and hence to confirm its recognition of Joshua as representative of God’s appointment in succession to Moses.

Far from being appendant fragments worked in by an editorial eclectic, the dynastic succession material in Deuteronomy 31-34 treats of that which was the very occasion for the covenant renewal and thus for the whole Book of Deuteronomy. Joshua’s succession was the most prominent symbol of Yahweh’s continuing theocratic lordship and therefore it was of fundamental and supreme significance in the covenant ceremony and document. [33] By the same token, the Shechem ceremony, as the cultic confirmation of Joshua’s succession, emerges as the climactic act in the process of covenant renewal. This explains the appearance of the directions for this final ratification (Deut. 27) at the structural climax of the book, following the stipulations and at the beginning of the section on curses and blessings or covenant ratification. We have placed Deuteronomy 27 in the latter division but it is to be observed that the form is that of commandment and it might well be included with the stipulations. In either case the directions for the covenant ritual on Ebal and Gerizim constitute the central demand and goal of the Deuteronomic treaty. This is the heart of the whole matter and that is why it appears at the heart of the book. [34]

We are also in a position now to appreciate the fact that the record of Moses’ death and of his testamentary blessings on the tribes (Deut. 33, 34) belongs to the original Deuteronomic document. To refer again to Esarhaddon’s Nimrud treaty, the essence of it is expressed in the following statement: “When Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, dies, you will seat Ashurbanipal, the crown prince, upon the royal throne, he will exercise the kingship (and) lordship of Assyria over you”. [35]
The dynastic succession stipulation — in effect, the whole covenant since it was concerned solely with dynastic succession — became of force at the death of Esarhaddon. It was the death of the covenant author which caused the covenant stipulations and sanctions to become operative. That, we would suggest, is the legal key to the understanding of the structural integrity of Deuteronomy 33, 34 within the context of the whole document. When Moses, Yahweh’s mediator-king of Israel, died, an official affixed to the Deuteronomic treaty the notice of that death, [36] so notarizing the covenant in so far as it was (and it was preeminently) a covenant designed to enforce Yahweh’s royal succession, thereby continuing the lordship of heaven over Israel.

The inclusion in the covenant document of Moses’ final blessings upon the tribes (Deut. 33) underscores an important legal datum, namely, the coalescence of the covenantal and testamentary forms. From the viewpoint of the subject people a treaty guaranteeing, the suzerain’s dynastic succession is an expression of their covenantal relation to their over-lord; but from the viewpoint of the royal son(s) of the suzerain the arrangement is testamentary. Testament and suzerainty covenant are not simple equivalents but to the extent that the latter is concerned with dynastic succession it is informed by the primary administrative principle of the testament — it is not in force while the testator lives.

From Joshua’s point of view as heir appointive over Israel the Book of Deuteronomy as a whole was a Mosaic testament. But Deuteronomy 33 is a testament to which all Israel was beneficiary. This compels us to reckon with another facet in the multiform religious relationship of Israel with Yahweh. Israel’s divine election was unto adoption as well as unto the giving of the law (Rom. 9:4). The Israelites were, therefore, sons as well as servants (cf. Exod. 4:22; Deut. 14:1) and Moses as God’s representative was unto them as father as well as king. Moreover, as sons of the heavenly King, they were all heirs to a royal reign. Indeed, the establishment of Israel as a royal-priesthood over Canaan was in a figure a reinstatement of man as vicegerent of God over Paradise. At the same time, though the concept of all God’s people participating in Moses’ gifts and functions comes to expression even in the Pentateuch (Num. 11:16 ff., esp. 29; cf. Deut. 34:9), Israel the heir was under governors until the time appointed of the father (Gal. 4:1,2). The emphasis remained on servanthood rather than sonship until New Covenant times (cf. Gal. 4:7; Rom. 8:17). [37]

It would seem indisputable that the Book of Deuteronomy, not in the form of some imaginary original core but precisely in the integrity of its present form, the only one for which there is any objective evidence, exhibits the structure of the ancient suzerainty treaties in the unity and completeness of their classic pattern. That there should be a measure of oratorical and literary enrichment of the traditional legal form is natural, considering the calibre of the author and the grandeur of the occasion. And, of course, there is the conceptual adaptation inevitable in the adoption of common formal media for the expression of the unique revelation of God in the Scriptures. What is remarkable is the detailed extent to which God has utilized this legal instrument of human kingdoms for the definition and administration of his own redemptive reign over his people.

The implications of the new evidence for the questions of the antiquity and authenticity of Deuteronomy must not be suppressed. Though the tradition of the suzerainty form is attested down into the first millennium B.C., the full classic pattern is documented only in the Syro-Anatolian treaties of the fourteenth-thirteenth centuries B.C. [38] Accordingly, the customary higher critical view of Deuteronomy’s origins can be maintained only by scholars able to persuade themselves that a process of accretion in the first millennium B.C., with more or less of a conscious editorial assist, managed to reproduce exactly a complex legal pattern belonging to the second millennium B.C. To preserve any semblance of plausibility the hypothesis of these scholars must be so drastically modified in the direction of a greater antiquity for so much more of Deuteronomy as to leave practically meaningless any persistent insistence on a final seventh century B.C. edition of the book. But it may not be too much to hope that even the notoriously dogmatic traditionalism of modern higher criticism will no longer prove inertial enough to prevent the Deuteronomic bark from setting sail once more for its native port.”