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The Independent Legislation of Deuteronomy.
PROF. E. C. BISSELL, D.D.
"HE importance of the Book of Deuteronomy in all discussions
touching the age and origin of the Pentateuch cannot well be over-estimated. Leading critics, indeed, like De Wettel and Graf,? have regarded it as decisive battle-ground. Lying in the midst of the supposed development of Pentateuchal literature from Moses to Ezra, it ought to show, if it appear anywhere, positive evidence of the evolution then in progress. It ought to show this especially in its legislation, which, as the name “ Deuteronomy" imports, forms the body, and is undoubtedly the main object of the work. It ought to show it most of all in such laws as are original with this book, and intrinsically represent it.
It is said of the Pentateuchal codes in general that they but reflect, in their several parts, the changing social and ethical standard of the Hebrew people during many hundred years previous to the Exile. If this be true, and they are in no sense ideal or prophetical in character, the peculiar product of a superhuman revelation, or inspiration at the genesis, and throughout the progress of a much more limited development, the fact should appear most plainly, not in the features that are common to all of them, but rather in such as are exceptional and individual. There are some laws, as for example that regarding public worship, or that of the feasts, which, in a form more or less modified, appear in each of the three great divisions of the Pentateuchal legislation. In such cases there is ample room for discussion, in fact, imperative need of it, on a host of questions quite apart from the main question. It must first of all be determined whether these diverse forms are, as alleged, the result of widely varying circumstances of place and time, or may fairly be regarded as evidence simply of another point of view within the same period, and on the part of the same legislator. Where, however, a law is found in but one of these divisions, and in but one form, the area of debatable ground is greatly lessened. We are then prepared at once to test our critical theory concerning the age of the document, and to do it under circumstances of the least embarrassment.
1 Lehrbuch der historisch-kritischen Einleitung. Neu bearbeitet von Schrader, Berlin, 1869, pp. 322 ff., 322 ff.; and Studien u. Kritiken, 1837, p. 953: “The view taken of Deuteronomy is for the criticism of the Pentateuch decisive.”
2 Die Geschichtlichen Bücher des Alten Testaments, p. 4 f.; of. also Kleinert, Das Deuteronomium, p. 3: “Denn zwar dieses erkennt De Wette an, und hat damit für seine Nachfolger einen Fingerzeig gegeben, dessen Nichtbeachtung fast immer der kritischen Untersuchung zur Schädigung gereicht hat: dass in dem Deuteronomium das dos pou toŮ Otw für die ganze kritische Frage über den Pentateuch gegeben ist.” Wellhausen, on the other hand, with a good deal of unneces. sary bravado, rules the whole matter out of the discussion as something already settled. He says (Geschichte, p. 9): “Ueber den Ursprung des Deuteronomiums herrscht noch weniger Zweifel; in allen Kreisen, wo überhaupt auf Anerkennung wissenschaftlicher Resultate zu rechnen ist, wird anerkannt, dass es in der Zeit verfasst ist, in der es entdeckt ... wurde.”
Now, it is well known that no inconsiderable portion of the Deuteronomic laws are of this character. And it is a highly significant fact in itself, since it is just what we might expect on the traditional hypothesis, that this code chronologically concludes the legislation of the Pentateuch. But it is also of value as furnishing a capital opportunity to prove the validity of a favorite tenet of many modern critics.
Out of the full score of these early laws original with Deuteronomy, and confined to it, there are some, it is true, of such a nature that a chronological test can only with difficulty be applied to them. But with the majority it is quite otherwise. Their response to such a test is both immediate and categorically direct. The only question remaining to be asked, i.l., for those who will press a question of this sort, is whether these laws are seriously meant, or, like the so-called “Blue Laws ” of Connecticut, are but quasi statutes, whose originator was satisfied if they were founded on fact, and were not easily distinguishable from fact.
The first example of a law peculiar to Deuteronomy is that concerning seduction to idolatry. It occupies the entire thirteenth chapter, and appears in three sections: (1) as applying to false prophets (vv. 2-6); (2) to individual members of the community whom it rigorously singles out from the most intimate relationships (vv. 7-12); and (3) to whole cities which might become infected with the crime (vv. 13-19). The close logical connection, both of the subject and its treatment with what immediately precedes, is the first thing that attracts attention.
The Deuteronomic code, opening with the twelfth chapter, begins with a command addressed to the people to totally destroy idolatry and remove every vestige of it from the land which the Lord their God is giving them as a possession (xii. 2-4). Next follow directions respecting their own place of worship. There is to be but one such place, and the Lord himself will designate it (xii. 5-28). Then comes the present law prohibiting under penalties, the severest known to the Pentateuch, efforts from any quarter to draw away the people into heathenism. In these three phases of the law, together with a later section (xvii. 2-5) on the punishment of Hebrew idolaters, we have what seems intended to be a complete presentation of the subject as well in its positive as its negative side. And it is not easy to see how any code could have more fully met the requirements of the case on the supposition that the Israelitish people are what and where they purport to be. It offers, by far, the most developed form of Pentateuchal legislation on this theme. That of the middle books, notwithstanding the fact that it is supposed to have originated during the Exile, when the popular spirit of opposition to idolatry really culminated, is not only less comprehensive but much less stringent. And what more natural? The gigantic evil against which a struggle, unsuccessful for a full millennium was to be undertaken, now fairly confronted them. Every part of the law breathes the spirit of originality and of initiatory movement. There are two allusions to the exodus from Egypt (vv. 6, 11). The crossing of the Jordan is in immediate prospect; participial forms and the future tense of the verb characterize every reference to the promised land.
On the contrary, there is nothing in the times of King Josiah, eight centuries later, where critics would anchor our code, save his singular zeal for purity of worship, that could suggest the origin of such a statute in his time. He did, it is true, slay on their own altars some priests of the high places of Samaria (II. Kings xxiii. 20); but the history of that period furnishes no occasion for the peculiar specifications of our law touching idolatrous prophets (vv. 2-6); and its form, in other respects, especially in its allusions to Canaanitish neighbors, would have been an anachronism at so late a day. It is universally admitted that the reforms of Josiah were largely inspired and directed by this law. But how is it to be accounted for, unless by the account it gives of itself? On no principle of development could it have been the spontaneous product of the age wherein it wrought so mightily. The reformation in the days of Hezekiah and other earlier kings is also evidence against it. If, however, from the period of the Conquest, it had existed and lain comparatively dormant, but now, when the divided kingdom was hastening to its fall, under the divine Providence it had come to its inherited right and its legitimate influence, the prodigious effects produced may be readily understood. There is many an analogous fact in the history of Christianity. In the vegetable world, too, as is well known, there are plants that reach their bloom only after lengthy periods of seeming unproductiveness. But there is no period when the flower is not present in germ, or that all the energies of the plant are not steadily working towards it.
The next independent law of Deuteronomy relates to the appointment of judges and officers (xvi. 18), "Judges and officers shall ye appoint for yourselves in all your gates.” By “judges,” magistrates seem to be meant, and by “officers," their assistants. In a second passage (xvii. 8–13) it is further enjoined that if these local magistrates find any case brought before them for decision too difficult, they – the judges or elders, not the people — may carry it up to the central place of worship and submit it to the Levitical priests or to the judge, i.l., supreme magistrate who might be ruling in those days; a verdict thus obtained should be irreversible. The law obviously contemplates a settled order of things in the land of Canaan. It does not, however, presuppose it. The cities referred to are those which the Lord their God is on the point of giving them (2013). It shows, no doubt, an advance as it respects the institutions of the wilderness (Ex. xviii. 13-26; cf. Numb. xi. 16, 17, 24-29), but an advance along the same line. The original provision for seventy elders is so extended as to adapt it to circumstances in immediate prospect.
The dignit and the civil power which, up to this time, had inbered in Moses and the high priest are now to be vested in the priests of the central sanctuary and the chief magistrate of the nation.
And this arrangement seems actually to have been carried out, at least in its main features, in the post-Mosaic history, by Joshua (viii. 33, xxiv. I), during the time of the Judges (cf. Ruth iv. 1-9), and in the life of Samuel. It is maintained, however, that in this whole matter our author simply imputes to Moses something that must have originated at a much later day. Even so conservative a critic as Riehm affirms that the existence in his time of a court of appeal is
1 Gesetzgebung Mosis, p. 62; Wörterbuch, s.v. “ Gerichtswesen."