Prof. Edwin C. Bissell
The surprise awakened by recent archaeological discoveries in Assyria and Egypt has left, as yet, little opportunity for gauging their proper scientific and religious value. That they are to be accorded a place of increasing prominence in the province of biblical criticism there can be no doubt. To have, in addition to Moses and the prophets, the testimony of such as have risen from the dead is a favor not granted to every age. The tone of assumption might well grow milder and the hand of violence less hasty in the presence of witnesses like these.
We read with less patience an hypothetical history of Israel dating simply from the period of the judges, with the storehouses of Pithom and their Exodus product, of bricks with straw and bricks without straw, just rising from the dust before us. We spare ourselves the strained attention needful to follow a fine-spun argument designed to prove the barbarity of the Mosaic period, with a voluminous literature in hand reaching back to the patriarch Noah, and representing in developed form every species of composition known to the Bible. We have something tangible with which to resolve, at least to make credible, many a so-called myth of Genesis in the diluvian slabs of our museums, covered with a contemporaneous literature, and artistic seals before us which were worn by gentlemen of Ur of the Chaldees before the days of Abraham. We rise up, in short, from the reading of such a bock as Sayce’s Fresh Light from the Ancient Monuments,1 Schrader’s “Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament,”2 or Hommel’s volumes on “Die Semiten und ihre Bedeutung für die Kulturgeschichte,”3 or the works of Brugseh-Bey and Ebers on Egypt, with the feeling that notwithstanding the scholarly equipment and stubborn confidence of those assailing the historical genuineness of the Pentateuch, its defenders have no occasion to be daunted. As often before, the earth is helping the woman.4 Deductions have been based on a far from complete induction. The goddess Isis is represented on the Egyptian monuments with the crux ansata, or sign of life, in her right hand, and in her left, as a wand, a papyrus stem.5 And who shall say to what honor the humble papyrus leaf and its companion witnesses may yet come in the hands of that Providence which began with the beginning, and will go on with its great purposes to the end of human history?
Moreover, if the course of Old Testament criticism be followed from its inception to the present time a similar impression will be made by no small part of it of inconsequent claims and preposterous conclusions. And to this characterization the Book of Deuteronomy offers no exception. It was English deism that first set afloat the theory that the work was the product of the seventh century, an essential forgery of the subtle priest Hilkiah.6 And for more than a century since there is scarcely an hypothesis from A to Z that has not been inquisitively tried upon it; but only to leave the criticism of to-day as widely divergent as ever in its opinions.
At the beginning of the present century Vater assigned the book to the period of the Exile.7 De Wette, the several editions of whose Introduction to the Old Testament are a literary curiosity in the variety of views they have from time to time represented, finally, like his English predecessor, fixed upon the period of king Josiah as the date of its completion and surreptitious introduction, excepting some minor portions thought to be products of the Assyrian period.8 Stähelin held that the author of Deuteronomy was the same person who worked over the fundamental Elohim document — now called the Priest’s Code — extending through the first four books of the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, and that he brought the whole Hexateuch to its present state during the reign of Saul.9 Bleek10 advocated somewhat similar views, but maintained that Deuteronomy was composed by a later independent editor — not the Jehovist— who closed up his labors with this production about the time of Manasseh. The Song of Moses (32.) was written, he claimed, by some poet of the time of Ahaz or Hezekiah. There was nothing whatever in the book, he averred, or in any part of the Pentateuch, to justify the theory of its composition as late as the Exile. It was, in fact, the whole Hexateuch that was found in the temple by the priest Hilkiah. Movers,11 in an exhaustive monograph, demonstrated the utter groundlessness of the supposition that Deuteronomy was a forgery of king Josiah’s time. Ewald12 was of the opinion that the first thirty chapters of the work were written by some person in the time of Manasseh; the remaining chapters being a composite, but of not much later date. Knobel13 adopted the theory that the author of Deuteronomy (1-31:14) was the one who wrote also a large part of Joshua, and brought the whole Hexateuch to its present state not earlier than the reign of Josiah.
It will be noticed that up to this point the drift of sentiment— a drift it should be called — is almost altogether in the direction of making Deuteronomy the youngest portion of the Pentateuch. It is well represented by Bleek, who says:14 “It may be held as certain that the Deuteronomic laws, together with the addresses they contain, as, indeed, the whole of Deuteronomy from the beginning, was written with reference to the preceding history of the people and the legislation of Moses, and to continue and supplement it. And it is decidedly false to hold with Vater, von Bohlen, Vatke, and George that Deuteronomy with the laws it contains is older than the foregoing books with their legislation.” And yet, to-day, this camp of Bleek and his illustrious compeers— DeWette, Ewald, and others — is confronted by a large body of scholars, marshalled by the latest editor of Bleek’s Introduction, who confidently assert the direct opposite of that so confidently asseverated by these acknowledged masters of Old Testament criticism.
Re-enforced by Graf, Kuenen, Kayser, Wellhausen, and many more, the condemned theory of Vater and Vatke is now in the ascendant. And while the hypothesis of the origin of the Deuteronomic legislation a great while after the age of Moses is retained, it is made, with a slight exception, the introduction to, and not the conclusion of, the Pentateuchal codes; while its historical portions are relegated to that convenient limbo of all otherwise unorganized material, the time of the Exile. Is it a better scholarship, or a sharper critical acumen that has brought about so radical and revolutionary a change of front? We venture to suggest that it is the growing influence of the doctrine of naturalistic development. The fathers of Old Testament criticism held in no mean estimation the sacred Scriptures themselves as something to be considered, reverently studied, deferred to.15 Their sons, it would almost seem, carried away by the subtle but imperious spirit of their time can see nothing, venerate nothing, save their Procustean hypothesis of historical evolution.
Moreover, we find just as little essential harmony among the later scholars as among the earlier; perhaps there is even less of it. They are not agreed on the question whether Deuteronomy is a priestly or a prophetic document; whether it was forged in the time of the early kings or only found then; whether it is essentially a unit in its history and laws, or the historical portions were framed about the laws by some Exilian expert in literary appropriations and adaptations; whether its laws, as now extant, came from one hand or have been considerably modified in their transmission; whether some of the book is Mosaic, by way of oral tradition, or none of it; whether it claims to be from the lawgiver of the Exodus, or makes no such claim; whether, if it be not what it purports to be, it is to be regarded as a gross offence against morality, or one to be readily condoned as simply a legal fiction, in the sense of Roman jurisprudence, and, as we suppose, of Roman morals. In such a state of things there is clearly, as yet, no logical obligation laid upon us to leave the old moorings. There is one thing to be dreaded even more than conservatism, and that is chaos. We accordingly proceed to inquire whether it be not possible on other principles, lying near at hand and scientific in their nature,— using that word in its truest sense and not as a shibboleth,— to reach results before which a candid judgment will readily bow.
First, then, there are abundant, and abundantly satisfactory, grounds for maintaining the literary and material unity of the Book of Deuteronomy. It is a remarkable example of it in its outward form. One might be safely challenged to point to another book of the Bible that is more so. The few verses of introduction are singularly appropriate (1:1–5) and so detailed as it respects dates and places, amounting almost to a species of literary triangulation, that it scarcely offers a choice between a theory of honest history and egregious, not to say impossible, invention. It tells just where the Israelites were when these addresses were uttered, fixing the spot, as I have said, with little less than geometric exactitude by references to half a dozen other places in the neighborhood. It gives the year of the wilderness wanderings, the month, and even the day of the month, in noticeable, though clearly undesigned, coincidence with other important chronological data of the history. The crossing of the Jordan was on the tenth of Abib of the following year (Josh. 4:19). The previous month had been spent in mourning for the departed chief (Deut. 34:8). Hence ten, full, solemn days are left for the delivery of the great discourses of our book. The whole is popular, hortatory, retrospective, and spiritually elevating, nowhere falling below the key struck in the opening announcement: “These are the words which Moses spake unto all Israel.”
The first address (1:6–4:43) is a pertinent review of the salient points in the history of the preceding forty years, especially in its bearing on the present emergency. It looks and points directly forward to the following section, and is logically and indissolubly bound to it by continual and emphatic reference under the title of “this law,” “these statutes” (1:5; 4:1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 14, 44) although being itself, in this part, solely a résumé of well-known historical events. It ends with Moses’ selection of the three trans-Jordanic refuge cities, serving at once as the fulfilment of a promise (Ex. 21:13) and a pledge of heroic faith that their counterparts beyond the flood would also be achieved (Deut. 19:1–13). The entire discourse in its present form might easily have been spoken in half an hour.
The second address (4:44–46.), forming the kernel of the book and a little more than three times as long as the first, occupies itself mostly with a free recapitulation, in popular form, of earlier enactments, but with such modifications and timely additions as prove the hand of the Master.16
The third discourse (27-30. forms as naturally the conclusion of the second as the first had formed its introduction. There the choice of the refuge cities witnessed to the heroic faith of Moses. Here the imposing ceremonial appointed for Ebal and Gerizim proves his moral earnestness and high prerogative as the lawgiver of his people. Secondded now by the elders, and again by the priests and Levites, he sets forth in words that echo and re-echo in every subsequent period of Jewish history the fact that God’s laws have a reverse as well as an obverse side; that the divine covenant was, indeed, a hope and an encouragement, but was also a responsibility and a warning.
Then, in the following chapter (31.), this grand old man, with a touching allusion to his infirmities and approaching death, in the presence of the people impressively passes over into the hands of his successor his great trust, and at the same time delivers with suitable instructions to the priests a copy of what he calls “this law.” Up to this point what could be more obvious than a complete oneness of design and. representation throughout our book. The beginning (1:3, . 5) looks forward to the end; and the end while taking up the very epithets and phrases of the beginning carries on its thought to the only possible climax. It is, in short, the unity of nature, of inward logical dependence and sequence, and no uniformity forced upon it from without. And to this unity the two following chapters (32., 33.) containing Moses’ Song, and Moses’ Blessing, make certainly no interruption. They rather grow out of the circumstances that go before, as the flower from its bud. They are strictly Deuteronomic in the best sense of the word, and fittingly crown the work. And both are documentary claimed as utterances of Moses just prior to his climbing of Nebo on his way to the better Canaan. And finally, the closing sections of the book (34.) by some other sympathetic hand, that tell how Moses died and was buried according to the word of the Lord, and how the people mourned for him, and what they thought of him, form a conclusion for the whole that is as fitting as it is moving and beautiful.
But no less than in its literary structure the Book of Deuteronomy is a unit in its language and style. I am aware how uncertain arguments based on the mere coloring of language have come to be regarded. Undoubtedly too much weight has sometimes been attributed to them. But, in the present case, the fact is so patent that the scholar has little advantage over the unlearned, if he be an observant, reader. Still, the testimony of acknowledged masters in biblical criticism may serve to strengthen the impression which even a cursory reading of the book cannot fail to make.
Of these authorities Bleek deservedly stands among the foremost for candor and scholarship. And it is with a refreshing confidence of tone that he expresses himself on this point:17 “This book in general,” he says, “offers unmistakably a greater unity of representation and of substance than the foregoing. This is true especially of the longer addresses, the didactic, as well as the legislative portions (1-4:40; 4:44–46; 28:30.). These parts are so much alike in language and all characteristic features that we may accept it as certain — and, moreover, there is scarcely any dispute about it — that they were, generally speaking, composed in the form in which they now lie before us by one and the same writer.”
So Dillmann,18 with no less assurance and directness, although writing twenty years later, and from a different point of view: “Deuteronomy is anything rather than an original book of the law. On the contrary, it is a new didactic recommendation and explanation of the old law for the people. Nothing is gained by sundering chaps, 12–26. from the rest of the book; for here, too, there is everywhere manifest the same spirit, the same language, and the same purpose as throughout.”
Delitzsch,19 likewise, while still holding, notwithstanding the separate conclusions that have been drawn from it, the hypothesis of desperate, determinable documents in the Pentateuch, considers that “the style of Deuteronomy marks it off indubitably as something unique and entire in itself.” “Deuteronomy,” he says, “to its close is cast in one mould. The historical connections, conclusions, transitions, statements have the same coloring as the addresses. The addresses are freely reproduced, and the reproducer is identical in person with him who composed the historical framework and the intermediate historical portions. In a similar manner, if in a less degree, this unity of coloring extends through Deuteronomy proper, that is, chaps, 12.-26., containing the repetition of the law. All the constituent parts of the book, not excepting the legislative, are interwoven with expressions favorite with the work and peculiar to it;”
And Kleinert, in his well-known monograph on our book,20 remarks: “The literary peculiarities of the law in Deuteronomy are at the same time peculiarities of the [historical] framework; and precisely the same literary individuality that confronts us in chaps, 5–26. makes itself felt as well in chap, 1.-4., as also in parts subsequent to chap, 27. The same didactic tone, there as here, pervades the discourse.” It is true that Kleinert and the others mentioned support no one view of the origin and date of the work. It is true that their opinions are not uniform as respects its concluding portions. But as against the ipse dixit of current theorists, who have come to assume it as proved that Deuteronomy is simply block-work throughout, where sandstone from the Exile is found side by side with the granite and gneiss of earlier periods, it should be decisive. As well in the strikingly logical arrangement of its everywhere harmonious material as in the confessed coloring of vocabulary and style, the work, in its main features, is a demonstrable unity.
In the second place, it can be confidently maintained that, whoever penned the Book of Deuteronomy as amanuensis or historiographer, if its own clear and continually repeated testimony is to be accepted, Moses is responsible both for its substance and literary form. It does not simply belong to his time; it actually originated with him. It is essentially the product of his divinely illuminated mind, is thoroughly penetrated by his spirit, and in outward arrangement still carries throughout the peculiar individual impression he left upon it. It would surprise one unacquainted with the subject to know how large a portion of the book is put directly into the mouth of the lawgiver, and is represented to be spoken by him. By actual enumeration of verses, it makes fifteen sixteenths of the whole matter. Out of nearly a thousand verses, there are but about sixty that are not in the form of direct address, that is, that do not purport to be the word-for-word utterances of Moses himself. If the first thirty chapters be taken by themselves, the relative disproportion is much more marked; the average of introductory or explanatory material to what remains being only about that of a single verse to a chapter. All of the rest might be included in quotation marks.
It is by no means assumed that Moses was not also the author of a part at least of this subsidiary material. But the attention is now invited to the extraordinary form in which almost the whole book appears. The space required for introducing the speaker, stating the circumstances under which his series of addresses took place, and what occurred after they were over is the least possible, it would seem, for perspicuity. The rest comes under the simple rubric: “These are the words which Moses spake to all Israel” (1:1), or something of that nature. The name of the lawgiver is found thirty seven times in the book, and in the great majority of cases it is introduced with the special purpose of connecting him authoritatively with its matter. The strictly legislative portion (12.—26.) shares this peculiarity equally with the historical; the first person being used without exception. Omitting the last chapter, describing what took place after Moses relinquished his leadership, there are less than half a dozen exceptions to this uniform classification of the contents. Everything else is stamped and sealed, as it were, by such words as, “Moses spoke,” “Moses commanded,” “The Lord said to Moses.” It is a remarkable circumstance, and one which cannot be overlooked or evaded in any worthy discussion of the genuineness of Deuteronomy. If the person to whom we are indebted for the book as we now have it, whoever he may have been, had deliberately set out to place beyond all dispute the question of Mosaic responsibility for its contents, it would be hard to say how he could have stated it more carefully or wisely.
But this is not all. Not only is Moses made responsible for the substance of the book of Deuteronomy, he is equally so for its literary construction and expression. It is declared that he wrote it (31:9, 24), and wrote it “to the end” — an addition of no slight importance. It is true that the term employed is “this law,” “this book of the law.” Still, there ought to be no uncertainty on that account, considering the form in which the work is cast, its own usage as it respects this very term, and the admitted unity of language and style throughout. The whole book up to this point is meant. Moreover, the so-called “Song of Moses” (32.) cannot be excluded. Of this, too, it is said that Moses wrote it at God’s command, and taught it to the children of Israel (31:22). Of the blessing with which it is declared that “Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death,” it is nowhere specifically announced, indeed, that he also composed it and left it in a written form. The circumstances, however, leave scarcely any other inference open. He was not a man to recite another’s composition on such an occasion. And if he thought it needful permanently to shape and fix the foregoing historical and legislative records, and was concerned not to leave them to the uncertainties of oral tradition, he would not think it less needful to do it with this series of predictions, whose fine shading of thought might be still more easily obscured and lost.
In saying now, however, that we have the authority of Deuteronomy that Moses composed and wrote Deuteronomy, we do not say, necessarily, that it teaches that it is actually his autograph; it may or may not be that. The Epistles ascribed to Paul are no less truly his, and were no less certainly written by him, because his own hand was not mechanically employed on many of them. It is simply meant that the Book of Deuteronomy makes the claim that it is Mosaic in its present literary plan and structure; but this is meant. And it is more, and is clearly intended to be more, than saying that the book is substantially Mosaic, gets its authority, under God, from Moses. It means that it was written under his eye, and received his approval as correctly reporting his utterances, which make up almost the whole of it. And it is not without significance that after authoritatively connecting the lawgiver so many times by name with the general contents of the work, and then ascribing to him the writing of it to the end, it is further stated that the book thus completed was by him formally committed to the custody of the Levites for preservation beside the ark (31:24 f.). How in the face of all this circumstantial detail, whose truthfulness as a whole or in any particular there is not the slightest historical ground for questioning, one can still say that Deuteronomy makes no claim to be the work of Moses, it is not easy to understand. Or, admitting that such a claim is made, and so made, as well by implication as direct statement, over and over, in every part, conspicuously, emphatically, one can hold that it is simply for effect, and was never intended to represent a fact, is quite as inexplicable.
Why, it may be asked, if this were the case, is there nowhere discoverable in earlier or later Jewish history the shadow of a tradition that language is here used with so unheard of a license? Is it credible that the whole Jewish race from Moses to Jesus Christ can have conspired to pose before the world in so false a character, and that too in the face of a statute for which mankind is confessedly their debtor: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”? Is it likely that any small portion of it colluded to hoodwink the rest, and succeeded in doing it so far as to make them believe that they themselves had been eye-witnesses of various great events during a long period of years of which they were as ignorant as the man in the moon? “We saw,” says the speaker, — you as well as I, — “the sons of the Anakim” (1:28). “In the wilderness thou didst see how the Lord did bare thee as a man doth bear his son (1:31). “And I instructed Joshua at that time “[mark! Joshua, the man who succeeded Moses],” saying, Thine eyes have seen all that the Lord did to these two kings “(3:21). Again, alluding to specific circumstances, “Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did because of Baal-Peor” (4:3; cf. Num. 25:3). And not only does the writer assume and affirm, but he denies the opposite: “I speak not to your children, who have not known and who have not seen the chastisement of the Lord your God, his greatness, his mighty hand, and his outstretched arm” (9:2). And near the end of the book, as well (29:3–5): “Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes,….the great temptations,….the signs, and those great miracles…..And I have led you forty years in the wilderness.” Four times, and in each of the three leading sections (2:7; 8:4; 29:4), the length of time spent by Israel in the eventful journey from Egypt is alluded to.21 If this be invention, it matters not in what king’s reign, or under what prophetic or priestly sanction it was concocted; its impudence and dishonesty are only equalled by the stupidity of the people that did not discover that it was so, or discovering and knowing it, have never made a sign that they accepted it otherwise than as literal fact.
It is claimed, however, that there are indubitable marks of a later origin stamped on the book itself—anachronisms, contradictions, incidental remarks, geographical, ethnographical, or explanatory — that, whatever else may appear to favor a Mosaic origin, point to a period long subsequent to his day for its composition; at least, for the form in which it now appears. It may be well to consider here these objections, as far as they relate to the historical portions of Deuteronomy,22 before adducing additional reasons in support of Mosaic authorship. Still, let it be understood that it is not regarded as a matter of superlative importance. The fly on the elephant’s back does not detract from the majesty of the elephant.
It may be acknowledged at the outset, without yielding an iota as it concerns the main point at issue, that our book has some scraps of supplementary material; as, for example, to mention the principal one, the twelve verses of the closing chapter. And here and there a remark is thrown in, possibly editorial, or of the nature of what might originally have been a gloss, which, because there was no other place to put it, has found its way into the text. But every such case bears unmistakable witness to itself. There is just as little danger, in our book, of confounding this subsidiary matter with the body of the work as there would be if it appeared in another character, or was printed in a different color. As already noticed, fifteen sixteenths of Deuteronomy is in the form of direct address; the name of the speaker being in every instance given, and being in every instance the same. To cite these exceptions, therefore, as evidence that a fictitious writer of a later day has unwittingly betrayed himself, is to make a simpleton of the writer. Either he meant to conceal his identity, or he did not. If he did, and carelessly dropped into this method of speaking, it was an example of imbecility wholly unworthy of the author of a book like this. If he did not mean to conceal his identity, but to have it understood that he was some writer subsequent to Moses, then he just as certainly meant to have it understood that only for the occasional remarks appearing as such to the dullest intellect is he responsible, and that they are in no sense or degree intended to touch the question of the proper authorship of the book, which in more than a score of cases is directly imputed to Moses.
This supplementary matter, however, it is to be carefully noticed, insignificant as it is in amount, — making up, if we omit the concluding sections, but two per cent of the whole, — is far from being of one character. The most of it is in the form of introductory statements or historical reminiscences, quite pertinent to the context, and differing from it only in the one circumstance that it is expressed in the third person, instead of the first. If it did not originate with Moses, there is no intimation or proof that it did not. The mere fact that he is represented as one spoken of, instead of speaking, — the analogy of other biblical books being the standard, — is wholly unimportant. What is actually given out as spoken by Moses in propria persona could not be so represented without some such narrative portions. It is not the handle of the knife that cuts; but the handle is no unnecessary means in the process. Whether, therefore, Moses is to be directly chargeable with such prefatory remarks as “These are the words which Moses spake (1:1 f.); “This is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel” (4:44); “Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them” (5:1), and some other like things, is only of the slightest consequence in its bearing on the question of the genuineness of Deuteronomy. He surely may have been the author of them for all that anybody knows to the contrary. Inherent improbability arising from their contents and form there is none. But when these parts are subtracted from the one sixteenth of the book not included in addresses positively ascribed to Moses, the residuum is scarcely worth disputing about. It cannot, as already intimated, fairly be made a ground of dispute, if it be agreed that it is of the nature of later editorial additions, but only as it is understood to represent the writer of the book. And then we have the question to settle, Is it of such a character as to misrepresent a Moses of the Exodus?
In the first chapter, for example, the remark in verse 2, “There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir unto Kadesh-barnea”; and in verse 11, “The Lord God of your fathers make you a thousand times as many as ye are, and bless you as he hath promised you,” are obviously parenthetical. The latter may have been uttered by the author of the work; the former is somewhat less likely to have been. Still, even such a remark would not have been without its force on his lips, as showing that a journey of eleven days, about one hundred and sixty-live miles, had been prolonged on account of Israel’s intractableness, to one of many toilsome years. But if any one is disposed to object to such an explanation as forced, let it pass. There is really too little involved to require a discussion. Let it be supposed— it is as fair a supposition as any other — that some later hand, some editor, even as late a one as Ezra, made the addition, as he would no doubt feel that he had a perfect right to do; it would not prove the Book of Deuteronomy Exilian; it would not cast so much as a shadow on its essential authority or genuineness.
Again, at 2:10–12 (cf. vs. 29) the narrative is similarly interrupted by a remark concerning the peoples who had dwelt in Moab before Lot obtained possession, and in vs. 20–23 of those who had previously occupied the land of the Ammonites. These passages, also, may be editorial notes. Their form encourages such an hypothesis. They are quite unique, and even in our English version arc put in parenthesis. In that case they offer direct evidence that the work as a whole has, and by even the cursory reader is assumed to have, a point of view and a course of thought that is peculiarly its own. In other words, as thus regarded, they could not be used as marks for determining the age of the work in which they are found, since they form no real part of it. But there is no imperative necessity for holding them to be later additions.23 Very late additions, it is clear, they cannot be; they imply too exact a geographical knowledge, and the other circumstances are too detailed. Besides, they have an immediate bearing on the thought of the context. If God had driven out many and strong nations before the descendants of Lot, and given them now a permanent possession which was not to be disturbed, would he do less for the descendants of Abraham and Jacob? Whoever wrote these verses had the intention of making the most of a fact encouraging to the Israelites on the eve of the Conquest. Nothing, consequently, could be in closer harmony with the spirit of our book. And then, further, it is not to be forgotten that if Moses had wished to introduce such incidental matter, he was shut up to this method of doing it. Foot-notes were out of the question. Other ancient writers, and those not so ancient as he, like Herodotus, have written in the same way.24
The note in 3:9, “Hermon the Sidonians call Sirion, and the Amorites call it Shenir,” has not the same clear motive underlying it, and may be said to be logically unnecessary to the thought of the context. But when the importance of this mountain as a landmark in Palestine is considered, such a specification of its several names cannot be regarded as altogether superfluous. The question how Moses could have been informed of the facts here stated has been mooted. Since it has come to light, however, that both of these foreign designations of Hermon were well known in the cognate Assyrian tongue,25 it can no longer be regarded as serious. It is also worthy of attention that both of these alternative names for the mountain appear in the later Hebrew literature (Ps. 29:6; Ezek. 27:5; Cant. 4:8; 1 Chron. 5:23).
And so, still further, in the immediate context (vs. 11), what is said of Og’s bedstead or sarcophagus; and, again, of the son of Manasseh (vs. 14), that he called the land he had obtained possession of by his own name “unto this day,” one may explain as he will, the coloring of the passages is most emphatically not such as might have been expected in a work written as late as the seventh century B.C. A critic must be hard pushed to take refuge in such a position. It has, indeed, been objected that there would have been no occasion for calling the attention of Moses’ contemporaries to such particulars concerning the land of Bashan, its king of gigantic stature, and the like. But that is not the point. It was not enough that they already knew these things. Deuteronomy contains, it is to be observed, an important addition beyond the account in Numbers (32:41). It cites the circumstance in order to draw an important lesson from it, as in the case just considered. The sixty so-called cities that had been captured were no easy prey for any marauding bands; they were fortified towns (see vs. 4-5, “fenced with high walls, gates, and bars.”26 The victories had been signal ones. Should not the memory of what God had then wrought on their behalf inspire hope now, when they confronted the problem of conquering a home for themselves beyond the river. Such an allusion, therefore, is no inadvertence. It precisely represents and voices the main purpose of the book.
Nor is there anything in the concluding words “unto this day” that necessitates a different conclusion. It means no more than “so far,” “until now.” Some months, at least, had elapsed since these heroic tasks had been so thoroughly accomplished by the son of Manasseh; and that was time enough to justify this familiar phrase. It is similarly used by contemporaneous writers. “Ye have not left your brethren these many days, unto this day,” said Joshua to the two tribes and a half tribe that had assisted their brethren in their earlier military occupation of Canaan (Josh. 22:3). And subsequently, in reviewing his own life, this second great captain of Israel says to the people whom he had so often led to victory: “But you, no man hath been able to stand before you unto this day” (Josh, 23:9). There is no room for uncertainty in these passages as to the length of time meant to be covered by the words “unto this day.” It is illogical, consequently, to base upon them as used in Deuteronomy an argument for the post-Mosaic origin of the book, even supposing them to be an original and constituent part of it.
Again, it is claimed that the writer of Deuteronomy betrays himself as one impersonating Moses by his peculiar use of the Hebrew words בעבר הירדן, rendered “beyond Jordan,” showing that he writes from the point of view of Palestine proper, and not of the plains of Moab. We submit that it is not the writer of Deuteronomy who betrays himself, but the objector, who puts a quibble in the place of a reason. This expression occurs ten times in our book (1:1, 5; 3:8, 20, 25; 4:41, 46-47,, 49; 11:30), There is not one ease among them that without positive violence and a false exegesis will permit the inference that has been drawn from it. The words mean, taken by themselves, “at the crossing of the Jordan.” Used alone they point neither to the east or the west side. Just what is meant in any given instance is a matter which can be determined only by the context. The writer of this book, in fact, employs the words in the very same passage, intelligibly and with clear intention, to mean now the east and again the west side of the Jordan (3:8, 20). Conscious of the ambiguity of the phrase, he uses it in no single case where misunderstanding might arise that he has not himself guarded against it. He says, “on this side Jordan in the plain over against the Red Sea”; or, “on this side Jordan in the land of Moab”; or, “toward the sun-rising”; or, “by the way where the sun goeth down.” Every passage of the ten is thus rigorously insured against the possibility of error by means of an added explanation, excepting one (3:20), which does not need it. How absurd, in these circumstances, the ado that has been made, and continues to be made, over these words by critics, learned and unlearned, who seem never to have thoroughly examined the connection in which they stand.
Once more, the thread of direct address which prevails in the book is singularly dropped in the tenth chapter (vs. 6-7. Moses is represented as discoursing of what took place at Sinai. The first tables of the law had been broken, the second prepared, and the ten commandments written upon them by the ringer of God. “And I turned about,” he says, “and came down from the mount, and put the tables in the ark which I had made; and there they are, as the Lord commanded me.” Upon this follow two verses in the narrative form, relating to certain journeys of the Israelites in the wilderness and Aaron’s death, — events that occurred many years later, the latter nearly forty years afterward, — from which the speaker just as suddenly goes back to the first person again, and to what happened at Sinai. The thought is as closely connected in verses five and eight as though there had been no diversion. It looks like what would be called in geology a fault, a displacement of material. Still, it may not be so. Reasons of more or less pertinence have been given why Moses himself might have intentionally digressed in this way. But for our purpose it is enough to notice that the digression does not reach beyond the Mosaic age. There is nothing in it to suggest the tampering of a later hand. If it be out of place, it is not out of character. If it be a fragment, it is to all appearance a fragment of Deuteronomy, and bears the marks of the period of the Exodus.27
Finally, the so-called “Blessing of Moses” (33:1–29), although introduced as from him, as we have already noticed, is denied to be his, because Moses, it is said, would never have styled himself the “man of God,” as the title designates him. This, however, is not so certain. He surely might have done so without presumption. It is simply the name of an office, and the very same that elsewhere in this book Moses claims for himself, when he says: “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you like to me” (18:15). Still, suppose that Moses did not write the title of the poem, it would not follow that the poem is not his, as somebody in the ancient time — everybody, as far as we know — affirms that it is. There is nothing that appears from the simple reading of it that should lead an unbiased mind to a contrary conclusion. And Volck, one of the editors of the later editions of Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon, who has written an exhaustive and masterly monograph of nearly two hundred octavo pages on its less than thirty verses, reaches the conclusion that there is nothing in the poem itself to justify the calling in question the correctness of its title.28
These, now, are the anachronisms, contradictions, geographical and ethnographical remarks which, as far as the historical portions of Deuteronomy are concerned, have been so much magnified by recent critics as furnishing positive evidence of the post-Mosaic origin of the book. I am not aware that there are others of any significance. How far from overpowering in quantity do they appear beside the thirty chapters of solid matter in the midst of which they stand! And in quality they are even more disappointing. They are admitted to be exceptions to the ruling form of the book; but they do not give the response to adequate tests which they have been said to give and been counted on to give. We fail to find in one of them any indications, open or covert, that the book of which they form a part is the product of Hezekiah’s reforms or Hilkiah’s finesse. Most of them are but loosely attached to the text at best. If they were taken bodily out of it, the book would be still left complete in all its essential features. Let them be looked upon either as instances where the writer forgot himself, and unconsciously assumed his real character, — a supposition totally out of harmony with their nature, — or as later editorial supplements and superfluities, there is nothing in either case to justify the enormous conclusions that have been drawn from them. They are quite of the same stock as the body of the book. The writer or writers of them move in the same circle of ideas that rule throughout, wear the rough garments of the Israelitish wanderers, speak the dialect of the recent slaves of Egypt. Whatever, in short, any supposed later writer or compiler may be thought to have overlooked in the form of the book to make it appear outwardly other than Mosaic gives no shred of encouragement to the theory that it belongs to a later age, after Joshua, after Samuel, after David, after the earthquake throes that divided the kingdom, after the reforms of an Asa or the pestilential wickedness of an Ahaz or a Manasseh. The positive evidence, as far as any exists, points uniformly in one direction; and the negative evidence, if so it may be called, does not disprove, but confirms it.
Suppose the book were a composition of the royal period, as it has become largely the mode to affirm, or a mosaic out of different periods, none of them as early as David, and that the ecclesiastical enthusiast who wrote it or edited it actually sometimes forgot his rôle, as it has been asserted the Deuteronomist has done. Would he have left the traces of it that we find in our work? What strange threads of history rather, what bits of experience unknown to the beginnings of national life, what reminiscences of sacred places, what possible and every way probable coloring of sentiment, like that which makes the Psalter a mirror of Israel’s inner being, might have been confidently expected in place of the limited range and uniform tenor of the matter we actually find?29
Let us select, for example, a single prominent feature of Deuteronomy. If it have one, it is the emphasis it lays on the place of worship for Israel — that it is to be one, the one which the Lord their God should choose for them. Nearly twenty times within the space of a few chapters this matter is insisted on, without deviation in form or relaxation from its iron firmness of command. “Unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither shalt thou come” (12:5). The cultus of God was to be confined to a central shrine. The idolatrous and deadly worship on the “heights” was to be relentlessly rooted out. The writer, it is claimed now, had his eye on Jerusalem. He must have had, if he were Hilkiah or any protégé of Hezekiah. Not only was his eye upon it, but his heart was full of it, and a leading purpose of his work was to discourage worship at any other point; nay, to brand it as a positive transgression of a reiterated law of Jehovah by the mouth of his greatest legislator. And yet he never gets beyond this form of words, “unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes.” He uses it with the history of the Israelitish cultus for more than half a millennium before him. He knew of the sad degeneracy of the times next succeeding Joshua; of the falseness of Eli’s anointed sons; of Samuel’s heroic breasting of an evil tide; the full story of the ark in its wanderings from Gilgal to Shiloh and from Shiloh to Kirjath-jearim, its honors and its neglect, until David brought it, with psalms of rejoicing, to its present place on Mount Zion. He knew of the temple of Solomon and its memorable dedication in the presence of a united and happy people. He knew — the writer of a Deuteronomy of the seventh century must have known — of the civil conflicts that succeeded Solomon’s reign; of the divisive efforts of a Jeroboam the son of Nebat; of the high-handed idolatry at Bethel and Beersheba; of the luxurious Samaria of Jeroboam II.; of Asa’s reforms, and Elijah’s challenge to Baal’s priests, and Jezebel’s cruelty, and the heathenish Syrian altar of Ahaz in the temple court. And knowing it, we can judge from the spirit that rules in his work what he thought about it all — how keenly sensitive it made him to the desperate woes of his countrymen and the dishonor to his God. And still it is claimed that he wrote so repeatedly and so tamely, “unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes….shall ye seek.” It is neither the sentiment nor the form of sentiment that we might have expected in view of such a history. It is quite too general and too lax. The evil Jeroboam might have claimed it as meaning his altar, as well as the good Jehosaphat. It is conceived in far too calm and too colorless a spirit. It implies a unity where there is already hot dissension and every sign of wild anarchy for the time to come. It is psychologically impossible, in short, that a man in the midst of the antagonisms of the later day, given a priest or prophet of whatever unparalleled nerve or adroitness, could have expressed himself in the manner the writer of Deuteronomy has done on the subject of divine worship.
Moreover, let it be remembered that, according to the theory, the book is to no slight extent an invention. The writer was bound to no method, was at liberty to manipulate material or manufacture it to suit his purpose. Why, then, is there nowhere a hint of such a place as Jerusalem, much less of its already historic sanctuary? His chief object, it is alleged, was to give the temple cultus the advantage of the oldest and the highest authority. How is it conceivable, in these circumstances, that he should not only use so equivocal an expression as “the place which the Lord your God shall choose,” but keep the precise place he meant, the cynosure of mind and heart, so completely out of view? More than this, his representations are misleading, on any such hypothesis, and Jerusalem is the last place that would be thought of. One would rather think of Jericho, where the first great victory in the promised land was won; or Mount Nebo, where the “man of God” was buried, distant and inaccessible though it might have been regarded at any time after the division of Canaan; above all, of Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, now within the domain of the dreaded Sargon, who had captured Samaria. These mountains occupied the geographical centre of the land. The region had long before been honored in patriarchal, as it has long since in Christian, story. It is also represented as about to be the scene of a public celebration and attestation of this very Deuteronomic code, otherwise unexampled in the annals of the people. I submit that, if the writer of this so-called Fifth Book of Moses had Mount Zion in his secret thought, he would never have so hallowed and glorified the mountains Ebal and Gerizim, and made them as conspicuous in his work as they are in the landscape of the Holy Land. It would prove a clumsiness of literary execution with which so deft a hand cannot be charged.
In this connection, too, attention should be called to another quite as serious oversight of our critics in their hunt for evidence of the late origin of Deuteronomy. It is the freshness of the peculiar character of its Egyptian reminiscences, together with the entire absence of allusion, near or remote, to the Assyrian power. It might, indeed, be said to be designed — the chosen covering under which a clever hand wrought to accomplish the highest moral ends. But if it be a covering, it is one which a really clever hand would not at all have needed, and which a devout hand would never have chosen or allowed. It is obvious here, too, that there are psychological grounds, reasons existing in the nature of things, making the authorship of such a work after the recovery of Assyria (B.C. 900) and the accession of Shalmaneser 2:(B.C. 858), wholly incomprehensible. If it be difficult to conceive of a writer under the shadow of the temple, and for the sake of it, ignoring Jerusalem while making prominent Ebal and its altar, it is no less so to think of one making everything of Egypt, when, were he a real son of his time, in sympathy with what Hebrew poets and seers are saying, he should be making everything of Assyria; at least, should find it impossible to be so completely oblivious of the empire before which Micah saw Zion “ploughed as a field,” Jerusalem “become heaps,” and the “mountain of the house as the heights of the wood” (3:12). Egypt was politically a nonentity in the period between the middle of the tenth and the close of the eighth century B.C. Sunk in corruptions, it fell an easy prey to the hordes of the Ethiopian conqueror Shabak, the So of the biblical books (2 Kings 19:9; cf. Isa. 37:9). Under Psammetichus I., in the seventh century (B.C. 664), it reached again a moderate pitch of commercial prosperity, but never regained its former military strength. In fact, after the time of Rehoboam the successor of Solomon, when Shishak successfully besieged Jerusalem (1 Kings 14:25), the kingdoms of Judah and Israel had as little to hope as to fear from the once formidable neighbor of the south. Sentinels on their watch-towers were facing in quite another direction.
It is the Egypt of Sethos L, Rameses 1. and II., and of Menephthes that has left its indelible impression on the Pentateuch. The nearly twoscore references to it by name in the Book of Deuteronomy alone are of unmistakable significance. In eleven only of the thirty-four chapters do we fail to find them. They abound equally in every part — laws as well as history. More than half the references are to Israel’s deliverance and the signal manner of it. The next largest number are to the wonders wrought upon Pharaoh. Others are to the fact of the hard servitude, the homelessness, and the oppression of Israel. Four make mention of what kind of a land Egypt had been found, its evil diseases, and its methods of agriculture. Could anything, for example, be more true to nature or more picturesque than this: “For the land of which thou goest to take possession is not like the land of Egypt, whence ye are come out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot as a garden of herbs” (9:10)? Two passages make tender allusion to the circumstances that attended the going of Jacob into Egypt, and two contain terrifying ones to a possible future thraldom there. How abundant this testimony, and how inexplicable on the supposition that our book was written at any time between the reign of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and the reforms of king Josiah? Moreover, it is of one uniform character. Selected out, a shred here and a shred there, from the entire web, there is no dissimilarity of color or texture. It is a Shemitic fabric, woven thick with threads of Egyptian memories.
Suppose that this book, now, or any considerable part of it, had been written at the time when Hezekiah took away the high places with their altars, and commanded that worship should be paid at one altar (2 Chron. 32:12), or when the more marked reforms that synchronize with the beginning of Jeremiah’s prophecies were begun. Not only would such incidental references to Egypt, in their numerousness and in their coloring of by-gone days, surprise and baffle us, but, as we have said, not less the seeming utter obliviousness of the empire of the North. The monuments fully confirm what the biblical books had long ago more than led us to infer, that for the children of Israel in Palestine, at least after the beginning of the tenth century, the antagonistic world-empire lay no longer on the Nile, but on the Tigris and the Euphrates. There is scarcely a king from Ahab down who did not find himself harassed with problems that concerned Assyria or its no less mighty successor at Babylon. Whatever reforms of the cultus or the civil polity were called for in all this period we may be sure got somewhat of their motive from the hope that thus a successful barrier might be raised against this dreaded despotism. Jehu’s ambassadors bearing gifts figure on the marble obelisks of Shalmanezer (b.c. 810-781). Uzziah was punished and fined by Tiglath Pileser 2:(B.C. 723) for his temerity in joining the Syrians against him. Ahaz, at first an ally, afterwards became an obsequious slave of the same power. Samaria was reduced, and its king and people led away to exile (b.c. 722). Hezekiah, like his father, paid the hated tax which purchased him immunity from worse inflictions. Next to the escape from Egypt there was, perhaps, no event that made a deeper impression on the Hebrew mind and literature than the precipitous retreat of Sennacherib, in this same king’s reign, mysteriously smitten by the Providence he had defied. So too Esar-haddon (B.C. 670), Assurbanipal (b.c. 668), and Esar-haddon II., whose reigns reach to the utmost limit of the period that by the wildest criticism could be assigned to the essential portions of Deuteronomy, were all of them more or less concerned with the now broken and scattered Israel and the ever waning political fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem. In the mean time Tyre and Sidon, Phoenicia, Philistia, and Edom had been successively subjugated, the whole of the Nile region overrun; and the lordly potentate of the North added to his other titles, “king of the kings of Egypt and Gush.”
What vestige of all this do we find in Deuteronomy? What one word of Assyria and its influence to offset the nearly forty references to the Egypt of Joseph and Moses and the Exodus? Judging from the confidence with which our book is assigned to this or that era of reform among the kings of the Assyrian period, one might reasonably expect some definite evidence that it knew of these mighty monarchs and their overwhelming influence on the people of Palestine and adjacent lands—that the Assyria of the prophets and historical books really came into its field of vision. There is no such evidence. There is a single allusion, at the close of the Deuteronomic legislation (Deut. 26:5), to the Shemitic origin of Israel, sufficient to show that the author was not blind in one eye, that the country that had been the early home of his people was not a total blank in his mind; but in other respects it is of a nature to show that he was wholly ignorant of the sweeping changes that between the period of the Exodus and the fall of Samaria had there occurred: “A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there with a few.” How differently must he have spoken if his vision had been filled with the scenes that floated before the prophetic eye of an Hosea or Isaiah! The human mind, indeed, is capable of abstracting itself from its surroundings. Rapt enthusiasts in science or art have sometimes been known to pursue apparently undisturbed the objects of their devotion, while sword and flame were wasting about them. But such a man the tender and sympathetic writer of Deuteronomy was not. The highest patriotism burns in his every utterance. His country’s illumined history, her divinely sanctioned laws, her past, and still more inviting future — these are his undeviating theme. The book before us, in short, as the product of a patriotic Jewish pen in the midst of the political convulsions of the Assyrian period would be a literary monstrum, a psychological contradiction. The elements are wanting that could have produced it; the elemerits are present that, as surely as the action of chemical contrarieties, would have made it impossible.
And this leads, in conclusion, to some reflections on the spirit that rules in Deuteronomy and other outstanding, characteristic moral features that are as universal as they are apparently undesigned. There is nothing that witnesses more directly or cogently to its genuineness; they precisely fit the theory of Mosaic origin; they are practically inexplicable on any other. And first, it is noticeable that the spirit of our book is at the farthest remove from one of reserve. It is as ingenuous and open as the day. It moves unembarrassed and with an appearance of the greatest familiarity amongst the grandest factors and forces of the early Israelitish history. It follows no beaten track. It knows the story of Exodus and Numbers; but it is independent of it, shaping the rich material in a way peculiar to itself. It puts its hand upon the sacred code of Sinai, even that central portion and glory of it which was written in stone by the finger of God; assuming the right and claiming the prerogative of giving it an altered form. A bold spirit it must be acknowledged to be. If it were not Moses, it could not have acted with more supremacy of knowledge or apparent consciousness of authority if it had been he, Things are taken for granted which a romancer would have been careful to fortify with arguments. Statements are volunteered which prudence would have led him to keep back. Matters are passed over in silence which a secret anxiety must have led him to divulge and expatiate upon. Infinitely touching things are said, and in a manner that is no less touching. Solemn judgments, promises of unheard of good are uttered in the character of one who spoke from God and with God. Prophets there were many in Israel. If this representation be correct, here was the prophet of the old economy. Others saw visions and dreamed dreams; he spoke face to face with God, and was deemed worthy of honors never claimed for an Amos or an Isaiah. Somebody adds, in the closing section of the book, “There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses.” On its face it is a later addition, like the rest of the chapter. But it is the “amen” that confirms the letter of the history or the self-praise that seals the counterfeit.
The countenance of Moses, it is said, shone with the radiance of the divine presence. He had great privileges; but he had also great responsibilities and trying ordeals. Heaven honored his intercessions with signal deliverances; but Heaven punished his sin with a visitation so severe that nothing could better serve to magnify the law and make it honorable. The promised land he might not set his foot upon; and yet God comforted him, and God buried him. A paradox truly, but only on the hypothesis of unreality? Without an army, without the restraints of established customs and regular occupations, by the sheer force of his goodness, his disinterestedness, his supreme patience, and the favor of God, he led, as a father, for forty years, the most intractable and obstinate of peoples. The intrigues of his own family neither disheartened nor angered him.
Alive as few others to the demands of even-handed justice, having for his great task the training of a people in the arts of war as well as of peace in a rude age, it is still the law of love to God as a rule of conduct on which he everywhere chiefly insists. Five several times he returns to it (Deut. 6:4 f.; 10:12; 11:13; 30:6, 20) with emphatic reiteration; and the aged John, who of all the apostles perhaps drank in most of the spirit of the gospel, but echoes in his farewell letter the farewell message of the great lawgiver of the wilderness, “He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him “(1 John 4:16). Strangers, widows, and the fatherless were his especial charge (10:18; 14:29; 16:11; 24:17, 19; 26:12), another Israel within Israel. Recognizing that higher truth of Paul, that the written law is not made for a righteous man (1 Tim. 1:9), his point of view throughout is superior to the code he so rigorously lays down. He commands, for example, that the poor brother shall be relieved. “Thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand,” he says, “from thy poor brother.” But beyond this point, where mere human law must stop short, he goes on to say: “And thy heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him” (Deut. 15:10). He enjoins upon masters that they load their departing slaves with gifts and rewards: “Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock and out of thy floor and out of thy wine-press.” But it is no injunction, it is a moving entreaty, when he adds: “It shall not seem hard unto thee when thou sendest him away free from thee” (Deut. 15:10, 18). If this be invention, the inventor meant it should be received as fact, as indeed it was, and ever gratefully has been. It is that alone which has given the book all the authority and all the power for good it has ever had. But if it be invention, the effrontery and real falsensess of the invention is only equalled by its spiritual beauty and ideal truth. If it be invention, the discovery to the world of the mysterious inventor, who combined within himself qualities so exceptionally excellent with those so exceptionally otherwise, might be some compensation for the loss from sacred history of such a character and career as that of the Moses of the Exodus.
The Book of Deuteronomy is distinctly based on the presumption that the man whom it makes its hero has an important history behind him. It everywhere implies, in fact, something answering to what we learn of Moses in the middle books of the Pentateuch. Without this previous history the representation of him is not simply a torso, it is the barest fragment of a full-sized figure. The period that the narrative covers is only the few hurried days preceding the passage of the Jordan. Moses appears upon the scene as already an old man whose work is virtually over. He wears, indeed, accustomed honors; exercises still, with undiminished zeal, a shepherd’s care for his people; but we are never suffered to forget that we are listening to parting words, and looking upon one of the most solemn of farewells.
The book opens with a significant reference to the fortieth year, expecting the reader, without explanation, to understand what is meant by it. The entire matter, unlike that of any other book of the five, is of a purely subjective cast. The ecclesiastical and theocratical nomenclature of Leviticus and Numbers has disappeared along with the topics on which it was employed. It is the people who are addressed, and on civil and social themes; but a people called of God, and all whose institutions are to be fashioned with chief reference to his claim. Ethical precepts are those chiefly emphasized. The Lord their God is God of gods and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty and a terrible, who regardeth not persons nor taketh reward. He executeth judgment for the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, giving him food and raiment (10:17-18.
The ten commandments furnish the key-note and starting-point of all the Deuteronomic laws. Their affinity is naturally with the Sinaitic code, rather than with the priestly regulations of the middle books. Of both Moses professes to have been the mediator (4:5, 10). He is apparently not insensible to the difficulties that such a claim involves, and is equally ready to confess his limitations, infirmities, and sins. He does not hesitate to set in the boldest relief the miraculous nature of Jehovah’s dealings with his covenant people. “Did ever a people,” he asks, “hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?” But he hesitates just as little, with all his brooding tenderness of feeling, to charge that favored people to their faces with rebellion, with weak defection, and despicable cowardice, with stiff-neckedness and hard-hearted-ness since he had known them (1:26, 31, 43; 6:16; 9:6, 22, 24). Not for their sakes, but for the fathers’ sakes were they chosen (9:15), and in all that “great and terrible wilderness “had there been folded about them the everlasting arms.
Would such sentiments have been calculated to recommend, a book calling for the sweeping reforms of this to the men. of the later day? The sudden lapse from efforts at betterment when the outward pressure ceased shows in the midst of what a fearful current of opposition the revivals of Hezekiah and Josiah had been begun.
Lessons from the past alternate throughout with solemn admonitions for the future. The Bible furnishes few examples of warnings which in melting pathos or awful power equal those of this book (cf. 28.). It does not surprise us that the rabbins of a later day named it the “Book of Admonitions.” The possibility and fear, rising in some places to prophetic conviction, that the Israel of Red Sea deliverances and of Sinai would yet one day lapse from its high privilege, and lose sight for a time of its predestined goal, dominate like a trumpet-tone beginning, middle, and end of this series of discourses. It is for this reason, among others, that the fourteen chapters of legislation, whose faithful observance was meant to prevent the day of calamity, are flanked by Ebal and Gerizim. That imposing ceremonial should be forever afterward a solemn and restraining memory (xi. 29; xxvii.).
For this reason, too, the heroic leader desires to be with his people as long as possible. How much of the Book of Deuteronomy might have been unknown to us, or have appeared in quite another form, had he been able to complete in person the conquests of which the forty years of seemingly aimless wanderings and his sin had robbed him! His wish in the matter he makes no effort to conceal. Again and again he speaks of it in words that tremble with suppressed emotion. It had been made the subject of earnest petition (4:23–29). “I must die,” he says, “in this land. I may not go over Jordan. But ye will go over to possess that good land” (4:22). Moreover, there is but one sole reason given for the deprivation. The Lord was angry with him because he had failed to be as patient with them, his people, as he might have been (4:21). At the close of the book the subject is introduced in connection with Moses’ age and infirmities: “He said unto them, I am a hundred and twenty years old this day. I can no more go out and come in. Also the Lord hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.” How rare an opportunity for the writer of the book, if he had so desired, to clear his hero of the almost only stain that rested on his great career, to suggest that it was physical infirmities that unfitted him to brave the hardships of a campaign in Canaan! A few slight changes, and what a different and, as it might be thought, far more natural and worthy conclusion might we have had for this great man’s life! To die as Jacob did, for example, comforted by the ministry of loving hands. His faults were venial, compared with Jacob’s. From a literary point of view it was as unskilful as from the point of view of ordinary demerit unkind, to make that one peccadillo of years gone by stand out so conspicuously here at the close and climax of his life. But it is like the Bible always to show its preference for candor over simple literary effect and finish.
This is no romance. We recognize the force of resistless truth. It is charged with a spirit before which we unhesitatingly bow. Every mountain altitude has its peculiar flora and fauna. It would be in vain to seek to convince a botanist that certain plants were found flourishing on the summit of Mount Washington. Occular proof would not be needful to convince him of the contrary. The impossibility would be in the nature of things. And there are spiritual elevations to which finesse and falsity are of necessity strangers. The plane on which the whole Book of Deuteronomy moves is one of these moral uplands. It begins with the sublimities of Sinai, and ends with the inimitable solemnities of Nebo and Pisgah. It is no effort at historiography interjected with pious expressions, as some critics30 represent the later biblical narratives to be. It is in web and woof sacred history, narrated, as it was enacted, under the eye of God.
1) The Religious Tract Society (London, 1884). This author remarks (Preface, p. 3): “The same spirit of scepticism which had rejected the early leg-ends of Greece and Rome had laid its hands on the Old Testament, and had determined that the sacred histories themselves were but a collection of myths and fables. But suddenly, as with the wand of a magician, the ancient eastern world has been re-awakened to life by the spade of the explorer and the patient skill of the decipherer, and now we find ourselves in the presence of monuments which bear the names or recount the deeds of the heroes of Scripture. One by one these ‘stones crying out’ have been examined or more perfectly explained, while others of equal importance are being continually added to them.”
2) Leipsic, 1881, 2te Aufl., 1883.
3) Leipsic, from 1881.
4) Rev. 12:16.
5) Wilson, The Egypt of the. Fast (London, 1881), p. 15.
6) Parvish, Inquiry into the Jewish and Christian Revelation (London, 1739), p. 324.
7) Com. über den Pent. (1805), Vol. 3:pp. 391-728.
8) Einleit., Achte Ausgabe, p. 323.
9) Studien und Kritiken (1835), p. 462 f.; Specielle Einleit. (1862), pp. 22-34.
10) Einleit (1878), p. 105 f.
11) Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie, 1834, 1835.
12) Geschiehte d. Volkes Is. (1843, 3te Aufl. 1864), 1:96 f. et passim.
13) Commentar (Kurzgefasstes exeget. Handbueh zum A.T., 1861), p. 579 f.
14) Einleit., ibid., p. 107.
15) De Wette’s remark (as quoted by Kleinert, Das Deuteronomium, p. 3): “I did not begin the criticism. Now that it has begun its dangerous game, it must be played through; for only that is good which is perfect of its kind,” is reverence itself compared with some of Wellhausen’s utterances.
16) Delitzsch (Curtiss, Levitical Priests, Preface, p. 9) with his usual sagacity has noted this fact, and speaks of the “psychological truth” of these “testamentary addresses, the freshness and richness of the Egyptian reminiscences, the freedom with which the author reproduces historical incidents, laws, and above all, the Decalogue, a freedom which is scarcely conceivable except on the supposition that the speaker was the lawgiver himself.”
17) Einleit., p. 106.
18) Die Bücher Ex. u. Levit (Kurzgefasstes Handbuch), Vorwort pp. vii, viii.
19) Zeitschrift für Kirchliche Wissenschaft, etc. (1880), p. 504
20) Das Deuteronomium, p. 160.
21) It is true that elsewhere a whole generation is said to have fallen in the wilderness (cf. Num. 26:64-65. It was, however, only the males over twenty years of age who had been put under the ban (Num. 1:3, 45, 49). The Levites had been exempt as well as the women and youth. So that the congregation was still identical with that which left Egypt.
22) The laws have been examined in previous articles. See Bibliotheca Sacra for Oct. 1883, and for January of this year.
23) The perfects in the last part of verse 12 may easily enough be prophetic-perfects, and there is no in appropriateness in the way of speaking in verse 22 of the children of Esau in Moses’ time as dwelling in Seir, עד היום הזה. Sime offers another explanation, referring the “land of his possession” to the conquests that had already been made east of the Jordan. “The contexts proves the accuracy of this rendering. ‘Behold’ it is said a few lines afterwards (Deut. 2:24), ‘I have given into thine hand Sihon the Amoritc, king of Heshbon, and his land, begin, possess.’ The beginning of the conquest is the point insisted on by the writer of Deuteronomy, not its completion, of which he could’ have known nothing.”—The Kingdom of All Israel, p. 438.
24) In Chap. 125: Book 1 (See Rawlinson’s Herod., Vol. 1:p. 248 f.), for example, a case quite similar to ours is found, where a narrative concerning Cyrus I is broken in upon by a description of the different tribes that made up the Persian nation. “Now the Persian nation is made up of many tribes. Those which Cyrus assembled and persuaded to revolt from the Medes were the principal ones on which all the others depended. These are the Pasargadae, the Maraphians, and the Maspians, of whom the Pasargadae are the noblest.”
25) Schrader, Keilinschriften, etc., p. 158 f.
26) In view of what modern research has brought to light concerning these giant cities of Bashan, we are not only not surprised at such a reminiscence from the lips of Moses, but rather that he passes over the matter with only a slight reminiscence. Cf. Porter, Five Years in Damascus (London, 1855); Giant Cities of Bashan and Syria’s Holy Places (London, 1860); Burton and Drake, Unexplored Syria (London, 1872). The difficulty that in Deuteronomy, Jair alone is mentioned as the conqueror and possessor of Bashan, while in Numbers Nobah is made to share it with him, and the apparent discrepancy in the number of cities are explained, among other things, by Kurtz, — History of the Old Covenant (Phila. 1859), 3:467.
27) The list of places to and from which the journeyings are here said to have been made are, in general, the same as those found in Numbers (33:30–33); but they differ somewhat in their spelling, and are given in a different order. It is not to be forgotten, however, that the Israelites traversed the same ground more than once, and in different directions.
28) Der Segen Mose’s Untersucht und Ausgelegt (Erlangen, 1873). Cf. pp. 154-160.
29) “Vast changes took place in Israel during the eight centuries which preceded the supposed forgery. A fugitive host of foemen entered and conquered Palestine, divided the country among them, and then for four centuries fought for existence as separate warring tribes. From being a republic, Israel became a limited monarchy. Kings took the place of judges, and one of them made the Hebrew State the first empire of his age. Under another, the kingdom so painfully raised to greatness was split in two, weakened by civil strife, and preyed on by powerful neighbors. At last the larger of the two fragments, after losing towns and provinces to Damascus, Moab, and Amnion, was itself repeatedly wasted, and then overwhelmed by the power of Assyria. Literature was- cultivated among the Hebrews during these eight centuries. Changes, very striking to the imagination, took place in their worship and in their art of war. But of all these things there is not one word or one hint in Deuteronomy. If it be a true history, it could not contain references to them. If it be a forgery, no man could have written it without in some way or another showing his hand.” — Sime, Ibid., pp. 415, 416.
30) Wellhausen, Geschichte, 1. pp 340, 309.