Papyrus Fouad 266, dating to c. 100 BCE, contains part of a Greek translation (Septuagint) of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy (Ancient Greek: Δευτερονόμιον, romanizedDeuteronómion, lit.'second law'; Latin: Liber Deuteronomii)[1] is the fifth book of the Torah (in Judaism), where it is called Devarim (Biblical Hebrew: דְּבָרִים, romanized: Dəḇārīm, lit.'[the] words [of Moses]') and the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament.

Chapters 1–30 of the book consist of three sermons or speeches delivered to the Israelites by Moses on the Plains of Moab, shortly before they enter the Promised Land. The first sermon recounts the forty years of wilderness wanderings which had led to that moment and ended with an exhortation to observe the law. The second sermon reminds the Israelites of the need to follow Yahweh and the laws (or teachings) he has given them, on which their possession of the land depends. The third sermon offers the comfort that, even should the nation of Israel prove unfaithful and so lose the land, with repentance all can be restored.[2]

The final four chapters (31–34) contain the Song of Moses, the Blessing of Moses, and the narratives recounting the passing of the mantle of leadership from Moses to Joshua and, finally, the death of Moses on Mount Nebo.

One of its most significant verses is Deuteronomy 6:4, the Shema Yisrael, which has been described as the definitive statement of Jewish identity for theistic Jews: "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one."[3] Verses 6:4–5 were also quoted by Jesus in Mark 12:28–34 as the Great Commandment.


Patrick D. Miller in his commentary on Deuteronomy suggests that different views of the structure of the book will lead to different views on what it is about.[4] The structure is often described as a series of three speeches or sermons (chapters 1:1–4:43, 4:44–29:1, 29:2–30:20) followed by a number of short appendices[5] or some kind of epilogue (31:1–34:12), consist of commission of Joshua, the song of Moses and the death of Moses.[6]

Other scholars have compared the structure of Deuteronomy with Hittite treaties or other ancient Near Eastern treaty texts. But it is clear that Deuteronomy is not in itself simply the text of a treaty, as Deuteronomy is more than simply applying the secular model of treaty to Israel's relationship with God.[7]

The Ten Commandments (Decalogue) in chapter 5 serve as a blueprint for the rest of the book, as chapters 12-26 are the exposition of the Decalogue, thus the expanded Decalogue.[7]

Commandments Chapters
1–3 12–13
4 14:28–16:17
5 16:18–18:22
6 19:1–21:9
7 22:13–30
8–10 23–26


Moses receiving the Law (top) and reading the Law to the Israelites (bottom)

(The following "literary" outline of Deuteronomy is from John Van Seters;[8] it can be contrasted with Alexander Rofé's "covenantal" analysis in his Deuteronomy: Issues and Interpretation.[9])

The final verses, Deuteronomy 34:10–12, "never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses," make a claim for the authoritative Deuteronomistic view of theology and its insistence that the worship of Yahweh as the sole deity of Israel was the only permissible religion, having been sealed by the greatest of prophets.[10]

Deuteronomic Code

Main article: Deuteronomic Code

Deuteronomy 12–26, the Deuteronomic Code, is the oldest part of the book and the core around which the rest developed.[11] It is a series of mitzvot (commands) to the Israelites regarding how they should conduct themselves in the Promised Land.


Moses viewing the Promised Land, Deuteronomy 34:1–5 (James Tissot)

Composition history

Mosaic authorship of the Torah, the belief that the five books of the Torah – including the Book of Deuteronomy – were dictated by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, is an ancient Jewish tradition that was codified by Maimonides (1135–1204 AD) as the 8th of the 13 Jewish principles of faith.[12] Virtually all modern secular scholars, and most Christian and Jewish scholars, reject the Mosaic authorship of the Book of Deuteronomy and date the book much later, between the 7th and 5th centuries BC.[13] Its authors were probably the Levite caste, collectively referred to as the Deuteronomist, whose economic needs and social status the book reflects.[14] The historical background to the book's composition is currently viewed in the following general terms:[15]

Chapters 12–26, containing the Deuteronomic Code, are the earliest section.[18] Since the idea was first put forward by W. M. L. de Wette in 1805, most scholars have accepted that this portion of the book was composed in Jerusalem in the 7th century BC in the context of religious reforms advanced by King Hezekiah (reigned c. 716–687 BC),[19][20] although some have argued for other dates, such as during the reign of his successor Manasseh (687–643 BC) or even much later, such as during the exilic or postexilic periods (597–332 BC).[13][21] The second prologue (Ch. 5–11) was the next section to be composed, and then the first prologue (Ch. 1–4); the chapters following 26 are similarly layered.[18]

Israel–Judah division

The prophet Isaiah, active in Jerusalem about a century before Josiah, makes no mention of the Exodus, covenants with God, or disobedience to God's laws. In contrast, Isaiah's contemporary Hosea, active in the northern kingdom of Israel, makes frequent references to the Exodus, the wilderness wanderings, a covenant, the danger of foreign gods and the need to worship Yahweh alone. This discrepancy has led scholars to conclude that these traditions behind Deuteronomy have a northern origin.[22] Whether the Deuteronomic Code was written in Josiah's time (late 7th century BC) or earlier is subject to debate, but many of the individual laws are older than the collection itself.[23] The two poems at chapters 32–33 – the Song of Moses and the Blessing of Moses were probably originally independent.[22]

Position in the Hebrew Bible

Deuteronomy occupies a puzzling position in the Bible, linking the story of the Israelites' wanderings in the wilderness to the story of their history in Canaan without quite belonging totally to either. The wilderness story could end quite easily with Numbers, and the story of Joshua's conquests could exist without it, at least at the level of the plot. But in both cases there would be a thematic (theological) element missing. Scholars have given various answers to the problem.[24]

The Deuteronomistic history theory is currently the most popular. Deuteronomy was originally just the law code and covenant, written to cement the religious reforms of Josiah, and later expanded to stand as the introduction to the full history. But there is an older theory, which sees Deuteronomy as belonging to Numbers, and Joshua as a sort of supplement to it. This idea still has supporters, but the mainstream understanding is that Deuteronomy, after becoming the introduction to the history, was later detached from it and included with Genesis–Exodus–Leviticus–Numbers because it already had Moses as its central character. According to this hypothesis, the death of Moses was originally the ending of Numbers, and was simply moved from there to the end of Deuteronomy.[24]



Deuteronomy stresses the uniqueness of God, the need for drastic centralisation of worship, and a concern for the position of the poor and disadvantaged.[25] Its many themes can be organised around the three poles of Israel, Yahweh, and the covenant which binds them together.


The themes of Deuteronomy in relation to Israel are election, faithfulness, obedience, and Yahweh's promise of blessings, all expressed through the covenant: "obedience is not primarily a duty imposed by one party on another, but an expression of covenantal relationship."[26] Yahweh has elected Israel as his special property (Deuteronomy 7:6 and elsewhere),[27] and Moses stresses to the Israelites the need for obedience to God and covenant, and the consequences of unfaithfulness and disobedience.[28] Yet the first several chapters of Deuteronomy are a long retelling of Israel's past disobedience – but also God's gracious care, leading to a long call to Israel to choose life over death and blessing over curse (chapters 7–11).


Deuteronomy's concept of God changed over time. The earliest 7th century layer is monolatrous; not denying the reality of other gods but enforcing only the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem. In the later, Exilic layers from the mid-6th century, especially chapter 4, this becomes monotheism, the idea that only one god exists.[29] God is simultaneously present in the Temple and in heaven – an important and innovative concept called "name theology."[30]

After the review of Israel's history in chapters 1 to 4, there is a restatement of the Ten Commandments in chapter 5. This arrangement of material highlights God's sovereign relationship with Israel prior to the giving of establishment of the Law.[31]


The core of Deuteronomy is the covenant that binds Yahweh and Israel by oaths of fidelity and obedience.[32] God will give Israel blessings of the land, fertility, and prosperity so long as Israel is faithful to God's teaching; disobedience will lead to curses and punishment.[33] But, according to the Deuteronomists, Israel's prime sin is lack of faith, apostasy: contrary to the first and fundamental commandment ("Thou shalt have no other gods before me") the people have entered into relations with other gods.[34]

Dillard and Longman in their Introduction to the Old Testament stress the living nature of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel as a nation: The people of Israel are addressed by Moses as a unity, and their allegiance to the covenant is not one of obeisance, but comes out of a pre-existing relationship between God and Israel, established with Abraham and attested to by the Exodus event, so that the laws of Deuteronomy set the nation of Israel apart, signaling the unique status of the Jewish nation.[35]

The land is God's gift to Israel, and many of the laws, festivals and instructions in Deuteronomy are given in the light of Israel's occupation of the land. Dillard and Longman note that "In 131 of the 167 times the verb "give" occurs in the book, the subject of the action is Yahweh."[36] Deuteronomy makes the Torah the ultimate authority for Israel, one to which even the king is subject.[37]

Judaism's weekly Torah portions in the Book of Deuteronomy

Main article: Weekly Torah portion

Influence on Judaism and Christianity


The Book of Deuteronomy, Debarim. Hebrew with translation into Judeo-Arabic, transcribed in Hebrew letters. From Livorno, 1894 CE. Moroccan Jewish Museum, Casablanca.

Deuteronomy 6:4–5: "Hear, O Israel (shema Yisra'el), the LORD is our God, the LORD is one!" has become the basic credo of Judaism, the Shema Yisrael, and its twice-daily recitation is a mitzvah (religious commandment). It continues, "Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy might"; it has therefore also become identified with the central Jewish concept of the love of God, and the rewards that come as a result.


Main article: Christian views on the Old Covenant

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus cited Deuteronomy 6:5 as a Great Commandment. The earliest Christian authors interpreted Deuteronomy's prophecy of the restoration of Israel as having been fulfilled (or superseded) in Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Christian Church (Luke 1–2, Acts 2–5), and Jesus was interpreted to be the "one (i.e., prophet) like me" predicted by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15 (Acts 3:22–23). While the exact position of Paul the Apostle and Judaism is still debated, a common view is that in place of mitzvah set out in Deuteronomy, Paul the Apostle, drawing on Deuteronomy 30:11–14, claimed that the keeping of the Mosaic covenant was superseded by faith in Jesus and the gospel (the New Covenant).[38]

See also


  1. ^ "Definition of Deuteronomy |". Retrieved 11 March 2023.
  2. ^ Phillips, pp.1–2
  3. ^ Deuteronomy 6:4
  4. ^ Miller, p.10
  5. ^ Christensen, p.211
  6. ^ Woods, Edward J. (2011). Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press. p. 38.
  7. ^ a b Wright, Christopher J. H. (1996). Deuteronomy. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. pp. 4–5.
  8. ^ Van Seters 1998, pp. 15–17.
  9. ^ Rofé, pp.1–4
  10. ^ Tigay, pp.137ff.
  11. ^ Van Seters 1998, p. 16.
  12. ^ Levenson 1993, pp. 63.
  13. ^ a b Stackert 2022, p. 136.
  14. ^ Sommer 2015, p. 18.
  15. ^ Rogerson 2003, pp. 153–154.
  16. ^ McKenzie 1990, p. 1287.
  17. ^ Miller & Hayes 1986, pp. 391–397.
  18. ^ a b Van Seters 2015, pp. 79–82.
  19. ^ Miller & Hayes 1986, pp. 393–394.
  20. ^ Rofé 2002, p. 4–5.
  21. ^ Davies 2013, p. 101-103.
  22. ^ a b Van Seters 1998, p. 17.
  23. ^ Knight, p.66
  24. ^ a b Bandstra, pp.190–191
  25. ^ McConville
  26. ^ Block, p.172
  27. ^ McKenzie, p.266
  28. ^ Bultman, p.135
  29. ^ Romer (1994), p.200-201
  30. ^ McKenzie, p.265
  31. ^ Thompson, Deuteronomy, 112.
  32. ^ Breuggemann, p.53
  33. ^ Laffey, p.337
  34. ^ Phillips, p.8
  35. ^ Dillard & Longman, p.102.
  36. ^ Dillard & Longman, p.117.
  37. ^ Vogt, p.31
  38. ^ McConville, p.24

General and cited references




Book of Deuteronomy Pentateuch Preceded byNumbers Hebrew Bible Succeeded byJoshua ChristianOld Testament