Archive for the ‘Old Testament Studies’ Category

Recently, my professor had everyone in my Ezekiel class read this helpful article describing parameters for identifying a) an inner-biblical allusion and b) the direction of dependence of that inner-biblical allusion. The scholarly community has demonstrated quite a bit of interest in the particular field of inner-biblical allusion. From my understanding, their interest extends beyond the OT into the Second Temple literature and the NT as well. Leonard’s criteria seems to apply to the OT best from my reading of his article (I would love anyone’s thoughts on how one would identify inner-biblical allusion in the NT).

He gives 8 guidelines:

1. Shared language is the single most important factor in establishing a textual connection. I think this is pretty self-explanatory. If one text is going to allude to another, the texts need to possess the same (or similar) lexemes in order to indicate that allusion.

2. Shared language is more important than non-shared language. If the texts do not share significant terms or phrases but not all of the same terms or phrases, the terms or phrases that are not shared do not  have much impact on the possibility of an inner-biblical allusion.

3. Shared language that is rare or distinctive suggests a stronger connection than does language that is widely used. Again, fairly self-explanatory. The rarer the terms or phrases, the higher the probability of an allusion.

4. Shared phrases suggest a stronger connection than do individual shared terms. Establishing an allusion based on a couple of shared terms can be tenuous.

5. The accumulation of shared language suggests a stronger connection than does a single shared term or phrase. The more shared language, the better.

6. Shared language in similar contexts suggests a stronger connection than does shared language alone. The probability of that one text is alluding to another increases if the two contexts are talking about the same thing using the same language.

7. Shared language need not be accompanied by shared ideology to establish a connection. With #6 in mind, that being said, authors bring their own ideas and purposes to the text. Therefore, the language from text A alluded to in text B may serve another purpose in text B than it did in text A.

8. Shared language need not be accompanied by shared form to establish a connection. E.g. A psalm can allude to a narrative in the Pentateuch.

After laying out all these guidelines, Leonard stresses that just like Textual Criticism, establishing an inner-biblical allusion is as much an art as it is a science. Thus, no magic method exists to determine a connection.

He provides 6 criteria for establishing which text is dependent on the other:

1. Does one text claim to draw on another?

2. Are there elements in the texts that help fix their dates?

3. Is one text capable of producing the other?

4 .Does one text assume the other?

5. Does one text show a general pattern of dependence on other texts?

6. Are there rhetorical patterns in the texts that suggest that one text has used the other in an exegetically significant way?

I still have a few questions:

1. While shared language is the most important criteria, I think that exegetical purpose would come in close second. If one cannot come up with a reason for an allusion, how can one call it an allusion? I taught Psalms 1 and 2 at my church. While most scholarly articles I read seem to think that Psalms 1 and 2 share a strong connection, two of the criteria were the use of the word for meditate (הגה – a fairly rare word) and the inclusio about the blessed man. I still think that connection is tenuous at best.

2. How much do our presuppositions about how the canon was shaped determine what can and cannot be dependent on the other? Is Ezekiel, a pre-destruction of the temple prophet, dependent upon the P source (a supposedly 6th century document) or vice-versa? With the plurality and complexity of source models that exist in the scholarly world today, the area of inner-biblical allusion just adds more complexity.  Personally, I think a more conservative model makes better sense of the evidence. It also seems to me (I speak ignorantly) the conservative model greatly simplifies the task of establishing inner-biblical allusions too.

All of this is very exciting. I do look forward to reading more about this topic. I hope clarity comes in the research! I welcome any thoughts about this subject in both the OT and the NT!

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Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading and compiling an annotated bibliography for the purpose of formulating and refining a thesis. You’ll forgive me, I hope, if my writing is a bit complicated. I tend to absorb the writing style of those that I’ve subjected my eyes to the most. Scholarly writing isn’t always “readable” writing.

I can tell that I’m becoming more familiar with parts of the field as I make fewer and fewer notes. At first, my annotations were summaries of the articles I was reading. Now, I’m able to sum the article up in 4-5 lines. I’ve also made sure to add a couple of lines of my thoughts of the article and its usefulness toward my “thesis.”

I’ve focused primarily on two works. First, is the work on the Enneateuch (fancy word for Genesis-Kings). The scholars in this book describe methodologies and case studies for the literary works in the Ennaeteuch. The second work is focused current scholarship on the Penteteuch. The first work is topically focused but literarily broad, and the second is more broadly focused but centers its study on the first 5 books of the Bible rather than the first 9. I’m reading both so that I can get a general grasp on the state of Old Testament studies on the Pentateuch and Former Prophets. I’ve only compiled 11 sources so far, and I have a long way to go.

Although I’m in the early stages of my bibliography, I’m already trying work through some issues with my thesis. First of all, I should mention that I’m looking at the book of Joshua and…well, I’m still thinking of an “and.” I know I want to focus on language, text critical, and literary development issues and how they impact interpretation of the final form of Joshua. Other than that, I’m too broad right now to say much about specifics.

Methodologically, I have some questions to answer. The “critical” field is definitely concerned with source criticism/literary analysis and its impact on interpretation. Evangelicals are interested in final form centering around dogmatic issues. The line between the two isn’t that bold, but I need to deal in both realms for the purpose of my thesis. This fact leads me to ask questions about “evangelical” use of “critical” scholarship. Namely, what is the useful, best, and wise use of critical scholarship? Don’t get me wrong. I have to ask the same question about evangelical scholarship. Since I am plunging myself into the deep end of source criticism at the moment, the question about critical scholarship is more pressing. The real question is: How much do I discuss source/literary/historical critical issues? I suppose I could help myself by having a more specific thesis – my problem is really the chicken-or-the-egg syndrome.

I’m not too stressed right now, but at least I’m thinking…and praying. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading my ramblings.

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Thomas Romer traces certain scholarly trends as the guild struggles with the issue of literary works in the Hebrew Bible. He provides a brief history on how certain scholars have tried to fit the books together and ends with a few of what he calls “Open Questions.”

Martin Noth, of course, articulated the theory of the Deuteronomistic History (DH). He proposed that the end of the Pentateuch was lost and that the Tetrateuch was appended to the DH. In the light of this theory, Some scholars have rejected the original Documentary Hypothesis theory in favor of some new theories to address the problem that the DH raises with the Pentateuch (i.e. the loss of sources). John Van Seters, for instance, proposes that Genesis-Numbers operates as  a prologue to the DH: “[he] considers the Yahwist to be a post-Deuteronomist author who wrote the pre-Priestly traditions of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.” According to Romer, this model does not seem to address the issue of certain passages within the “Tetrateuch” only making sense within the context of a Hexateuch.

From there, Romer moves on to the question of whether we have a Pentateuch or Hexateuch. “The most decisive argument for the existence of a Hexateuch,” Romer writes, “is Joshua 24. The final discourse is clearly later than Joshua’s last words in chapter 23, which stem from Deuteronomistic redactors.” The expressions “these words” and “Thus says the LORD” in Joshua 24 strongly link this chapter with the end of Deuteronomy. Romer sees validity in distinguishing between what he calls a “Pentateuch redaction” and a “Hexateuch redaction” within the first books of the Old Testament. The “Pentateuch redaction” seems to be concerned with a theology of founding “Israel’s identity in the Torah mediated by Moses;” whereas the “Hexateuch redaction” is primarily concerned with idea of land. Keeping in mind the evidence for the Hexateuch, we can note that much speaks in favor of the “Pentateuch redaction:” Moses’s death at 120 years, the oath formula, and the No-Prophet-Like-Moses formula.

Then, Romer raises the question of whether these two literary units point to a larger, earlier unit known as the Primary History or the Enneateuch. In fact, a number of scholars have the opinion that the an “epic story” (some form of Enneateuch) predates the Pentateuch, Hexateuch, or DH. This idea is based off a number of literary and thematic links in Genesis through Kings.  Deuteronomy 34 and Joshua 24 aren’t viewed as conclusions to their respective literary unit. They are, instead, transitions to different themes in the Enneateuch. Romer also mentions literary links between the end of Kings and the beginning of the Latter Prophets which suggests that a redactor wanted to make that connection and that the Enneateuch may have been read long with these Latter Prophets. The main problem for the proponents of the Enneateuch is where Deuteronomy fits in with the literary unit. Some scholars suggest that Deuteronomy is late addition, but Deuteronomy has much more in common with Joshua-Kings than with Genesis-Numbers. Thus, the Primary History may have been read as a unit, but it wasn’t a “canonical unit.”

Finally, Romer makes this observation:

How can we distinguish comprehensive redactional activity from restrictive additions that are limited to one or two passages, or from cases of intertextuality, which do not necessarily imply redactional activities[?] One may, for instance, observe that the story of Jephthah sacrificing his daughter has many parallels with the Adequah story in Gen 22, but this does not mean that the author of Judg 11 wrote his story in the context of the Enneateuch.

We have some evidence what Romer calls historical summaries in the Psalms and Prophets that suggest the existence of a Pentateuch, Hexateuch, and Enneateuch. Romer maintains that we have little redactional evidence of the Enneateuch, but that fact does not preclude certain books being read in units.

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In this appropriately named article (see the title of this post), Konrad Schmid gives a brief historical sketch on how Biblical studies has viewed the literary connections of Genesis through Kings through recent years.

Two major theories regarding the composition of those books has dominated the field until recently. Some scholars have proposed that the Genesis-Joshua actually makes up a 6-book literary work known as the Hexateuch. They hold to this theory for two reasons: 1) they claim to be able to find evidence of the four Pentateuchal sources (JEDP) in Joshua and 2) Joshua thematically completes the Torah by giving Israel the land that God promised them (Josh 21:43).

The second theory is most often associated with Martin Noth (although he was influenced by Albrecht Alt). He proposed that the first four books (Genesis-Numbers) is one work, and the books Deuteronomy through Kings make up the “Deuteronomistic History (DH).” He argues that Genesis-Numbers exhibits “no Deuteronomistic editorial activity” although he concedes that the books do evidence some Deuteronomistic “reworking.” He also argues that the DH shows no signs of the other Pentateuchal sources (JEP).

This brief historical sketch sets the stage for Konrad’s examination of what he calls “the von Rad-Noth compromise.” Von Rad maintained that Genesis-Joshua displays a “broad narrative arc”  – holding to the theory of an original Hexateuch. He, however, makes one major concession to Martin Noth: the “earlier text form was no longer extant in Joshua, because it had been replaced when the hexateuchal narrative was combined with the [DH].” In other words, von Rad proposed that we have lost the “original” Hexateuch. Schmid points out that the major problem with this thesis is:

This model must come to terms with an immense loss of text. It presupposes that the Yahwist’s and Elohist’s accounts of the conquest of the land were lost when their texts were combined with the Deuteronomistic History. This is not only quite inelegant, but also highly improbable.

Von Rad’s concession punts to Noth’s model. If we do not have the Hexateuchal sources for Joshua and Deuteronomy, from a compositional stand point, we are forced to divide the DH from the Tetrateuch (Genesis-Numbers).

Martin Noth also made a concession. He agreed with von Rad that an “older” Hexateuch existed: “He proposed a composition that developed from several independent traditions – what he calls ‘major themes’: ‘Guidance out of Egypt,’ ‘Guidance into Arable Land,’ Promise to the Patriarch,’ and so on.” He further argued that Hexateuch developed from “oral prehistory in premonarchic times.” As Schmid notes, this proposal leads Noth to make comments to the effect of: We can study the book of Numbers in its “Pentateuchal context” (because research has shown that it was a part of a Pentateuch) even though Numbers itself shows little evidence coherence among narratives written within it.

Scholarship has recently moved away from this separation model that Noth originally proposed. Blum, for instance, has postulated the existence of a a “pre-Priestly D-composition” in Exodus through Deuteronomy. Blum’s arguments along with Thomas Romer’s thesis that “Genesis and Exodus were not found together in a single literary work before the composition of the Priestly code” and the identification of a Priestly layer in the DH, Konrad offers a two-point summation of current scholarship: 1) the Priestly document probably did not cover all of the Pentateuch and 2) Joshua-Kings contains evidence of a “priestly” influenced redaction. Thus, scholarship is moving toward a thesis of at least seeing Exodus-Kings as a literary work.

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Baruch J. Swartz in his article: “Does Scholarship’s Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis Constitute Grounds for Its Rejection?” argues that the only legitimate way to discredit the Documentary Hypothesis (DH) is to prove that it is not the best solution to the literary “problems and contradictions” contained within the Pentateuch. He also argues that many critiques of the DH are illegitimate. Among one of the Swartz’s more interesting critiques is that he doesn’t believe that disproving the historical process which we think generated the Pentateuchal sources disproves the literary division of the Pentateuch into its sources. In other words, though new research brings doubt to the current historical model behind the creation of the Pentateuch sources, that research has little impact on the literary evidence of the Pentateuch’s sources. Thus, he separates the DH from the historical model behind DH:

In my understanding, the higher criticism of the Torah consists of two parts: a literary-critical stage, which seeks to explain why the text looks the way it does by separating it into its constituent parts and to determine how they were combined, and its historical-critical stage, which attempts to place the  separate components, and the process by which their combination has ultimately resulted in the composition we call the Torah, within plausible contexts in the history of ancient Israel and its religion…The Documentary Hypothesis per se belongs exclusively to the first stage. Its point of departure is literary. its aim is literary, and its essential claim is literary too: that the greatest number of textual problems posed by the attempt to read the Pentateuch in its present form is solved in the mot economical manner when it is posited that the Torah is an amalgamation of four preexisting documents [i.e. JEDP].

Central to Swartz’s thesis is that the DH represents a solution to these textual problems, but the article does not go deeper into how the DH solves those problems.  What I like about Swartz’s article though, is the focus on a literary solutions to the problematic texts of the Pentateuch. I think Swartz’s article represents a step in right direction. Before we postulate historical models over the creation of a particular text (and thus assume a literary model), we should work to describe the text on the philological and literary level first. If we focus on literary solutions, I think we can avoid running roughshod over the text with inadequate historical models. I do not want to seem like I’m sweeping the problem under a rug, but I ultimately think we can come up with a better literary solution than the DH while maintaining the unity of the message and literature of the Pentateuch without dividing it into its various sources (although I speak as a humble student). Yet, I was encouraged to read Swartz’s thoughts on methodology even though I disagreed with his stance on the DH.

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The account of the crossing of the Jordan in the Book of Joshua contains some of the oddest chronology that I’ve seen in my reading so far. Joshua commands the people to choose twelve men before they crossover. Then, after they crossover, he commands them to again choose twelve men. After they take twelve stones from the river, Joshua puts twelve stones back in the river. At the end of chapter 3, the author says that the people crossed over. Part way through chapter 4, they are still crossing over. At one point in chapter 4, the priests crossover. Later, Joshua commands the priests to come out of the river bed. The author describes two different liturgical rituals about the twelve stones (one at the beginning of chapter 4 and the other at the end).

Why would the author-redactor stagger the chronology of the account of the Jordan crossing? For us, such an important event ought not start and stop, twist and turn so many times. The account disrupts the main plot so much that it’s difficult for one to get the facts straight. Some have said that the text’s complicated chronology is derived from a complex textual pre-history. In other words, the Jordan crossing account is mixture of red, yellow, blue, and green Play-Dough. The theory is odd. For a author-redactor who is putting the text together in its final form, why would he mangle such an important event in the Book of Joshua? So far, the book has been building toward the conquest of Canaan with three different pericopes. Chapter 1 contains dialog encouraging Joshua to “be strong and courageous” to fulfill his duty. In the second chapter, Rahab confesses to the spies that the people of the land are fearful of the Israel and have no hope for success against them. Chapters 3-4 contain the accounts of Israel’s crossing (chapter 5 is a reinterpretation of chapters 3-4). If this story really is Play-Dough, it’s an odd way to build up to the conquest that occurs in chapter 6.

I think we can find another answer. For the author-redactor, the importance of the event isn’t that they got to the other side. The importance of the event centers around the two liturgies of the twelve stones. The mixed chronology catches our attention and refocus it on different elements within the story that make the liturgies significant. In a lot of ways, the staggered chronology also allows the author to show the reader the fulfillment of different prefigured, predicted elements. How is Joshua great? How did the LORD show wonderful things? How did the LORD show Israel that El-Hai was among them? How did he show that all the words that he commanded Joshua were fulfilled? He uses the odd chronology to answer all these questions. The liturgies focus our vision to see how the text answers these questions.

Thus, the text is deeply theological in nature. When Israel looks back at the Jordan Crossing, they are to remember all the things that God through Joshua showed them. They had no need to abstract anything from the event; the author displays the religious significance in plain sight.

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Two attitudes frustrate me beyond degree: being treated like a species of lower intelligence and being treated like I should be an expert on material that I’ve never looked at before. Of course, each of those situations may be proper depending on the context. Thus, when the Biblical text is ambiguous beyond the point of frustration or when it shouts its meaning from the mountain tops with ceaseless repetition, I cannot help but be “reverently” frustrated.

The Book of Joshua in some places often clarifies an object by means of apposition (e.g. Joshua the son of Nun, Moses servant of Yahweh, the land which I gave you). The book uses that literary device so much that one begins to think that the phrase in apposition is actually the object’s last name. One such point is in the moment Israel crosses the Jordan. The text identifies the priests who go before the people as the ones who “bear the ark of the covenant/testimony/the LORD/etc.” The author identifies the priests “as the ones who bear the ark” 10 times in two chapters but only identifies them as “priests” 4 times. The author must not feel comfortable with calling the priests by their first name alone. Actually, I think the continual identification of the priests (you know, the ones who are bearing the ark) presents a unique situation in the book of Joshua.

In Exodus, when the Israelites crossed the Red/Reed Sea, a pillar of fire blocked the way between Israel and their Egyptian pursuers. Moses stuck out his hand and parted the waters. The pillar of fire is, in the future of Israel’s travels, the guide God gave them at night; it was the visible sign of God himself leading them through the wilderness. Surely, God was present with his people in their crossing through the sea, but the most visible manifestation, in my opinion, was the pillar of fire behind them. In Joshua, the most visible manifestation of God’s presence during their crossing of the Jordan is the ark of the covenant. Joshua sends the ark ahead of the people and commands the people to keep their distance from it. The ark stands in the middle of the Jordan while the people cross through. I am probably making too much out of this fact, but Israel now has that sign of God’s presence in front of them. God has gone before them to establish a way into the land just as he has gone before them to fight their enemies. As the ark stands in the midst of the Jordan and the midst of the people as they pass through, they all witness the wonderful things that God is doing in their midst. That act they are witnessing assures them of God’s presence with them as they go into the land just as the pillar of fire dividing them from (and the waters crashing upon) their would-be captors assures them of God’s deliverance.

The priests are significant because they are bearing the ark. The author does not want us to pass over this detail so he reminds us in bold, italic, all caps, and underline.

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All that remains to answer is how the two sides coalesce. The answers, of course, are varied. Wellhausen proposed that the differences reflect different strata within Israel’s history.  His theory divides the Pentateuch into 4 different sources: J – Jahwist, E – Elohist, D – Deuteronomist, and P – Priestly. This theory is know as the Graf-Wellhausen Theory or the Documentary Hypothesis. The Jahwist is the earliest source and represented the idea that Israel would be able to build altars and sacrifice to God anywhere in the land (must like the first post in the series). The Elohist was next followed by the Deuteronomist (who is responsible for the authorship of Deuteronomy). The D source was produced around the time of King Josiah; his reforms reflect much of what Deuteronomy demands of Israel. The latest source  – the Priestly source – was produced after Israel’s exile. I am primarily dealing with Deuteronomy because I think if we understand Deuteronomy’s teaching, we will see that it integrates well with what we saw in the first post.

The basic idea behind the source theory is that it maps the historical development of the Israelite religion beginning with the simple worship of Jahwistic cult and progressing to the monotheistic, strigent, law-keeping Judaism. Wellhausen says, “It is only in Deuteronomy…that one sees the root of the matter, and recognizes its connection with the anxiety for a strict monotheism, and for the elimination of the popular heathenish elements.”  The goal of the Deuteromistic reforms was to restrict worship to one place (Jerusalem) and to eliminate the degenerate “pagan” practices at that time in Israel’s history. Therefore, Deuteronomy only really had applicability to the people of Israel in the Davidic/Solomonic reigns onward:

One step indeed is taken towards investing it with an historical character, in so far as [Deuteronomy] is put into the mouth of Moses; but the beginning thus made keeps within modest limits. Moses only lays down the Law; for its execution he makes no provision as regards to his own time, nor does he demand it for the immediate future. Rather it is represented as not destined to come into force until the people shall have concluded the conquest of the country and secured a settled peace…Until the building of Solomon’s temple the unity of worship according to it had, properly speaking, never had any existence; and, moreover, it is easy to read between the lines that even after that date it was more a pious wish than a practical demand.

In identifying the “place God will choose” as Jerusalem and some of the law, Wellhausen requires a later time for Deuteronomy’s composition. Wellhausen and many other historical critics date the Deuteromistic source in or shortly after the time of Josiah’s reign.

I think one of the more damaging critiques of the Documentary Hypothesis is the fact that the science of dividing the Pentateuch into its sources is speculative. Also, the practice of dividing sources is prone to ignoring the literary features that glue the Pentateuch stories and laws together. The analyses of the historical critics are helpful (I have enjoyed reading Wellhausen). I do think we ought consider the Pentateuch as a literary whole.

We should note that Deuteronomy does not explicitly name Jerusalem as the place of worship. I would go as far to say that the phrase “the place which God will choose” does not even imply permanence. The phrase, rather, implies God’s sovereignty over the manner in which Israel worships him. Instead of reading the phrase forward in Israel’s history (to Jerusalem), we should read it backward into the formative event of Israel’s life as a nation: Sinai/Horeb. McConville states, “[T]he ‘place the LORD will choose’ brings for ever into Israel’s life the principle that the covenant must always be renewed in a life of decision that finds itself constantly at Horeb, being called into covenant in an open history consisting of many times and (perhaps) many places.” The point of this call for Israel to meet in that place was for them to renew and remember the covenant they made with the LORD.

Furthermore, the law of the altar (Deuteronomy 12:2-5) does not necessarily suggest that all sacrificial activity will occur at a central, permanent location as opposed to the Covenant Code (Ex 20:23-25), which allows a “freer” exercise of Israel’s religion. The literary choice of word “place” is set up in direct contrast to the “places” where Israel’s neighbors set up pillars and altars to their gods. Not only does Yahweh demand worship for himself alone, but he also demands that the place worship is “known to belong wholly and unequivocally to Yahweh” (McConville). The law, like the rest of Deuteronomy, emphasizes the need for Israel to completely dedicate themselves to Yahweh.

Both ideas of Israel’s worship do not represent different ideas with Israel’s history as much as they fill the theological idea of Israel’s worship with significance. Israel’s redemptive beginning continually brings light to the manner in which they are to live in the land, how they are to worship, and how they are to treat one another. The biblical idea of “sanctuary” touches both the spiritual and ethical dimensions of life. Israel cannot divide their interests; they must live holistically – ceremonial feasts andsocial justice, obedience and sacrifice. Israel’s identity of children of God founds God’s commands. Israel’s proper response as God’s children, is obey those commands with hearts fully dedicated to loving God and neighbor, and keeping themselves from the profane practices that soiled the land before Israel’s arrival.

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The other side I wanted to present is that the Old Testament, Deuteronomy in particular, wants to centralize worship “to the place where God chooses to make his name dwell.” This motif stands out like red ink on the pages of Deuteronomy:

“These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earthyou shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go,and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the Lord your God has blessed you.

You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes,  for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the Lord your God is giving you…then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lord.

Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, but at the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you.

You may not eat within your towns the tithe of your grain or of your wine or of your oil, or the firstborn of your herd or of your flock, or any of your vow offerings that you vow, or your freewill offerings or the contribution that you present,but you shall eat them before the Lord your God in the place that the Lord your God will choose. – Deuteronomy 12:1-19 (approximately)

I’m sorry for the long quote. Deuteronomy 12 kicks off the this unique feature and binds the laws that Moses dictates to the people around this centralization theme. In a similar way to the other Pentateuchal books, Israel was required to worship God differently than the current occupants of Canaan. Unlike those books, Deuteronomy intermingles laws regarding purity with laws regarding social justice. The centralization theme provides that context for this assortment of laws:

Then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lord.And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you. – Deuteronomy 12:11-12.

You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always…At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.- Deuteronomy 14:22-29 (approximately).

Law keeping has two axes: 1) love God, 2) love neighbor. The central location for feasts and sacrifices is the intersection of both axes. In this way, Israel, time after time, is reminded of God’s redemptive act and love toward an undeserving and hard-hearted people and their responsibility to care for their brothers, the poor, the widows, and the fatherless.

Another point to notice, although English obscures the point (you may have a footnote in your Bible), is that the “you” in Deuteronomy is often a singular “you” (not y’all). We should rather call it a collective “you.” Israel is addressed as a whole, not as individual tribes. They are unified under God, committed to one law, and act collectively as one people. Von Rad sums the idea up nicely:

[All] these things, the products of nature and civilisation, are gifts, and in fact blessings accruing from salvation, which Jahweh’s love desires to present to his people…Thus in Deuteronomy everything is interrelated and gathered together to give a unified theological conspectus – one Jahweh, one (comprehensive) Israel, one revelation (תורה), one promised land (נחלה), one place of worship, one prophet.

Their unique status as a nation is established by Yahweh’s salvific love and their commitment to Deuteronomic idea of oneness. Their rejection of Yahweh and his revelation through the Torah is a forfeiture of that divine blessing. Their mistreatment of the poor also counts as a rejection of God’s law (see Amos 8 as an example). The continual, practical reminder of their “oneness” emphasizes that their wholeness as a nation revolves on their full-hearted commitment to love of God and neighbor.

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Perhaps one of the more curious features of the Torah is how it conflates two seemingly different attitudes toward places of worship. First, the Patriarchs built altars and sacrificed wherever God revealed himself to them:

At every place where they take up their abode or make a passing , the fathers of the nation, according to this authority, erect altars, set up memorial stones, plant localities, dig wells. This does not take place at indifferent and casual localities, but at Shechem and Bethel in Ephraim, at Hebron and Beersheba in Judah, at Mizpah, Mahanaim and Penuel in Gilead; nowhere but at famous and immediately holy places of worship. (Wellhausen)

The Israelites were given the authorization to build an altar wherever God makes himself known as their fathers before them. This attitude is summed in the book of the Covenant:

 Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed. (Ex 20:24-26):

When God reveals to his people, they devote themselves to reverence and worship. Not only do all the places mentioned are important places in the land of Canaan as Wellhausen noticed, but the broad distribution of God’s revelation points to the idea that the land itself is God’s chosen sanctuary.

When Israel obeys God’s word, God promised to walk among his people and live in their midst (Lev 26:11-12, Deut 23:15). Israel’s chiefest responsibility, then, is to keep themselves and the land clean from any kind of sin. The land is a special gift to them from Yahweh; it is the place where he has chosen to live among his people.

Interestingly, Israel’s initial act in the land, herem – devotion to destruction – of their sinful enemies, is the harbinger of what would happen to them if they were to pervert the true worship of Yahweh. The Canaanite’s sinful cultic practices preceded their own desrtuction. Idolatry pollutes God’s sanctuary (Lev 20:3).  When Israel turns from Yahweh to idols and neglects Yahweh’s law, God will destroy and exile them from the land so that “the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it” (Lev 26:34-35). The land will rest from Israel’s unclean and sinful behavior before God brings them out of exile.

The land is not only important for Israel because it is where they their home. The land is important because God chose to make his home among his people in that place. The land is identified as the place where God blesses his people and reveals himself. Exile is the worst kind of judgement against Israel for it evidences God’s abandonment, albeit temporary, of his people.


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