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To What Extent is Joshua-Kings ‘Deuteronomistic’?

Posted by NT Wrong on October 7, 2008

Deuteronomy has a prevalent, consistent and distinctive mode of expression and a set of theological ideas which, while not entirely different from the other books of the Torah, make it stick out from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

What is more, many of these distinctive expressions and theological ideas crop up with greater or lesser regularity in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. This prompted Andreas Masius, in the 16th Century, to proclaim that they must surely be the work of a single post-exilic author, probably Ezra, who afflatum non solum hunc Josuae, verum etiam Judicum, Regum. A version of this idea was later taken up with great gusto by Martin Noth, in his Überlieferungsgeschichtliche Studien (1943).

In an appendix to Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (1972), Moshe Weinfeld identified the following deuteronomic concerns also shared by Joshua-Kings:

    – affirmation of Yahweh alone
    – anti-idoltary
    – cult centralization
    – divine election of Israel, including the exodus from Egypt and covenant
    – conquest and possession of the land
    – law observance and covenant loyalty
    – retribution by both blessing and curse

In his appendix, Weinfeld listed only those examples of ‘deuteronomistic’ phrases (that is, deuteronomic-like phrases appearing in Joshua-Kings) for which there was a similarity in both theological content and stylistic form. Weinfeld also identified a few expressions on topics such as prophecy and Davidic election that recur throughout the books of Joshua-Kings (and books such as Jeremiah), but which are not shared with Deuteronomy. So I’m going to ignore those instances below, along with any examples in Weinfeld’s appendix where only Joshua-Kings and Jeremiah have shared phrases. Also, it pays to note, that when these folk say ‘Deuteronomy’, what they really mean is some putative primitive core of Deuteronomy, such as Noth’s Deut 4.44–30.20.

So, the question is: what happens when you take Weinfeld’s appendix, and summarise the deuteronomistic content on a book-by-book basis? Is there an amazing consistency which proves the existence of a unified literary plan developed by a single author?

No, there isn’t. Have a look …

If the Deuteronomist was the single author of Joshua-Kings, he must have been a little schizophrenic! While there are large chunks of Kings which employ the language and theology of Deuteronomy, and bits of Joshua and Judges 2, there’s not much going on in the remainder of Judges and the books of Samuel. The major similarities appear in small clusters (Josh 1-2, 22-23, Judg 2-3, 1 Sam 8 and 12, 1 Kgs 2-3, 8-9, 11, 14, 16, 2 Kings 14-17, 21-23), with some very large sections lacking any deuteronomistic features at all, or even appearing to be anti-deuteronomistic (Judges). Moreover, when you look at the particular concerns of each book, they vary significantly from book to book.

Merely on the results of Weinfeld’s own analysis, things are clearly more complicated than the ‘Deuteronomist’ hypothesis allows…

8 Responses to “To What Extent is Joshua-Kings ‘Deuteronomistic’?”

  1. Richard said

    Why would we expect each and every deuteronomic concern to be found in all of the DH?

  2. ntwrong said

    I wouldn’t. And I don’t.

    That’s just going to the other extreme from finding nothing deuteonomistic in a certain part of Joshua-Kings. If Joshua-Kings (or Deuteronomy-Kings) was the product a single ancient author, we wouldn’t expect the extreme case that you put forward. We would expect some more moderate measure of consistency. Unfortunately, in Judges and the books of Samuel, we don’t get even that.

  3. Richard said

    I claim no expertise in this area, though I am a huge fan of Martin Noth, I am just thinking aloud.

    I would argue that we need to be more savvy in how we are to understand the DH, that is, you have taken a logical inference, proven it wrong and concluded something. I would suggest that the logical inference is wrong, or needs tweaking.

    It would be a good idea to see how those themes unfolded through the DH rather than assuming “We would expect some more moderate measure of consistency.” Just something for you to ponder. 🙂

    Have you read The History of Israel’s Traditions: The Heritage of Martin Noth by Steven L. McKenzie and M. Patrick Graham (eds.)?

  4. ntwrong said

    I would agree that the statistical analysis is not enough on its own. But the large gaps in Samuel are so significant, that it alone shows that Noth’s original theory doesn’t hold.

    In any case, Noth simply missed out almost half of Joshua-Kings in his theory about the ‘deuteronomist’. Noth’s theory isn’t about anything that currently exists, it’s about an artificial construct.

  5. hal said

    Dr.Noth,I respect what you are trying to do with the deuterononist theory,but I think going with what the word says about the author would be the truth.

  6. Martin Noth said

    Hal Lindsay,

    Danke. But my theories account completely for everything in the Bible, down to the last redaktion of the last segment of any verse.

    Yours faithfully,
    Dr. Martin Noth, RIP

  7. richard said

    i’m fairly skeptical of this type of statistical language analysis. it can be used to prove or disprove just about anything, if skewed correctly. it is completely incapable of handling the fluid nature of language, textual dependency/allusion, or expansion of earlier themes.

  8. ntwrong said

    Richard – I don’t think the statistics should be used alone. But in this case they do present Weinfeld’s own appendix, in bar-graph form. And Weinfeld’s appendix is relied on centrally in the subsequent discussion of Dtr.

    But your statement that ‘statistical language…can be used to prove or disprove just about anything, if skewed correctly’ is at best banal, at worst misleadingly overgeneralised. Sure, statistics like any discourse can mislead. So what? If you’re advocating throwing out every form of discourse, you have a more-than-banal point. But the throwaway line ‘that statistics can be used to do anything’ is so true of any analysis that the only reason I know to use it without making a specific observation would be for rhetorical purposes – so as to sound ‘dismissive’. And that’s just not engaging with the subject.

    What’s particularly interesting about the statistics, once we get past the empty blow-hard rhetoric, is the almost complete lack of applicability of the Deuteronomistic History Hypothesis to the two books of Samuel, and to the majority of Judges. What you can’t sweep under the carpet with largely vacuous and unsupported overgeneralised points about statistics sometimes being misused is the fact that Weinfeld’s own appendix – a cornerstone of the Deuteronomistic History hypothesis – doesn’t even significantly register in such a large part of the books claimed to make up the ‘Deuteronomistic History’.

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