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Deuteronomist History - Old Testament History by the Deuteronomist Writer


What is the Deuteronomist History?

The term Deuteronomist History was coined by German scholar Martin Noth in 1943 to describe what he saw as a common origin of the final versions of the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Martin Noth argued that a single author in the 6th century BCE edited together a large amount of earlier source material in order to provide a theological explanation to what were for him recent events: the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Exile.

This single historian was either the same person as the author of Deuteronomy or was closely associated with that author in some way because all five books share common theology, politics, and styles. The main thrust of the series is to describe the triumphant conquest in Joshua, the first cycle of apostasy and redemption in Judges, the disasters under the monarchy in Samuel, and the final consequences of apostasy in Kings.


When Was the Deuteronomist History Created?

Later scholars revised Martin Noth's original ideas while retaining the core insight. For example, many now conclude that the books of the Deuteronomist History were originally brought together in the late 7th century as part of the religious and political reform under king Josiah then edited again in the wake of the fall of Jerusalem. Others, though, continue to argue that the original redaction was in the 6th century but add that there were later changes.


Who Was the Deuteronomist Editor?

The Deuteronomist author or editor is usually cited as simply D and is treated by scholars as one of the primary sources for many of the basic texts in the Christian Old Testament. Some argue that there was just one person behind the Deuteronomist source; others believe that it's more likely a group or school was behind it, even if perhaps under the direction of one person.

They were probably either priests or prophets, though most scholars lean towards identifying them as priests because most of the editorial bias seems to lie with the interests of priests. They also probably came from the northern kingdom of Israel because, once again, that's where the editorial bias tends to be. The actual identity of the Deuteronomist source beyond the school of thought, though, is unknown.


What Are the Deuteronomist Works?

The primary work of the Deuteronomist is, of course, the Book of Deuteronomy. Second is the Deuteronomist History, which is the collected books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. All of these texts were developed independently of the rest of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers) as well as the historical writings of Chronicles. In some cases the editors dealt with already-complete works; in other cases (like Judges) they probably created new works out of collections of oral traditions.

Some of the text in Jeremiah has the style and perspective of the Deuteronomist, though the material is different enough that most scholars agree that it was originally written by a different person or different people. It has, nevertheless, been argued that the Deuteronomist had a hand in editing at least some of the material with the primary question being how much. In fact, some have speculated that Jeremiah himself was the Deuteronomist editor — or at least that he and disciples of his were the school behind the Deuteronomist editing.


Deuteronomist Theology

There are a number of features which help characterize the contributions of the Deuteronomist editors and thus help scholars today identify where Deuteronomist editors were active, including language and style. The most important feature of the Deuteronomist contributions, though, is surely the Deuteronomist theology. It is their theological interests and beliefs which separate them from the other writers and editors of the Old Testament texts.

The most basic summary of Deuteronomist theology would be: Israel is in a covenant with Yahweh in which Yahweh promises to bless Israel and Israel is obligated to obey all of Yahweh's laws; when Israel is obedient then they are blessed and will prosper but when Israel is disobedient then they will be cursed and will suffer. This is used to explain how and why Israel suffers setbacks, political problems, and why the people suffer.

Everything is blamed on a lack of perfect obedience to the laws as explained by the priests (who are also the authors and/or editors of the Deuteronomist texts). Every solution is to pray to Yahweh, beg for forgiveness, and do a better job of listening to what the priests are telling them about how to best obey Yahweh.

Read More: Deuteronomist Theology

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