Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Deuteronomy Summary

For the most part, the book of Deuteronomy is one long speech by Moses, to the Israelites, before his death. (I was tempted to call it his “swan song,” but that would imply that the speech is a performance, and I don’t think of Moses as “performing” in this book.) Much of the book/speech is spent reminding the nation of Israel of events that have taken part since they left Egypt, or reminding them of laws that were handed down in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

As you’ll remember from Numbers 20, Moses and Aaron sinned before the LORD, and were therefore forbidden from entering the Promised Land. I had a memory, when I started blogging through Deuteronomy, that Moses had numerous passages where he blamed the Israelites for this, but having gone through it again, he spends much less time blaming them than I thought he did.

You may be wondering where the name “Deuteronomy” came from. What does it mean? Is it a Hebrew term of some kind? (This was my assumption.) I looked it up, so if you’re interested, see the bottom of this post for a bit of history. (I put it at the bottom, under the list of links, because I figured that most people probably wouldn’t care…)

The Name “Deuteronomy”

It turns out that the title “Deuteronomy” comes from a mistranslation; it’s from verse 17:18: “When he [the king] takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites” (emphasis added). I’ll quote the Jewish Encyclopedia explanation of what happened:

The English appellation is derived from the name which the book bears in the Septuagint (Δευτερουόμιου) and in the Vulgate (Deuteronomium); and this is based upon the erroneous Septuagint rendering of “mishnch ha-torah ha-zot” (xvii. 18), which grammatically can mean only “a repetition [that is, a copy] of this law,” but which is rendered by the Septuagint τὸ Δευτερουόμιου τοῦτο, as though the expression meant “this repetition of the law.” While, however, the name is thus a mistranslation, it is not inappropriate; for the book does include, by the side of much new matter, a repetition or reformulation of a large part of the laws found in the non-priestly sections (known as “JE”) of Exodus.

(If you’re not familiar with the term “Septuagint,” you can look it up using Google’s definition feature. It’s basically the Greek translation of the Old Testament that would have been used in Jesus’ time, and is still used a lot by Bible translators and scholars today.)

If you wish, you can also see the Wikipedia page on Deuteronomy, which also describes where the title came from. I’m not sure if it agrees with the Jewish Encyclopedia…

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