Suppose a Levite comes by his own free will from one of your villages, from any part of Israel where he is living, to the place the Lord chooses and serves in the name of the Lord his God like his fellow Levites who stand there before the Lord. He must eat the same share they do, despite any profits he may gain from the sale of his family’s inheritance. (Deuteronomy 18:6-8 NET Bible).
In the introduction to Reading Deuteronomy, Stephen Cook uses the above verses to make an important point. Deuteronomy does not represent the interests of the Jerusalem establishment. It represents the interests of the marginalized village-based culture.
Early critical scholars like DeWette and Wellhausen misinterpreted Deuteronomy as propaganda for Josiah’s royal court. The contents of Deuteronomy do not support this. The voice of Moses in Deuteronomy is a voice from outside the establishment. The Zadokite priests and Micah’s corrupt “rulers of the house of Israel” (Micah 3:1) are not beneficiaries of the laws of Deuteronomy.
This historical judgment sets up Cook’s interpretation of Deuteronomy as a call to renewal. It is addressed to all Israel (Deuteronomy 1:1). Even though it centralizes worship in Jerusalem, it speaks to the people in the villages and the countryside. It speaks to Israel as a community that includes leaders and teachers, but also those who follow and learn.
The torah in Deuteronomy does not just mean civil, criminal and religious law. It means a form of teaching aimed at forming all Israel as God’s people in God’s likeness. Thus, Deuteronomy is about collective religious formation. Cook notes that this may be a new and unfamiliar notion for many of his readers steeped in the idea that spirituality is individual.
Cook deals with further critical issues in his introduction.
Proto-Deuteronomy, which Cook calls “the Hilkiah edition of Deuteronomy”, attracted a following in Jerusalem and soon produced a school which included Jeremiah and the editors of the Deuteronomistic History (DH) which includes Joshua through 2 Kings. Cook believes that the first edition of the DH came before the exile. The authors of the DH also produced a new edition of Deuteronomy which added to Hilkiah’s edition the first three chapters and a number of other passages. They completed this before the end of Josiah’s reign.
The disappointments of Josiah’s death and then the exile to Babylon shaped other passages that expanded Deuteronomy during the exile. A final editing took place after the exile. Cook says that the exact verses of these editions can’t be fixed with certainty, but enough passages exist that suggest them to make this view of the book’s formation likely.
The introduction also has sections on the structure and theology of Deuteronomy. But since the subtitle says this is a literary and theological commentary, I am going to deal with these things as we go along.