In Reading Deuteronomy, Stephen Cook claims that Deuteronomy 18:1-8 equalizes the priesthood for all Levites. In principle they all get the right to serve at the Temple in Jerusalem, not just the Zadokite priests who have been a kind of chaplaincy for the kings of Judah.
The account of the reforms of King Josiah in 2 Kings 23:8-9 seems to say that Josiah did not follow this policy:
He brought all the priests from the cities of Judah and ruined the high places where the priests had offered sacrifices, from Geba to Beer Sheba. He tore down the high place of the goat idols situated at the entrance of the gate of Joshua, the city official, on the left side of the city gate.(Now the priests of the high places did not go up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, but they did eat unleavened cakes among their fellow priests(NET Bible).
However, Cook disagrees with the usual translation of the part in parenthesis (v. 9). He says it means “. . .until they ate unleavened cakes among their brothers .” In other words Josiah used the centralized celebration of Passover at Jerusalem as a test for the priests. If they abandoned the celebration at the local shrines and stayed in Jerusalem for the whole festival, then they could be among the visiting priests who rotated in and out of service at the Jerusalem Temple.
Deuteronomy 18 also deals with prophets. Cook interprets the condemnation of occult practices in vs. 9-14 as forbidding oracles who used sorcery, channeling, or any kind of spiritualism. Instead, prophets must be in the line of Moses (vss. 15 ff.). Moses relied on intimacy with God rather than pagan techniques. He spoke with God face to face. Prophets who mirrored Moses in the tradition of Deuteronomy would be Joshua, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, and Jeremiah.
But in order for Moses to have these successors, he had to die. Moses’ ministry was accompanied by supernatural signs such as divine fire and cloud. But that is not the way later prophets who were like Moses would be known. Cook correlates Deuteronomy 18 with the familiar story in 1 Kings 19 of how Elijah went to Horeb like Moses, but heard God through a still, small voice. Cook’s translation is “an irrepressible whisper.”
That Moses, the prophet of signs and wonders, must die means that God must remain inaccessible.
With Moses alive, God is much too accessible–an immense obstacle, for God’s ‘real absence’ is crucial. Without absence, how is the encounter with God to be an experience of impenetrable otherness? How is it to be the meeting of freedom with other freedom?
Here Cook is not giving an interpretation of just Deuteronomy 18. He is stating how he understands the theology of the book of Deuteronomy plus that of the historian of Joshua-Kings who was in the same school of scribes.
In the absence of signs and wonders a prophet is known by whether his words are fulfilled (Deuteronomy 18:22).
This is a problematic criterion. When a prophet speaks, the fulfillment lies in the future. So how can the hearer judge? Also, sometimes God chooses not to fulfill a prophecy (think Jonah). And Deuteronomy 13:2-3 warned that even if a prophecy gets fulfilled it still may be a false prophecy.
But Cook thinks such concerns are nitpicking. What Deuteronomy 18:22 is suggesting is that over the long run true prophecy will establish a track record or “grand trajectory”. The true prophet’s oracles fit with the overall pattern of God’s work in the world. That is why books like Jeremiah became part of the Bible.