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What are the main theological concerns within the Book of Deuteronomy?

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Introduction

The book of Deuteronomy is one of the most important and extensive books within the Old Testament. Its content is diverse and explicit, focussing specifically on the introduction of an apparently new and radical theology. One of its primary aims was not, as many OT books had done previously, to initiate and educate a minority of the Israelite people, rather its aim was to teach and manifest the theology of the nation to the nation1; and promulgate a comprehensible religion proposing unrivalled belief in and devotion to YHWH. Of the theological concerns within the book of Deuteronomy, the doctrine of God is easily the most important, and is explicitly referred to throughout the book. The Deuteronomic writers were trying to initiate the people to a new line of thought, to destroy the superstitious and magical elements present within Israel2. That there were many rival sects within Israel at that time was of great importance for the foundation of Deuteronomic theology. It tried to clearly express the nation's belief in one God, in order to curb the encroaching sects and cults. Chapter 6:5 explicitly asserts that there is in Israel one single God, namely YHWH, and that the Israelites are now part of a monotheistic nation3. From this God emanates power and love, a manifestation of the uniqueness of the God of the Israelites. Various scholars have noted that this was the first assertion of 'practical monotheism' within the Bible. ...read more.

Middle

Israel was elected by YHWH as a nation that was above all others; it was elected not through a medium appointed by YHWH, but by YHWH himself (7:6-11;14:2)18. This therefore pre-supposed that the Israelite people had entered into an agreement with YHWH, where he would maintain their elevated status and they, in return, would obey his laws. Thus Deuteronomy could now tackle the theology of the Covenant. Many scholars argue that the theology of the Covenant was first propositioned within Deuteronomy19. There are, however, many ancient texts that refer to berit (Covenant), suggesting that the usage and tradition of a 'covenant' may have emanated from Mespotamian and Hittite treaties; indeed chs.5 and 29 may be assimilated to these sources20. However, Deuteronomy clearly outlined the basic functions of a Covenant, i.e. to maintain a relationship between YHWH and his people. The Covenant symbolized a unique relationship, initiated by YHWH (7:8) but beyond the Israelite's powers of understanding (29:29). Craigie notes some important points apparent within the text, namely that the Covenant relationship was a relationship that was constantly renewed every time the Israelites worshipped or accepted YHWH as their God21. It presupposed an agreement between the two parties, that through YHWH's mercy and love the Israelites had been freed from 'human vassaldom' and, in return YHWH demanded obedience and worship22. The Israelites, if they fulfilled their obligation to YHWH, would be blessed and would be held above all other nations (4:25ff; 39:1ff). ...read more.

Conclusion

The King is an Israelite whose purpose is to teach the people about YHWH and the unique relationship they have with him. The notion of brotherhood (cf 2:26; 3:18,20; 10:9; 15:3,7,9,11 etc.) promotes a concept of equality at all levels amongst the Israelites35. Throughout the tribe each Israelite is regard everyone as 'blood brothers', to act towards them as they would towards their relations. In proposing such a theology, Deuteronomy does in fact promote the principle of love. This principle is to govern the relationship between men, but also the relationship between Israel and YHWH. This therefore fulfils the Commandments (5:6-21), in which the underlying concept is also one of love36. Deuteronomy succeeds in promulgating a new set of ethical beliefs and a new moral code which would in turn regulate the Israelites' life in a profound way. In summation, the main theological concerns within the Book of Deuteronomy are that of God, Land, Election and Covenant, Law and Worship. All concerns are expressed with ultimate aim of stressing the importance of obedience to YHWH. Although Deuteronomy at times exudes an air of harshness (7:1ff) and sometimes is demanding, scholars still maintain that the teachings of Deuteronomy were more suppositional than propositional. It was concerned with maintaining and renewing the relationship between the Israelites and YHWH, whilst at the same time spiritualising the law and demythologizing the religion as a whole. The religion of the Israelites, after the writing of Deuteronomy, was profoundly changed and made more accessible; the whole nation was now able to understand and believe in its content - YHWH was now accessible to all. ...read more.

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