Gary N. Knoppers

The Northern Context of the Law-Code in Deuteronomy

Volume 4 () / Issue 2, pp. 162-183 (22)

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It has been long recognized that Deuteronomy evinces a strong emphasis on Israelite identity and the solidarity and kinship shared by all members of the larger Israelite community. My essay deals with the two sets of directions about public liturgies that bracket the central law collection of Deuteronomy (12:2–26:15). Each of these two sets of instructions about Israelite conduct upon entering the land remands the Israelites to the area of Shechem. Both represent, I argue, later additions to an earlier form of Deuteronomy. The first set of instructions (Deut 11:26–30), which preface the introduction (Deut 11:31–12:1) to the central law-code (Deut 12:2–26:15), consists of public pronouncements of blessings and curses validating God's covenant with Israel, which the Israelites are mandated to deliver on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. The second, longer and more complex set of instructions following the conclusion to the law code (Deut 26:16–19) mandates pan-Israelite ceremonies at Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal (Deut 27:1–26). Directions about future public liturgies at Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal frame, therefore, the laws of the covenant, which constitute the heart of the Deuteronomic presentation. At least equally important, this second set of instructions mandates the inscription of »all the words of this torah« upon large stones and the construction of an altar made of whole stones upon which burnt offerings and offerings of well-being are to be presented on Mt. Gerizim (so SP; MT Mt. Ebal; Deut 27:2–8). My essay argues that Judean and the Samarian communities within the late Persian and early Hellenistic periods could read the relevance of the altar instructions of Deuteronomy 27 in their own distinctive ways and still lay claim to the authority of the text of Deuteronomy that they both shared. In other words, the instructions about public sacrifices in the Shechem area lent themselves to multiple readings. Whether the Gerizim altar is construed as the central altar alluded to in Deut 12:2–32 (so the Yahwistic Samarian community) or as a one-time communal act upon entering the land (so the Yahwistic Judean community), the text of Deuteronomy privileges the northern area of Shechem. The foundational importance of northern Israel to Israelite identity is, therefore, not simply an abstract theological tenet, but also something embodied within the instructions of Deuteronomy itself.

Gary N. Knoppers (1956–2018) 1979 BA; 1982 M.Div.; 1986 MA; 1988 PhD; 2003–04 president of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies; 2009–11 President of the Biblical Colloquium; 2014–18 John A. O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.