145 Broadway, Newark, NJ 07104
Phone: 973-485-2609 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The name that the Book of Deuteronomy is known by in Hebrew is D’varim: words. And words matter. As Edward Bulwer-Lytton said in 1839 for his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” (Incidentally, Bulwer-Lytton also wrote the novel Paul Clifford, whose first line is “It was a dark and stormy night,” giving rise to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which annually awards a prize to the worst first sentence of a novel that year.) The Book of D’varim is the transcript of the first locker-room pep talk in history, the coach telling his players to run through walls.
Moses addresses the assembled Children of Israel on the banks of the Jordan River, and he recounts the nadirs and the triumphs of Israelites over the past 40 years. Moses tells them they are the cream of the crop: nobody over 20 who left Egypt is alive this day. Not only that, Moses described the dead generation as “the evil generation.” Anybody listening to Moses is feeling like they are chosen generation, that God supports them, and with God’s help they can vanquish any enemy.
Most scholars believe that the Book of D’varim was written the seventh century b.c.e., during the reign of the boy king Josiah, who was eight years old when he ascended the throne and who reigned from 640-641 until 610-609. Josiah’s grandfather, Manasseh, reigned from 687-686 b.c.e. until his death in 643-642 b.c.e., the longest reign of the kings of Judah. Manasseh abandoned monotheism and instituted idolatry, and his son Amon (Josiah’s father) continued to practice idolatry for two years until he was assassinated. I don’t want to say the priests took advantage of Josiah’s youth and inexperience, but they probably took advantage of Josiah’s youth and inexperience to write a manifesto to bring the Kingdom of Judah (remember, the Northern Kingdom was destroyed in 721) back to the path of worshipping the true God. That manifesto was the Book of D’varim.
In strident language the Book of D’varim exhorts the Israelites (maybe the Judahites) to savor their past glories and the saving acts of God. The Book exhorts the Israelites to keep the faith, and God will reward them for keeping the faith. The Book is couched in Moses’ words, and who among the Israelites could not be encouraged by Moses’ words, especially if the Israelites believed that Moses actually said them. It is not too far to say the Book of D’varim saved the Jewish religion, and 2600 years later we are still inspired the words of Moses.