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The Deuteronomist, or simply D, is one of the theorized sources underlying the Hebrew bible (and the Christian Old Testament), together with the Priestly source, the Yahwist and the Elohist. It is found in the book of Deuteronomy, in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings (the Deuteronomistic history, or DtrH) and also in the book of Jeremiah. (The adjectives Deuteronomic and Deuteronomistic are essentially interchangeable: if they are distinguished at all, then the first refers to Deuteronomy and the second to the history).
The Deuteronomists, plural, are now seen by most scholars more as a school or movement than a single author. It is generally agreed that the DtrH originated independently of both the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers (the first four books of the Torah) and the history of the books of Chronicles; most scholars trace all or most of it to the Babylonian exile (6th century BCE), and associate it with editorial reworking of both the Tetrateuch and Jeremiah.
Since the mid-20th century scholars have identified the Deuteronomists as country Levites (a junior order of priests), or as prophets in the tradition of the northern kingdom of Israel, or as sages and scribes at the royal court. Recent scholarship has interpreted the book as involving all these groups, and the origin and growth of Deuteronomism is usually described in the following terms:
Deuteronomy was formed by a complex process that reached probably from the 7th century BCE to the early 5th. It consists of a historical prologue; an introduction; the law code followed by blessings and curses; and a conclusion.
The law code (chapters 12-26) forms the core of the book. 2 Kings 22-23 tells how a "book of the law", commonly identified with the code, was found in the Temple during the reign of Josiah. According to the story in Kings, the reading of the book caused Josiah to embark on a series of religious reforms, and it has been suggested that it was written in order to validate this program. Notwithstanding, it is generally accepted that at least some of the laws are much earlier than Josiah.
The introduction to the code (chapters 4:44-11:32) was added during Josiah's time, thus creating the earliest version of Deuteronomy as a book, and the historical prologue (chapters 1-4:43) was added still later to turn Deuteronomy into an introduction to the entire Deuteronomistic history (Deuteronomy to Kings).
The term was coined in 1943 by the German biblical scholar Martin Noth to explain the origin and purpose of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings: these, he argued, were the work of a single 6th-century historian seeking to explain recent events (the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile) using the theology and language of the book of Deuteronomy. The historian used his sources with a heavy hand, depicting Joshua as a grand, divinely guided conquest, Judges as a cycle of rebellion and salvation, and the story of the kings as recurring disaster due to disobedience to God.
The late 1960s saw the beginning of a series of studies that modified Noth's original concept. In 1968 Frank Moore Cross made an important revision, suggesting that the History was in fact first written in the late 7th century as a contribution to king Josiah's program of reform (the Dtr1 version), and only later revised and updated by Noth's 6th-century author (Dtr2). Dtr1 saw Israel's history as a contrast between God's judgment on the sinful northern kingdom of Jeroboam I (who set up the golden calves to be worshiped) and virtuous Judah, where faithful king David had reigned and where now the righteous Josiah was reforming the kingdom. The exilic Dtr2 overwrote this with warnings of a broken covenant and inevitable punishment and exile for sinful (in Dtr2's view) Judah.
Cross's "dual redaction" model is probably the most widely accepted, but a considerable number of European scholars prefer an alternative model put forward by Rudolf Smend and his pupils. This approach holds that Noth was right to locate the composition of the History in the 6th century, but that further redactions took place after the initial composition, including a "nomistic" (from the Greek word for "law"), or DtrN, layer, and a further layer concerned with the prophets and so called DtrP.
For a time, the existence of the Deuteronomistic history enjoyed "canonical" status in biblical studies. In the late 1990s, however, the consensus regarding its existence collapsed. Writing in 2000, Gary N. Knoppers noted that "in the last five years an increasing number of commentators have expressed grave doubts about fundamental tenets of Noth's classic study."
The prose sermons in book of Jeremiah are written in a style and outlook closely akin to, yet different from, the Deuteronomistic history. Scholars differ over how much of the book is from Jeremiah himself and how much from later disciples, but the French scholar Thomas Römer has recently identified two Deuteronomistic "redactions" (editings) of the book of Jeremiah some time before the end of the Exile (pre-539 BCE) – a process which also involved the prophetic books of Amos and Hosea. It is interesting to note, in reference to the "authors" of the Deuteronomistic works, how Jeremiah the prophet uses scribes such as Baruch to accomplish his ends. It is also noteworthy that the History never mentions Jeremiah, and some scholars believe that the "Jeremiah" Deuteronomists represent a distinct party from the "History" Deuteronomists, with opposing agendas.
Deuteronomy is conceived as a covenant (a treaty) between Israel and Yahweh, who has chosen ("elected") Israel as his people, and requires Israel to live according to his law. Israel is to be a theocracy with Yahweh as the divine suzerain. The law is to be supreme over all other sources of authority, including kings and royal officials, and the prophets are the guardians of the law: prophecy is instruction in the law as given through Moses, the law given through Moses is the complete and sufficient revelation of the Will of God, and nothing further is needed.
Under the covenant Yahweh has promised Israel the land of Canaan, but the promise is conditional: if Israel is unfaithful, they will lose the land. The Deuteronomistic history explains Israel's successes and failures as the result of faithfulness, which brings success, or disobedience, which brings failure; the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians (721 BCE) and Judah by the Babylonians (586) are Yahweh's punishment for continued sinfulness.
Deuteronomy insists on the centralisation of worship "in the place that the Lord your God will choose"; Deuteronomy never says where this place will be, but Kings makes it clear that it is Jerusalem. It also shows a special concern for the poor, for widows and the fatherless: all Israelites are brothers and sisters, and each will answer to God for his treatment of his neighbour; this concern for equality and humanity, however, extends only to fellow-Israelites, not to outsiders.