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Book of Deuteronomy: Definition, Summary & Author

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  • 1:21 Summary
  • 5:22 Moses, Law Giver
  • 6:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

Its name is an English rendition of a Greek translation, but the Book of Deuteronomy is an important part of Jewish theology and heritage. Learn more about the 'Second Law' in this lesson, with a summary of the book and a discussion of its authorship!

Deuteronomy Defined

Its name might sound like a modern medical procedure, but the biblical Book of Deuteronomy is actually concerned with age-old moral issues. The title for this fifth and final book of the Jewish Torah (the 'Pentateuch' in the Christian Bible) is derived from the Greek deuteronomion, meaning 'second' or 'repeated Law.' The Greek name of Deuteronomy, however, is merely a translation of the Hebrew Mishneh Torah, which literally means 'Repetition of the Instructions.'

The Book of Deuteronomy is, above all, a reiteration of the laws given by God to the Israelites in previous books of the Torah (i.e., Exodus, Leviticus). Moses references several times in Deuteronomy and elsewhere that the Hebrew people had proven to be stubborn and regressive in their bad habits. For this reason, he and God agreed that it would be in their best interests to hear all the rules again to best take them to heart.

Deuteronomy is often cited as one of the most crucial books in Jewish theology, since it most vehemently stresses the concept of monotheism, or the worship of a single deity. This concept has historically been one of the most dominant and identifiable characteristics of Judaism, and so Deuteronomy's role in this religious tradition is truly fundamental.

Book of Deuteronomy Summary

To best understand the contents of these scriptures, Deuteronomy can be divided into seven distinct sections:

Historical Overview & Exhortation (Ch. 1-4:44): Deuteronomy opens with a brief synopsis of events during and leading up to the end of the Israelites' forty-year stint in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. As an introduction of the covenant that is about to be discussed, this section highlights obedience to God's laws or the lack thereof as the source of all the Hebrew people's triumphs and woes. With the historical examples in place, Moses reminds his people of the rewards of fidelity to God, as well as of the inherent dangers of displeasing the Almighty, urging them to weigh those consequences heavily.

God's Covenant (4:44-Ch. 28): The largest section of Deuteronomy is devoted to an extensive review of rules and statutes put in place as an agreement between God and the Children of Israel. Of all the points stressed in this section, or the book as a whole, the notion of obedience to God's decrees is of the utmost importance. Without obedience, all of the Torah and its instructions would be rendered null and void, along with God's covenant to provide the Hebrews with peace and prosperity in exchange.

This section is a source of some of the most essential teachings in all of Judaism. It not only restates the Ten Commandments, but also emphasizes the teaching of these and other mitzvoth to subsequent generations. Here, we also find outlines for various practices and observances still seen today, such as the use of phylacteries and mezuzot to keep God's teachings close at hand or the proper celebrations of the Feasts of Passover, Shavu'ot, and Sukkot. Perhaps most importantly, though, we see a call for centralized worship in a single sanctuary, which further highlights fundamental elements of monotheism and a move away from sacrificial practices.

Israel's Choice (Chs. 29-30): In these two chapters, the Israelites are forced to recall past actions of God on their behalf and to acknowledge that they are bound by oath to their covenant. A choice given by God to the people of Israel perfectly summarizes this section of Deuteronomy: 'Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.' This choice given by God to the people of Israel in verse 30:15 perfectly summarizes this section of Deuteronomy. They are presented with the choice, then, to accept the covenant and its stipulations and blessings, or to disobey it and suffer the dire consequences.

Moses' Successor (Ch. 31): This chapter is concerned with the transmission of God's laws and the continuity of stable leadership following Moses' imminent death. Here, we see Moses pass on the laws to the Levitical priests for safekeeping in the Ark of the Covenant, as well as ordain his assistant Joshua as the new patriarch of Israel.

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