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The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Study Bible that provides essential scholarship and guidance for Bible readers.

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Commentary on Deuteronomy

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Commentary spanning earlier chapters

31.1–34.14 : The death of Moses and the formation of the Torah.

With the imprecation of ch 30 concluding the treaty between God and Israel, Deuteronomy now returns to Moses, the mediator of the treaty. His life is ending, and the question of succession is given a two‐fold answer, since Moses was both political and religious leader of Israel. Joshua will be his political and military successor ( 31.1–8,14–15,23; 32.44,48–52; 34.9 ) and “a book … of this law” ( 31.24 ) will instruct the nation in religion. Deuteronomy thus ends in paradox: Moses, ostensibly the book's narrator, narrates his own death (ch 34 ), and the book of the Torah, already presupposed ( 29.27 ), nevertheless provides an account of its own formation ( 31.9–13,24–29 ). The conclusion of Deuteronomy also ends the Pentateuch. In incorporating Deuteronomy into that larger work, editors with the background of the exile added per‐spectives on the function of the Torah in the people's life. Finally, the Pentateuch's literary precedent of a patriarch's death‐bed bequest and blessing (Gen 27; 48–49 ) led to the incorporation of “The Song of Moses” ( 32.1–43 ) and of “The Blessing of Moses” (ch 33 ), each of which may originally have circulated independently. The resulting text thus blends several viewpoints. Themes like the Mosaic appointment of Joshua begin, then begin again from a different perspective, and then are continued only after an apparent digression, which marks the insertion of new material.

34.1–12 : The death of Moses.

This chapter, the original continuation of ch 31 and 32.48–52 , high‐lights the absence of access to Moses; since his burial site is unknown, it cannot become a venerated shrine. The Torah alone is his enduring bequest. At another level, however, it also continues Num 27 , where God had commanded Moses to “go up this mountain” to survey the promised land before his death, and to “lay your hand” upon Joshua, to transfer the mantle of authority to him (vv. 12,18 ), bracketing Deuteronomy and suggesting that editors interrupted the narrative in order to include Deuteronomy in the Pentateuch.

1 :

Went up, responding to the command of 32.49; Num 27.12 . The verse joins two different traditions about the site of Moses’ death: Mount Nebo, which is in Transjordan, east of Jericho; and Mount Pisgah, which is slightly to its west, and unmentioned in 32.49 . Seeking to preserve both traditions, the editor presents them as if they were the same.

2–3 :

The lofty vantage point allows Moses to look northward to the Sea of Galilee (area of the tribal allotment of and Naphtali), to the Western Sea (the Mediterranean), south to the Negeb desert and along the Jordan rift valley as far south as Zoar (once located at the southern end of the Dead Sea as one of the “cities of the Plain”; Gen 14.2,8; 19.29 ).

5 :

At the Lord's command, see 32.50n. The unusual formulation greatly honors Moses, who, despite advanced age, does not die of old age nor succumb to physical or intellectual infirmity.

6 :

He was buried, the Heb states, “He buried him,” a clear indication that God himself buried Moses, as he himself sealed Noah into the ark (Gen 7.16 ). Instead of Moses’ progeny assuming the responsibility of caring for the dead, God undertook it personally. Beth‐peor, 3.29; 4.46; Josh 13.20 . No one knows his burial place, thus precluding pilgrimages to the site as a shrine.

7 :

One hundred twenty, see 31.2n.

8 :

Thirty days, so also for Aaron (Num 20.29 ), the full mourning period stipulated for a parent ( 21.13 ).

9 :

Full of the spirit of wisdom, as at 1.13 and 16.18–20 , Deuteronomy revises earlier traditions to stress wisdom as the essential qualification of office, and thus what Joshua receives from Moses. In Num 27.18 , Joshua already possessed an undefined “spirit” (often associated with prophecy or possession), while Moses was to transfer his “authority” to him. Laid his hands on him, as at Num 27.22–23 , a means of transfer of attributes (Lev 16.21; Num 8.10–13 ), here used for investiture into office.

10–12 :

Moses as the apogee of prophecy both in direct access to divine revelation and in power to work miracles. The double elevation, which differs from his more human representation elsewhere in the book, suggests an editor's later, idealizing retrospective, with Deuteronomy now worked into the Pentateuch as a whole.

10 :

Never since, more correctly, “But there never again arose in Israel a prophet like Moses.” NRSV obscures the discrepancy between the perspective of this verse and the divine promise to Moses that the line of prophetic succession will continue in the future: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you” ( 18.18 ). Face to face, rather than through dreams or visions ( 13.1 ); similarly, Ex 33.11; Num 12.8–10 . Other traditions reject the concept that Moses had such direct access to God (Ex 33.20–23 ).

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