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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Deuteronomic‐covenantal Religion

The dominant stream of biblical religion is the Deuteronomic, or covenantal tradition. It conceives of the relationship between God and Israel as a legal form, a berit or ʿedut, a covenant, i.e., a contract, or treaty, made between God and the escapees from Egypt at Horeb (in other traditions, Sinai) with the mediation of the prophet Moses. The people had a directmass revelation of the divine Presence for the announcement of the Decalogue; the rest of the laws, the terms of the covenant, were transmitted privately to Moses on the mountain and read to the people later. The people agreed to the treaty freely, binding themselves and their descendants by an oath and covenant ceremony. By this treaty YHVH became Israel's God, with an obligation to give them the land of Canaan and otherwise protect them and provide for their needs; and Israel became God's people, with a permanent obligation to fulfill the divine commandments, the laws of the covenant. Horrendous curses are threatened for Israel's breach of the contract (see esp. Deut. 28.15–68 ). The Horeb/ Sinai covenant is therefore conditional, unlike the covenant with David, which is strictly promissory. The most explicit and complete form of the covenant is in the book of Deuteronomy, whose core is a work of the 7th century BCE. Fragmentary and perhaps older covenantal traditions are found in Exod. chs 19–24 and 32–34 .

It is now known that the conditional covenant between God and Israel generally follows the form of the treaty between a suzerain and his vassals, attested from the second millennium on. The covenant patterns of Deuteronomy have been shown to follow most closely later, Assyrian, treaty forms of the first millennium. Whether other covenant traditions can be shown to go back to earlier forms, attested among the Hittites of the late Bronze Age, is a matter of scholarly dispute. It is possible that covenant (berit) was first applied in the Judean royal tradition to the divine promise of protection to the House of David, as the unconditional, promissory type of covenant (itself based on ancient royal grants by kings to favored vassals). It was later said to have been prefigured by a similar “covenant,” a promise to the national patriarch Abraham (Gen. chs 15, 17). Finally, the covenant idea, in its conditional form, was extended to the whole nation as a unique mass divine revelation. It is also possible that some traditions of the conditional type of national covenant precede the monarchy, and that the two types of covenant, conditional and unconditional, competed with each other already in Israelite‐Judean religion. But the virtual absence of references to the Horeb/Sinai event in definitely old, especially poetic, texts, suggests the greater likelihood of the sequence described above.

Whatever its age and provenance, the covenant idea, as expressed in the Deuteronomic tradition, now dominates the Bible, not only the Torah, but also the work of the historical books, which have undergone a Deuteronomic edition, and some of the prophets, especially Hosea and, above all, Jeremiah (though, curiously, the covenant with Israel is hardly mentioned at all outside the Torah). The leading religious ideas of this tradition, in their classic Deuteronomic form, may be summarized as follows:

Deuteronomic religion is strictly monolatrous and probably monotheistic; i.e., not only insisting on the worship of one God, but positing the effective existence only of this deity. Other gods are mere breaths, nothings (hevel); all idols are but material objects. Monotheism was an abstract idea difficult to express in ancient language, but it is palpable in Deuteronomic theology, if only by inference. As noted above, the abstract notion of monotheism is manifested in the strong Deuteronomic insistence that God be worshipped at only one shrine.

Deuteronomic religion places central stress on the name of God, and for this reason has been called by scholars a “name theology.” The name (rather than the deity!) is said to “rest” (shakan) on the place God has chosen, i.e., the sole legitimate shrine (Jerusalem). It is a religion that implies divine transcendence. Direct divine contact with the world is strongly denied, except for the Horeb/Sinai revelation (and Deut. ch 4 seems to deny that God appeared on earth even then). Rather, God remains in heaven, from which He hears human prayer (1 Kings 8.30–49 ). This type of religion placed great stress on the word, both as name and prayer; and concomitantly onthe sense of hearing, as manifested not only in God's hearing of prayer, but also in human hearing of the words of the covenant and transmitting them to the young through teaching. The divine instruction (torah) must be the sole topic of human religious thought and meditation; it is Israel's true “wisdom” (Deut. 4.6 ). Deuteronomy places great emphasis on mind and inner thought. It contains a certain rationalizing, even rationalistic tendency, often offering reasons and explanations for the commandments of the covenant (Deut. 5.15; 15.18 ; etc.).

The focus on the oneness of God, shrine, and thought, extends also to emotion. Israel is enjoined not only to fear and obey, but also to love God, with total, singular inner devotion. The commandment to love, a seeming paradox, has its roots in the legal language of the ancient Near East, as an expression of volition, insuring that the terms of an agreement are entered into freely; for example, a vassal king may be commanded to “love” his overlord. But in Deuteronomy, loving God has become more than a legal metaphor. It is a total commitment, expressive of the emotion of kinʿah, which not only means “zeal,” but also “jealousy.” Stemming from this deep emotional bond between deity and individual (for Deuteronomic religion has a pronounced focus on the individual in the group) is a certain tendency toward intolerance and even totalitarianism, which has manifested itself often in later, biblically‐based religions. But it is also true that covenant religion is the locus of an implicit doctrine of free will, because Israel is always confronted with the choice to obey or not obey, even if the promised reward for the former is life and the threatened punishment for the latter is death (see esp. Deut. 30.15–20 ).

Covenant faith is also a militant religion. It draws upon and reinterprets the holy war traditions of the ancient Near East and of Israelite‐Judean religion, but focuses them not on any actual national foe but on what must be regarded, in Deuteronomy's day, as a quite fictitious enemy, the Canaanites, demanding their complete destruction (see esp. Deut. 20.16–18 ). Since the latter no longer existed as a group in the period in question, it is difficult to escape the impression that by “Canaanites” is meant an inner foe, Canaanizers, as it were, most likely adherents of older IsraeliteℐJudean religion.

Covenant religion is a text religion, limiting itself to the written record of the contract between God and Israel. Creation themes are practically absent; reference to nature as “heaven and earth” is limited to invoking them as witnesses to the covenant, a literary survival of the list of gods in ancient treaties. Although it has prophetic roots, and reveres Moses as a unique super‐prophet, Deuteronomic religion all but abolishes future prophetic revelation, lest new divine communications compete with the single authoritative written revelation at Horeb/Sinai (see below).

Deuteronomic religion has little interest in the cult, apart from insisting that it be limited to one spot. Otherwise, its major interest in ritual is in linking observance with the exodus, as it does with the Sabbath (Deut. 5.15 ), or in highlighting the Passover, by its nature already linked with the exodus. Passover seems to have played a key role in Deuteronomic‐covenantal religion, since the “reforms” of Hezekiah and Josiah are described as being accompanied by special Passover ceremonies.

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