The Deuteronomic History
Following the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Old Testament is the second large section of of the Hebrew Bible known as the Former Prophets it starts with the book of Joshua and ends with the book of 2 Kings, with exclusion of Ruth. Later scholars called this group of Old Testament books as the Deuteronomic History. This rather new way of looking at the former Prophets began when in 1943 with Martin Noth’s seminal work, The Deuteronomistic History. Noth maintains that the books of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings (except Ruth) comprise the DtrH. His basic assertion is that the DtrH was compiled from a variety of earlier extant sources, which may have formed a proto-, albeit segmented, history of Israel.
The clue to this is to understand the theology behind these reworked extant sources is the book of law (Deut. 4:44-30:20), which Noth links to the law book found in Hilkiah (2 Kings 22:8-10). These sources were put together and edited, in some cases heavily, in the sixth century (c. 550 BCE), perhaps from somewhere within Palestine. Theologically, the Deuteronomist wrote with an eye to explaining the failure of the monarchy, why the nation of Israel had lost the land, and why it found itself in exile. In general Noth sees unity in the final form, with the author(s) presenting a clearly focused end goal.
Sometime after Josiah died, the religious leaders of the reform movement inspired by Deuteronomy began to gather the old stories and archives of the past into a large collection. They had many different types of material to deal with. The Deuteronomist(s) gathered enough to form a continuous history of the people from the time of Joshua’s conquest down to their own day. Where firsthand accounts were lacking or incomplete, they filled in the spaces with other stories and comments. The major focus of the history was created by putting the book of Deuteronomy at the head as a prologue to the whole.
The Stages of the Deuteronomic History
In his book Reading the Old Testament. An Introduction, Lawrence Boadt gave five Stages or Pattern of the Deuteronomic History. Building on the vision of Deuteronomy, the editors of the new history divided their work into five stages.
Stage 1: Joshua. the period of Joshua was a time of great glory and pride for Israel. Under the leadership of Joshua, the people of Israel were able to possess land of Canaan and proved their superiority to the Canaanites.
Stage 2: The Judges. The period of the Judges reveals a spirit of rebellion and disobedience among the next generation Israelites. It pictures a long slow process of settlement, local uprisings, and a growing strength with many setbacks along the way.
Stage 3: King David. The period of king David was a high point of fidelity to the covenant, and a time of God’s greatest blessing on the land. the authors have included well-written stories of the life of king David including his domestic issues and problems. They also included a personal covenant that Yahweh had made with David to establish his own family on the throne of Israel for all time.
Stage 4: The Kings. The book of kings listed all the major events of each king’s reign, for both the time of Solomon and for the separate kingdoms that split apart at his death. The real history of the days of the kings centered on the prophets that God sent again and again to warn the people away from pagan cults.
Stage 5: Fall and Exile. Second Kings tells the story of the fall and exile. Towards the end, the evil practices have not ceased, but have rather increased, and even the reforming zeal and fidelity of Josiah, the last and greatest of David’s “good” descendants, cannot stop the divine punishment that the people have brought down on themselves through their kings.
The Deuteronomic History was a major effort of the biblical tradition to take a second look at is beliefs and understand the ups and downs of history in a new light. An older belief that God had fought for the people of Israel as a warrior, defeating all enemies and promising all blessing, had given way in the sober facts of defeat to a deeper and more spiritual view of God’s actions in the world.
Boadt, Lawrence. reading the Old Testament. An Introduction. Makati City, Philippines: St. Pauls, 2003.
Fee, Gordon D. How To read the Bible Book by Book. A Guided Tour.Metro Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature, Inc., 2004.