Deuteronomy 25-28: Laws, blessings, curses

A guilty party may be lashed up to 40 times, but no more.  When two brothers live together and one of them dies, the other shall marry the first’s widow and produce a son for him.  If two men get into a fight and the wife of one grabs the other’s genitals, her hand shall be cut off.  Have honest weights and measures.  Kill all the Amalekites.  Just after you cross the Jordan, set aside some of the first fruits of the soil; the priest shall take it to an altar.  Upon crossing the Jordan, set up stones with this Teaching carved on it; set them up on Mount Ebal.  There, also build an altar with unhewn stones.  6 tribes shall pronounce curses from Mount Ebal, while the other 6 shall pronounce blessings from Mount Gerizim.

If you obey these commandments, you will have many blessings, such as fertility, abundance, military victories, and dominance over other nations.  If you disobey, you will have many more blessings: famine, plagues, calamity, exile, slavery, and even total racial extinction.

Commentary:

  • Chapter 28 has close parallels with the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon, a Neo-Assyrian treaty from 672 BC.  This treaty, like chapter 28, has a long series of blessings for those who obey it, together with a long series of curses for those who violate it.  Chapter 28 has many more curses than blessings, perhaps reflecting the reality of the Babylonian exile.
  • Even though all 12 tribes are supposed to utter blessings and curses from the tops of two mountains, the succeeding verses (27:15-26) tell a different story.  Here, the Levites proclaim no blessings and no curses, only a series of “cursed be…” followed by prohibited activities.  Also note that in the list of 12 tribes (27:11-13), Levi is in the list, while Joseph is one tribe instead of two (Manasseh and Ephraim).  These all indicate the complex authorship of Deuteronomy.
  • Mount Ebal is in the middle of the modern-day West Bank, far from the Jordan.  27:4 portrays it as very close to the Jordan (“upon crossing the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I charge you this day, on Mount Ebal”)
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