Deuteronomy 13-16: Kill all infidels!

When a prophet appears among you who advocates worship of another god, kill him! If your own relatives try to convince you to worship other gods, show him no pity; stone them to death yourself. Do this even if the relative is your son or daughter. If the inhabitants of one of your towns start worshiping another god, kill all the people and cattle in that town, burn down the town, and do not rebuild.

Do not eat anything abhorrent. You shall only eat animals that have true hoofs and chew the cud. Among water animals, you may eat anything that has fins and scales; among birds, you may eat anything not on the given list. All insects are forbidden, as is all carrion.

Every year, set asset a tenth of the yield of your field and consume it in the central sanctuary. If it is too far, convert your yield into money and buy anything you want at the central sanctuary for celebration. Do not neglect the Levite; every third year, you shall leave out your tithe in your own settlement for the Levite, stranger, fatherless, and widow. Every 7th year, you shall forgive all debts to Israelites and free all slaves, except those who voluntarily stay with you. At all times, you shall give liberally to those in need, without any regret.  Observe these festivals: Passover, when you may not eat leavened bread for 7 days; the Feast of Weeks 7 weeks after Passover, when you offer your freewill offering and rejoice before the LORD; and the Feast of Booths, when you shall rejoice in a festival for 7 days. These shall be pilgrimage festivals, when you must celebrate in the central sanctuary.

Commentary:

  • The list of clean and unclean animals in 14:3-21 is slightly different from the list in Lev. 11:2-23.  For example, this list forbids all insects, while the one in Leviticus allows some types of insects.
  • Similarly, the practice of tithing is not the same in 14:23 as they are in Lev. 27:30-33 and Num. 18:21-32.  Here, tithes are enjoyed by the taxpayer himself, and must be eaten at the central sanctuary.  In Leviticus, the tithes are assigned to the sanctuary; in Numbers, they are assigned to the Levites.
  • The social program in ch. 15 alternates between idealistic and practical.  v.4 reads “There shall be no needy among you…” while v.11 reads “For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.”
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Deuteronomy 9-12: Your disobedience, centralization of worship

Hear, Israel!  You are about to cross the Jordan and dispossess nations greater than you, conquering cities built by giants, with walls sky-high.  The LORD himself will lead you.  Remember that he is not doing this because you are virtuous, but because the Canaanites are wicked.  Remember your multiple instances of disobedience–at Horeb with the golden calf, at Taberah, at Massah, at Kibroth-hattaavah, and at Kadesh, when you refused to take possession of the land.

Remember the Ten Commandments, which God inscribed on stone tablets.  I broke the tablets upon discovering your golden calf, but God inscribed new ones identical to the originals.  Now, you must cut away the thickening about your hearts and revere God, worshiping him alone.  Keep all the instructions that I enjoin upon you today, so that you may have strength to conquer Canaan.  When you conquer Canaan, you may not sacrifice animals anywhere, but must only worship at a central site which the LORD will designate.  You may slaughter animals and eat them anywhere, without bringing them to the central site.  Your burnt offerings, other sacrifices, tithes, contributions, and firstlings must all be brought to this site.

Commentary:

  • Deuteronomy 12 is mostly about the centralization of worship at one site, almost certainly intended to be Jerusalem.  Worshiping at other altars is prohibited.  This is a key aspect of king Josiah’s religious reform.   This centralization contrasts sharply with earlier Biblical law, which guaranteed God’s blessing at multiple sacrificial altars (Exodus 20:21), “in every place”.  In earlier Biblical narrative, it was common to sacrifice at other altars (i.e. Gen 12:7, 35:1-7).
  • Due to this centralization of worship, it became impractical to forbid the non-ritual slaughter of animals.  Previously, all slaughter had to occur on an altar, at whose bottom the animal’s blood would be dumped (Lev 17:3-7).  Deut 12:15 removes this requirement, departing sharply from previous law.
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Deuteronomy 5-8: Commandments

Moses reminds the Israelites of the covenant at Horeb, containing the Ten Commandments.  Moses then imparts further instructions, which they must obey willingly and faithfully, that it may go well with them and that they may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey.  The instructions include:

The LORD is our God, the LORD alone; you shall not follow other gods.  Love the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  Do not try the LORD as you did at Massah, but keep the commandments that he has enjoined upon you.  When you enter Canaan, you must kill all the inhabitants; you may not make agreements with them, give them quarter, or intermarry with them.  You must destroy their religious objects and not worship their gods.  When you have eaten your fill, built fine houses, and become wealthy, do not forget it was God who made you so.

Commentary:

  • 5:2-3 read “The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.  It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, the living, every one of us who is here today.”  This is literally false–in the narrative of the Torah, every single person who left Egypt has now died.  This passage is possibly intended to suggest the Israelites’ closeness to God.
  • 5:4 and 5:5 contradict each other.  5:4 reads “Face to face the LORD spoke to you on the mountain out of the fire” while 5:5 “I stood between the LORD and you at that time to convey the LORD’s words to you, for you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.”  Did the Israelites speak to God face to face on the mountain, or did they remain below the mountain?  As is normal in Deuteronomy, the editor preserves two different and contradictory traditions right next to each other.
  • The Ten Commandments recited in Deut 5 are very similar to, but not identical to, the ones in Exodus.  For example, in Exodus 20:11, the Israelites must observe the Sabbath because the LORD rested on the seventh day.  In Deuteronomy 5:15, they must observe it because it allows their slaves to rest.
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Deuteronomy 1-4: Historical overview, massacre

Introduction: Deuteronomy is a complex text composed of 4 main sections: 3 discourses by Moses and a section describing Moses’ death.  The first discourse is mainly a historical review; the second is mainly a legal corpus; the third describes the ratification ceremony for the covenant.  Deuteronomy is a composite of multiple authors with multiple conflicting viewpoints.  The bulk (ch 5-26) is a treaty between God and the Israelites; this was probably written before the Babylonian exile but after Assyria’s conquest of the northern kingdom, serving as a tool in Josiah’s religious reform (who reigned 641-609 BC).  During the exile, many parts of the book were modified or expanded upon to reflect the new experiences of the Israelite people.  After exile, chapters 1-4 and 29-34 were added, partly to serve as introductions and conclusions.

Deuteronomy 1-4: Moses describes the history of the Israelites.  From Horeb, God guided us to the hill country of the Amorites and told us to take it as a possession.  All of you asked me to send spies first, and even though they gave a good report of the land, you refused to go up due to fear of the giants living there.  When God heard this, he punished you with 40 years of wondering in the desert, and I was punished too for your crime.  After this, you went south into the wilderness and skirted the edge of Edom until the LORD told you to go through Edom.  This detour took 38 years, until all the warriors who had left Egypt had died off.  The LORD commanded us to occupy the land of Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon.  We defeated them and massacred everyone, killing all their men, women, and children.  The LORD then delivered King Og of Bashan into our power.  We captured all his towns, killing all their men, women, and children.  We then apportioned land east of the Jordan for the Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassehites, on condition that they serve as shock troops to conquer the rest of Canaan.

I pleaded with God to let me enter the promised land, but he would only let me observe it from afar.  Therefore, give heed to the laws and rules that I am giving, so that you may occupy the land.  You yourselves saw God at Mount Sinai and heard him speak.  Which other people has had that honor?

Commentary:

  • The account of the people’s spying of the land, complaints, and attempt to enter Canaan without divine sanction is a retelling of Numbers 13-14, with some variations.  For example, in Deut 1:35-36, Caleb shall only see the promised land; in Num 14:24, Caleb is allowed to enter.  Furthermore, in 1:37, God forbids Moses to enter Canaan due to this rebellious behavior, but in Num 20:12, it is due to a separate incident at  Meribah.
  • These chapters contain both a monotheistic and a polytheistic worldview.  Deut 3:24 reads “O Lord GOD […] You whose powerful deeds no god in heaven or on earth can equal!”  This assumes the existence of other gods.  The opposite viewpoint is espoused in 4:35: “It has been clearly demonstrated to you that the LORD alone is God; there is none beside Him”
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Numbers 33-36: Itinerary, manslaying

Long list of places that the Israelites had been, starting with Egypt and ending with the steppes of Moab.  In the steppes of Moab, the LORD tells the Israelites that they shall exterminate all the Canaanites, destroy their sacred objects, and demolish their altars.  Lots shall be drawn to apportion land among the tribes.  The LORD describes the borders of the Israelite people–roughly speaking, it is to be the territory delineated in this map.  The LORD further instructs the Israelites to designate 48 towns for the Levites, along with surrounding pasture to a radius of 2000 cubits.   6 towns are to be towns of refuge for manslayers to flee to.  When someone kills intentionally, or intentionally strikes another with an object so that death results, that person is guilty of murder and must be put to death.  When someone kills unintentionally, he may flee to a city of refuge, which he shall be save from the blood-avenger.  He must live there until the death of the high priest.  If he leaves before that, the blood-avenger may kill him.

The LORD allows the daughters of Zelophehad to marry anyone they wish, provided it is within their father’s tribe.  That way, their share of land will not be cut off from their tribe.

Commentary:

  • The itinerary in Numbers 33 smooths out geographical problems in the preceding chapters.  For example, 33:41-49 suggest a route through Edomite and Moabite territory.  This is consistent with Deuteronomy 2-13, but contradicts Numbers 20:19-21.
  • According to 35:33-34, murderers must be killed because bloodshed is religious pollution.  This pollution of the land cannot be cleansed except by the blood of the murderer.
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Numbers 29-32: Harvest festival, massacre of Midianites, sex slavery

Detailed rules on how to observe Sukkot, the harvest festival, on the 10th day of the 7th month.  For example, on the first day the priests must sacrifice as a burnt offering a bull, a ram, 7 lambs, and meal offering.  In addition, they must sacrifice a goat for a purification offering.  The number and type of sacrifices are then given for all 8 days of the festival.  The LORD then turns to the matter of vows.  When males make a vow, they must fulfill it.  When females make a vow, they do not have to keep it if their father or husband object on the day they find out.  If they find out and don’t object on that day, they must keep the vow.

The LORD commands Moses to defeat the Midianites.  Moses organizes a military expedition, taking 1000 from each tribe.  The expedition kills all the males, but spares the females.  Moses is angry that they spared the females and orders all of them to be killed, except for the virgins, who are to become slaves.  Following the LORD’s orders, the 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 asses, and 32,000 girls are split equally between the combatants and the other Israelites, with some dedicated to the sanctuary.

The Reubenites and the Gadites ask to settle on land to the east of the Jordan, which had just been conquered.  Moses agrees, but on the condition that they fight with the other Israelites to conquer Canaan before settling on the land.

Commentary:

  • Even though 29:12 says that Sukkot lasts 7 days, 29:35 begins with “on the eighth day…”  This contradiction has caused much confusion in Jewish legal texts
  • The Priestly source, who describes the defeat of the Midianites, reveals its view of military campaigns.  Specifically, the priests have a key role to play, men and non-virgin women must be killed, and virgin women may be kept as sex slaves.  After the war, the combatants must cleanse themselves and all objects (31:19-23).  Some booty must be reserved for the Levites and the sanctuary.
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Numbers 25-28: Public impalement, census, offerings

Some Israelites have sex with Moabite women and worship their god.  The LORD commands Moses to publicly impale all the Israelite leaders, both guilty and innocent.  Moses reduces the cruelty of the punishment, and only kills the guilty leaders.  Just then, an Israelite brought a Midianite woman to his companions; Phinehas took a spear and killed them both.  This appeases the LORD and stops the plague afflicting them.  Further, the LORD grants Phinehas and his descendants a pact of friendship.

The LORD commands a census of the whole community.  The numbers and patriarchs of each tribe is then listed, followed by a census of the Levites.  Then the daughters of Zelophehad plead for land, because their father died without any sons and they did not want their father’s name to be lost.  The LORD grants this request and clarifies inheritance rules: sons take priority in inheritance, followed by daughters, brothers, and father’s brothers, in that order.  He further appoints Joshua as Moses’ successor.  Finally, he gives detailed instructions about the burnt offerings, purification offerings, meal offerings, and libations that must be performed daily, on sabbaths, and on major holidays.

Commentary:

  • 25:4 is translated “Take all the ringleaders and have them publicly impaled before the LORD”, but a more literal translation for “ringleaders” is “all the heads of the people”, implying both innocent and guilty leaders.
  • Joshua, unlike Moses, cannot communicate directly with the LORD.  He must “seek the decision of the Urim before the LORD” (27:21).  The Urim and Thummim are objects that fit into the pouch of the high priest’s breastplace.  They were cast like dice, and the result was said to be divinely ordained.
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