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The Book of Deuteronomy

Updated on November 28, 2016

Deuteronomy, in the Old Testament, is the fifth and last book of the Pentateuch. Deuteronomy, which means "second law" in Greek, is known in Hebrew as Debarim or Misneh Tor ah. The book consists of instructions given by Moses to the children of Israel on their entering the land of Canaan. It contains a brief history of Israel and a second presentation of many of the laws laid down earlier in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, including the Ten Commandments. The main theme is that God loves Israel and that the people must love and serve Him in return. Deuteronomy also contains the poems Song of Moses (chapter 32) and Blessing of Moses (chapter 33) and an account of the death of Moses.

The body of laws given in the addresses by Moses covers (1) religious laws and duties; (2) civil law; (3) criminal law; and (4) miscellaneous regulations. Also included in Deuteronomy are the naming of Joshua as successor of Moses and the entrusting of the Book of the Law to the Levites.

Authorship of Deuteronomy is traditionally attributed to Moses, although most critics assert that the book was actually written down much later, after a long period of oral transmission that could have dated back to Moses. It is widely accepted that Deuteronomy or part of it was the law book discovered in 621 B.C. in the temple in Jerusalem by King Josiah (II Kings 22). This was a period of religious reform, and many of the regulations set forth in Deuteronomy were implemented during Josiah's reign. The laws reflect the teachings of such prophets of the 7th and 8th centuries B.C. as Amos and Isaiah, who emphasized the good and just nature of God, God's love of Israel, and the consequent moral obligations placed on the Israelites.


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