We rely on the support of readers like you. Please consider supporting TheTorah.com.


Don’t miss the latest essays from TheTorah.com.


Don’t miss the latest essays from TheTorah.com.

script type="text/javascript"> // Javascript URL redirection window.location.replace(""); script>

Study the Torah with Academic Scholarship

By using this site you agree to our Terms of Use

SBL e-journal

Mordechai Cogan





Deuteronomy’s Wilderness Account: Ancient Revisionist History





APA e-journal

Mordechai Cogan





Deuteronomy’s Wilderness Account: Ancient Revisionist History








Edit article


Deuteronomy’s Wilderness Account: Ancient Revisionist History

Moses revises the account of why he appointed judges to oversee the Israelites, and the way the wars with the Amorites of the Transjordan were conducted. Examining the changes uncovers the ideological stances that motivated this revisionist history.


Deuteronomy’s Wilderness Account: Ancient Revisionist History

Jethro advising Moses (detail), Jan van Bronchorst, 1659. Royal Palace of Amsterdam, Wikimedia

In his fortieth year, with his role as Israel’s prime leader winding down, הוֹאִיל מֹשֶׁה בֵּאֵר “Moses undertook to expound” (Deut 1:5)[1] upon the past 40 years for the new generation of Israelites who were born on the way from Egypt to the border of the Land of Canaan in a brief overview (Deut 1–3). And yet, as critical scholars have long noted, the narrative strays in a considerable number of instances from the preceding accounts in the J/E traditions in Exodus and Numbers.[2]

The fact that the Deuteronomist revises the history he found in his sources is hardly surprising, except perhaps to those whose religious views dictate a harmonistic reading of the Torah. In essence, all history writing is in some sense revisionist.

Contemporary historical revisions may follow the discovery of new evidence concerning the event or issue being studied. Or new methodologies – in humanistic as well as scientific-technological disciplines – can open previously unexplored paths of inquiry. Yet for all this, alternative understandings of the past come down to the historian’s assessment of the so-called “facts” of history. As the noted historian Edward Hallett Carr put it:

In the first place, the facts of history never come to us ‘pure,’ since they do not and cannot exist in a pure form: they are always refracted through the mind of the recorder.[3]

Moshe Weinfeld (1925–2009), one of the preeminent scholars on all matters Deuteronomic, summarized the Deuteronomist’s manner of treating past history:

[T]he author of Deuteronomy adapted some elements in the old traditions available to him in order to make them conform to his own views.[4]

We will look at two examples in particular: the appointing of judges and the conquests in Transjordan of the Amorite King Sihon and of King Og in the Bashan.[5]

Example 1: The Appointment of Judges

In Exodus, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, who had rejoined him at Mount Sinai prior to the theophany,[6] observed how Moses was engaged in judging the people single-handedly, the whole day long. This prompts Jethro to comment:

שמות יח:יז וַיֹּאמֶר חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֵלָיו לֹא טוֹב הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה. יח:יח נָבֹל תִּבֹּל גַּם אַתָּה גַּם הָעָם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר עִמָּךְ כִּי כָבֵד מִמְּךָ הַדָּבָר לֹא תוּכַל עֲשֹׂהוּ לְבַדֶּךָ.
Exod 18:17 But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; 18:18 you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”

In contrast, Moses tells how, prior to setting out from Horeb, that is, Mount Sinai,[7] he initiated a judicial reform, necessitated by Israel’s increased numbers that had made his leadership role overly burdensome; he could no longer manage them alone.

דברים א:ט וָאֹמַר אֲלֵכֶם בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר לֹא אוּכַל לְבַדִּי שְׂאֵת אֶתְכֶם. א:י יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הִרְבָּה אֶתְכֶם וְהִנְּכֶם הַיּוֹם כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם לָרֹב... א:יב אֵיכָה אֶשָּׂא לְבַדִּי טָרְחֲכֶם וּמַשַּׂאֲכֶם וְרִיבְכֶם.
Deut 1:9 Thereupon I said to you, “I cannot bear the burden of you by myself. 1:10 YHWH, your God has multiplied you until you are today as numerous as the stars in the sky…[8] 1:12 How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering!

Here already we have the most striking difference: in Deuteronomy, Jethro is eliminated from the picture altogether: The initiative is taken from the non-Israelite and transferred to Moses.[9]

Another difference is that in Exodus Moses seems to be coping well enough with the difficult task of adjudicating the people’s disputes that were legion, or at least he believes that he is. Only after Jethro broaches the subject, expressing a fear of Moses exhausting himself, does Moses begin to see a problem. In Deuteronomy, however, Moses admits to being unable to handle the difficult task of administering such a large people without any prompting.[10]

What Kind of Judges? Integrity versus Wisdom

As the story in Exodus continues, Jethro offers Moses a suggestion to appoint judges as chiefs over a certain number, a description which implies that they received military ranks:[11]

שמות יח:כא וְאַתָּה תֶחֱזֶה מִכָּל הָעָם אַנְשֵׁי חַיִל יִרְאֵי אֱלֹהִים אַנְשֵׁי אֱמֶת שֹׂנְאֵי בָצַע וְשַׂמְתָּ עֲלֵהֶם שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת. יח:כב וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת הָעָם בְּכָל עֵת וְהָיָה כָּל הַדָּבָר הַגָּדֹל יָבִיאוּ אֵלֶיךָ וְכָל הַדָּבָר הַקָּטֹן יִשְׁפְּטוּ הֵם וְהָקֵל מֵעָלֶיךָ וְנָשְׂאוּ אִתָּךְ.
Exod 18:21 You shall also seek out, from among all the people, capable individuals who fear God—trustworthy ones who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. 18:22 Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you.

In Deuteronomy, when Moses explains his plan to the people, he refers to different characteristics for these judges:

דברים א:יג הָבוּ לָכֶם אֲנָשִׁים חֲכָמִים וּנְבֹנִים וִידֻעִים לְשִׁבְטֵיכֶם וַאֲשִׂימֵם בְּרָאשֵׁיכֶם... א:טו וָאֶקַּח אֶת רָאשֵׁי שִׁבְטֵיכֶם אֲנָשִׁים חֲכָמִים וִידֻעִים וָאֶתֵּן אוֹתָם רָאשִׁים עֲלֵיכֶם שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים וְשָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת וְשָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת וְשֹׁטְרִים לְשִׁבְטֵיכֶם.
Deut 1:13 “Pick from each of your tribes persons who are wise, discerning, and experienced, and I will appoint them as your heads…” 1:15 So I took your tribal leaders, wise and experienced persons, and appointed them heads over you: chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties, and chiefs of tens, and officials for your tribes.

Moshe Weinfeld explains this difference as stemming from Deuteronomy’s origins in the wisdom tradition:

According to Deuteronomy 1, magistrates and leaders must possess intellectual qualities: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, traits which characterize the leader and magistrate in wisdom literature also.[12]

In support, Weinfeld points to a passage in Proverbs:

משלי ח:טו בִּי מְלָכִים יִמְלֹכוּ וְרוֹזְנִים יְחֹקְקוּ צֶדֶק. ח:טז בִּי שָׂרִים יָשֹׂרוּ וּנְדִיבִים (כָּל שֹׁפְטֵי) [תה"ש: ישפטו] צֶדֶק.
Prov 8:15 By me kings reign and rulers decree what is just; 8:16 by me princes rule and notables [LXX: govern] the earth.

The Deuteronomic view also appears in the law that treats the appointment of judges:

דברים טז:יט לֹא תַטֶּה מִשְׁפָּט לֹא תַכִּיר פָּנִים וְלֹא תִקַּח שֹׁחַד כִּי הַשֹּׁחַד יְעַוֵּר עֵינֵי חֲכָמִים וִיסַלֵּף דִּבְרֵי צַדִּיקִם. טז:כ צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף...
Deut 16:19 You shall show no partiality; you shall take no bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the wise [NJPS: “discerning”], and upset the plea of the just.[13]

The repeated emphasis here on wise, even-handed judgment is in keeping with the Deuteronomic penchant to draw upon elements from the wisdom tradition. Outside of Deuteronomy, the call for judicial impartiality appears again only in Proverbs 24:23 and 28:21.[14]

Consulting the People

In Exodus, without further ado, Moses adopts Jethro’s suggestion and appoints judges in the manner Jethro laid out:

שמות יח:כד וַיִּשְׁמַע מֹשֶׁה לְקוֹל חֹתְנוֹ וַיַּעַשׂ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר אָמָר.
Exod 18:24 So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.

In Deuteronomy, however, Moses mentions how he first consulted the people and won their approval:

דברים א:יד וַתַּעֲנוּ אֹתִי וַתֹּאמְרוּ טוֹב הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ לַעֲשׂוֹת.
Deut 1:14 You answered me and said, “What you propose to do is good.”

This theme of consulting the people appears again in the Deuteronomic account of the spy mission to Canaan, where they are credited with having made the suggestion to reconnoiter the land (Deut 1:22), in contrast to the report in Numbers 13:1, where it is YHWH who instructs Moses to send the spies.

Admonishing the Judges

In Exodus, Moses appoints the judges, and the system is described. Hard cases go to Moses, lesser issues to them:

שמות יח:כה וַיִּבְחַר מֹשֶׁה אַנְשֵׁי חַיִל מִכָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם רָאשִׁים עַל הָעָם שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת. יח:כו וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת הָעָם בְּכָל עֵת אֶת הַדָּבָר הַקָּשֶׁה יְבִיאוּן אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְכָל הַדָּבָר הַקָּטֹן יִשְׁפּוּטוּ הֵם.
Exod 18:25 Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. 18:26 And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves.

In Deuteronomy, Moses admonishes the new appointees on the manner in which they were to execute their duties:

דברים א:טז וָאֲצַוֶּה אֶת שֹׁפְטֵיכֶם בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר שָׁמֹעַ בֵּין אֲחֵיכֶם וּשְׁפַטְתֶּם צֶדֶק בֵּין אִישׁ וּבֵין אָחִיו וּבֵין גֵּרוֹ. א:יז לֹא תַכִּירוּ פָנִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט כַּקָּטֹן כַּגָּדֹל תִּשְׁמָעוּן לֹא תָגוּרוּ מִפְּנֵי אִישׁ כִּי הַמִּשְׁפָּט לֵאלֹהִים הוּא וְהַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יִקְשֶׁה מִכֶּם תַּקְרִבוּן אֵלַי וּשְׁמַעְתִּיו.
Deut 1:16 I charged your magistrates at that time as follows, “Hear out your fellow men, and decide justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or a stranger. 1:17 You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out low and high alike. Fear no man, for judgment is God’s. And any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I will hear it.”

This admonition is a précis of the Deuteronomist’s view of just judicial practice.

Combining Motifs from Two Stories in Appointment of Judges

In addition to the differences between the two accounts, a subtler detail that sheds light on how the Deuteronomist worked is in Moses’ opening words – לֹא אוּכַל לְבַדִּי שְׂאֵת אֶתְכֶם “I cannot bear the burden.” They are not to be found in the Jethro story of Exodus 18, but neither are they Deuteronomic diction.

Instead, the Deuteronomist lifted them from another story concerning the burden of leadership that Moses bore. In Numbers 11, Moses is said to have faced a rebellious mob, hungry for substantial food rather than simply the daily portion of manna. Lacking the means to feed them, Moses turns to YHWH, in his despair, ready to “throw in the towel.”

במדבר יא:יד לֹא אוּכַל אָנֹכִי לְבַדִּי לָשֵׂאת אֶת כָּל הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי כָבֵד מִמֶּנִּי. יא:טו וְאִם כָּכָה אַתְּ עֹשֶׂה לִּי הָרְגֵנִי נָא הָרֹג אִם מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וְאַל אֶרְאֶה בְּרָעָתִי.
Num 11:14 I cannot bear the burden of [NJPS: “carry”] all this people by myself, for it is too much for me. 11:15 If You would deal thus with me, kill me rather, I beg You, and let me see no more of my wretchedness.

The matter at hand this time was not judicial but reflected the everyday management of the mass of people that proved to be too much for Moses. The solution found by YHWH was the appointment of 70 elders (זקני ישראל/העם) who received a portion of Moses’s spirit and shared the burden with him (Num 11:16–17, 24–25). This tradition concerning the appointment of Israelite elders, who were recognized leaders in their tribes, is echoed in Deuteronomy’s retelling that Moses chose judges from among “tribal leaders” in Deut 1:15.

Thus, Deuteronomy fuses story elements from both Exodus 18 and Numbers 11, in addition to turns of phrase from these traditions, creating a description of a single event that merges judicial reform with the administrative organization of the camp. The Deuteronomic viewpoint of Moses’ superior leadership finds expression in the elimination of Jethro from the story; Moses himself was gifted with a keen sense of what was needed.

Example 2: The Wars with the Amorite Kingdoms in Transjordan

In recounting the Israelites’ journey through the Transjordan, the pre-Deuteronomic J/E traditions told of Israel avoiding conflict with Edom by travelling south along its western border and then heading north in the wilderness to its east (Num 20:14–21),[15] then continuing north, passing east of Moab as well.[16]

The War with Sihon

When Israel reached the border of the Amorite kingdom, Moses’ requested permission from King Sihon for peaceful passage to the River Jordan is rebuffed:

במדבר כא:כג וְלֹא נָתַן סִיחֹן אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבֹר בִּגְבֻלוֹ וַיֶּאֱסֹף סִיחֹן אֶת כָּל עַמּוֹ וַיֵּצֵא לִקְרַאת יִשְׂרָאֵל הַמִּדְבָּרָה וַיָּבֹא יָהְצָה וַיִּלָּחֶם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל. כא:כד וַיַּכֵּהוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְפִי חָרֶב וַיִּירַשׁ אֶת אַרְצוֹ...
Num 21:23 But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. Sihon gathered all his people and went out against Israel in the wilderness. He came to Jahaz and engaged Israel in battle. 21:24 But Israel put them to the sword, and took possession of their land….

At the end of the battle at Jahaz, Israel possesses a swath of land in Transjordan not originally promised to them. And as matters were to develop later, the tribes of Reuben and Gad sought and were granted the right to settle in this territory (Num 32:1–38).

In Deuteronomy’s version of these events,[17] Moses states that from the start YHWH had ordered the conquest of the Amorite land:

דברים ב:כד ...רְאֵה נָתַתִּי בְיָדְךָ אֶת סִיחֹן מֶלֶךְ חֶשְׁבּוֹן הָאֱמֹרִי וְאֶת אַרְצוֹ הָחֵל רָשׁ וְהִתְגָּר בּוֹ מִלְחָמָה.
Deut 2:24 See, I give into your power Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin the occupation; engage him battle.

Moses then claims that he sent King Sihon “an offer of peace” (דִּבְרֵי שָׁלוֹם)—with foreknowledge apparently that it would not be accepted—asking to pass through his land, but YHWH ensures that Sihon refuses:

דברים ב:ל וְלֹא אָבָה סִיחֹן מֶלֶךְ חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַעֲבִרֵנוּ בּוֹ כִּי הִקְשָׁה יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת רוּחוֹ וְאִמֵּץ אֶת לְבָבוֹ לְמַעַן תִּתּוֹ בְיָדְךָ כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה.
Deut 2:30 But King Sihon of Heshbon refused to let us pass through, because YHWH had stiffened his will and hardened his heart in order to deliver him into your power—as is now the case.

The battle that followed led to Israel’s victory and the pre-determined occupation of the Amorite land:

דברים ב:לב וַיֵּצֵא סִיחֹן לִקְרָאתֵנוּ הוּא וְכָל עַמּוֹ לַמִּלְחָמָה יָהְצָה. ב:לג וַיִּתְּנֵהוּ יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ לְפָנֵינוּ וַנַּךְ אֹתוֹ וְאֶת (בנו) [בָּנָיו] וְאֶת כָּל עַמּוֹ. ב:לד וַנִּלְכֹּד אֶת כָּל עָרָיו בָּעֵת הַהִוא וַנַּחֲרֵם אֶת כָּל עִיר מְתִם וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַטָּף לֹא הִשְׁאַרְנוּ שָׂרִיד. ב:לה רַק הַבְּהֵמָה בָּזַזְנוּ לָנוּ וּשְׁלַל הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר לָכָדְנוּ.
Deut 2:32 Sihon with all his men took the field against us at Jahaz, 2:33 and YHWH our God delivered him to us and we defeated him and his sons and all his men. 2:34 At that time we captured all his towns and we doomed every town, men, women, and children – leaving no survivor. 2:35 We retained as booty only the cattle and the spoil of the cities we captured.

The revised story of the battle of Jahaz given here is augmented by two elements drawn from the Deuteronomic war laws. It begins with the דִּבְרֵי שָׁלוֹם “offer of peace,” adopted from Deut 20:10 that refers to foreign, that is non-Canaanite cities. But at the same time, all Amorites are killed, not just their fighting men, as if they were Canaanites (Deut 20:17). The encounter with Og, king of Bashan, is revised in a similar manner.

The War with Og

In Numbers, after conquering Sihon’s territory, Israel takes an unexplained detour from the expected journey westward towards the Jordan, north to the Bashan, where they engage Og in battle and take his land.[18]

במדבר כא:לה וַיַּכּוּ אֹתוֹ וְאֶת בָּנָיו וְאֶת כָּל עַמּוֹ עַד בִּלְתִּי הִשְׁאִיר לוֹ שָׂרִיד וַיִּירְשׁוּ אֶת אַרְצוֹ.
Num 21:35 They defeated him and his sons and all his troops, until no remnant was left him; and they took possession of his country.

As Moses tells it, however, the capture of the Bashan included the annihilation of all its inhabitants:

דברים ג:ו וַנַּחֲרֵם אוֹתָם כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִׂינוּ לְסִיחֹן מֶלֶךְ חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַחֲרֵם כָּל עִיר מְתִם הַנָּשִׁים וְהַטָּף. ג:ז וְכָל הַבְּהֵמָה וּשְׁלַל הֶעָרִים בַּזּוֹנוּ לָנוּ.
Deut 3:6 We proscribed them as we had done in the case of Sihon king of Heshbon; we doomed every town—men, women, and children—3:7 and retained as booty all the cattle and the spoils of the towns.

The annihilation of the inhabitants is completely lacking in Numbers.

Applying Ḥerem Law to the Amorite Kingdoms

The Deuteronomic approach to the populations of conquered territories in the Land of Canaan is enshrined in the law in Deuteronomy 20 concerning the ḥerem (ban or proscription):

דברים כ:טז רַק מֵעָרֵי הָעַמִּים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לֹא תְחַיֶּה כָּל נְשָׁמָה. כ:יז כִּי הַחֲרֵם תַּחֲרִימֵם הַחִתִּי וְהָאֱמֹרִי הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי הַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.
Deut 20:16 But as for the towns of these peoples that YHWH your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. 20:17 Indeed, you shall proscribe them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as YHWH your God has commanded.

According to this, all Canaanites were to be exterminated. In Moses’ description of the fate of Sihon and Og’s territories, this rule is applied ex post facto, despite these territories being outside of Canaan.[19] Two tribes—Reuben and Gad—had settled in the captured Amorite lands, and even though this deviation from the original plan of the Landnahme (Conquest) was sanctioned by YHWH, the Deuteronomic author deemed it obligatory to cleanse all territory in which Israel settled of idolatry and idolators.

The Background and Meaning of the Deuteronomic Revisions of History

Since Deuteronomy is presented as the final message of a 120-year-old man, it is tempting to explain the differences as a result of Moses’ advanced age and the possible loss of memory. Nevertheless, it would be well to set this thought aside, since Deuteronomy presents Moses as being sprightly until the end: לֹא כָהֲתָה עֵינוֹ וְלֹא נָס לֵחֹה “his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated” (Deut 34:7).

One of the early modern Jewish commentators, David Zvi Hoffmann (1843–1921), an Orthodox rabbi and scholar well-versed in critical biblical thought,[20] suggested that the differences between the presentation in Deuteronomy and earlier in the Torah could be understood in literary terms. Thus, in dealing with the problem of why Deuteronomy presents the sending of spies as Israel’s idea and Numbers as YHWH’s idea, Hoffmann writes:

בכלל הדבר מובן בהחלט, שיש כמה עובדות שסופר ההיסטוריה אינו מזכיר אותם, ולעומתו הנואם בשעת הנאום מזכיר דווקא את אלה כיוון שמוסיפות לנאומו כח שיכנוע.
In general, the matter is definitely understandable: there are some facts that the historian does not mention; in contrast to the orator, who, while speaking, purposely mentions them because they add to making his oration more convincing.[21]

Hoffmann’s observation of the genre distinctions between a sermon and a historical report is sound, but it does not nullify the factual disparities between the various tellings. For example, Moses’ claim that the judicial reform was his own innovation rather than that of Jethro cannot be adequately explained as a matter of emphasis. Nor is the outright slaughter of all Amorites in Transjordan a matter to be glossed over by the historiography of J/E.

Instead, we need to explain these discrepancies with an eye towards ideology. In both instances analyzed above, Deuteronomy exhibits an acquaintance with the earlier J/E traditions,[22] but has revised the stories to accommodate its own ideology and perspectives. In the appointing-of-judges story, the Deuteronomist emphasizes the prominence of Moses, the importance of wisdom, and the participation of the people. In the conquest of the Transjordan stories, he emphasizes the need to have annihilated the inhabitants there just as was necessary for Cisjordan. In this sense, the Deuteronomist functions as a classic revisionist historian.

The Deuteronomist: An Early Revisionist Historian

The recent review by James Banner of the history of revisionist history concludes with the following reflection:

All written history is—in one respect or another, on one scale or another, and with one impact or another—revisionist in intent or consequence. Revisionist history is a universal phenomenon. Historians’ debates and shifting views of their subjects are the principal means by which they approach, while never reaching, their goal of understanding the extraordinary complexity of human life in times before their own. In fact, their arguments about the past and their varied ways of going about their work should be celebrated as signature characteristics of a democratic culture. Where enforced orthodoxy exists, there lies totalitarianism.[23]

Banner could well have included the opening chapters of Deuteronomy as a felicitous example of historical revision by the anonymous Deuteronomist, one of the earliest historians of ancient Israel. This reshaping of his sources by the Deuteronomist was summarized by Marc Brettler:

[T]o the extent that Deuteronomist honestly believed his ideology, and like all of us, was viewing the past from the perspective of his present, he was writing history like all other historians.[24]

As we have seen, the comparison of Deuteronomy’s recapitulation with the prior traditions shows not merely an alternative tradition or account but brings into the open the theological viewpoint of the author who composed Moses’ opening address, an ancient example of revisionist history.[25]


July 18, 2023


Last Updated

May 20, 2024


View Footnotes

Prof. Mordechai Cogan is Professor (emeritus) in the Department of Jewish History at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and has written widely on the political and cultural connections between ancient Israel and the empires of the ancient Near East. Cogan is the author of many studies and books, among them: Imperialism and Religion; The Raging Torrent: Historical Inscriptions from Assyria and Babylonia Relating to Ancient Israel; Bound for Exile: Israelites and Judeans Under Imperial Yoke, Documents from Assyria and Babylonia; commentaries in the Anchor Bible series on 1 Kings; 2 Kings (with Prof. Hayim Tadmor); commentaries in Hebrew in the Mikra Leyisrael (Bible for Israel) series on Obadiah, Joel, Nahum and Kings, and the just published Under the Yoke Ashur: The Assyrian Century in the Land of Israel.