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Marc Zvi Brettler





The Shema’s Second Paragraph: An Inner-Biblical Interpretation





APA e-journal

Marc Zvi Brettler





The Shema’s Second Paragraph: An Inner-Biblical Interpretation








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The Shema’s Second Paragraph: An Inner-Biblical Interpretation

The second paragraph of Shema (Deuteronomy 11:13-21) has significant overlaps with the first (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), including some identical phrases and core concepts. It was likely written as a later elaboration of the first, a process that may reflect the earliest stages of the Shema becoming a central text.


The Shema’s Second Paragraph: An Inner-Biblical Interpretation

The Torah portion in Deuteronomy that includes the Shema. Yves Merckx -Flickr adapted

The Development of the Shema as a Liturgical Unit

By the period of the Mishnah, the twice daily recitation of the Shema prayer, named after its first word (“hear”) and consisting of Deut 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, was a standard practice. Together they comprised the central biblical text in the rabbinic liturgy.[1] The prehistory of this development is unclear. Neither of these units are especially significant in the Bible, and neither is presented as a prayer; each are presented as part of Moses’ long address.

The Nash Papyrus, from the second century B.C.E., which has Deut 6:4-5 following the Decalogue, may reflect the earliest liturgical use of that initial paragraph.[2] Both Philo and Josephus, from the first century C.E., imply the recitation of what now constitutes the first two paragraphs of the Shema; this may suggest that these two paragraphs were part of the liturgy in the late Second Temple period.[3]

These two units are connected in terms of style and content; although this might initially suggest that they are by the same author, I would propose that Deut 11:13-21 was written as an elaboration of Deut 6:4 (or 5-9).

As scholars have long recognized, the D source, comprising the bulk of Deuteronomy, is a complex composition with a long history.[4] It should therefore not be surprising that one unit now found in Deuteronomy may have reworked another unit.

The Overlap Between Deut 11:13-20 and 6:5-9

The following chart[5] highlights the overlap between these units;[6] it includes the verses in ch. 11 that contain significant similarities to ch. 6.[7] This overlap is so significant that the Tosefta can imagine a person reciting the paragraphs of the Shema prayer from memory and getting confused between the first and second paragraph.[8]

Deut. 6:5וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ׃

6‏ וְהָי֞וּ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם עַל־לְבָבֶֽךָ׃

7‏ וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ֖ בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ׃

8‏ וּקְשַׁרְתָּ֥ם לְא֖וֹת עַל־יָדֶ֑ךָ וְהָי֥וּ לְטֹטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֥ין עֵינֶֽיךָ׃

‎9‏ וּכְתַבְתָּ֛ם עַל־מְזוּזֹ֥ת בֵּיתֶ֖ךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ׃ ס

Deut. 11:13‏ וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־שָׁמֹ֤עַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְוֹתַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם לְאַהֲבָ֞ה אֶת־יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם֙וּלְעָבְד֔וֹ בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁכֶֽם׃

18וְשַׂמְתֶּם֙ אֶת־דְּבָרַ֣י אֵ֔לֶּה עַל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וְעַֽל־נַפְשְׁכֶ֑ם וּקְשַׁרְתֶּ֨ם אֹתָ֤ם לְאוֹת֙ עַל־יֶדְכֶ֔ם וְהָי֥וּ לְטוֹטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֥ין עֵינֵיכֶֽם׃

19‏ וְלִמַּדְתֶּ֥ם אֹתָ֛ם אֶת־בְּנֵיכֶ֖ם לְדַבֵּ֣ר בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ׃

20וּכְתַבְתָּ֛ם עַל־מְזוּז֥וֹת בֵּיתֶ֖ךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ׃

Deut 6:5 You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

6:6 Take to heart these words with which I charge you this day.

6:7 Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.

6:8 Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead;

6:9 and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deut 11:13 If, then, you obey the commandments with which I charge you this day, loving YHWH your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul,

11:18 Therefore impress these My words upon your heart and your soul: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead,

11:19 and teach them to your children—reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up;

11:20 and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Tracing Literary Dependence: Similarities

The blocks of material are mostly in the same order, and some of the repeated material is atypical, suggesting that this is not a case where common stereotypical language is being repeated in two unrelated passages. For example:

  • only these two passages use קשׁר, “bind,” with אות, “sign”;
  • the difficult word טֹטָפֹת, which NJPS renders “symbol,”[9] is used only one other time in the Bible;
  • ‏ ‏בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתְךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ, “when you stay at home and are away,” is found only in these two contexts;
  • ‏וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ, “when you lie down and when you get up” is also unique to these two contexts;
  • 6:9 and 11:20 are identical (except for one minor difference in matres lectionis spelling) and contain the concept of writing these things on doorposts and gates, which is found nowhere else in the Bible.

These numerous and specific correspondences suggest that these two texts must be related genetically. Yet, they contain several differences:

  • וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶךָ “and with all your might” is absent in ch. 11;
  • 6:7 uses the word וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם, “impress,” while 11:19 uses the וְלִמַּדְתֶּם, “teach”;
  • The elements are ordered differently in the two units.

These differences suggest that the two passages are not by the same author.

Tracing Literary Dependence: Differences and Their Implication

Biblical books are not arranged in the order in which they were written—late material may be inserted toward the beginning of a book.[10] Thus, it is not immediately obvious which of these two units in Deut 6 and 11 is earlier or later.

In some cases, linguistic evidence may be used to date the relative chronology of two texts, but neither of these units shows obvious signs of being later linguistically than the other. Several other factors, however, point to the priority of 6:5-9.[11] No one of these factors is determinative, but together they suggest that 11:13-21 knows, and is interpreting, 6:5-9.[12]

Texts Tend to Grow Over Time

Later authors are conservative in nature, and thus typically add, but do not delete.[13] Deut 11:13-21 contains two blocks of material not found in 6:5-9, in 11:14-17 and in 11:21. Both of these texts function to explain why the mitzvot must be observed. It makes sense that an author would add this to a text, but it is more difficult to imagine why an author would have deleted this particular material.

Texts are Simplified Over Time

When compared side by side, Deut 11 shows two cases of likely simplification.

Changing ושננתם to ולמדתם – Deut 6:7 opens with the difficult word וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם, from the root שׁנן (sh-n-n), typically translated as “impress”; this word is hapax (unique) in this sense. Some believe that it is a biform of the root ש.נ.ה/י, which means “to repeat”; indeed, the sages of the period of the Mishna are called tannaim, “repeaters” (namely “memorizers”), from a related root. Other lexicographers relate it to the usual meaning of the root שׁנן (sh-n-n), “to sharpen,” and thus translate it as NJPS does, “impress.”[14] In any case, the word is difficult.

Deut 11:19 reads instead וְלִמַּדְתֶּם אֹתָם, “and teach,” using a much more common and clear root—one first found in Deuteronomy, which characterizes that book.[15] It is more likely that a later scribe would simplify a difficult word rather than replacing a common word with a difficult one.

Deleting מאדך – The final word of Deut 6:5, מְאֹדֶךָ, is also very difficult—the final pronominal suffix ךָ, “your,” should follow a noun, but the preceding word, מאד, is elsewhere (with only one exception) an adverb that means “very”; the Hebrew word מְאֹדֶךָ literally means, “all your very!”[16] Its exact meaning was already unclear in the first century C.E., as reflected in the different ways it is translated in New Testament passages that cite this verse:

  • Mark 12:30: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
  • Matthew 22:37: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
  • Luke 10:27: He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. (all NRSV)[17]

It is likely that both “mind” and “strength” are translations of[18]מאד.A century later, the sages of the Mishnah debate its meaning (Berakhot 9:5):[19]

וּבְכָל מְאֹדֶךָ – בְּכָל מָמוֹנְךָ. דָּבָר אַחֵר בְּכָל מְאֹדֶךָ, בְּכָל מִדָּה וּמִדָּה שֶׁהוּא מוֹדֵד לְךָ הֱוֵי מוֹדֶה לוֹ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד.
“And with all your might (me’odekha)” – with all of your money. Another interpretation: “With all your might”: with each and every measure (middah) that he measures out for you, thank him very much.[20]

It would make more sense for a scribe to replace a difficult word with a more straightforward one, or omit it completely, than to add in a word with an unclear meaning.[21]


Later scribes often introduce grammatical inconsistencies into the texts they rework, especially when they rework a text into a passage that has a different grammatical form or voice than the original passage.[22] These inconsistencies are not always visible in English, for example, when grammatical gender alternates, or when the 2nd person singular and 2nd person plural, both of which are identical in English, alternate.[23] Also, many translators tend to flatten out Hebrew grammatical inconsistencies to create a smoother translation. Deut 11:13-21 shows two such inconsistencies.

Inconsistent Voicing

The speaker in 6:4-9, as is typical of Deuteronomy, is Moses. Thus, the texts speaks of YHWH in the third person, while Moses refers to himself in the first person:

  • יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, “YHWH our God” ( 4);
  • וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ , “you shall love YHWH your God” (v, 5);
  • הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם, “these words with which I charge you this day” (v. 6)

In contrast, certain phrases in the second paragraph, from Deut 11, imply that YHWH is the speaker:

  • וְנָתַתִּי מְטַר־אַרְצְכֶם, “I will grant the rain for your land in season” (v. 14);
  • וְנָתַתִּי עֵשֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ לִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ, “I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle” (v. 15).

Surely it is YHWH, and not Moses, who will provide the rain and grass! Although the LXX, SP, one Qumran mezuzah (8QMez), and one pair of ancient tefillin (4QPhyla) have an alternative reading here, “he will give” (ונתן, καὶ δώσει), these are likely secondary attempts to smooth over the text.[24] And yet, chapter 11 is framed, like chapter 6, as Moses’ first person discourse, and also refers to YHWH in the third person, such as in v. 13, “loving YHWH your God” (לְאַהֲבָה אֶת יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם). The inconsistent text is often later—such inconsistencies generally reflect incomplete editorial incorporation of other material.[25]

Addressed to a Group or an Individual

A significant difference between Deut 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 is whether the individual or the collective group is addressed, a difference masked in modern English by the pronoun “you,” which may refer to a single individual or to a group.[26] (Earlier English distinguished between “thou” [singular] and “you” [plural]). The first paragraph (6:4-9) consistently addresses the individual by using singular verbs such as וְאָהַבְתָּ, “you (m. sg.) shall love” in v. 5, or singular pronouns, such as v. 8, עֵינֶיךָ, literally “your (m. sg.) eyes.”

The second paragraph mostly addresses the community using the plural, as may be seen in its first and last verse:

דברים יא:יג וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־שָׁמֹ֤עַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְוֹתַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם לְאַהֲבָ֞ה אֶת־יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם֙ וּלְעָבְד֔וֹ בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁכֶֽם׃
Deut 11:13 If, then, you [plural] obey the commandments with which I charge you [plural] this day, loving YHWH your [plural] God and serving Him with all your [plural] heart and your [plural] soul.
דברים יא:כא לְמַ֨עַן יִרְבּ֤וּ יְמֵיכֶם֙ וִימֵ֣י בְנֵיכֶ֔ם עַ֚ל הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֧ע יְהוָ֛ה לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶ֖ם לָתֵ֣ת לָהֶ֑ם כִּימֵ֥י הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
Deut 11:21 to the end that you [plural] and your [plural] children’s days may be long in the land that YHWH swore to your [plural] fathers to assign to them, as long as there is a heaven over the earth.

But this unit does not depict Israel consistently in the plural:

דברים יא:טו וְנָתַתִּ֛י עֵ֥שֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ֖ לִבְהֶמְתֶּ֑ךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָֽעְתָּ.
Deut 11:15 I will also provide grass in your [singular] fields for your [singular] cattle—and thus you [singular] shall eat your [singular] fill”
דברים יא:יט … בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ
Deut 11:19 …when you [singular] stay at your [singular] home and when you [singular] are away, when you [singular] lie down and when you [singular] get up.

The second inconsistency is particularly stark, since the first half of this very same verse uses the second person plural: וְלִמַּדְתֶּם אֹתָם אֶת־בְּנֵיכֶם, “and teach [plural] them to your children.” The best explanation for these sudden shifts to second person singular is that the scribe composing this section was copying phrases from other verses which were in the singular—verses found in Deut 6:4-9.

The use of the singular pronouns in 11:19b is both easy to explain and directly relevant to the question of priority: the scribe has slavishly copied over 6:7, and has forgotten in this case to modify the singular suffixes to plural ones.[27] The inconsistency in v. 15 is because, as I will explain below, v. 15 is summarizing and paraphrasing Deut 6:10-19, where Israel is addressed in the singular—that text has been reworked in ch. 11, but the author forgot to change the pronouns from singular to plural. Thus, the inconsistency of 11:13-21 in relation to the perfect consistency of 6:4-9 suggests that 6:4-9 is earlier than, and was used as the source for, 11:13-21.[28]


This phenomenon is just the opposite of the previous one noted: Sometimes later texts level out minor inconsistencies found in earlier texts.[29] Thus, Deut 6:5 reads בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ, “with all your heart and all your soul,” but one verse later has only עַל־לְבָבֶךָ, “to [your] heart, with no “soul.” Deut 11, in its reworking of ch. 6, has evened out these references. 11:13 reads בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁכֶם, “all your heart and soul,” following its base text, but 11:18 modifies its base text for the sake of symmetry, reading עַל־לְבַבְכֶם וְעַל־נַפְשְׁכֶם, “upon your heart and your soul.”

Why Was Deut 6:5-9 Modified?

Following the initial imperative Shema, “hear,” in v. 4, this unit contains a large number of injunctions, each introduced with a converted perfect, which here functions as a type of imperative:[30]

  • וְאָהַבְתָּ, “you shall love”
  • וְהָיוּ, “take to heart,”
  • וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם, “impress,”
  • וְדִבַּרְתָּ, “recite,”
  • וּקְשַׁרְתָּם, “bind,”
  • וְהָיוּ, “let them serve as,”
  • וּכְתַבְתָּם, “inscribe.”

These forms, functioning as commands, raise an obvious question: What is in it for the person observing the commands? The continuation of Deuteronomy 6 answer this question: Verses 9-19 indicate both what will happen if the individual does, and does not, heed the divine word:


דברים ו:טו כִּ֣י אֵ֥ל קַנָּ֛א יְ-הוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ בְּקִרְבֶּ֑ךָ פֶּן־יֶ֠חֱרֶה אַף־יְ-הוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ בָּ֔ךְ וְהִשְׁמִ֣ידְךָ֔ מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֥י הָאֲדָמָֽה׃
Deut 6:15 for YHWH your God in your midst is an impassioned God—lest the anger of YHWH your God blaze forth against you and He wipe you off the face of the earth.


דברים ו:יח וְעָשִׂ֛יתָ הַיָּשָׁ֥ר וְהַטּ֖וֹב בְּעֵינֵ֣י יְ-הוָ֑ה לְמַ֙עַן֙ יִ֣יטַב לָ֔ךְ וּבָ֗אתָ וְיָֽרַשְׁתָּ֙ אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּ֥ע יְ-הוָ֖ה לַאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ׃
Deut 6:18 Do what is right and good in the sight of YHWH, that it may go well with you and that you may be able to possess the good land that YHWH your God promised on oath to your fathers,

The author of Deut 11:13-21 has taken the gist of these verses, and has added them into his revised text. He does so in two places, in 14-17, which discusses reward and punishment in agricultural terms,[31] and in v. 21, which rewards obedience with land tenure, as in 6:18. He thus makes this unit more complete by stating that covenant obedience results in blessing, and disobedience in being cursed.[32]

Subsidiary Results of the Revision

Anyone reworking a text is likely to clarify it, resolving lexical or syntactic difficulties. Both of these types of clarification are evident in 11:13-21 in relation to its base text of 6:5-9. Most people who recite the Shema are not aware of these difficulties since it is natural to take the interpretations of ch. 11 as the correct and only meaning of ch. 6.

Lexical Clarifications

The two lexical difficulties of ch. 6 that were resolved by the author of ch. 11 were noted above: the omission of lexically difficult וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶךָ, literally, “all your veryness” (v. 5) and the simplification of the hapax וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם, either “you shall recite them” or “you shall impress them” (v. 7) to the more common וְלִמַּדְתֶּם אֹתָם, “you shall teach them” (11:9).

Other lexical issues were also clarified through the rewrite. For example, Deut 6:5 insists that God must be loved—but what does this mean? Is it an abstract love, or what has been called “covenant love,” love expressed through actions?[33] 11:13, by adding the word וּלְעָבְדוֹ, “and to serve him,” after לְאַהֲבָה אֶת־יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, “loving YHWH your God,” clarifies that the latter is meant—love of God is expressed through divine worship.

Similarly, 6:6 states quite vaguely וְהָיוּ, “shall be” (this is not translated in the NJPS); this is clarified through the use of a more active and precise verb in 11:18, וְשַׂמְתֶּם, “you shall impress/place them.”

Again, these examples of how Deut 11 revises Deut 6 illustrate how later texts typically clarify earlier ones; if the order of the texts’ composition is reversed, and ch. 11 is seen as earlier than 6, these differences are much more difficult to explain.

Syntactic Clarifications

“On Your Heart” (עַל־לְבָבֶךָ)The Shema passage in Deut 6 also contains two syntactic ambiguities. The first is in v. 6,

וְהָי֞וּ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם עַל־לְבָבֶֽךָ׃

NJPS renders this, quite plausibly, as “Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day,” understanding עַל־לְבָבֶךָ … וְהָיוּ, literally “may they be on your heart,” as an idiom meaning “take to heart.” But it is not certain that the last two Hebrew words of the verse, עַל־לְבָבֶךָ, “on your heart,” are part of an idiom associated with the initial verb וְהָיוּ, the verb “to be.”

Instead, the phrase הַיּוֹם עַל־לְבָבֶךָ, “today upon your heart,” may be connected to the immediately preceding words, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ, “which I command you,” namely, “which I command you today upon your heart.” In that case, the verse would mean something very different, and should be rendered as a preamble to the following v. 7; both verses together would them be translated: “You shall teach to your children these things[34] that I am commanding you today upon your heart”—in other words, these things are being implanted into the heart of the wilderness generation,[35] but need to be actively imparted to the next generations.

The paraphrase of this section in ch. 11 disambiguates this syntax when it uses the verb שִׂים, “to place,” in its paraphrase in v. 18: וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֶת־דְּבָרַי אֵלֶּה עַל־לְבַבְכֶם וְעַֽל־נַפְשְׁכֶם, “Therefore impress these My words upon your heart and your soul.” Thus, ch. 11 understands the syntax in the same way as NJPS, or, said more accurately, NJPS follows the understanding of the syntax of 6:6-7 that is evident in 11:18.

“Recite Them” (וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם) – Deut 6:7 is also ambiguous syntactically. It reads:

וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ׃

This can be translated in one of two ways:

A. “Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.” (So NJPS)


B. “Impress them upon your children and recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.”

In other words, it is uncertain what the time clause introduced with בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ, “when you stay at home” modifies. Does it modify the preceding two words, וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם, “recite them,” or the entirety of the first half of the verse, the four words וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם, “Impress them upon your children and recite them”?

Why does this matter? Because it affects what you need to do “when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up”: recite something, or both teach and recite something. NJPS assumes the former, that the verse refers to two separate activities, of teaching (always) and reciting (at home and away, when lying down or getting up). The second rendition is favored by the Masorah, which puts theetnachta (the sentence divider) under the fourth Hebrew word,[36] suggesting that the verse is referring to a single activity.[37]

The syntax of the first half of 11:19 favors reading impressing and reciting as two related rather than separate activities. The text in ch. 6 is ambiguous because it contains two verbs in the same aspect or “tense”: בָּם וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם וְדִבַּרְתָּ, “impress” “recite.” Deut 11:19, however, replaces the second verb form with a lamed(“to” or “-ing”) and an infinitive: וְלִמַּדְתֶּ֥ם אֹתָ֛ם אֶת־בְּנֵיכֶ֖ם לְדַבֵּ֣ר בָּ֑ם, “you shall teach your children-reciting them,” (or: “to recite them”) where the second verb, now an infinitive, is clearly modifying the first, and is not a separate, different action.[38]

These various clarifications in 11:13-21 were not the main reason that motivated the paraphrase of 6:4-9—that was, as discussed above, the lack of reward and punishment in the unit.[39] But while reworking the unit, these changes were naturally made along the way.

Is the Earliest Attested Interpretation Always Correct?

It is tempting to assume that the earliest extant interpretation of a passage is the most correct interpretation, especially in a case like this where it is from the biblical period itself; after all, the earliest interpretation is most proximate to the original text. But I would urge caution with regard to this principle.

For example, it is generally acknowledged that Daniel 9:24 is explaining the “seventy years” of Jer 29:10 to mean 490 years; this was not the original sense of the prophecy.[40] Thus, I am uncertain if Deut 11 is always capturing the original intent of Deut 6. I am not at all positive that וְלִמַּדְתֶּם, “you shall teach” is a precise synonym for וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם, “you shall impress/repeat”; it may be the revisor’s paraphrase or guess, based on context. Nor am I certain that 11:19 properly understood the syntax of 6:7, which may indeed refer to two separate activities, as suggested by the NJPS, and against the Masorah.

Broader Implications

As discussed in the introduction, we know very little about when and how the Shema became a central Jewish liturgical text. But this survey is of some value in that regard, for it shows that at some point in the biblical period, Deut 6:5-9 was important enough to be reinterpreted and supplemented. 2 Kings 23:25 also reuses the end of Deut 6:5 in relation to one of its heroes, Josiah, as a way of saying that he was fully faithful to (some form of) the Deuteronomic law.

מלכים ב כג:כה וְכָמֹהוּ לֹא הָיָה לְפָנָיו מֶלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר שָׁב אֶל יְ-הוָה בְּכָל לְבָבוֹ וּבְכָל נַפְשׁוֹ וּבְכָל מְאֹדוֹ כְּכֹל תּוֹרַת מֹשֶׁה…
2 Kings 23:25 There was no king like him before who turned back to YHWH with all his heart and soul and might, in full accord with the Teaching of Moses…

Thus, this exploration of Deut 11:13-21 illustrates the beginning stages that suggest the importance of Deut 6:4-9 as a central text. Later, this central text would become a central prayer.


July 30, 2018


Last Updated

March 25, 2024


View Footnotes

Prof. Marc Zvi Brettler is Bernice & Morton Lerner Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at Duke University, and Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies (Emeritus) at Brandeis University. He is author of many books and articles, including How to Read the Jewish Bible (also published in Hebrew), co-editor of The Jewish Study Bible and The Jewish Annotated New Testament (with Amy-Jill Levine), and co-author of The Bible and the Believer (with Peter Enns and Daniel J. Harrington), and The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently (with Amy-Jill Levine). Brettler is a cofounder of TheTorah.com.