Study Guide

Book of Deuteronomy

Book of Deuteronomy Introduction

If you've never seen Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, go watch it. Now. We'll wait.

[121 minutes of thumb twiddling]

You back? Great. Now go watch The Empire Strikes Back.

[124 more minutes of thumb twiddling]

Okay, ready? You just watched the Deuteronomy of Star Wars. It's got the same characters as the original, but this time, we learn more about their history and their place in the galactic universe. Same deal with Deuteronomy, just minus the galactic part. And minus being the best thing ever written.

Deuteronomy is narrated, for the most part, by Moses. Yep, that Moses. Some people actually say Moses wrote the book, but most scholars think that the writer(s) were just using Moses the character as a means to get their message across. Attributing the text to a hugely important cultural figure would give it more power, right? Think about if someone today came out with "George Washington's Lost Will." There'd be controversy, but you can bet that book would sell.

Once you sift through all the nitty-gritty laws and rules, the main message is that the Israelites should worship one god (6:4) in one place (14:25). That god is God, and—even though it's never named in the book—that place is Jerusalem. This message comes along with a retelling of the Exodus story, the tales of the Israelites in the book of Numbers, and the rules and regulations that will help the Israelites recapture their culture's essence.

Moses conveys all this through some pretty rousing and finger-pointing pep talks. Basically, the previous generation of Israelites failed big time, refusing to fight for the Promised Land. But after forty years of desert-wandering, a new generation brings new hope. And if these Israelites obey God, then they'll conquer the Promised Land. The whole book takes place at the Jordan River, while Moses motivates and warns them. Obey and win; disobey and lose—big time.

What is Book of Deuteronomy About and Why Should I Care?

Um, we've already heard all this stuff. Can't we just skip it?

Nope. Sorry. No skipping allowed.

Deuteronomy is the key to the entire Hebrew Bible. It's the bridge between the stories in Exodus and Numbers, the laws in Leviticus, and the narratives in Joshua, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. All of the Bible before Deuteronomy has been, in a narrative sense, leading up to the Israelites entering the Promised Land. They've fought, been enslaved, seen God's fire, messed up, died, and been given the law.

Now, in Deuteronomy, they're on the edge of the Promised Land, so close to their goal. But don't get too excited—Moses, their leader, makes them take a really long pause. He wants them to take a deep breath to reflect on where they've been (and think about what's to come). What better way to do that than by retelling the story?

And hey, if nothing else, Deuteronomy gives you a really good cram tool if you somehow missed the first four books of the Bible.

Book of Deuteronomy Resources

Websites

Lego does Deuteronomy
We're not sure if things are clearer or more confusing in the Brick Testament. Did they seriously have stenographers back then?

The Fossils Behind Deuteronomy
If you don't mind a little technical language, check out this archeological essay about Deuteronomy.

Where in the World?
Want to know where everything went down? There's an app for that.

Keeping Kosher
Learn the ins and outs of what it means to keep kosher in Jewish tradition.

Movies and TV

The Ark of the Covenant
The History Channel's Mystery Investigator searches for the Ark of the Covenant which housed the Ten Commandments. They forgot to bring Harrison Ford.

Ben "Moses" Kingsley
Will Moses make it into the Promised Land? Watch the movie. Or just read Deuteronomy.

Burt "Moses" Lancaster
With a tagline like "Announcing the most magnificent human spectacle ever filmed!" you can't go wrong. Or you can only go wrong. Watch and find out.

The Ten Commandments
Just like Deuteronomy repeats the Ten Commandments, Cecil B. Demille's 1956 Ten Commandments is similar to his silent film of the same name from 1923.

The Ten Commandments: The Musical
As if this weren't already the best movie ever, Val Kilmer plays Moses. Hopefully the songs are happier than the one Moses sings in Deuteronomy 32.

Eye for an Eye
Is vengeance ever defensible? This 1996 film, in which a woman confronts her daughter's killer, uses Biblical language in its title to ask just that question. Dexter would totally be down.

Historical Documents

The Code of Hammurabi
Deuteronomy wasn't the only place to find laws back in the day. The Babylonian king Hammurabi (ca. 1700 BCE) placed 282 laws written in Akadian on stone tablets.

The Code of the Nesilim
Here's another super old law code. Be careful, some of these are pretty gross. Apparently, there were some pretty sick puppies back in the ancient world.

Video

Did Moses write Deuteronomy?
This video investigates everyone's favorite question to ask about Deuteronomy.

The Shema
Watch as a rabbi sings the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4. We wonder if they had the same tune back in Moses's day.

Elevators on Shabbat
Can an orthodox Jew use an elevator on the Sabbath? Sometimes keeping the fourth commandment is a lot of work—even if it's meant to be a day of rest.

Lex Talion (An Eye for an Eye)
Many people have criticized Deuteronomy for its legal system based on "an eye for an eye." This video challenges that belief, arguing that the Lex Talion was actually a critique of other ancient laws.

Audio

Deuteronomy in MP3
Warning: listening to ancient laws might put you to sleep. Of course, if you're an insomniac, it may be just what the doctor ordered.