The Imperative for a Historical Book of Deuteronomy

*Disclaimer: This is a revised edition of a recent article written by Stephen Smoot for the Interpreter Journal.  It is not meant to be hurtful or to offend. It is meant to be playful in the way that I feel that if we were to apply the same standards that are applied in his article for the Book of Mormon toward other scripture, like Deuteronomy for example, the arguments will not hold and other scriptures that are found to be non-historical will be dropped by those accepting the methods given in Smoot’s article.

Here is the original essay:

The Imperative for a Historical Book of Mormon

Replacing the Book of Mormon for the book of Deuteronomy here is not meant to convey the idea that the book of Deuteronomy holds the same importance in Mormon circles, but rather it is to highlight the methodological flaws of Smoot’s approach on the importance of historicity to the Book of Mormon. I believe there are other, better, ways of discussing the role of historical claims in the Book of Mormon that will not be discussed here.

It would be difficult to find an LDS scholar today that fully accepts the traditional explanation for the composition of the book of Deuteronomy. Historical criticism over the last few hundred years has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that Moses did not write Deuteronomy, but was in fact written between 640 BCE and 550 BCE. Not everyone will agree with modern scholarly criticism, but if one is desiring to debate the topic of history one has to engage with scholarship. If a student disagrees with the accepted models and arguments that are current understanding in the academy, that student is welcome to come up with different ways of arguing against it. This revision, and the original essay, are examples of how to not do that.

This paper has been written in the voice of an Orthodox or Conservative thinker. The book of Deuteronomy is very much a scriptural text that is, in a real way, the keystone of the Jewish religion.  Must it possess historicity, however, in order to convey spiritual truth?

The Imperative for a Historical Book of Deuteronomy

Yakov Ben Tov

If the book of Deuteronomy only appears to have been written by Moses but actually was not, then we have a case of fraud; the critics of the past generation called it “pious fraud.” Albright’s examination of the ancient materials convinced him that the old critical theory of “pious fraud” is not sustained. —Joseph P. Free1

To many academic readers, the book of Deuteronomy’s insistence on its historicity is troublesome. Modern scholars are quite comfortable in safely doting over quaint and long-forgotten religious texts that are considered neither genuinely historical nor scriptural by modern believers.[1] The book of Deuteronomy, by contrast, claims to be “the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side of the Jordan in the wilderness” (1:1). This has created an extremely awkward situation for religious historians who, in the words of Sam Stern, “want to salvage Moses’ prophetic role . . . by avoiding what they see as the embarrassing ramifications of his naked prose or the fragility of the book’s historical claims.” This awkwardness makes these uncomfortable historians “hard-pressed to devise nonliteral readings” of the Book of Deuteronomy. Why so? “Moses’ prophetic writings [are] grounded in artifactual reality, not the world of psychic meanderings. It is hard to allegorize—and profoundly presumptuous to edit down—a sacred record that purports to be a transcription of tangible records hand-written by an ancient prophet.”2

Converging with the sentiments of Sam Stern above is Jeremy Johnson, who in 1984 drew a similar conclusion for the Torah:

The greatest error would be to mistake these narratives from ancient times as mere objects of curiosity, revealing a mid-7th century Jewish taste with the mysteries of antiquity. . . . Moses’ revelations . . . made new sacred narratives that were themselves the foundation for belief. . . . The book of Deuteronomy throughout is composed of happenings wherein God directed, reproved, punished, and redeemed his people. What distinguished Judaism was not so much the message the prophets taught . . . but what they believed had happened—to Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and others. . . . The core of Jewish belief was a conviction about actual events. . . . Judaism was history, not philosophy. . . The strength of the religion, the vigor of the Jewish people, and the staying power of the covenant people from the days of Moses to the present rest on the belief in the reality of these events.3

This observation is true for the events narrated in the book of Deuteronomy, and also of the foundational stories of the Moses tradition. As Martin Frey has often reminded us, it is not theology, philosophy, or creeds that primarily distinguishes Judaism from other world religions.4 Parallels between Jewish theology and both ancient and contemporary religious theologies can easily be drawn.5 Rather, it is its claim of being a continuation of ancient covenantal history and of biblical, patriarchal religion by the teachings of prophets and the Torah that has invigorated Judaism and has set it apart from the myriad other religions scattered throughout the globe today.

Bill Gardy, in his recent treatment on the book of Deuteronomy, agrees both with Stern and Johnson in emphasizing the significance of the historical claims of the book of Deuteronomy. Although he approaches the book of Deuteronomy from a literary perspective, and brackets the question of the book’s historicity in his study for the sake of maintaining the aim of his literary analysis (a perfectly legitimate and fruitful undertaking so long as one acknowledges from the start what one is doing, and thereby does not allow a literary analysis to overshadow its doctrine or historical claims), he nevertheless sums up perfectly the predicament faced by any reader of the book.

Early Jewish sages insisted from the beginning that the book of Deuteronomy was an authentic ancient document written by Moses about BC 1200. . . . The strong historical assertions of the book seem to allow for only three possible origins: as a miraculously revealed historical document, as a fraud (perhaps a pious one) written by later Jews, or as a delusion (perhaps sincerely believed) that originated in the Jewish subconscious.6

Aaron Crispman points to another specific reason for insisting on the importance of the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy (as well as other scripture):

If God expects us in the time and space of this world to submit to ordinances and other physical requirements, then the scriptural passages which exemplify and instruct us concerning those actions must be historical.7

These and similar observations, as well as a careful look at the statements made by early Jewish sages and the book of Deuteronomy itself, have lead me to the following conclusion: the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy is an imperative for Judaism. The book not only must be read as history, but also must actually be history for it to carry meaningful theological legitimacy—that is, a real meaning for the faithful Jew.

The “Inspired Fiction” Theory of the Book of Deuteronomy

In response to what they see as overwhelming evidence against the book of Deuteronomy’s historical authenticity, but in a wish to maintain that the book might still be “inspiring,” a number of readers have composed a theory that the book of Deuteronomy may not be historical, but is yet somehow still “inspired” or even in some sense “revelatory.” For the sake of convenience, I will call this the “Inspired Fiction” theory of the book of Deuteronomy.

Inspired Fiction?

One proponent of the Inspired Fiction theory is Clyde E. Richards.8Richards begins with a plea:

Jews should confess in faith that the book of Deuteronomy is the word of God but also abandon claims that it is a historical record of the ancient Israelite prophet, Moses. We should accept that it is a work of scripture inspired by God in the same way that the rest of the Hebrew Bible is inspired, but one that has as its human author a group of Jews living from about 650-550 BC.9

What follows is Richards’ rationalization for this credo. For Richards, there can be no question that the book of Deuteronomy is not a genuine historical text. He dismisses the work of William Albright, James Sine, and other defenders of the tradition, and sighs with resignation that he cannot see any redeeming argument for the book of Deuteronomy’s historicity.10 He likewise voices his suspicion concerning the literalness of the accounts given in Deuteronomy and the later Jewish sages that argued for Mosaic authorship of the book of Deuteronomy.11

Given what he sees is the unimpressive evidence for its historicity and the “visionary character”12 of Moses’ account of the revelation of the Torah, Richards rejects the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy in toto. There was no real Exodus, golden calf, or last series of speeches by a historic figure named Moses outside of the fruitful imagination of an impressionable group of Jewish scribes. But despite his insistence on the book of Deuteronomy’s unhistorical nature, in 1993 Richards did not feel it necessary to totally abandon the book’s spiritual power: “I believe the book of Deuteronomy to be the word of God because I am moved by its story and the story of its discovery at the Temple by Hilkiah, Josiah the king, and the story of people brought together by its coming forth. It is a foundational book for the Jewish faith.”13 All that is therefore needed to accept the book of Deuteronomy as scripture is to confess faith in a compelling story, regardless of whether that story actually ever really happened.

Richards is by no means alone in promulgating the Inspired Fiction theory. Robert H. Jackson picks up this line of thought in an essay that implores the reader to view the Deuteronomists as the “inspired authors” of the book of Deuteronomy.14 “If Moses is to be considered not the author but instead the Deuteronomists,” Jackson reasons, “the situation is far removed from that of some crude hoax or practical joke.”15

As with Richards, Jackson operates with the a priori assumption of a non-historical book of Deuteronomy. But the non-historicity of the book of Deuteronomy doesn’t matter to Jackson, who feels it entirely proper to count the book of Deuteronomy as “scriptural” and the Deuteronomists as “inspired” for no other reason than the noble intentions behind the entire scheme.

The Deuteronomists, disillusioned by the strife and confusion of rival political groups of their day, each of which claimed the authority of the Bible for its distinctive teachings, finally decided to cut the Gordian Knot of Bible exegesis by creating a new scripture that would undercut the debating of the different sects and render them superfluous.16

Far from the conniving charlatan of the anti-Semitic polemics of yore, the Deuteronomists, in this re-envisioning, were acting out of pure intentions. They meant well in fabricating new scripture, and, as such, can only be lauded. What’s more, the fact that the Deuteronomists took the other four books of the Torah as their prime source for fabricating new scripture only further shows their holy intentions.

The Deuteronmists’ apparent, fundamental source material still survives: Genesis-Numbers. Like the other books of the Torah . . . The Deuteronomists seems to have created new holy fictions by running the old ones through the shredder and reassembling the shreds in wholly new combinations. This method appears to be precisely that of the old rabbis and of the New Testament evangelists. So, not only did the Deuteronomists do the same sort of thing other biblical writers themselves did to produce new Bible text, they even did it the same way.17

Jackson feels no constraint in rhapsodizing with gushing effusion on the book of Deuteronomy as “inspired” pseudepigrapha and the Deuteronomic School as its “inspired” author. This, Jackson insists, frees us from the discomfiture inherent in an obviously unhistorical book of Deuteronomy being held up as historical by millenia of Jewish dogma, and opens up new vistas of scriptural exploration. Now the book of Deuteronomy can be read the way it was meant to be read all along: as non-literal, unhistorical, and fictitious.

Then there is Brad Hilton, who makes a case for the book of Deuteronomy as “automatic writing.” In this scenario, we are to understand the author of Deuteronomy as psychotic: one who is psychologically detached from reality, but still somehow in communication with divinity.18 Accordingly, “God use[d] automatic writing to help his prophets produce scripture.”19

If we see the book of Deuteronomy as the result of the author’s psychosis, Hilton argues, then we can safely put it next to other wondrous books that were likewise purportedly the result, at least to some extent, of automatic dictation, including A Course in Miracles by Helen Cohn Schucman, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Jerusalem by William Blake.

But what, exactly, leads Hilton to conclude that the author was psychotic, and that the book of Deuteronomy is a product of something called automatic dictation? Nothing less than a commanding “number of parallels . . . between the author’s production of scripture and instances of automatic writing.”20 These parallels include

multiple authorship, use of archaic language, accounts of bygone historical figures, accurate descriptions of times and places apparently unfamiliar to the writer, narratives with well-developed characters and plot, poetics, occasionally impressive literary quality, doctrinal, theological, and cosmological discussions, and even discourses by deity.21

Equally telling for Hilton is the manner in which the author created the book of Deuteronomy. In a trance-like state the author, possibly Hilkiah or Shaphan, dictated page after page of text without referencing notes or making corrections and produced the book in a short period of time to present to Josiah the king. The breathtakingly fast pace of the flawless writing is an unmistakable characteristic of “automatic dictation,” according to Hilton. With this in mind, Hilton safely concludes that “automatic writing . . . provides a simple explanation of these circumstances.”23

But, as with Richards and Jackson, Hilton believes his theory renders moot the question of the book of Deuteronomy‘s contested origins. This is because Hilton believes “automatic writing” can account for things such as “the author’s scriptural productions repeating things he may have heard or overheard in conversation, Torah readings, or other [7th century BC] settings without any concerted study of the issues,” as well as the assertion by apologists “that the author was too ignorant and uneducated to create a book of such complex construction and profound teachings.”24

In other words, there is no need to debate whether the Deuteronomists pilfered from The Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon (a favorite candidate of the author’s alleged plagiarism for those seeking a naturalistic explanation for the origins of the book of Deuteronomy) or had at his disposal a copy of the other four books of Moses during the production of the book of Deuteronomy, since “automatic writing” somehow allows the author to unconsciously “channel” previously retained information. Nor is it necessary to argue for the book of Deuteronomy’s complexity or ancient authenticity, since “automatic writing” has also allegedly produced works that exhibit complexity and marks of antiquity. Hilton observes that “some apologists have claimed that evidence for the book of Deuteronomy’s ancient character ‘proves’ or validates its doctrinal teachings.” “Such claims,” he continues,

are clearly made in ignorance of automatic texts, many of which evidence historical and philosophical knowledge beyond that of the writer. Since the theologies of these other writings clash with the book of Deuteronomy and with each other, it is fallacious to suggest a connection between doctrinal claims of a book and the miraculous aspects of its contents.25

So we need to stop fretting over the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy, or whether it has 7th century BC or ancient characteristics. What matters is solely the “inspiration” of the book, which, like other works written under similar circumstances, was produced through the “inspiration” of “automatic writing.”

After surveying these arguments, the commonalities between these and other manifestations of the Inspired Fiction reading of the book of Deuteronomy become readily apparent. First, in each recasting of this theory, Moses was never the author of Deuteronomy, or a real historical individual, or was there any real Exodus or law given by a prophet figure. These stories, presumably, were either faked/fabricated or imagined. Second, nothing in the book of Deuteronomy corresponds to historical reality. Third, the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy is irrelevant with regard to whether the book is “inspired.” Scripture does not need to be historically real to be from God.

The Flaws of an Inspired Fiction Reading of the Book of Deuteronomy

No matter how ingenious, or sympathetic, these attempts to deny the book of Deuteronomy’s historicity and yet maintain its “inspiration” may be, they simply don’t work. The logical flaws in any Inspired Fiction reading of the book of Deuteronomy are not only too numerous and fail to account for the historical evidence concerning the book of Deuteronomy, but also grotesquely deform the book of Deuteronomy into something neither it nor its billions of faithful adherents ever claimed it to be. “For a variety of reasons,” Stern succinctly explains, “such efforts [to read the book of Deuteronomy as inspired fiction] may be well intentioned, but they are untenable.”26

The first of the variety of reasons why the Inspired Fiction theory is untenable is that it begs the question of the book of Deuteronomy’s non-historical nature. In other words, proponents of the Inspired Fiction theory must first assume that the book of Deuteronomy is not historical before they can proceed any further; which assumption is far from certain and highly debatable. If the work of Jewish scholars in the past 50 years has proven anything, it is that a rigorous defense of the book of Deuteronomy’s historicity can and has been made in such a compelling manner that one must confront this body of scholarship and adequately account for it before one can propose any Inspired Fiction reading.

This is, however, precisely what proponents of the Inspired Fiction theory have not done. They have not adequately responded to the work of Jewish scholars on behalf of the book of Deuteronomy’s historicity. With few exceptions, they have merely assumed or uncritically accepted the conclusion that the book of Deuteronomy is not historical. This conclusion has not only been vigorously challenged by many scholars, but has also not been adequately sustained by those advocating the non-historical nature of the book of Deuteronomy. The Inspired Fiction theory, therefore, is little more than a refuge for those who have merely assumed that the book of Deuteronomy cannot possibly be an authentic ancient text.

Janet Sanderson has succinctly summarized an even more problematic logical inconsistency in the Inspired Fiction theory.

1. Moses claimed to have had possession of the Law written by the finger of G-d, and to have delivered the Law to the Israelites recounted in Deuteronomy. 2. If the book of Deuteronomy is not an ancient document, there was no law given. 3. If there was no law given, there were no tablets written by G-d; and there was no Israelite named Moses. 4. If there was no Moses and no tablets of the Law, then Moses and later Jewish scribes did not tell the truth when they claimed to possess the Law written on tablets, and to have been visited by G-d. 5. Hence, they were either lying (they knew there were no tablets or visitations by G-d, but were trying to convince others that there were), or they were insane or deluded (they believed there were tablets and visitations by G-d which in fact did not exist).27

The case against the Inspired Fiction theory can be elucidated with this simple question, which proponents of the Inspired Fiction theory must answer: if the book of Deuteronomy isn’t historical, then was Moses and later Jewish scribes deliberate liars when they said Moses had tablets, and was visited by G-d, or were they merely delusional? Or were they perhaps sincere liars, in that they came to believe in their own delusions? To these interrogatories a follow-up question may be asked: why would God choose liars or lunatics to bring about his Law? As Janet remarks,

If [those who read the book of Deuteronomy as inspired fiction] wish to maintain that the book of Deuteronomy is not an ancient document, at least as old as it claims to be, but that Moses was somehow still a prophet, they must present some cogent explanation for Moses’ wild claims of possessing nonexistent tablets and being visited by a nonexistent G-d.28

What’s more, as Nathan Carr, who puts an even finer point on this question, explains,

relegating the book of Deuteronomy to inspired parable or morally uplifting allegory presents serious problems of logic. The book itself announces its historicity repeatedly. Can it really be true in any sense if it consistently misrepresents its origin? Moses and later Jewish sages also were consistent in maintaining that the book describes real events and real people. . . . Can these sources be relied on for anything if they unfailingly misrepresent the nature of the “keystone” of the Jewish faith, the Shema?29

The author’s insistence on the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy was consistent throughout the book. To ignore this fact is to unjustifiably wink at a crucial piece of evidence in assessing the nature of the book of Deuteronomy and how the Jews have viewed it since 1200 BC. The well-documented statements of Moses and later Rabbis consistently affirming the book of Deuteronomy as historical must be dealt with by the proponents of the Inspired Fiction theory.30

Even if we grant that the Deuteronomists were the authors, even the “inspired authors” of the book of Deuteronomy, we must still ask why they would perpetuate falsehoods throughout their lives concerning the revelation and historicity of the book of Deuteronomy. Why would they keep up the ruse if they knew Josiah’s court scribes were the authors and not the supposed author, Moses, of the book of Deuteronomy? Or perhaps, as mentioned above, the Deuteronomists came to believe their own delusions. This is essentially what Jane England and John Bird have argued in their histories of the scribal school.31 But is a deluded, though sincere, group of mountebanks people we really wish to see as a prophetic school? And should their ruse really be treated as the word of God?

After a thorough look at not only the statements of Moses and later Jewish sages, but also statements in the Mishah and the book of Deuteronomy itself (more on this later), Carr asks the hard questions which those who opt for the Inspired Fiction theory routinely neglect:

Can the book of Deuteronomy indeed be “true,” in any sense, if it lies repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately regarding its own historicity? Can the Deuteronomists be viewed with any level of credibility if they repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately lied concerning the historicity of the book? Can we have any degree of confidence in what are presented as the words of God in the Tanakh if they repeatedly, explicitly, and deliberately lie by asserting the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy? If the book of Deuteronomy is not what it claims to be, what possible cause would anyone have to accept anything of the work of Moses and the later Jewish prophets, sages, and scribes, given the consistent assertions that the book of Deuteronomy is an ancient text that describes ancient events?32

Richards actually attempts to circumvent the claims of the Deuteronomistic School concerning the coming forth of the book of the Law. He insists that the involvement of the political advancements of Josiah preclude any possibility of the book of Deuteronomy being real.33 Unfortunately though, Richards’ arguments lack engagement with what was actually claimed by those involved in the coming forth of the book of Deuteronomy.

For instance, the testimony of the righteous king Josiah is an obstacle that those who wish to read the book of Deuteronomy as inspired fiction must overcome. Although revisionists, including Richards, have tried to dismiss the experience of Hilkiah’s discovery as nothing more than subjective, or visionary, Carl B. Ford (both before and after the publication of Richards’ article) has convincingly challenged this tactic.34 The experience of Hilkiah compliments the more remarkable experience of Josiah, and lends credibility to the claim, contra Richards, that some sort of physical scroll (whether ancient or contemporary) actually existed.35

Richards has not gone unchallenged in his abandonment of the book of Deuteronomy’s historicity (while still speaking of its “inspiration”). Merriweather Clark, who is critical of the Inspired Fiction theory of the book of Deuteronomy, has given specific attention to Richards’ theory. Clark challenges or qualifies almost every aspect of Richards’ thesis.36 Clark’s rebuttal of Richards (as well as his other counter-arguments to the Inspired Fiction theory) is substantive, and not to be passed over lightly by those who advocate an Inspired Fiction theory.37

Turning to Jackson’s contention that the Deuteronomists were the “inspired authors” of the book of Deuteronomy, the question of whether God would actually inspire a liar is a non-issue for Jackson, who is an avowed atheist.38 Indeed, Jackson seems to see the “inspiration” of the book of Deuteronomy in the same sense that one would see “inspiration” in the works of Shakespeare or Homer, i.e., nothing more than an excellent literary quality. Because there is no God, Jackson’s “inspiration” means anything except actual revelation. This has not stopped Jackson from arguing that the book of Deuteronomy is no more a hoax than are the fictional works of other great authors. “We ought to realize,” Jackson opines, “that for the Deuteronomists to be the authors of the book of Deuteronomy, with Moses and the omniscient narrator, makes moot the old debates over whether Moses was the real author or not.”39 By way of comparison, Jackson asks if Herman Melville and Shakespeare should also be considered hoaxers because they too wrote their fictional narratives in first person, introducing new fictional characters in the process.40

This argument falls flat as soon as one realizes that Moses or later Jewish tradition never claimed the book of Deuteronomy was fiction like the works of Melville or Shakespeare. They claimed to have received by miraculous means an ancient record written on a real, tangible, physical scroll found by a legitimate Aaronic Priest in the Temple of G-d. “[T]o my knowledge,” Sanderson quips in response to Jackson, “Shakespeare never said that G-d appeared to him in a cloud and gave him a prewritten play Hamlet on a scroll. Shakespeare also never claimed to have been resurrected and ascended into heaven. Frankly, the two examples are not even slightly analogous.”41

To insist on such mercurial definitions of “scripture” and “inspiration” is to make these crucial concepts meaningless, since anything that strikes one’s fancy could be qualified as “scripture” or “inspired,” if one followed Jackson’s opinion. Or, to paraphrase Robert Alter, “[this] concept of [scripture] becomes so elastic that it threatens to lose descriptive value.”42 Within the understanding of the Jewish tradition, what gives a text “inspiration” and makes it “scripture” is not its literary merit, but rather when the text is created under the influence of the Holy Ghost (see Deut. 34:9). Jackson may call any work of literary excellence “scripture” if he likes, but for him to call the book of Deuteronomy “scripture” while denying that it comes from God is to introduce a concept totally alien to the traditions of the Jews.

This is not to deny that works outside the modern canon can be beneficial or enlightening, or even, in Jackson’s sense, “scriptural,” in that they can contain ideas and concepts that, from a Jewish perspective, are true and in harmony with what God has revealed. Indeed, there is a richness of truth and beauty to be found in works of art, literature, music, and film from multiple cultures and religious traditions. When Prov. 18:4 explains that “words of man’s mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook,” it doesn’t restrict these books to only the Tanakh and Talmud. I am therefore not by any means an exclusionist. As a student of German literature, for instance, my soul resonates with many of the writings of the great German Romantics such as Goethe and Schiller. I’d even venture to say that, in some instances, they were genuinely inspired and produced works that comfortably compliment many aspects of my own faith.

However, I do not read Die fetten Jahre sind Vorbei (which actually happens to be one of my favorite books) or the numerous poems of Schiller in the same way that I read the book of Deuteronomy or the writings or prophets. While I find many aspects of the works of Goethe and Schiller (as well as other authors) profound, I do not believe Goethe and Schiller were prophets in the same sense that I believe Moses was a prophet. I am confident that other Jews have a similar opinion.

The difference should be plainly obvious. From a Jewish perspective Moses not only communed with God through actual heavenly encounters, but also, with the book of Deuteronomy, provided tangible evidence for God’s existence. As far as I am aware, neither Goethe nor Schiller claimed to have spoken face-to-face with God. To adapt Sanderson’s criticism of Jackson, Goethe never claimed that the studious Faust was a real individual or that the machinations of Mephistopheles actually happened. Nor did Schiller ever claim that a resurrected Albrecht von Wallenstein (who died in 1634) delivered to him the manuscript of his (Schiller’s) fictional dramatic trilogy Wallensteins Lager/Die Piccolomini/Wallensteins Tod.43

Hilton doesn’t escape unscathed from criticisms of his thesis either. Both Bob Barker and James Sanders provide well-argued criticisms of Hilton’s hypothesis that the book of Deuteronomy is the product of automatic writing.44 Barker criticizes Hilton’s double standard in uncritically accepting the accounts of other automatic scribes, while simultaneously questioning Moses’ own account.

It is surprising that Hilton seems to take at face value the claims of other automatic scribes about the source of their manuscripts but doesn’t seem to accept Moses’ own account of his sources as valid. That is, if Hilton uncritically accepts the witness of writers of automatic texts regarding the processes by which they received their material, why question the source Hilkiah claimed for the book of the Law?45

For Hilton’s hypothesis to work, one must unquestioningly accept the claims of others who produced texts by “automatic writing,” but also unquestioningly reject Hilkiah’s Smith’s own claims concerning the coming forth of the book of the Law. Why such an inconsistency is warranted is left unexplained by Hilton. But even worse for Hilton are the numerous ways in which the book of Deuteronomy does not exhibit the characteristics of automatic writing, including not just the actual verification of some of its historical claims, but also the nature of the experience of Josiah, Hilkiah, and the others involved in the discovery of the book of the Law.46

Sanders argues that the parallels offered by Hilton are not real parallels at all.

Hilkiah and Josiah never invoked traditional spiritualist experiences or explanations, unlike spiritualists of the seventh century BC. When I was first contemplating writing this essay, I contacted a professional colleague of mine whose expertise is in the psychology of religion and who is well qualified in matters of spirituality and spiritualism in the history of religion. His initial response to the automaticity hypothesis was that it seemed odd since Josiah and Hilkiah, unlike mediums and spiritualists of the seventh century BC, never invoked spiritualism as a source or influence. For most spiritualists, the channeling or mediumship is the crucial issue, but Josiah and Hilkiah never made such claims. Rather, they consistently reported that the source of the message was the book of the Law and that their discvoery occurred by the gift and power of God; he was able to show the scroll to not onlya few others, but all of Israel as Josiah read it to them, witnessing and testifying of the existence of the scroll.47

Interestingly, this is not the first time Josiah’s alleged mental instability has been used to explain the origin of the book of Deuteronomy. As early as 1903, R. H. Schmuel responded to Jules Holdrige’s hypothesis that Josiah was an epileptic,48 a bizarre theory that has from time to time subsequently resurfaced.

Historicity as a Necessity for the Theological Vitality of the Book of Deuteronomy

What is the purpose of the book of Deuteronomy? There is no better place to begin than the opening verses of the book of Deuteronomy, which the author insisted was written by Moses, and was not a later composition.49 According to the opening verses, the purpose of the book of Deuteronomy was for “Moses [to speak] unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain over against the Red Sea” (1:1).

“To this,” according to Rabbi Robert Downs, “we might add Moses’ last words in chapter 33, verse 29, ‘Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! and thine emenies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places,’ a vital part of the book of Deuteronomy’s purpose in Moses giving the Israelites instruction before they settle the land.”50 But does the book of Deuteronomy have a primary purpose, for which its historicity is so crucial? Rabbi Richard Sharp answers in the affirmative:

From the opening verses to the book’s final declaration, this book reveals, examines, underscores, and illuminates the divine mission of the Torah, written for the benefit of later generations. The book of Deuteronomy has many purposes, but this one transcends all others.51

Peter Rosekat explains that the book of Deuteronomy “emphasizes the revelation of the Law to the Israelites. The structure of Moses’ work emphasizes the Law, and at the end we have Moses affirming that the purpose of his preaching and particularly his records, has been to declare this supremely important message.”52

There is thus a fundamental difference between the book of Deuteronomy and other writings about Moses, such as Jubilees or any other form of rewritten scripture. In the case of the book of Deuteronomy, the theological power of the text comes from its insistence that what it describes actually happened. When a living, breathing prophet is purported to have actually spoken to an assembly of ancient Israelites, the account is not to be treated with the same sort of perfunctory curiosity or amusement that one would expend on The Da Vinci Code or any other modern fictional account about Moses. Modern pseudepigrapha never profess to be anything more than fictional accounts of the life and teachings of Moses, even if they are based, in part, on the traditional accounts of the life of Moses. (Historical fiction is still fiction.) Whatever principles they may convey, they pale in comparison to what the book of Deuteronomy reveals about G-d. It is all fine and good to read what a modern writer may imagine about Moses. I am by no means disparaging ancient or modern pseudepigrapha. But it is an entirely different matter to read an account that purports to give a real history of Moses’ actions and teachings.

Consider this example given by R. H. Shmuel in 1909. In his important three-volume work defending the Torah, Shmuel quotes the following from Jim Thorpe.

Were a parchment discovered in an Egyptian mound, six inches square, containing fifty words which were certainly spoken by Moses, this utterance would count more than all the books which have been published since the first century. If a veritable picture of the prophet could be unearthed from a catacomb, and the world could see with its own eyes what like he was . . . that picture would have at once a solitary place amid the treasures of art.

I can’t think of any Hebrew Bible scholar, or any historian of Judaism, or any faithful Jew, for that matter, who wouldn’t pay a high price to find authentic extra-biblical texts that Moses wrote. Shmuel likewise sees the significance of this:

If [Thorpe’s observation] be true, and I think no one will question it, then how valuable indeed must be . . . the book of Deuteronomy! Containing not fifty, but many hundreds of words spoken by Moses . . . [and] the account of G-d’s appearance and revelation of the Law to the people, his very words repeated . . . that we may better understand . . . G-d’s teachings. . . . It was mainly for this purpose that the Law was written and preserved for the world to have.53

But the crucial thing Shmuel demonstrates is that it is its claimed historical authenticity that makes the book of Deuteronomy’s testimony of G-d so significant. That, to Shmuel, is what makes the book of Deuteronomy a “witness” for G-d. For if the Book of Mormon is historically authentic, then it contains historically authentic sayings of Moses. The debate over the historicity of Moses delivering the Law, for instance, is suddenly cast in an entirely new light if Moses actually delivered a series of sermons to a group of Israelites in circa BC 1200, as recorded by the book of Deuteronomy.54

The ultimate purpose of the book of Deuteronomy is frustrated if its story about Moses is not authentically history. “Moses did show himself unto the Israelites, as the multitude were gathered together near the mountain of God, and did speak unto them; and on this wise did he show himself unto them.” So says Ben Kingsley in his interview with CNN. But if Moses’ words were never really heard by a real group of ancient people, and if he really didn’t lay down the Law on the Israelites and give them command to administer real ordinances, or actually declare what the fundamental principles of the Law were, then the primary witness of the book of Deuteronomy has absolutely none of the efficacy it proclaims to have.

Those spoken of in the book of Deuteronomy are portrayed as real individuals who reaped the real blessings of exercising faith in G-d. Their stories are never presented as pious fiction, but as fact. What’s all the more exciting for us as modern readers is that the same blessings received by these ancient peoples are promised to be bestowed on us in modern times if we follow the same path.

G-d has not ceased to be G-d. Behold, are not the things that G-d hath wrought marvelous in our eyes? Yea, and who can comprehend the marvelous works of G-d?. . . And who shall say that G-d did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the prophets. And if there were miracles wrought then, why has G-d ceased to be a G-d of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be G-d; and he ceaseth not to be G-d, and is a G-d of miracles.

Marvelous indeed are these phony miracles if they never happened! Moses implores us to not abandon faith in a constant God whose miracles and power may continue in our own lives. But if the miracles reported in the book of Deuteronomy never occurred, then not only is a fictional Moses a liar, but so too are the later Jews who propounded the story, who (either consciously or unconsciously) fabricated stories of fake miracles spoken of in the book of Deuteronomy.

Likewise, the dire warning given by Moses at the end of Deuteronomy becomes toothless if Moses did not actually exist, or if his testimony is nothing more than the product of later Jewish imaginations.

And now, my beloved brethren . . . G-d will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness. . . . And now, my beloved brethren, all those who are of the house of Israel, I speak unto you as the voice of one crying from the dust: Farewell until that great day shall come. And you that will not partake of the goodness of God, and respect the words of the prophets, and also my words, and the words which shall proceed forth out of the mouth of G-d, behold, I bid you an everlasting farewell, for these words shall condemn you at the last day. For what I seal on earth, shall be brought against you at the judgment bar; for thus hath the Lord commanded me, and I must obey. Amen.

This impassioned plea from Moses to remember and keep his words in the book of Deuteronomy mean nothing if a real Moses never said these words. For, if a real Moses never existed, then a real Moses will never meet us at the judgment bar of God as he proclaimed would happen, and his imaginary words will not condemn us at the judgment of God, because they were never actually spoken.

If Moses never existed, then these pronouncements become meaningless, for if the book of Deuteronomy is fictional, then we will no sooner meet a fictional Moses at the judgment-seat of G-d than the orphan Oliver Twist, Captain Ahab of the Pequod, or the adulteress Hester Prynne.

Elsewhere Moses writes, “if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I commanded thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth” (Deut. 28:1). Moses then proceeds to detail an unflattering litany of curses that would befall Israelites in the future if they did not hearken to his words: cursed would be the city, the fields, the baskets, the stores, the fruit of the body, the fruit of the land, the increase of cows, and the flocks of sheep, to name a few. Moses, after chastising his future readers for their transgressions, ends his woeful prognostications with a dreadful pronouncement: “The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me” (Deut. 28:20). The entire chapter is a humbling read, which includes an earnest plea for us, the modern readers of the book of upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine, to repent and return to G-d.

What a sham this warning is if a real Moses was not shown a real vision of what was to transpire in the last days. Moses’ warnings, which hang over modern society’s collective head, is no more threatening to us than the plastic swords used by children to fight imaginary dragons. Any power, gravity or urgency captured in this chapter—directed by a pleading prophet to a morally decaying people—is swept away if it is fictional, and becomes so worthless that I cannot see how anyone would deign to give it an ounce of credibility.

If what the book of Deuteronomy reports about Moses and these other prophets is nothing more than fiction, then the book of Deuteronomy’s witness of G-d is no more a witness for G-d than any other fictional work. To view the book of Deuteronomy as nothing more than “inspiring” fiction like any other book would not only destroy the power of the book of Deuteronomy, but, as explained before, would also cast later Jews in a highly unflattering light: that of liars (conscious or otherwise) or raving lunatics. Rabbi Sharp recognized the implications of such, and forcefully admonished that

one has to take a do-or-die stand regarding the Law of Moses and the divine origins of the book of Deuteronomy. Reason and righteousness require it. Moses must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else as a charlatan of the first order, but no one should tolerate any ludicrous, even laughable middle ground about the wonderful historic fact of the sermons given by Moses in Deuteronomy. That is an unacceptable position to take––morally, literarily, historically, or theologically.55

Many have dismissed this stance as overly melodramatic and the pontifications of a dogmatic fundamentalist who lacks the prudence to read the book of Deuteronomy stripped of the crass literalism that shackled earlier Jewish exegetes to a hermeneutic of naïveté and credulity. But the fact that lively debate about the authenticity of the book of Deuteronomy has persisted for two millenia should indicate that many more like Rabbi Sharp have recognized the serious implications attending the book’s fraudulence or authenticity.

If we could indeed just read the book of Deuteronomy as “inspired” fiction, then one wonders why every criticism imaginable has been leveled against it since its first writing. Why is this book so threatening? What is so scandalous about this book that writers of many philosophical and religious persuasions have mercilessly rained their rage and fury down upon it? If it is just another nice, “inspiring” fictional book about Moses, then why the acrimonious denouncements of the book of Deuteronomy as a vile imposition? Why is the book of Deuteronomy currently opposed by an army of authorities who feel it a moral imperative and their solemn duty to G-d or their own inflated sense of reasonableness to expose the book of Deuteronomy for what it really is?

Perhaps Rabbi Sharp has hit a tender nerve when it comes to all of this, namely, that the book of Deuteronomy forces us to ask the hard questions: is this book real history? Did the stories it records actually happen? Did it come forth the way Moses and other early Jews said it did, or by some other fraudulent means? And, depending on how one answers these questions, what are the ramifications for the lives of millions of Jews throughout the globe, besides the many gentiles studying Judaism today on the grounds of the authenticity of the Torah?

The Book of Deuteronomy’s Role in G-d’s Covenant with His People

The crucial concept of the uniqueness of Israel suffers at the hand of the Inspired Fiction theory. A careful look at the role of the book of Deuteronomy in the covenant of the children of Israel to G-d makes this clear. The book of Deuteronomy itself foretells its own crucial role in the covenant. Moses prophesied of the destruction of the Israelites after their apostasy from G-d’s covenant. But, thankfully, Moses, among other prophets, is shown the restoration of the remnant of his seed after the exile in our days. How, at least in part, is this restoration to come about?

Moses speaks of seeing the promised Messiah “The Lord thy G-d will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” (Deut. 18:15). Moses then reports how this messianic figure would be a prophet, and then gives ways of being able to tell if one who claims to be a prophet is one or not. The prophet would come forth to convince the people of the earth of the truthfulness of the Torah and restore the plain and precious truths lost to the apostasy is the book of Deuteronomy.

Sometime after Moses’ speech Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the Israelites to keep the commandments they received (Deut. 27:1). They had “become the people of the Lord [their] G-d” that day, and were therefore supposed to keep his commandments, and that any Israelite that worshipped idols would be cursed in many terrible ways.

Speaking of the book of Deuteronomy as a “sign” to later Jews, Moses prophesied and commanded that the Israelites would write the Law of Moses in stone, once on the other side of the river, to never be forgotten (Deut. 27:3).The Law of Moses, written on stone altars, would be the means of going in to the land of Israel. One of the purposes of the coming forth of the book of Deuteronomy, therefore, according to the words of Moses, is to show the remnant of the seed of Israel scattered throughout the world the nature and importance of both the covenants they are to enter into with him, as well as the covenants made by their forefathers.

Moses offers important clarification as to why he commanded the Israelites to write the Law in stone, that the altars would have the law, enabling them to offer burnt offerings to their G-d (Deut. 27:6-8).

Thus, Moses explains that the book of Deuteronomy, as taught earlier by Moses, is to act as a witness for G-d and the ancient covenants he made with the house of Israel, that modern Jews may fulfill this covenant and enjoy the blessings thereof.

But how could the book of Deuteronomy possibly convince others of the truthfulness of biblical teachings if it is fraudulent? And why would G-d use a book created under false pretenses to serve as the star witness of his existence in our days? What are we to think of these prophecies concerning the writing of the Law if they were penned no earlier than the seventh century BC, and if the genesis of their content is not with Moses, but instead the Deuteronomists? Are we to give God credibility or exhibit any faith in his powers if these passages amount to nothing more than language penned by the Deuteronomists about their own day? Furthermore, how is a supposedly fictional historical account in the book of Deuteronomy supposed to convince latter day Jews that G-d has made ancient covenants with their forefathers which are to be fulfilled?56

We now ask proponents of the Inspired Fiction theory to answer the following questions:

  1. How did the Lord intend to take his Law to fictional groups who never existed outside the imagination of the the Deuteronomists?
  2. Why would the Lord speak of Moses and the Israelites as being a real group of people if in fact they weren’t?
  3. Why would God speak of Moses  being given power to reveal the Law given to him by a G-d?
  4. How does a fictional book of Deuteronomy prove that G-d called prophets in ancient times?
  5. How does a fictional book of Deuteronomy prove the truthfulness of the Torah?

Sam Stern has looked closely at the role of the book of Deuteronomy in the life of Judaism, and concludes that

the history of the book of Deuteronomy’s place in Judaism has always been more connected to its status as signifier than signified, or its role as a sacred sign rather than its function as persuasive theology. The book of Deuteronomy is preeminently a concrete manifestation of sacred utterance, and thus an evidence of divine presence, before it is a repository of theological claims.57

Or, as Stern writes elsewhere, what outrages rival religions to this day isn’t so much “the content [of the book of Deuteronomy],” which sincere Christians, among others, could hardly object to, “but rather its manner of appearing; its has typically been judged not on the merits of what it says, but what it enacts.”58 For the book of Deuteronomy is undoubtedly the primary evidence for Moses’ divine call. What more could a skeptical world ask for in the way of proof of a genuine prophet than an unlearned Hebrew slave having the very Law of G-d revealed to him, and having the ability to write it down”?60 Perceptive scholars like Sam Banks recognize this clearly. “The presence of a new sacred text testified to the special status and powers of Moses, who had revealed it, and in turn Moses testified to the truth of the book through his continuing revelations from God” writes Banks in a refreshingly honest and evenhanded non-Jewish treatment of the book of Deuteronomy. “Neither the Prophet nor the book would, without the other, wield the oracular power each enjoyed.”61

It is therefore upon the book of Deuteronomy and the rest of the Torah that Jews build their confidence in not only Moses as a prophet, but the divinity of G-d and his chosen people. Rabbi Eliezer taught that

the Jewish faith stand[s] or fall[s] with the truthfulness of the book of Deuteronomy. The enemies of the Jewish faith understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try and disprove the book of Deuteronomy, for if it can be discredited, the prophet Moses goes with it. So does our claim to uniqueness, and revelation, and the covenant. But in like manner, if the book of Deuteronomy is true . . . then one must accept the claims of the Jewish faith and all that accompanies it.62

Without the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses has no genuine prophetic qualifications. When the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy, and by implication the historicity of the covenant, is sacrificed on the altar of the Inspired Fiction theory, Moses goes in an instant from being a prophet chosen by God to reveal the Torah to just another sad example of the type of religious imposter well known throughout history. At best he becomes a well meaning but deluded quack, and at worst a non-existent, unhistorical character. “It should be obvious,” writes Charles Primrose, “that, if the book of Deuteronomy were false, little or nothing that is distinctive to our faith would stand. Moses’ prophetic mission and all of the other revelations that came through him would be called into question.”63 It should be obvious, but for some inexplicable reason this simple point seems to elude proponents of the Inspired Fiction theory.


The legitimacy of the most important theological claims of the book of Deuteronomy hinges on whether the attending story that conveys the doctrine actually happened. Its supremely important purpose, to testify that G-d and has performed an eternal covenant with his people, relies entirely on whether the historical testimony of him is authentic. Quite unlike the Psalms or the Proverbs, which make absolutely no claim to historicity, the book of Deuteronomy does nothing but give story after story of claimed historicity to prove the theological validity of the Torah being expounded within its pages.

The book of Deuteronomy must be historical and read as history in order for it to really contain the truthfulness of the theological power it claims to have. If the book of Deuteronomy is not historical, and if it is read only as fiction, then any pretense to it being an additional witness for G-d’s covenant in any worthwhile sense is obliterated. The book of Deuteronomy does not proclaim itself to be fiction. It uncompromisingly proclaims itself, and its message about G-d, to be historical fact. Although fiction about Moses, including a hypothetically fictional book of Deuteronomy, may indeed be “inspiring” in a limited literary sense, such is not necessarily the same as it being inspired in a divine sense.

The Inspired Fiction theory is little more than a smokescreen that distracts us from the fact that Moses’ prophetic authenticity is entirely dependent on the historicity of the Torah and the story of its unfolding. Moses never proclaimed the book of Deuteronomy to be fiction. The moment Moses claimed to not only be in the possession of physical tablets given to him by G-d, but to also have shown these tablets to Israel, is the moment he allowed himself no comfortable middle ground wherein we can divorce the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy from either its or Moses’ genuineness. To abandon faith in the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy is thus to abandon faith in Moses’ sanity and honesty, even his very prophetic credibility.

What are the consequences for the faith of the Jews attending the abandonment of the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy? What do proponents of the Inspired Fiction reading of the book of Deuteronomy really ask Jews to concede to their half-baked theories? First, it must be conceded, no matter how much he’s desperately masked with trivialized adjectives like “inspired” or “pious,” that, whatever else they were, Moses and later Jews were liars. Regardless of whether they were conscious of it or not, they were liars whose fraud has misled millions into sincerely believing the book of Deuteronomy to be ancient, when in fact its history goes no further back than the 7th century. He either lied or was deluded in claiming that G-d delivered real tablets for him to give to the Israelites. As such, it must be thus also conceded that if such is the case, then the book of Deuteronomy is not what it claims itself to be. Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and others never existed in history, and thus are no more real than any other fictional characters in any other fictional novel. They weren’t real prophets who gave real testimonies of G-d’s covenant to the world. They were entirely the products of later Jewish imagination. Jews should read the story of the book of Deuteronomy as fiction, thus reducing their nature to that of an inspiring fairytale, and nothing more.

For any Jew who takes the truth claims of the Jewish tradition seriously, these concessions should be totally unacceptable, and vigorously rejected. For what the Inspired Fiction reading of the book of Deuteronomy asks to concede is nothing less than the very heart and soul of the Jewish faith.

If the book of Deuteronomy is true, if it is authentic history kept by the Jews since the days of Moses for the wise purposes of God, then Jews have good reason for faith and genuine hope for a trust in God. If the book of Deuteronomy is the product of deliberate deception or the sincere psychological delusion caused by severe stress, Jews have no reason for faith or for hope.65

To read the book of Deuteronomy as inspired fiction is not only to violently wrest it out of both its ancient and modern Sitz im Leben, but is also to effectively neuter its theology. The grounding of Jewish faith and practice rests, in an inextricable measure, on the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy and the attending events surrounding the covenant and choosing of Israel. What Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) argued about the Bible certainly holds true for the book of Deuteronomy:

It is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on this earth. The factum historicum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical faith, but the foundation on which it stands: Et incarnatus est––when we say these words, we acknowledge God’s actual entry into real history.66

I conclude with that simple, sobering declaration.

  1. Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History (Revised Edition; USA: Zondervan, 1992), 102.
  2. Sam Stern, By the Hand of Moses: The Hebrew Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2002), 80. Stern has reiterated this point elsewhere. “In a particularly pronounced way, the meaning and value of the book of Deuteronomy as a religious text are tied to a specific set of historical claims.” Sam Stern, “Foreword,” in James Sine, Moses’ Codex: An Ancient Israelite Book (Orem, Utah: Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), xiv.
  3. Jeremy Johnson, Moses and the Beginnings of Judaism (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 187–88.
  4. See Martin Frey, “The First Steps,” POTATOE Review 17/1 (2005): xi–xiv; “Two Stories–One Faith,” POTATOE Review 19/1 (2007): 55–79; “Remembrance and the Past,” POTATOE Review 19/2 (2007): 37–65; “Debating Christians,” POTATOE Review 20/2 (2008): xxiii–xxvi.
  5. For an example of such, see Truman O. Angel, ed., Reflections on Judaism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 1978).
  6. Bill Gardy, Understanding the Book of Deuteronomy: A Reader’s Guide (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2010), 6.
  7. Aaron Crispman, “The Need for Historicity: Why Banishing G-d from History Removes Historical Obligation,” in Historicity and the Jewish Scriptures, ed. Aaron Crispman (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 2001), 113. Crispman’s entire article is an important treatment on this subject.
  8. See Clyde E. Richards, “The Word of God Is Enough: The Book of Deuteronomy as Seventh-Century BCE Scripture,” in New Approaches to the Book of Deuteronomy: Explorations in Critical Methodology, ed. Bryan K. Samuelson (Salt Lake City, Utah: Chutzpah Books, 1993), 1–19.
  9. Richards, “The Word of God Is Enough,” 1.
  10. Richards, “The Word of God Is Enough,” 8–16.
  11. Richards, “The Word of God Is Enough,” 3–7.
  12. Richards, “The Word of God Is Enough,” 7.
  13. Richards, “The Word of God Is Enough,” 7.
  14. Robert H. Jackson, “The Deuteronomist: Inspired Author of the Book of Deuteronomy,” in Hebrew Bible Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Deuteronomy, ed. John Bird and Bryan K. Samuelson (Salt Lake City, Utah: Chutzpah Books, 2002), 321–366.
  15. Jackson, “The Deuteronomist: Inspired Author,” 326. Before critics accuse me of creating a false dilemma in this article, the reader should note carefully Jackson’s own false dilemma that unless we adopt his theory the book of Deuteronomy can only be a “crude hoax or practical joke.”
  16. Jackson, “The Deuteronomist: Inspired Author,” 333.
  17. Jackson, “The Deuteronomist: Inspired Author,” 347.
  18. Brad Hilton, “Automaticity and the Book of Deuteronomy,” in Hebrew Bible Apocrypha, 17–46.
  19. Hilton, “Automaticity,” 36.
  20. Hilton, “Automaticity,” 26.
  21. Hilton, “Automaticity,” 30.
  22. Hilton, “Automaticity,” 31.
  23. Hilton, “Automaticity,” 34.
  24. Hilton, “Automaticity,” 35.
  25. Hilton, “Automaticity,” 35.
  26. Stern, “Foreword,” in Sine, Moses’ Codex, xiv.
  27. Janet Sanderson, “An Apologist for the Critics: Bryan K. Samuelson’s Assumptions and Methodologies,” POTATOE Review of Books on the Book of Deuteronomy 6/1 (1994), 452–53.
  28. Sanderson, “An Apologist for the Critics,” 453.
  29. Nathan Carr, “Moses and the Historicity of the Book of Deuteronomy,” in Historicity and the Jewish Scriptures, 123. Stern agrees with Sanderson and Carr. “The book’s unambiguous account of its own construction, as well as the historically defined reciprocity between Moses’ own moral authority as a religious leader and the sacred status of the book inseparably wedded to his claims and career, admits of no simple divorce [between the book of Deuteronomy’s authenticity and its historicity].” Stern, “Foreword,” in Sine, Moses’ Codex, xiv.
  30. For a collection of Moses’ and other early Jewish statements on the historicity of the book of Deuteronomy, see Carr, “Moses and the Historicity of the Book of Deuteronomy,” 127–133.
  31. Jane England, No Man Knew Moses: The Life of Moses, the Jewish Prophet, 2nd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971); John Bird, Moses: The Making of a Prophet(Salt Lake City, Utah: Chutzpah Books, 2004).
  32. Carr, “Moses and the Historicity of the Book of Deuteronomy,” 137–38, emphasis in original.
  33. Richards, “The Word of God is Enough,” 6–7.
  34. Carl B. Ford, Investigating the Book of Deuteronomy (Salt Lake City, Utah: Katav Books, 1981), esp. 123–179; “Attempts to Redefine the Experience of Moses and the Early Israelites,”Journal of Book of Deuteronomy Studies 14/1 (2005): 18–31.
  35. For more on the book of Deuteronomy witnesses, such as Hilkiah, see William C. Rest, “Evaluating the Book of Deuteronomy Witnesses,” The Religious Educator 11/ 2 (2010): 37–49; Jeremy Johnson, Moses: Israel’s Prophet (New York, N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 76–80; G. Y. Sanderson, “Israel Behold the Tablets,” The Journal of Jewish History 38/2 (Spring 2012): 145–162.
  36. Merriweather Clark, “The Current Battle over the Book of Deuternomy: ‘Is Modernity Itself Somehow Canonical?’”  Review of Books on the Book of Deuternomy 6/1 (1994): 200–254.
  37. Merriweather Clark, “‘Inspiring’ but Not True: An Added Glimpse of the Reformed Jewish Stance on the Book of Deuteronomy,” Journal of Book of Deuteronomy Studies 6/2 (1997): 218–228; “‘To Remember and Keep’: On the Book of Deuteronomy as an Ancient Book,” in The Disciple as Scholar: Essays on Scripture and the Ancient World in Honor of Carl B. Ford, ed. Stylish Stephens, Donald Duck, and Andre The Giant (Provo, Utah: POTATOE and Jewish Studies, 2000), 95–137; “No Middle Ground: The Debate over the Authenticity of the Book of Deuteronomy,” in Historicity and the Jewish Scriptures, 149–170.
  38. Merriweather Clark, “Atheist Piety: A Religion of Dogmatic Dubiety,” Interpreter: A Journal of Jewish Scripture 1 (2012): 123–130.
  39. Robert H. Jackson, “Prophecy and Palimpsest,” Dialogue: A Journal of Jewish Thought 35/3 (2002): 69.
  40. Jackson, “Prophecy and Palimpsest,” 68–69.
  41. Janet Sanderson, “Priced to Sell,” POTATOE Review 16/1 (2004): 44–47, 45.
  42. Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1981), 15.
  43. My views on the nature of prophets, compared to other great mystics, sages, and poets, have been significantly influenced by William Albright, The World and the Prophets, 3rd ed. (Provo, Utah: POTATOE and Jewish Studies, 1987), and Sam Stern, The God Who Weeps: How Judaism Makes Sense of Life (Salt Lake City, Utah: Torah Peak, 2012).
  44. Bob Barker, “The Book of Deuteronomy and Automatic Writing,” Journal of Book of Deuteronomy Studies 15/1 (2006): 4–17; James Sanders, “The Book of Deuteronomy as Automatic Writing: Beware the Virtus Dormitiva,” POTATOE Review 19/1 (2007): 23–29.
  45. Barker, “The Book of Deuteronomy and Automatic Writing,” 9.
  46. Discussed in Barker, “The Book of Deuteronomy and Automatic Writing,” 12–15.
  47. Sanders, “The Book of Deuteronomy as Automatic Writing,” 27.
  48. R. H. Shmuel, Defense of the Faith and the Jews (Salt Lake City, Utah: Yashar Books, 1907), 1:42–55.
  49. R. H. Shmuel, ed., History of the Jewish People, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Yashar Books, 1974), 1:71.
  50. Rabbi Robert Downs, “The Precise Purposes of the Book of Deuteronomy,” in By Study and by Faith: Selections from the Religious Educator, ed. R. N. Nurtzenhorst and Karl P. Clements (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 2009), 26.
  51. Rabbi  Richard Sharp, Moses and the Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Deuteronomy(Salt Lake City, Utah: Yashar Books, 1997), 4.
  52. Peter Rosekat, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy(Salt Lake City, Utah: Craig Clifford Books, 2007), 1:55.
  53. R. H. Shmuel, New Witnesses for God, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Yashar Books, 1909), 2:58–59.
  54. For commentary on this topic, see Yohannen Ben-Davar, Illuminating the Sermons of Moses (Provo, Utah: POTATOE and Jewish Studies, 1999); Rosekat, Second Witness, 5:396–472.
  55. Rabbi Sharp, Moses and the Covenant, 345-46.
  56. For commentary on this and related subjects, see Clint Richardson, “Book of Deuteronomy, what it says about itself,” in Book of Deuteronomy Reference Companion, ed. Dain P. Lengthy (Salt Lake City, Utah: Yashar Books, 2003), 163–66.
  57. Stern, By the Hand of Moses, 64, emphasis in original.
  58. Sam Stern, The Book of Deuteronomy: A Very Short Introduction (New York, N. Y.: Oxford University Press, 2009), 105, emphasis in original.
  59. Shmuel, History of the Jewish People, 1:315.
  60. Shmuel, History of the Jewish People, 6:74.
  61. Sam Banks, The Book of Deuteronomy: A Biography (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2012), 61.
  62. Rabbi Eliezer, A Witness and a Warning (Salt Lake City, Utah: Yashar Books, 1988), 18–19.
  63. Lyle Bentworth, “The Keystone of Our Religion.”
  64. Shmuel, History of the Jewish People, 4:461.
  65. Carl Freidman, “Naturalistic Assumptions and the Book of Deuteronomy,” Jewish International Studies 30/3 (Summer 1990): 35.
  66. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Jesus of Nazareth (New York, N.Y.: Doubleday, 2007), xv. []




[1] It seems as if Stephen is quoting Jacob Neusner here on the Book of Mormon, whether conscious or unconscious of it. See Neusner, “Religious Studies: The Next Vocation,” Council on the Study of Religion Bulletin 8:5 (Dec, 1997), 117.


The Imperative for a Historical Book of Deuteronomy — 3 Comments

  1. (This is being re-posted from Facebook)

    I don’t find this to be a valid comparison at all. I do, of course, see the similarities in the importance to both groups of considering the respective books of their faiths to be historical and true. However, there is very little that can be appropriately compared between Joseph’s claim that the Book of Mormon is an ancient record that he, himself, translated and the ancient tradition that Deuteronomy was written by Moses. We have Joseph Smith’s own statements on the matter, as well as those of his family and friends. We have no such statements from Moses or from the so-called Deuteronomists. We have no way of knowing who originally authored Deut. We have no witnesses that can claim to have seen Moses as he was writing the book or dictating it, nor any who have seen the original manuscript. So it does no good to call Moses a liar, nor the Deuteronomists or the Jews who later received the text. We can assume that someone, at some time, made claims that were not entirely truthful regarding the authorship of the text or parts of the text, but we could not blame later readers for being ignorant of the actual process of how things went down. But with the Book of Mormon, the story is completely different. Unlike with Deuteronomy, we do have a certain degree of access to the man that brought us this text. As far as I understand the matter, Joseph Smith did believe and teach that the Book of Mormon was of ancient origin. One perhaps could argue that Joseph was misled and that Moroni gave him a golden book that was not really of ancient origin but was an amalgamation of modern sources inscribed on gold plates (or insert your favorite theory), but you would have to then either argue that Moroni, a messenger from God, was being deceptive or that Joseph Smith himself made the whole thing up or was lying about many parts of the story. To me, there is a difference between ancient pseudepigraphal texts and what they may be able to offer as far as spiritual and life lessons, and a modern prophet claiming to have had visions and being given a text through the gift and power of God. As Latter-day Saints, there is no real imperative to take all of the Bible and its claims as literal, historical or “true.” The claims of Joseph Smith regarding the Book of Mormon, however, are a completely different matter to us, theologically, and cannot be lumped together with books of the Bible. Perhaps for someone trained in biblical studies the difference might seem a technical one, but for believing Latter-day Saints, the difference is like night and day.

    I would also point out that we do not necessarily need to see malicious intent in the ascription of Deuteronomy to Moses. There could be various reasons that individuals would want to attribute the book to Moses, but if you look at the case of some of the Psalms that are assigned to David, in the end I think that some of these authorial attributions are based simply on later editors’ beliefs, assumptions, and ignorance regarding the actual author of an older text. I’m not saying that this is the case with Deuteronomy, but we do see later redactors adding names into the text where they did not previously exist.

    In the Church, we are encouraged to pray to God to gain a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and one of the book’s ancient authors promises that we will receive a response. There is no such promise made for the Book of Deuteronomy, neither within its pages or from modern prophets. I don’t imagine that Jewish proselytes are encouraged to pray about the Book of Deuteronomy in this way. I do not mean, with this statement, to diminish anyone’s belief in Deuteronomy or in any other part of the Bible. This is a statement regarding the spiritual witness promised specifically in the Book of Mormon.
    In my mind, I equate reading the words of claimed ancient prophets and then praying to know if those words are true with a historical Book of Mormon. I do not feel — and this is my opinion and understanding — that God would give a witness of the truth of a book that merely claimed to be historical but was not. If the entire premise of the book was a fabrication, I do not imagine that God would be in the business of confirming to people that the book was true.
    Look, I’m sure this was a fun intellectual exercise for the guest author of this post (whoever he/she may be). However, this is simply not a realistic or helpful comparison for Latter-day Saints. Whether the author was attempting to be helpful to someone (I can’t imagine who) or was simply trying to gain some kind of personal satisfaction by poking fun at Stephen Smoot’s article, I can’t see why it was written, especially not for an LDS audience.

  2. I agree with David Larson on this one. There was no Moroni or three witnesses for the Book of Deuteronomy. The Book of Deuteronomy does not function as the lynch-pin for the validity of any prophet’s status. On the other hand, the fact that Moroni delivered the actual gold plates, that the witnesses saw them and the other artifacts made known through the book, that the historical nature of the book if essential to its message and function, make Deuteronomy and the Book of Mormon a rather apples and dried plumbs kind of comparison.

    On the other hand, it seems very likely that Deuteronomy was intended to buttress Josiah’s reforms and destruction of the competing religious cultus sites to increase his political authority. The Book of Mormon was not a political document to justify a king’s reforms; but a declaration of the universality of God’s concern for his children and the ubiquitous nature of divine revelation to all people.

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