Deuteronomistic History: Sources, Authorship and Composition


In composing their account of this six hundred years period of history, the Deuteronomists utilise a number of sources. They began with the fundamental charter of Israel as people of God told in the Deuteronomy code (Deut 12-26). They added a preface, which sets the historical context in the plains of Moab where Israel was encamped, awaiting instruction for entry into the Promised Land. The law code itself is presented in the context of a speech by Moses to the assembled Israelites, in which they rehear the events of Mt. Sinai and repeats the covenant law for a second time (hence the name of the book in Greek, Deutero nomos, the second law).

The sources for compiling the Deuteronomistic History were the following

  1. Individual narrative cycles – speech by Moses: Deuteronomistic historians insert speeches into the mouth of the important personalities of the Deuteronomistic history to make a summary of the history of that particular period or to highlight the theological significance of that particular era. We find a farewell discourse of Moses in Deuteronomy and it ends with a prayer (Deut 32 & 33). Also in the beginning of the Deuteronomistic history book of Joshua (Josh 1;); end of Joshua era (Josh ), end of Samuel era (1 Sam ) marked by another speech in etc.,
  2. Stories about Judges: The stories about Judges cover 400 years of history and present the origin of the ancient Israel on the high lands of Canaan in terms of ‘gradual settlement’ model.
  3. Story of David’s rise to power: (1 Sam 16- 2 Sam 5). Here a series of stories present the manner in which that David ascended to the throne. Though some of them are of propaganda stories, they do contain Deuteronomistic theology.
  4. Succession story of Solomon: succession narrative (2 Sam 9-20; 1 King 2). These stories justify the throne succession of Solomon after David.
  5. Elijah and Elisha Cycles: tales and legends about various prophets, especially the great northern figures like Elijah and Elisha.
  6. Chronicles of Kings: Deuteronomistic writers had access to administrative documents from the period of united monarchy as well as the Experts from the chronicles of the courts of both Israelite and Judahite Kings.

Methods of Presenting the Deuteronomistic History 

i. Periodisation: The Deuteronomistic writers divided their history writing into various segments relating to various era of their respective history. For example the stories about Joshua are grouped together; they are set to present the story of conquest of the Promised Land. The stories were carried from one generation to the other. Deuteronomistic History had taken some stories and harmonised them so as to contain their ideology and theology. In the same way one finds various segments of history viz., stories of judges, Davidic period, Solomonic period etc., As mentioned earlier each period is marked with concluding speech by the great personalities of that particular period.

ii. Cyclic Narrative (popularly understood as 4s concept): In the Deuteronomistic narratives one finds the recurring themes of of sin, suffering, supplication and salvation. The narratives are composed in such a way they entail these elements. This cyclic way of narrating highlights the Deuteronomisitc theology of retribution, theology of hope and idea of divine election. Further this kind of history writing makes the national history a theological history by highlighting that Yahweh is ever faithful to his promises and he will save his people (Judg 2: 7-18). The overriding theme in the historical books is that the future of the Israel depends solely in the hands of God and certainly not in the hands of Israel and its military or political powers. The pattern that emerges from the interplay between these two poles – God’s constant loyalty and Israel’s consistent failure relates and interprets their present exile situation and injects in them a ray hope.

The cyclic narrative could be applied to Judg 2: 7-18 for further clarification

  1. Israel’s failure in covenant loyalty, its Sin (Judg 2: 11-13).
  2. Israel’s consequent punishment or Suffering, such as falling into the hands of and under the power of enemies (Judg 2: 14-15).
  3. The cry to God or Supplication for deliverance (Judg 2: 16-17).
  4. The intervention or Salvation of God, ever faithful on Israel ( Judg 2: 18).

iii. Pan-Israel Ideology: Some of the stories that were strictly pertaining to one or more than one but at any case not all the tribes of Israel. But they were presented in the Deuteronomistic History with a national outlook having broader theological perspectives. It is normally said as Pan-Israel ideology.

What do you think? .... Type your comments below.