Deuteronomy 27
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
D. Chs. 27–30. Closing Enforcements of the Law

First, directions as to rites on crossing the Jordan and at Shechem, contained in a composite ch., 27, which except in Deuteronomy 27:9 f. provides no link between chs. 26 and 28. Second, a discourse attributed to Moses, 28, which continues Deuteronomy 26:16-19, the epilogue to the Code, is probably original to D, and closing abruptly is connected by an editorial note, Deuteronomy 29:1 (Deut 28:69), with the following. Third, a somewhat parallel discourse, Deuteronomy 29:2-29, which is said to have been addressed by Moses to a national convocation, but is clearly from more than one hand and like parts of Deuteronomy 4:1-40 bears signs of composition during the Exile. N.B. Ch. Deuteronomy 29:1 of the EVV. is reckoned in the Heb. as Deut 28:69.

It is useful to recall some theories to which the difficult relations of these chs. to each other, to the Code, and to its Introd. Discourses have given rise. While their differences illustrate the complexity of the problems presented, there is general agreement: (1) upon the interruption which ch. 27 causes between chs. 26 and 28; (2) upon the possibility of Deuteronomy 27:9 f. as an original link between them; (3) on the derivation of Deuteronomy 27:5-7 a from an earlier source, probably E; and (4) on the originality to D of the bulk of 28 or at least upon its being the natural sequel to 26.

Kuenen (Theol. Tijdschr. xii. 297 ff.) takes Deuteronomy 27:9 f. as original to D and the transition between Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 26:19 and Deuteronomy 28 (substantially original); the rest of Deuteronomy 27 is editorial with a pre-deuteron. injunction in Deuteronomy 27:5-7 a. So virtually Westphal (Sources du Pent. ii. 103–113). Wellhausen (Comp. des Hex. 193), who limits the original D to 12–26, supposes this to have appeared in two edd., one with chs. 1–4 as introd. and ch. 27 as supplement and the other with chs. 5–11 as introd. and 28–30 as supplement. Driver (Deut. 76) assigns to D Deuteronomy 27:9 f., Deuteronomy 28:1 to Deuteronomy 29:9, Deuteronomy 30:11-20, to Jeremiah 27:5-7 a, and the rest to D2. Addis (Documents of the Hex. 11) takes Deuteronomy 27:9 f. as ‘a natural though not indispensable link between Deuteronomy 27:26 and Deu 27:28,’ the bulk of the latter of which is ‘the natural sequel’ to the Code, and 29 as a later editorial addition (as Dillm. had done); and (with Dillm., Cornill, etc.) sees in Deuteronomy 27:5-7 a a fragment from E. The Oxf. Hex. does not regard Deuteronomy 27:9 f. as needed to connect 26 and 28 (which ‘seems to be the sequel of Deuteronomy 26:16-19’) and suggests Deuteronomy 31:24-29 as another connection for it. Cullen (Bk. of the Covt., etc. 98 ff.) takes Deuteronomy 27:1-8, Deuteronomy 28:1-45, Deut 28:69–29:14 and Deuteronomy 30:11-20 as part of the hortatory work (Miṣwah), the bulk of which was Deuteronomy 5:29 to Deuteronomy 11:28 and which he supposes was prior to the Code; he considers Deuteronomy 27:1-8 to have stood originally between Deuteronomy 10:20 f. and Deuteronomy 11:8,


Procedure on Crossing Jordan, and at Shechem

The only part of this ch. which offers a connection between chs. 26 and 28 Isaiah vv9 f. (see small print above). The rest breaks the flow of Moses’ discourse from 26 to 28; and its composite character is apparent not only from the changes in the form of address but from the presence of doublets, inconsistencies, and some data irrelevant to the legislation of D. It falls into four sections: 1–8 (itself composite; see below), Deuteronomy 27:9 f., Deuteronomy 27:11-13, and Deuteronomy 27:14-26.

And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day.
1. Note the re-appearance of the narrative form.

And Moses and the elders … commanded the people] The association of the elders with Moses in giving this charge is singular, especially in view of the following, ‘which I command you.’ The LXX (except in a few cursive MSS) omits the people. Therefore some read, And Moses commanded the elders. More probably we have here the fusion of the introductions to the two different forms of the law, Moses commanded the elders and Moses commanded the people (so also Marti; cp. Berth.).

Keep all the commandment, etc.] Heb. Miṣwah viii. 1; cp. Deuteronomy 5:12 (observe), 31, Deuteronomy 6:1. In Sam., LXX keep is PL.

1–8. Erection of Stones for the Inscription of the Law, and of an Altar

Moses and the elders charged the people to keep the commandment (1); when they cross Jordan they shall set up stones and, whitening them, shall thereon write the Law (Torah) (2 f.); they shall do this on Mt ‘Ebal (4), and build an altar (of the form enjoined in E, Exodus 20:24 f.) for burnt and peace offerings, eating and rejoicing before God (5–7), and writing on the stones very plainly (8).—The passage is a compilation from different sources.

First, in Deuteronomy 27:2-4; Deuteronomy 27:8, Deuteronomy 27:2 f. and Deuteronomy 27:4; Deuteronomy 27:8 are doublets (cp. Dillm., Westphal, Berth., Marti). With deuteron. phrases both command the same thing, the erection of stones to bear on a white surface an inscription of the Law; but the former prescribes this to be done immediately (Deuteronomy 27:3) on the crossing of the Jordan, the latter on Mt ‘Ebal. Here, then, is another indication of more than one edition of the Code with different supplements. Deuteronomy 27:1 fuses the introductions to these two supplements: Moses charged the elders, and Moses charged the people (see below). Second, in Deuteronomy 27:5-7 the command to build an altar on ‘Ebal seems inconsistent with D’s law of the One Altar, and therefore it is usually taken as the revision by a deuteronomic editor (note the phrases in 7 b) of a command in E (see the small print above on chs. 27–30). This only mitigates the difficulty, if Deuteronomy 27:5-7 be really inconsistent with ch. 12. Yet, whoever placed 5–7 here, must have felt no inconsistency; probably because he argued that at the time fixed for the erection of an altar on ‘Ebal Israel would not have gotten that rest from all their enemies round about, which D fixes as the date after which the law of the One Altar was to come into operation (Deuteronomy 12:10). Because the text is uncertain and the passage has been touched by more editors than one, we can infer nothing from the changes between the Sg. and Pl. forms of address in this passage.

Steuern. offers with reserve the following analysis. ‘The Editor appears first to have expanded Deuteronomy 27:5-7 [a fragment older than D] with 2 b, 3 a and thereby identified the altar-stones with the stones on which the law was written, as in Joshua 8:30 ff.; hence he also repeated 3 a in Deuteronomy 27:8. Another has further identified these stones with those Deuteronomy 27:2 a α and so added besides Deuteronomy 27:1-2 a α, 4 a.’

And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaister them with plaister:
2. on the day on which ye shall pass over Jordan] The Heb. idiom (cp. 2 Samuel 19:20, Esther 9:1) implies the very day on which they were crossing, and not (vaguely) the time when they crossed; and this is confirmed by 3b which indicates that the stones were to be set up when Israel crossed Jordan but before they entered upon their occupation of the land, in order that thou mayest go in (similarly Dillm. and Dri.).

and plaister them with plaister] A whitewash of lime or chalk, as a background for the writing in black or another colour. The practice was Egyptian, and in Egypt the climate was not hostile to the result. But such writing would not survive the winters of Palestine, where not even inscriptions engraved in limestone, but only those in basalt have endured. It is possible therefore that we have here a very ancient fragment incorporated in D. Cp. E, Exodus 24:4-7 where the writing of the words of the Lord by Moses is associated with the erection of twelve maṣṣebôth.

all the word; of this law] Heb. Tôrah (see on Deuteronomy 1:5, Deuteronomy 31:9, etc.). How much is comprised in this phrase we cannot say, for we are not sure of the exact size of the original code of D.

It was a widespread custom in antiquity to engrave laws upon stone pillars. The Code of Ḫammurabi is engraved on a pillar of black diorite in ‘about 49 columns, 4000 lines and 8000 words’ (Johns, Hastings’ D.B., Extra Vol.). The local tariff of Palmyra contains about 260 lines in Greek and 163 in Aramaic (Cooke, N. Semit. Inscr. 313 ff.). The regulations for sacrifices at Carthage (CIS. i. i. 166 ff.) were graven on stone. For Greece cp. Apollodorus in the Schol. to l. 447 of the Clouds of Aristophanes: οἱ ἀρχαῖοι λίθους ἱστάντες εἰώθεσαν τὰ δόξαντα ἐν αὐτοῖς ἀναγράφειν. These pillars were called στῆλαι and the phrase παραβῆναι τὰς στήλας (Polyb. xxvi. 1, 4) = to transgress the laws (Knobel).

when thou art passed over] LXX, ye are.

that thou mayest go in, etc.] Cp. Deuteronomy 4:40, Deuteronomy 6:3, Deuteronomy 7:1, etc. LXX B, etc., read that ye may go in, but most MSS have Sg.

And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee.
Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaister them with plaister.
4. which I command you] LXX B, etc., thee; other codd. you.

in mount Ebal] See on Deuteronomy 11:29, and introd. note to this passage. Sam. Gerizîm, the sacred mountain of the Samaritans. How far this direction for the site of the erected stones is consistent with that in Deuteronomy 27:2, on the day on which ye shall pass over Jordan, may be seen from the following. Mt ‘Ebal is about 18 miles from the nearest of the Jordan fords, at the present Jisr ed-Damieh, the most natural place of passage from E. to W. Palestine. Even if the writer intended this as the place of Israel’s crossing of the Jordan the interval is considerable between it and their arrival at Shechem. And, of course, the interval between Israel’s crossing at Jericho and their attainment of Shechem, as recorded in the Book of Joshua, is very much greater.

And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them.
5. no iron] Exodus 20:25, tool (ḥéreb), which would have polluted the altar. The later D’s substitution of iron is striking. See on Deuteronomy 8:9.

5–7. Cp. E, Exodus 20:24 f. with Driver’s notes.

Thou shalt build the altar of the LORD thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God:
6. unhewn stones] See R.V. margin. Exodus 20:25 : thou shalt not build it of hewn stones.

burnt offerings] Heb. ‘olôth; see on Deuteronomy 12:6.

And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the LORD thy God.
7. peace offerings] Heb. shelamîm, rather offerings in fulfilment of laws and vows; not elsewhere in Deut. and here representing the zebaḥîm, EVV. sacrifices, of Deuteronomy 12:6, etc.; as the vb. here conjoined with it shows.

eat … reioice, etc.] Phrases of D; see on Deuteronomy 12:7.

And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly.
8. the stones] Not the stones of the altar (6 f.), with which Joshua 8:30 f. has confused them.

this law] Heb. Torah as in Deuteronomy 27:3.

very plainly] Expressed in Heb. by two infinitives used adverbially. On that one of them which is rendered plainly, ba’er, see on Deuteronomy 1:5. The other, meaning thoroughly or exceedingly, occurs in Deuteronomy 9:21.

And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel, saying, Take heed, and hearken, O Israel; this day thou art become the people of the LORD thy God.
9. the priests the Levites] See on Deuteronomy 18:1, and cp. Deuteronomy 10:8 f. The association of the Levites with Moses in the enforcement of the Law is striking; and as only one speaker is implied by the next v. (which I command thee) the words have been regarded as the addition of the editor who combined 9, 10 with 14–26 (Dillm., Steuern., Berth., Marti.). This reasoning is not conclusive.

all Israel] See on Deuteronomy 1:1, Deuteronomy 5:1; and contr. Deuteronomy 4:44-46.

Keep silence] The Heb. vb. only here; in Ar. the root, sakata = to be quiet or mute.

hearken, O Israel] Deuteronomy 5:1.

this day thou art become the people, etc.] Cp. Deuteronomy 26:18.

9, 10. Further Enforcement of the Law

These vv. with their sequel in Deuteronomy 28:1 repeat the substance and, with variations, the phraseology of Deuteronomy 16:6-19. They have been taken as the link between these passages, and as original to D (see above small print of note to chs. 27–30). They are by no means a necessary link (Oxf. Hex. which because of the introduction of the Levites suggests that the vv. are the continuation of Deuteronomy 31:29). Rather, as the notes below show, they are parallel to Deuteronomy 26:16-19, and may therefore have originally belonged to the supplement to a different edition of the Code from that to which Deuteronomy 26:16-19 was attached.

Thou shalt therefore obey the voice of the LORD thy God, and do his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this day.
10. obey the voice] Deuteronomy 26:17 : hearken to his voice.

do his commandments and his statutes] Deuteronomy 4:40, Deuteronomy 6:2, Deuteronomy 10:13 (all with keep instead of do); Deuteronomy 26:16, do these statutes and judgements; id. Deuteronomy 26:17, keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgements.

which I command thee this day] Deuteronomy 4:40, etc., etc.

And Moses charged the people the same day, saying,
11–13. Appointment of Tribes to Bless and to Curse

Ch. Deuteronomy 11:29 (q.v.) commands that the blessing for obedience be set on Mt Gerizim, the curse for disobedience on Mt ‘Ebal. Set (lit. give) implies some solemn rite, and this is now defined. Six tribes shall stand on Gerizim to bless, and six on ‘Ebal for the curse. The former are all sons of Leah or Rachel, Jacob’s wives, the latter the sons of their maids, Gad, Asher, Dan and Naphtali, with Reuben, Leah’s eldest son, who lost his birthright, and Zebulun, her youngest. Again the former, appointed to the southern mount, are all (with the doubtful exception of Issachar) tribes established S. of Esdraelon; while those appointed to the northern mountain are the four tribes settled N. of Esdraelon, with the two from E. Palestine, Reuben and Gad.

On the whole, the genealogical explanation of the division (Dillm., Dri., Berth.) is more plausible than the geographical (Steuern.). The position of Levi, on a level with the other tribes, points to a source earlier than D, and as E emphasises the sanctity of Shechem, the fragment has been assigned to E (Berth., Marti). Note also the phrase, Moses charged the people, not elsewhere in D, while E most frequently uses the term the people to designate Israel (e.g. Exodus 3:12; Exodus 3:21; Exodus 4:21; Exodus 5:4; Exodus 11:2 f, Exodus 12:36, Exodus 13:17 f., Exodus 15:24, Exodus 17:1 b, Exodus 17:2; Exodus 17:4-6, Exodus 19:10; Exodus 19:14-17, Exodus 24:3; Numbers 11:1 f.).

These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are come over Jordan; Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin:
And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.
And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice,
14. answer] As in Deuteronomy 21:7, solemnly pronounce.

with a loud voice] Lit. a high voice, not elsewhere in the O.T. Cp. Deuteronomy 5:19, a great voice.

14–26. Appointment of the Levites to Curse

According to 11–13 both a blessing and a curse were to be pronounced, here we have only curses, twelve in number. There Levi was one of six tribes appointed to bless; here the Levites, in religious distinction from all the other tribes, are to pronounce the curses. Further, the 12 curses are not confined to sins dealt with in the Code of D; the objects of only 7 are forbidden in D, of 6 in E, Exodus 20:2-23, of 1 in J, Exodus 34, and of as many as Deuteronomy 27:9 in H, Leviticus 17-26. The inferences are reasonable that this passage is not from the same hand as the preceding (i.e. not from E) and not from D.

The inclusion of so many sins forbidden only in H does not necessarily imply that the list of curses is exilic (Berth.). It may be from a source independent of all those documents, some national or local liturgy; and Meyer—Luther (Die Israeliten, 552) suggest that it was in use at the sanctuary of Shechem. Nor is the hand which introduced it here that of D, but of a late editor, for note the simple term Levites instead of D’s the priests the Levites and the phrase unto all the men of Israel, found elsewhere only in Joshua 10:24 in a passage with many editorial elements. D’s phrase is all Israel (see, above Deuteronomy 27:9).

Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen.
15. Amen] The Heb. ’amen (lit. firm or assured) when used as an exclamation means true, truly, or be it assured. All the instances of ’Amen which are parallel to this are post-exilic.

Cp. Deuteronomy 4:16; Deuteronomy 4:23; Deuteronomy 4:25, Deuteronomy 5:8 (Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 7:25), Deuteronomy 9:12; Deuteronomy 9:16; Deuteronomy 9:21 (Deuteronomy 12:3); E, Exodus 20:23; J, Exodus 34:17; H, Leviticus 19:4; Leviticus 26:1. Graven image (Heb. pesel), Deuteronomy 4:16; molten, Deuteronomy 9:12; Deuteronomy 9:16; the work of the hands of the craftsman, so Jeremiah 10:3, cp. Hosea 8:6; Hosea 13:2, Isaiah 40:19 f., Isaiah 41:7, Isaiah 44:11-17, Isaiah 45:16; in secret, Isaiah 13:6 (7), cp. Job 31:27.

15–26. Cursed be] The Heb. for this is simply the passive part. of the vb. ‘to curse’ (the original sense of which may have been ‘to bind’), and may be rendered either cursed be or cursed is.

Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
16. Cp. Deuteronomy 5:16, Deuteronomy 21:18 ff.; E, Exodus 20:11; Exodus 21:17; H, Leviticus 20:9. Setteth light by or dishonoureth, the opposite of honour, Deuteronomy 5:16.

Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.
17. See on Deuteronomy 29:14.

Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way. And all the people shall say, Amen.
18. Leviticus 19:14 : thou shall not put a stumbling block before the blind.

Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.
19. See on Deuteronomy 24:17; E, Exodus 22:21-24; Exodus 23:9; H, Leviticus 19:33 f.

Cursed be he that lieth with his father's wife; because he uncovereth his father's skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen.
20. See on Deuteronomy 22:30 (Deuteronomy 23:1); H, Leviticus 18:8; Leviticus 20:11.

Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast. And all the people shall say, Amen.
21. Cp. E, Exodus 22:19 (18); H, Leviticus 18:23; Leviticus 20:15.

Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
22. Cp. H, Leviticus 18:9; Leviticus 20:17. In earlier times marriage with a half-sister was apparently allowed, Genesis 20:12, 2 Samuel 13:13 b; but is condemned in Ezekiel 22:11.

Cursed be he that lieth with his mother in law. And all the people shall say, Amen.
23. Cp. H, Leviticus 18:17; Leviticus 20:14.

Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour secretly. And all the people shall say, Amen.
24. Cp. Deuteronomy 5:17; E, Exodus 20:13; Exodus 21:12; H, Leviticus 24:17. The addition, in secret (Deuteronomy 27:15, Deuteronomy 13:6 (7), Deuteronomy 28:57), is nowhere else attached to murder.

Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen.
25. Cp. Deuteronomy 16:19, and E, Exodus 23:8, both against all bribes; Ezekiel 22:1-2, bribes to shed blood.

Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.
26. confirmeth] Lit. establisheth, 2 Kings 23:3; 2 Kings 23:24 of Josiah and the Book of the Law, Heb. Tôrah, as in Deuteronomy 1:5, Deuteronomy 31:9, which see.

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