Joshua and Deuteronomy (1)



To study the connection between Joshua and Deuteronomy, understanding the book of Deuteronomy is a prerequisite. So I will talk about the basics of Deuteronomy first here and the relationship between Joshua and Deuteronomy later.

Martin Noth First

It is also a prerequisite to know Martin Noth’s contribution to the studies of the two books’ relatedness. 

Martin Noth claimed that the first section of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (known as the Pentateuch) was originally composed of four books (Gen~Num, known as “Tetrateuch”); Deuteronomy was only inserted much later. In other words, the older version of Deuteronomy was not intended to conclude the “Pentateuch.” Instead, as Noth argued, a creative author/historian wrote Israel’s history, making Deuteronomy its preface and the following books as Deuteronomistic history. Before him, de Wette had already innovatively argued that Deuteronomy needs to be separated from the rest of the Pentateuch and related to Josiah’s reform. Wellhausen also recognized how Deuteronomy affected the texts of the Former Prophets. So Noth’s work is heavily influenced by de Wette and Wellhausen. Nonetheless, Noth’s contribution is still noteworthy as he went much further than the two scholars. It was a popular idea at that time that ancient writers, like the ones who were responsible for the composition of the Pentateuch, were “compilers.” And no one really thought that Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings were a combined work of an author. Under such circumstances, Noth claimed that the books of Josh~Kings are an authored work and designated the literary corpus as Deuteronomistic history. Noth believed that the author is not just a compiler but a creative writer with clear theological intentions. The fact that the four books (Josh ~ Kings) are still usually called “Deuteronomisic history” these days tells us how great Noth’s contribution was to Biblical studies.

  • Warning: Not all scholars accept Noth’s idea about Deuteronomistic history. Nevertheless his term “Deuteronomistic history” is still widely used in scholarly discussions though those who do not accept the concept usually add “the so-called” before “Deuteronomistic history” to give an impression that they do not agree with the idea of Deuteronomistic history.

Noth had good reasons for his argument. First, Deuteronomy repeats the Exodus story and laws. The book contains Moses’s final speeches right before the Israelites cross the Jordan. There he mentions every narrative and law that we can find in the previous books of the Pentateuch. You may think that is not weird at all, but in the Pentateuchal studies, repetition, which scholars often call “doublet,” is an indication that marks off a section as a separate source. Most doublets in the Pentateuch display contradictions and inconsistencies. So treating Deuteronomy as a unique text or source is reasonable.

And Deuteronomy does not begin with the word “and.” Genesis also does not begin with “and” either because it is the first book of the Bible. But all other books except for Deuteronomy in the Pentateuch start with the word “and” to signify that their stories are coming from the previous books. Perhaps English translations might not state “and” in their translations for the sake of smoothness. But Hebrew texts have the word “and” as the first word of each book. In that regard, Deuteronomy can be regarded as an independent work.

Now, let’s talk about a little more complex items. It is a scholarly consensus that the narrative and laws in the Pentateuch are from various sources, though scholars’ opinions about the nature of the sources and the process of the composition vary. Traditionally speaking, there might have been four sources, called J, E, D, and P (J=Jahwist, E=Elohist, D=Deuteronomist, P=Priest). Intriguingly, J, E, and P sources are widespread throughout the first four books, but D source is almost exclusively attested in Deuteronomy. This suggests that D is independent of the four books. The fact that the source of Deuteronomy is called “Deuteronomic” already implies its uniqueness compared to the previous four books. 

Then, what makes Deuteronomy so unique? Deuteronomy employs the expression “other gods” (elohim aḥerim) to emphasize the prohibition of idolatry. Of course, the prohibition of idolatry is found everywhere in the Hebrew Bible. But the commandments rarely use the term “other gods” except for Deuteronomy and Deuteronomistic history. Out of 65 occurrences in the entire Hebrew Bible, Deuteronomy has 19, Deuteronominstic history has 19, and Jeremiah (also recognized as heavily Deuteronomistic book) has 18; so 56 occurrences are found in the books related to Deuteronomy. Surprisingly, the phrase appears only twice in Exodus and none in other pentateuchal texts.

Moreover, Deuteronomy uses the words “heart,” “soul,” and “might.” A popular verse from Deut 6 says as follows:

Deut 6:4  Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.


The expression “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” or similar expressions are a common feature in Deuteronomy and Deuteronomistic history. In other books of the Hebrew Bible, you can rarely encounter such an expression.

But this can happen by chance. So we need to find some theological proof. Let’s compare two verses from Deuteronomy and Exodus. Deuteronomy uniquely claims the requirement of “cult centralization.”

Deut 12:13  Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place you happen to see 4 But only at the place that the LORD will choose in one of your tribes—there you shall offer your burnt offerings and there you shall do everything I command you.


Deuteronomy commands to worship God in one place only.

Exod 20:24 You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your offerings of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.


Exodus allows Israel to worship God anywhere, which is incompatible with Deuteronomy.

In Deuteronomistic history, especially in Kings, the cult centralization policy is emphasized. All kings are judged based on this. So kings like Hezekiah and Josiah are praised as they removed every local sanctuaries and high places; on the contrary, Jeroboam, the first king in the north, is criticized for establishing temples in the city of Dan and Bethel. The historian even makes him the symbol of evil by evaluating other evil kings as ones who followed the way of Jeroboam.

Wrapping up

My post does not exhaust Noth’s arguments. So if you read Noth, that might be more helpful. Anyway, Noth’s claim “Deuteronomy and Deuteronomistic history” affected biblical studies very much. Like all other past influencers, his works were not perfect, of course, and his ideas are being criticized, modified, etc. But the studies of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings are indebted to him significantly. Joshua, in particular, had been studied as a part of “Hexateuch” (Gen~Josh) since God’s covenant is finally fulfilled in Joshua. Especially the relationship between P source in the Pentateuch and Joshua is still an important subject of study. In such a circumstance, Noth made a turning point as he argued that Joshua is to be combined primarily with Deuteronomy, not Genesis or other books.

Closing words

I was going to upload a post about the relationship between Joshua and Deuteronomy. But I thought it might be better or helpful to talk about Deuteronomy first. In the next post, I will deal with Joshua and Deuteronomy.

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