When was the Book of Deuteronomy written?

The book of Deuteronomy was written as a speech of Moses. The Hebrew title for this book is “[spoken] words”. When was this book written and/or compiled as a single book we have today?

After the 40 years of Wandering (1428 BC)

Exod 34:22 “And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end.

Deut 16:16 “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.

We discussed in How did year end became seventh month? how the book of Exodus is as old as the Exodus itself by proving the references to Egyptian Calendar. The feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles occurs on 7th month in the calendar given by God based on seasons in ancient Israel. However, the feast of Ingathering occurs at year end in Egyptian calendar based on the seasonal cycles of river Nile. This proved to us that the book of Exodus was written around 1468 BC. In the book of Deuteronomy,  we can see that the name of the feast was no longer Ingathering but Tabernacles and there is no reference of that feast to happen on the 7th month. This is interesting because of the following reasons:

  • The scribes omitted “year end” as mentioned in Exodus.
  • The scribes never mention the feast of Tabernacle was on the 7th month.

The reason for scribes omitting the “year end” (as mentioned in Exodus) is because, the children of Israel weren’t using Egyptian Calendar in wilderness, nor do they have any reference for the rising of river Nile. The scribes also never mentioned 7th month because, the children of Israel never harvested in the wilderness to celebrate the feast of Ingathering/Tabernacles, nor did they celebrate the feast itself as in Amos 5:25 when God asks, “Did you offer Me sacrifices and offerings In the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?

This suggests, the book of Deuteronomy was written during the lifetime of Moses itself, at the end of the 40th year which is 1428 BC.

After Hormah was named (after 1403 BC)

Deut 1:44 “And the Amorites who dwelt in that mountain came out against you and chased you as bees do, and drove you back from Seir to Hormah.

Judg 1:17 And Judah went with his brother Simeon, and they attacked the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. So the name of the city was called Hormah.

As we can see, Hormah was named after the death of Joshua. However, Hormah also occurs in the book of Numbers.

Num 21:3-4 And the LORD listened to the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites, and they utterly destroyed them and their cities. So the name of that place was called Hormah. They traveled from Mount Hor by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. The soul of the people was very discouraged because of the journey.

The event in the book of Numbers was a later recollection of the same event mentioned in the book of Judges 1:17 by later scribes who wrote it and/or the redactor who placed it there. It is also worth noting that the first 3 verses are from Yahwist source, the rest of the continuation from the book of Numbers are from Elohist source and the same event in Num 33:40 was from the redactor. Hormah is well within the promised land, between Beersheba and Hebron and Mount Hor is at the border of Edom as per Num 20:23. Hence, it is simply not possible to go from Mt Hor well within the promised land to capture Hormah and then return. The references from the book of Numbers are a later recollection and redactor’s effort in retelling the story with additional information on what happened in the book of Numbers.

Even though the reference in Deuteronomy is an entirely different event where the Amorites were chased from Seir to Hormah, the key information here is, Hormah wasn’t even named yet at that time, but named after Joshua died. Joshua lived 110 years and was 85 when he came into the promised land. This means, Hormah was named after 1403 BC.

Before the death of Joshua (before 1403 BC)

Josh 24:26 Then Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD.

2Kgs 14:6 But the children of the murderers he did not execute, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, in which the LORD commanded, saying, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; but a person shall be put to death for his own sin.”

Joshua lived 110 years and was 85 when he came into the promised land. The book of Joshua acknowledges that even Joshua added to the book of the Law. This makes the book of Deuteronomy, which was also referred as the book of the Law by Amaziah, to be revised first by Joshua in 1403 BC. However, it is worth noting that the book of Joshua was written much later around 1075 BC. We also cannot find any reference to the covenant made in Shechem which the book of Joshua claims to be added by Joshua in any of the first 5 books of Moses. If the event mentioned in the book of Joshua was correct, the  the first addition to the book of the law was made by Joshua in 1403 BC.

After the term ‘prophet ‘ instead of ‘seer’ (After 1095 BC)

Deut 13:1-3 “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, “and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’–which you have not known–‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deut 18:15-16 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’

Deut 34:10 But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face

The book of Deuteronomy never contains the word ‘seer’ but rather, it contains ‘prophet’.

1Sam 9:9 (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he spoke thus: “Come, let us go to the seer”; for he who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.)

1Chr 29:29 Now the acts of King David, first and last, indeed they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer

Samuel and Gad were referred as seer but Nathan was referred as prophet.

2Sam 24:11 Now when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying

The book of 2nd Samuel goes to and fro between seer and prophet for Gad as in 2 Sam 24:11 where both are in the same verse. Nathan was never mentioned as a seer but always as a prophet. Hence, the term prophet came into usage sometime before the reign of king David (1065 BC). Since Nathan who was referred as a prophet confronts David for his sin of adultery and murder, he must be at least 30 years. Hence, the term prophet might have been in usage for a few decades before 1065 BC, which could be around 1095 BC.

Israel losing control of Heshbon (896 BC)

Deut 2:34 “We took all his cities at that time, and we utterly destroyed the men, women, and little ones of every city; we left none remaining.

Judg 11:26 ‘While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?

Song 7:4 Your neck is like an ivory tower, Your eyes like the pools in Heshbon By the gate of Bath Rabbim. Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon Which looks toward Damascus.

Heshbon was a territory of Amorites which the children of Israel conquered and living since then. After 300 years, the people of Ammon again tried to conquer Heshbon but Jephthah defeated them. Even during the days of Solomon, Heshbon was considered to be part of Israel’s territory.

Isa 15:4 Heshbon and Elealeh will cry out, Their voice shall be heard as far as Jahaz; Therefore the armed soldiers of Moab will cry out; His life will be burdensome to him.

Jer 48:2 No more praise of Moab. In Heshbon they have devised evil against her: ‘Come, and let us cut her off as a nation.’ You also shall be cut down, O Madmen! The sword shall pursue you;

However, in Isaiah’s time, Heshbon as part of Moab as he was prophesying against it. Prior to prophet Isaiah but after Solomon, Heshbon was captured by Moab. Hence, the author or the scribe revising Deuteronomy is reflecting the past when Israel took Heshbon which is currently (in scribe’s time) not part of Israel or not having control over them. This means, the book of Deuteronomy was compiled and/or revised between Solomon’s time (1032 BC) and Isaiah’s time (700 BC).

When did Moab capture Heshbon? The answer lies in the history of Israel between the time of Solomon and Isaiah and the location of Heshbon.

Heshbon was part of the inheritance of Reuben. Reuben in turn was part of the kingdom of Israel which got wiped off by the Assyrians in 722 BC.

2Kgs 10:31-33 But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin. In those days the LORD began to cut off parts of Israel; and Hazael conquered them in all the territory of Israel from the Jordan eastward: all the land of Gilead–Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh–from Aroer, which is by the River Arnon, including Gilead and Bashan.

In the days of Jehu, all the territory of Reuben was lost to Hazael. Jehu became king in 896 BC and reigned for 30 years. Hence, in the days of Jehu, Israel lost control of Heshbon. This means, the book of Deuteronomy must have been written or revised after 896 BC when Israel was no longer controlling Heshbon.

 

Before king Amaziah (before 850 BC)

Deut 28:61 “Also every sickness and every plague, which is not written in this Book of the Law, will the LORD bring upon you until you are destroyed.

2Kgs 14:1 In the second year of Joash the son of Jehoahaz, king of Israel, Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, became king. …. (6) But the children of the murderers he did not execute, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, in which the LORD commanded, saying, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; but a person shall be put to death for his own sin.”

Deut 24:16 “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.

King Amaziah not only identifies Deuteronomy as the book of the law, but also quotes from it which is not found in any other books of the law commonly referred as the five books of Moses.Hence, the book of Deuteronomy must predate the reign of Amaziah which is 850 BC.

Conclusion

Just like the book of Exodus which preserves the truth about the scribe’s familiarity about Egyptian calendar, the book of Deuteronomy preserves the lack of references to feasts with respect to God’s calendar, proving that they were still in wilderness when the book was first written about 1428 BC.

Below are the list of dates we can arrive based on internal Scriptural evidence.

  • After the 40 years of Wandering (1428 BC)
  • Before the death of Joshua (before 1403 BC)
  • After Hormah was named (after 1403 BC)
  • After the term ‘prophet ‘ instead of ‘seer’ (After 1095 BC)
  • Israel losing control of Heshbon (896 BC)
  • Before king Amaziah (before 850 BC

Some content of the book of Deuteronomy were claimed to be added by Joshua some 25 years later and later revisions by scribes of new names and new terms can be clearly noticed as late as 896 BC.