Judges and Officials, testimony of direct witnesses in capitol cases, directives against the practice of witchcraft and magic, cities of refuge as a protection against vendetta law landmarks, most particularly behavior in war- -mercifully than any of the modern military or civil codes, saving the trees on a battleground and allowing the warrior a year at home if his house is newly built or if he is newly married. And then- – and then:
“In towns which the Lord is giving you as a heritage, you will not let a soul remain alive.”
Wow. It doesn’t help to say that other Near-Eastern conquerors killed every living thing in the area, shot down the birds flying overhead and sowed the land with salt to render i unproductive thereafter. Coming after the most lofty and exalted statements of justice and ethics, this condemnation comes like a punch in the kisser. What are we to make of it?
You might want to ask who was hearing these words for the first tie, the people whose armies and judges were to carry out those prescripts,. Deuteronomy ins’t of a piece with the other four books of the Torah, collected at the court of King David, when Israel and Judah were one nation and in their hey-day.
After Solomon, the nation split in half and in 672 BCE Israel was overrun and its people sent into exile. In 609 Babylon fell and the book, or parts of the book were supposedly found in the ruins of the temple.
And so we have a question: here come the exiles, having been to Babylon which was richer, cleaner, its people healthier, happier and longer lived that the land from which the exiles had come. They returned to Jerusalem with fancy ideas and two rings on every finger, false eyelashes and talk of hot tubs and face-lifts. Their Hebrew was bad, their accents so upper crust as to be all but incomprehensible. But they felt the guilt of escapees as they returned: We’re rich, they’re more pious than we, but why do they smell so bad? Those who stayed though: How could we have fallen so far behind, but- – look at those clothes- – My God, what is that, sequins?
What could have harmonized these mutual strangers? What unifying force could conquer envy and superiority?
A book. A book that gives unifying commandments: fringes, the Sh’ma, a restating of the ten commandments, a stunning reconfirmation of moral principles that override all the smaller difference, and a little bit of the old heroic doings. When you invade… Grace will sing of the things used to harmonize returned exiles with those who stayed.
There will be no invading thereafter, but the book healed the breach between the brothers and helped us get ready for the next 2,500 years.