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Imagine this:

You are a young king of a small country. Your northern neighbor, which worshiped the same god as you, has been conquered by a powerful empire, and its people dispersed. Your country is vulnerable and you desperately want to prevent the same fate. You consult religious leaders but they have no more answers than you have.

You decide to appease your god by collecting a tax and beginning much-needed, extensive repairs on the temple of your god. While the repairs are being made, the high priest comes to you, and brings a scroll found in the temple walls. They have already taken it to a prophetess who has told them the scroll is genuine. It is polemic, recording laws and history as well as admonitions not to follow the rituals of other gods.

The year is 622 BCE and your name is Josiah. Josiah's story is told in II Kings, chapters 22 and 23.

He responded to the scroll of teaching by making a purge on all the places where his god is worshiped outside the holy temple, and of those places where other gods are worshiped. He is so zealous that he is permitted to die in battle rather than live to see his country conquered and its temple destroyed.

Almost all scholars agree that the scroll presented to Josiah was some form of the book of Deuteronomy, and that it was probably written contemporaneously with the described events and attributed to Moses.

I find it impossible to consider Deuteronomy without considering that history as well. It dates the book more closely than the rest of the Torah. I used to wonder that Moses seems to be blaming the people before him for the sins of their immediate ancestors and of their future descendants. This makes perfect sense if we consider the situation between the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel and the destruction of the first temple and the exile to Babylon. It is a reiteration of the history of the Jewish people after the exodus from Egypt, and of the laws God gave to Moses at Mt. Horeb, or Sinai.

The emphasis is on the forms of worship. Not only are the people to worship only the one God, but they are clearly told that only the forms of worship in Torah are acceptable, reflecting that Temple worship has become corrupted by the religions of the Canaanites. It had come to include worship of the goddess Asherah as God's consort, and practices of sacred prostitution.

This second parsha in Deuteronomy takes this tone, and includes some of the central teachings of Judaism, including the retelling of the ten commandments adapted for this new situation, and the Shema and other prayers included in its twice-daily recital.

The Shema is the statement of God's oneness, and/or of our commitment to only the one God. The first words, Shema Yisroel, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad, have been translated in different ways, giving somewhat different meanings. But this remains the fundamental prayer for Jews over time. There are tales of rabbis, such as Akiva, reciting it while being martyred (Akiva was tortured and burned). It is a child's bedtime prayer and what we say on our deathbeds.

The Decalogue in this telling makes a point that Torah was given to the listeners themselves, not their ancestors - like the midrash that all Jewish souls from all times were present at the revelation at Sinai. This demands a personal relationship with God from each of us - each of us stood at Sinai and received Torah personally. My former synagogue in Massachusetts had a custom on Shavuot of having the whole congregation stand against the walls of the sanctuary while the Torah scrolls were passed from one person to another, symbolic of each individual receiving the Torah. Another place where this identity is stressed is in the recitation of the exodus at Passover.

Another major difference in this retelling is about the Sabbath. In Exodus 20, the explanation for Shabbat is that God rested on the seventh day of creation. Here, there are four verses about Shabbat, and the reasoning is to remember that the Jews were slaves in Egypt - and not only are we to rest on the seventh day, but so are the people who work for us, and our animals as well.

When I googled "ten commandments exodus and deuteronomy" almost all the links on the first page were from Christian sources. I have no idea what that means. But there was one Jewish source, by Michael Zank of Boston University. I found it a wonderful discussion, and recommend it.

Shabbat shalom.

Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Fri Aug 08, 2014 at 12:58 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips (21+ / 0-)

    From the haftarah, the first haftarah of consolation, from Isaiah 40:

    I knew the Handel long before I read Isaiah, and this is one of the passages where I always hear the music as I read.

    We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

    by ramara on Fri Aug 08, 2014 at 12:56:15 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for the discussion! Just to clarify, (5+ / 0-)

    "and that it was probably written contemporaneously with the described events" - do you mean the events described above (Josiah's reign?) or the events described in the scroll itself?

    From context it sounds like you mean the former, but I thought I'd check.

    "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

    by Eowyn9 on Fri Aug 08, 2014 at 01:43:30 PM PDT

  •  We almost disappeared several times in history (5+ / 0-)

    Had Josiah and Jeremiah not engineered the Jewish revival shortly before the destruction of the First Temple and Babylonian exile, we would have been assimilated into the conqueror's society, which is what had happened to the so-called 10 Lost Tribes.

    Had Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai not smuggled himself out of Jerusalem, shortly before the destruction of the Second Temple, to establish the first rabbinical academy, as I diaried a few day ago here.

    In the 1200's Church authorities, particularly in France, ordered the mass burning of every Talmud they could find, and only a few were saved.  What we have today is from those few volumes that escaped the flames, with their scribal errors and Christian censorship.

    In the 1600's, our numbers fell well below one million, thanks to multiple persecutions.

    "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

    by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Aug 08, 2014 at 02:19:35 PM PDT

    •  I know (4+ / 0-)

      I kept thinking of your d'var Torah for Tisha B'Av as I was writing, both for the zeal (Josiah did some really terrible things in his purge) and for the preparation to keep the religion alive even after the temple was destroyed. I found a lot of that in this parsha - for the first time, I must say.

      We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

      by ramara on Fri Aug 08, 2014 at 02:47:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Lots of people ,want to believe thier religion (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    whaddaya, ramara, Navy Vet Terp

    Is based on fact , but lots of it based on fiction , i do not question no one belief ,but it should be based in fact ,the more research i do ,  you come away with more question than answer

    •  I don't know about facts (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eowyn9, RainDog2

      as far as faith goes. But I will say that I wanted to address the composition of part of the Bible. The Bible exists, and if you do not believe it is the word of God, then such things as time of composition matter.

      The d'var Torah series is written by people of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, and even sometimes by Christians as long as they address the texts themselves and not as Christian prophesy. We have different degrees of faith and of learning, and if you stay with us, you will see very different kinds of analysis. I hope you will stay and join our discussions.

      We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

      by ramara on Sat Aug 09, 2014 at 12:57:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Need volunteers for upcoming diaries (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Starting next week:

    Sat. August 16th:  Ekev.  Deuteronomy 7:12 to 11:25.  Isaiah 49:14 to 51:3 (2nd Haftarah of Consolation).

    Sat. August 23rd:  Re-eh.  Deuteronomy 11:26 to 16:17.  Isaiah 54:11 to 55:5.  (3rd Haftarah of Consolation).

    Sat. Aug. 30th:  Shofetim.  Deuteronomy 16:18 to 21:9.  Isaiah 51:12 to 52:12 (4th Haftarah of Consolation).

    Sat. Sept. 6th:  Ki Tetse.  Deuteronomy 21:10 to 25:19.  Isaiah 54: 1-10 (5th Haftarah of Consolation).

    "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

    by Navy Vet Terp on Sat Aug 09, 2014 at 05:37:22 PM PDT

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