Biblical source criticism is the attempt to understand the original authors and editors of the Bible. In other words, it is a field of study that wants to know who wrote the various books of the Bible and who edited and compiled them. The Deuteronomistic History is one such theory, attempting to understand the composition and history of the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. It posits a single author, work, or source, referred to as “D,” behind all of these books.
In the nineteenth century, it was recognized by some scholars that these books shared themes and stylistic conventions. Martin Noth, a German Biblical scholar, took this a step further and argued that a single work was behind all of these books. Noth was building on an existing model called the documentary hypothesis, which was already beginning to look at the Torah, or first five books of the Old Testament, as the product of different traditions and authors edited together.
The theory gets its name from the Greek name of the first book in the series, the Book of Deuteronomy, which means “second law.” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 17:18:
When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.
A number of themes are reinforced throughout the Deuteronomistic History:
- The struggle against idolatry
- Jerusalem as the center of worship
- Observance of the Law
- Inheritance of the Land of Israel
- Reward and retribution
- The divine right of David and his lineage as kings
As the Deuteronomistic History covers the history of Israel and Judah, these themes are repeated throughout, and the picture is one of a singular, supreme god who has granted Israel to his people and ruled through a divinely chosen lineage, with blessings given for adherence to the Law and punishment given for disobedience to the Law. For example, Deuteronomy 28 lists out blessings and curses that will be given for obedience and disobedience, respectively.