Deuteronomy 31:9 — So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the Levitical priests, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10Then Moses commanded them: “At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Festival of Tabernacles, 11when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. 12Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. 13Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

Moses commanded public reading of the Law during the Festival of Tabernacles. Is there any recording of such an event at Jesus' time? It seems rather impossible logistically.


1 Answer 1


In Deut 31:9, the word translated "law" is תּוֹרָה (torah). It is extremely unlikely that this refers to the entire "Torah" as it is now called, i.e., the Pentateuch. It is more likely one of the following:

  • The Book of the Covenant is found in Ex 24:7 and probably refers to the legal expansion of the 10 Commandments recorded in Ex 20:22 – 23:33. It covers the same legal matters as the 10 Commandments but provides a legal framework and cultic significance to the 10 Commandments. Its structure appears as follows:

    • Pre-amble: Ex 20:22-26. Ritual basis for jurisprudence.
    • Legal Corpus: Ex 21:1-23:19
      • Hebrew slaves/servants: Ex 21:1-11
      • Personal Injury: Ex 21:12-36
      • Personal Property: Ex 22:1-15
      • Societal and Moral Regulation: Ex 22:16-31
      • Good Will, Justice and Mercy: Ex 23:1-9
      • Sabbath, Annual Calendar & Sacrifice Laws: Ex 23:10-19
    • Postlude: Promises of Protection. Ex 23:20-33

The “Book of the Covenant” is again referenced in 2 Kings 23:2, 21; 2 Chron 34:30.

  • The Book of the Law, i.e., the first 30 chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy which consisted of the three (or some say four) final orations of the Moses, based around the expansion of the 10 commandments. It is called the Book of the Law in Deut 28:61, 29:21, 30:10, 31:26, Josh 1:8, 8:31, 34, 24:26, 2 Kings 22:8, 11, 2 Chron 17:9, 25:4, 34:14, 15, Neh 8:1-3, 8, 18, 9:3 (and 17:18). The Book of Deuteronomy (up to Ch 30) was placed beside the Ark of the Covenant (Deut 31:26). [Contrast the 10 Commandments which were placed inside the Ark, Ex 40:20.]

It is not impossible that both are intended although that is unlikely. My personal view is that the most likely meaning is the second option above, namely the first 29 or 30 chapters of Deuteronomy for the following reasons:

  • The 10 commandments were placed inside the Ark of the Covenant and so already existed along with the book of the law already discussed above
  • The Book of Deuteronomy, also known as the "book of the law" (Deut 28:61, 29:21, 30:10, 31:26; Josh 1:8, 8:31, 34, 24:26; 2 Kings 22:8, 11; 2 Chron 17:9, 25:4, 34:14, 15; Neh 8:1-3, 8, 18, 9:3) was so important that the future kings of Israel had to write out a personal copy to keep beside them, Deut 17:18.
  • I don't believe this fully answers the question (which is about the practice of this festival in first century, second Temple Judaism), but I fixed the formatting.
    – Dan
    Sep 26, 2020 at 1:15
  • @Dan - Thanks, Dan
    – Dottard
    Sep 26, 2020 at 1:16

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