When was Deuteronomy chapters 26-29 probably written, and why?

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2 Answers 2


There are two ways to approach the question. One is to affirm the traditional view that it was written by Moses at God's instruction. In this view, God wanted to warn the Israelites and later generations of the consequences of disobedience, especially idolatry.

The modernist view sees the book as being composed during the reign of King Josiah, where it served as the basis for that king's monotheistic reforms and the centralization of worship in Jerusalem. However, such scholars also indicate that parts of the book, including the chapters mentioned in the OP, show clear signs of later editing. The following is excerpted from the introduction to Deuteronomy in the New American Bible:

The book was probably composed over the course of three centuries, from the eighth century to the exile and beyond. It bears some relation to “the Book of the Law” discovered in the Jerusalem Temple around 622 B.C. during the reign of King Josiah (2 Kgs 22:8–13). It gives evidence of later editing: cf. the references to exile in 4:1–40; 28:63–68; 29:21–28; 30:1–10.

A good example of supposed post-exilic content is found in ch. 28:

36 The Lord will bring you, and your king whom you have set over you, to a nation which you and your ancestors have not known, and there you will serve other gods, of wood and stone, 37 and you will be a horror, a byword, a taunt among all the peoples to which the Lord will drive you.

Conclusion: the answer hinges on whether one believes the Torah was written by Moses or by a later author/s. If the latter view is accepted, then chapters 28-30 represent post-exilic editing of a 7th c. bce core. The audience for this particular material would be post-exilic Jews, in order to remind them of the reason their ancestors had been punished and to encourage them to keep faith with God's Covenant.


I take the more conservative view that most of Deuteronomy was composed by Moses as four orations - his final series of speeches to the Israelites before he died. The exceptions are obviously:

  • Deut 34 which was added by a later author (probably Joshua (?) who witnessed the events it describes)
  • some possible later editing for which we have no evidence for or against

The book, as we have it now, is set out in a classic form of a divine covenant with its standard sections of a covenant (see appendix below).

The Biblical book of Deuteronomy means, “second law” because of the re-statement of the ten commandments in Deut 5:6-21 (and Deut 27:15-28). It often refers to the Israelite Covenant (Deut 4:13, 23, 31, 5:2, 3, 7:2, 9, 12, 8:18, 9:9, 11, 15, 10:8, 17:2, 29:1, 9, 14, 21, 31:9, 16, 20, 26, 33:9) and is a re-statement and expansion of the Moral Law based around the 10 Commandments. The centrality and importance of the book of Deuteronomy can be gauged by the requirement for each king of Israel to personally write out a copy of the book and keep it with him (Deut 17:18).

The book consists of the last 4 orations of Moses to the Israelites on the border of the Promised Land:

  • First Oration: Deut 1:6 – 4:43. Historical background
  • Second Oration: Deut 4:44 – 26:19. The Law of the Ten Commandments expanded
  • Third Oration: Deut 27:1 – 28:68. Blessings and Curses of the law
  • Fourth Oration: Deut 29:1 – 30:20. Renewal of the Covenant
  • Concluding historical remarks and incidents: Deut 31:1 - 33:29
  • Appendix about Moses' death

Some authors suggest that the third and fourth orations listed above were part of the same speech. A more complete analysis of Deuteronomy is listed below:

  • Preamble Deut 1:1-5
  • Historical prologue Deut 1:6 – 4:49
  • General stipulations Deut 5 – 11
  • Specific stipulations Deut 12 – 26
  • Blessings and Curses Deut 27 – 28
  • Witnesses Deut 30:15-20
  • Deposition of Text Deut 31:9, 24-26
  • Public reading Deut 31:10-13
  • Lawsuits against vassals Deut 32

The specific stipulations listed above can be broken down more precisely into sections dealing with each of the commandments.

  • 1 & 2: Deut 12:1 – 31 – Worship
  • 3: Deut 13:1 – 14:27 – name of God
  • 4: Deut 14:28 – 16:17 – Sabbath
  • 5: Deut 16:18 – 18:22 – Authority
  • 6: Deut 19:1 – 22:8 – Homicide/murder
  • 7: Deut 22:9 – 23:19 – Adultery
  • 8: Deut 23:20 – 24:7 – Theft
  • 9: Deut 24:8 – 25:4 – False Charges
  • 10: Deut 25:5 – 16 – Coveting

It is instructive that within the text of the Bible, the Ten Commandments are referred to as a law (Ex 34:28, Deut 4:13, 10:4), and as a covenant (Ex 24:7, 2 Kings 23:2, 21, 2 Chron 34:30). However, the book of Deuteronomy itself 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. See also Deut 17:18. This means that the Ten Commandments constitute a moral law with considerable importance to Israel's history and psyche.


On this basis, Deut 26-29 for an integral part of the re-statement and expansion of the Israelite covenant (based on the 10 commandments) and thus were spoken by Moses, although they may have been recorded by Joshua as Moses spoke.

APPENDIX - Covenant Structure/Content

The divine covenants in the Bible generally contain the following six elements:

  • Statement of pre-amble and/or purpose of the covenant
  • Promise of benefits given by God. This shows that such divine covenants are the initiative of God alone. In no case were such covenants initiated by humans.
  • Promise of curses/consequences if the covenant is not kept
  • Requirements of people on whom the benefits are bestowed. This is sometimes also call the associated “law” of the covenant.
  • A sign of the covenant to remind the people of their responsibilities
  • A ceremony, usually consisting of a “cutting”, always a sacrifice or similar.

Other divine covenants in the OT include:

  • Noahide Covenant: Gen 8:20 – 9:17
  • Abrahamic Covenant: Gen 13:14-17, 15:1-17, 17:1-27, 18:9-15, 22:15-18
  • Israelite Covenant: Exodus 19-24
  • Levitical Covenant: – Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11, Neh 13:29, Mal 2:4-8
  • Davidic (or Regal, or Royal) Covenant

Some authors also include an "Edenic Covenant" as per Gen 1:26, 28-30, 2:16, 17; however, the word "covenant" ("berith" in Hebrew) does not explicitly appear in these passages. However, the general structure of the language certainly has the content of a covenant.

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