Evaluation of Martin Noth

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Question
What is your evaluation of Martin Noth's theory of the Deuteronomist and the unity of the so-called Deuteronomistic History?
Answer
So, scholars have looked at Deuteronomy through Kings and they've seen something that's really there. They've seen that a lot of the phrases that start occurring in Deuteronomy are reused all through Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. There's just a load of language, terminology, concepts, a fund of sort of stock imagery and stock phrases that gets used and reused across these books. That's really there. The question is how do we explain it? And there's a strain of, I would say, unbelieving scholarship that looks at this and they explain it essentially as propaganda. Their view is that at the time of Josiah's reformation, or renewal, or however we want to describe what King Josiah did, that Josiah got people onto this program and then essentially he invented holy books, or someone working for him invented a whole set of holy books that served as propaganda because they leant ancient, legitimating authority to Josiah's program. And these are people that would think that the book of Deuteronomy ought to be dated to that period, and then, that Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, they were all produced essentially around the time of Josiah in pursuit of his program. That way of looking at the material is basically claiming that the story that is told on the surface of the text is not the real story. The real story is in back of the surface of the text, and the surface of the text is just propaganda. And I think that's a skeptical and uncharitable way to approach this material. A better … A way to approach the material that actually abides by and holds to what the texts themselves claim for themselves would be to look at this material and say, well, the book of Deuteronomy claims, at a number of places, that Moses was responsible for this material, and then these other texts, they all attest to the profound significance of Moses. So, I don't think it should surprise us when we find Moses using all this language in Deuteronomy, and then we find these later authors who come after Moses picking up the language and the concepts that they learn from Deuteronomy and essentially describing the world through what we might call the lens that is ground in the book of Deuteronomy. So, that's the way that I would explain this material. I think there's a better, more biblical way to account for all of this language and imagery that derives from Deuteronomy than the Deuteronomistic hypothesis. I think, more likely, Moses had the profound impact that the texts indicate he had and then later biblical authors were deeply influenced by the way that he described things.

Answer by Dr. Jim Hamilton

Dr. James M. Hamilton is Professor of Biblical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and author of several works, including God's Indwelling Presence: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments.