Deuteronomy 17:18, “Dry as Deuteronomy”

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 priests, who are Levites.

//In my book about Revelation, young Matthew complains that the cistern is as “dry as Deuteronomy.” But does this alliterative comment disrupt the book’s first-century setting? Would Jews of that era actually have referred to their code of law as Deuteronomy?

Answer: Yes. The name stems from today’s verse. When this verse was translated into Greek for the Septuagint (begun in the 3rd century BC), the words “copy of this law” became deteronomion, meaning “the second law.” The story of the second law, from the book of Kings, is this:

During the reform by King Josiah near the end of the seventh century BC, a book is discovered in the temple as they are doing some construction. It appears to be “the book of the law,” a long-lost code of rules. King Josiah, wanting to know if the book is genuine, has the book taken to a prophet named Huldah (who is conveniently married to a member of Josiah’s court). Huldah not only proclaims it to be genuine, but speaks a warning from God, saying, “I will bring disaster on this place and on its inhabitants—all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. Because they have abandoned me and have made offerings to other gods, so that they have provoked me to anger” (2 Kings 22:16-17). So, Josiah implements the laws found in the book, and sets about purging the kingdom of idolatry.

Cynics point out that this was a convenient discovery indeed; how better to enforce one’s political ambitions than to “find” an ancient book and discover it to have been authorized by Moses himself? The incident reminds me of Christians who chuckle derisively at the story of Joseph Smith finding a divine book, the Book of Mormon. Skeptics of the Joseph Smith story: I trust you read Josiah’s similar claim of discovering a divine book with equal cynicism.

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