Bible study 180 – Deuteronomy 28

Moses spends the first 14 verses describing all the good things God will do for the Israelites if they obey him.

Then he spends the next *54* verses describing, in excruciating and violent detail, how God will make their lives torturous and unbearable if they don’t. I think this is the most horrifying account I’ve come across so far in the Bible. Instead of just declaring that everyone will die, God intentionally seeks out the most insidious ways of making them live long and utterly miserable lives. The Israelites will, of course, be subject to the standard treatment of plague, bad weather and attacking enemies, but in addition to these the psychological terror has no end. It’s like a bad dream where you see a catastrophe coming, but are unable to move: “… you shall be unable to find your way; and you shall be continually abused and robbed, without anyone to help.” “Your sons and daughters shall be given to another people, while you look on; you will strain your eyes looking for them all day but be powerless to do anything.

By the end of God’s treatment, the Israelites will apparently be afflicted with consumption, fever, inflammation, boils, ulcers, scurvy, itch, blindness and madness; hunkering behind their walls in a desolate and devastated country besieged by their countless barbarian and godless enemies, forced by hunger to eat their own children. “In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’ — because of the dread that your heart shall feel and the sights that your eyes shall see.

So it wasn’t all that surprising to read that this whole chapter (and parts of several earlier chapters) is probably strongly inspired/modeled on the Succession Treaty of Esarhaddon, a covenant between the Assyrian king Esarhaddon and his vassals written in 672 BC. In it, Esarhaddon describes what will happen to his vassals if they disobey his son after he dies (§37-56). The treaty’s text is definitely reminiscent of the Deuteronomy covenant, though even more visceral and uncomfortable reading.

Moses’ speech would also be more convincing if he didn’t suddenly refer to “the words of this law that are written in this book”, suggesting that the scribes did not record his words with 100% accuracy.

Deuteronomy 28:29
You shall become engaged to a woman, but another man shall lie with her. You shall build a house, but not live in it. …

The Succession Treaty of Esarhaddon §42
May Venus, the brightest of the stars, before your eyes make your wives lie in the lap of your enemy; may your sons not take possession of your house, but a strange enemy divide your goods.

Full text.


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