There are a number of ways to interpret Deuteronomy 26:1-9 using critical perspectives. In the following paragraphs, I will analyze this passage from three separate perspectives including eco-theological criticism, Von Rad’s tradition criticism, and rhetorical criticism. All three methods are equally as useful in the study and discovery of not only this passage, but of the Bible as a whole. Looking at the Bible through multiple perspectives allows for greater understanding of the meaning of biblical passages and the historical significance that goes along with them.
An eco-theological critique of the passage would emphasize the significance of ecological elements, such as the harvest in the construction of the passage, and as a result, in the lives of the subjects (Cheney, 32). Deuteronomy 26:1-2 is especially important when looking at this text in eco-theological terms. What is the occasion for the entire chapter? It is an account of a harvest festival and tells how the people were to thank God for a good harvest, and therefore ecological factors are a driving force in the passage. This shows that the harvest was an important occasion in the common life of the people, and gives insight into how the ancient Israelites lived their day-to-day lives in relation to the land and ecological factors. Land itself is important in the lives of ancient Israelites, especially in reference to the “promised land” which is an ongoing theme in the Pentateuch. The level of appreciation for the land that they were given is important to look at when studying this theme (see especially Deut 26:9), and the fact that the land could grow fruit and therefore maintain a growing population is the means for this appreciation. Looking at this passage in ecological terms may also help scholars to pinpoint the geographical location of the ancient Israelites at the time the passage was written.
Furthermore, Von Rad discusses the arrangement of the Pentateuch in terms of the historical credos found in the text (Van Seters, 11). Specifically, von Rad refers to Deuteronomy 26:5-9 as an example of a “credo,” or a statement of belief (11). This is significant when looking at tradition history because it displays the process of not only the development of the Bible as a whole, but the traditional views that the ancient Israelites held. In reference to von Rad’s hypothesis, E Otto summarizes this Von Rad’s hypothesis, saying that he believed the Jahwist took the story of the Exodus “as point of departure, elaborated upon them and thus laid the foundations for the Pentateuch”(Otto, 2). Not only is this passage significant when looking at the formation of the Pentateuch, but also when looking at how ancient views correlate with today’s views. The story of the Exodus from Egypt is an ongoing theme in the Hebrew Bible and remains a central force in Jewish practice today
Finally, Deuteronomy 26:1-9 also offers a story which can be looked at out of historical context, in a rhetorical light. Rhetorical critics look at literary devices and rhetoric in the text and how these elements construct a central argument or statement (Cheney, 30). It is clear in the passage that a story is being told, rhetorically, in the form of a response to God (Deut 26:5-9). Again, this story is important in the lives of ancient Israelites, and looking at how it is told can help a reader understand the passage as a work of art. For example, the imagery used in verse 9, “a land flowing with milk and honey,” is not meant to be taken literally, but is an example of an allegoric literary device. This sort of imagery allows the Bible to be viewed by rhetorical critics as a work of art and not simply a historical document, and it is part of the reason the Bible is still read by millions in the present day.
In conclusion, eco-theological criticism, Von Rad’s tradition criticism, and rhetorical criticism, though all very different in their approach, all shed light on different aspects of the text and are therefore equally as useful. Looking and various components of any biblical passage and using a number of different perspectives allows for a more complete and well-informed understanding of the passage. This leads to understanding the Bible in its historical context as well as in the context of the present.
Cheney, Michael. Religious Studies 380: Introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament – Study Guide. Athabasca University. Canada, 2005.
Otto, E. “Das Deuteronomium im Pentateuch und Hexateuch.”Translator unknown. Old Testament Newsletter. An Electronic Magazine of the Department of Old Testament, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa. No. 13. 2001, pp. 1-10.
Van Seters, John. “The Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).”Found in The Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical Issues. Edited by Steven L. McKenzie and Patrick Graham. Westminster John Knox Press. Kentucky: 1998.