A term applied to the school of writers responsible for the great historical work contained in Deuteronomy to 2 Kings inclusive. The traditional division into the Pentateuch and the historical books was made late in the postexilic period and was based on religious, not literary, analysis; the Pentateuch contains the normative Torah, or Law, for Judaism. Literary analysis, however, indicates that the Deuteronomistic vocabulary, style, and especially theology are found in the following historical books in the form of editorial comments and judgments on the period in question. This suggests that the book of Deuteronomy was drawn up in its present form as an introduction to the history that follows and that the history itself is a collection of ancient material, now given a literary unity by the Deuteronomists (D). In this view the significance of a hexateuch would be greatly lessened. The fate of the supposed yahwist (J), elohist (E), and Priestly (P; see priestly writers, pentateuchal) accounts of the Israelite conquest of Canaan in the later editorial work is now extremely difficult to assess. The Deuteronomistic history was seemingly concluded some time during the Exile; the last reference is to the release of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, from prison by the Babylonian king Evil-Merodach (2 Kgs 25.27–30), which probably reflects the author's hope for the end of the Exile.
The theology of D is based principally on the conception of the covenant as expressing God's free loving choice of Israel (Dt 7.8; 23.6; etc.) and of the Law as Israel's loving response to that choice (Dt 6.5–9; 11.1; 19.9; etc.). From this flows the conviction that prosperity and divine blessings are the rewards of loving service (Dt6.1–3; 11.1–25; 28.1–14; etc.), while disobedience brings punishment (Dt 11.26–28; 28.15–69; etc.). These same ideas, expressed in much the same vocabulary, are found in the historical books that follow and are the basis of the Deuteronomistic judgment on history. The four principles of disobedience, punishment, prayer, and deliverance, contained in the book of Deuteronomy, are succinctly presented in Jgs 2.11–19. The identification of the authors responsible for this work is impossible. Deuteronomistic ideas and terminology are found elsewhere in the OT, particularly in Hosea and Jeremiah. This would indicate that a Deuteronomistic theology and literary style were not confined to one period or to one kingdom. Because of the emphasis on the covenant, an emphasis found also in the northern E tradition, there are those who would trace the origin of D's theology, vocabulary, and style to the North. These elements would have been greatly developed in the South after the destruction of Israel in 721 b.c. The ideas, developed by a "school of D" and by men such as Jeremiah, would have provided the basis for Josiah's reform about a century later.
Bibliography: m. noth, Überlieferungsgeschichtliche Studien (Halle 1943– ). g. von rad, Studies in Deuteronomy, tr. d. stalker (Chicago 1953).
[e. h. maly]