In Deuteronomy and the Judaean Diaspora Ernest Nicholson challenges the widely accepted view that Deuteronomy was the "book of the law" described in 2 Kings 22-3 as the basis of king Josiah's cultic reformation in 621 BCE. He argues that the notice in this narrative that Josiah abolished the rural, local altars throughout Judah and supposedly relocated their priests to Jerusalem is based upon a misreading. Rather, he contends, Deuteronomy derived from thinkers and writers who lived among the Judaean exiles in Babylonia in the sixth century, and in significant ways represents a break with pre-exilic Israelite religion occasioned by the urgent need to confront the challenges to national identity and cultural survival of the Judaean Diaspora community. Leading features of the book such as its zealous monolatry, its self-presentation as "scripture," its concept of the relationship with God as covenanted choice, its pervasive fear of religious encroachment, its character as "oppositional" literature--these and other themes of the book suggest such a provenance. Issues arising include, for example, information from Babylonian sources, some of it new, about the Judaean exiles, how Israel is characterized in the book, kingship, evidence of the emergence of a body of prophetic "scripture." Two final chapters examine the "Deuteronomistic History" (Joshua-2 Kings) and show that (contrary to some interpretations) it is not "historiography" such as is represented by, for example, Herodotus' Histories, and that theodicy rather than an interest in the past as a field of critical study best describes its genre.
Ernest Nicholson was educated at Trinity College Dublin and at Glasgow University, where he took his doctorate. He has held academic appointments at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Cambridge, and was Oriel & Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford University from 1979-90 when he was elected Provost of Oriel College. He is the author of a number of books on Old Testament subjects. He is a Fellow of the British Academy which in 2009 was awarded him the Academy's prestigious Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies.