Describe some of the transformations that Deuteronomy makes upon the Covenant Code and correlate these within the larger agenda of Deuteronomy in its historical context.


Deuteronomy uses some of the laws in the Covenant Code (CC), omitting much of the civil law and preserving the more moral or religious laws. Not only is Deuteronomy selective of the laws that it includes, but it also changes these laws. Both of these aspects give us insight into the purpose that these play within the larger purposes of Deuteronomy reflected in its historical context.

Some of the laws that overlap between CC and Deut are laws concerning the seventh year (Deut 15:1-11; Exod 23:10-11), release of slaves (15:12-18; Exod 21:2-11), regulations for festivals (16:1-17; Exod 23:14-17), laws about manslaughter and murder (Deut 19:1-3; Exod 21:12-14), seduction/rape of an un-betrothed woman (Deut 22:28-29; Exod 22:15-16), charging interest (Deut 23:20-21; Exod 22:24), laws for caring for the needy (Deut 24:17-22; Exod 22:20-23; 23:9). It is argued by Moshe Weinfeld that the changes made to earlier Pentateuchal material (here the CC) reflect the interests of the Josianic reform characterized by centralization of cult and a “social-humane tendency” (or humanitarian tendency) manifest in Deuteronomy. The text itself is argued by some to be a utopian vision, an idyllic set up where the poor and needy are taken care of, and the people of Yahweh all worship together in Jerusalem. Deuteronomy effectively overshadows and replaces Exodus with a new vision that was either the catalyst for Josianic reform (if the book was actually discovered in the temple) or is reflective of its goals, values, and vision (if the book was composed for this purposes and “planted” in the temple to be found).

The laws concerning the release of slaves are similar enough that it appears to be a deliberate updating of the CC. The following discussion and table follow Christine Hayes’ Introduction to the Bible.


Exodus 21:2-11

Deut 15:12-18

I. Six-year Limit

2 If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.


12And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.


II. Parting Gifts

3 If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.

4 If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself.


13 And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty:

14 Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.

15 And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day.


III. Option of Perpetual Servitude

5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:

6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.


16 And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee;

17 Then thou shalt take an aul, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant for ever. 

IV. Treatment of the Female

7 ¶ And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.

8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.

9 And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.

10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.

And also unto thy maidservant thou shalt do likewise.


V. Exhortation


18 It shall not seem hard unto thee, when thou sendest him away free from thee; for he hath been worth a double hired servant to thee, in serving thee six years: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all that thou doest.


Deuteronomy treats male and female slaves equally, show by the addition of the female slave at the beginning (v. 12), and the shortening of the notice in v. 17 to merely say that the woman should be treated like the man. Deuteronomy also stipulates that the slaves should not be released empty-handed but should have gifts. This stands in contrast to the “emotional blackmail” (as Christine Hayes puts it) of forcing a man to leave his wife and children if he wishes to go free. The option to stay as a perpetual servant (vv.16-17) changes from a procedure before “gods” (possibly the deceased ancestors, according to van der Toorn) to something that merely happens at the door of the house. This falls in line with the centralization of worship and the need to de-sacralize things that took place away from the temple. In Exodus, the female slave seems to serve primarily a sexual function, a secondary wife perhaps. In Deuteronomy however, this function is not present, and she is to be released just as the man is after six years. The release of the slave after six years is different within the context of Deuteornomy which sets up a seven year calendar in which every slave is released at the same time, rather than in Exodus where release is done on an individual basis.


Exod 22:20-24

Deut 24:17-22

21 ¶ Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

22 ¶ Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.

23 If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry;

24 And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.

(Bible-Old Testament | Exodus 22:21–24)


17 ¶ Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge:

18 But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing.

19 ¶ When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands.

20 When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.

21 When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.

22 And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing.

(Bible-Old Testament | Deuteronomy 24:17–22)



The laws in the CC emphasize that the people should not mistreat the poor and the needy, whereas the Deuteronomy takes it one step further and outlines specific things that ought to be done in order to take of then and provide food for them.

The festival laws in Deuteronomy also show similar changes.


Exod 23:14-17

Deut 16:1-17

Unleavened Bread / Passover

14 ¶ Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year.

15 Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:)


Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the Lord thy God: for in the month of Abib the Lord thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.

2 Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the Lord thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the Lord shall choose to place his name there.

3 Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life.

4 And there shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coast seven days; neither shall there any thing of the flesh, which thou sacrificedst the first day at even, remain all night until the morning.

5 Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee:

6 But at the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt.

7 And thou shalt roast and eat it in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose: and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents.

8 Six days thou shalt eat unleavened bread: and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work therein.

Harvest / Weeks

16 And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field:

9 ¶ Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn.

10 And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee:

11 And thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to place his name there.

12 And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt: and thou shalt observe and do these statutes.


Ingathering / Tabernacles

and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field.


13 ¶ Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine:

14 And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates.

15 Seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord shall choose: because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice.


Appear before Yahweh

17 Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God.


16 ¶ Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty:

17 Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee.

The feast of unleavened/Passover has become centralized in Jerusalem in Deuteronomy (v.2) with the specific injunction that no one should perform the Passover sacrifice outside of Jerusalem (v.5). This corresponds with the centralization of worship and the prohibition of sacrifice taking place anywhere else. “Profane” slaughter is allowed in Deut 12:15-16 provided that the blood is poured onto the ground. The obvious emphasis place upon the observance of the Passover is reflective of the reforms carried out by Josiah in 2 Kings 23. The fact that this was an obvious innovation of previous practice is confessed in 2 Kings 23:22, “Indeed, a Passover like this had not been carried out since the days of the judges who judged Israel and all the days of the kings of Israel and Judah.”

The celebration of the two remaining festivals is influenced by Deuteronomy’s humanitarian character by an injunction to celebrate with the entire family, slaves included, along with the stranger, widow, and orphans within the city. It is also significant that the “Levite who is in your gates” is mentioned among this class of people. The Josianic reform effectively put these Levites out of work in their towns, though they were offered employment in Jerusalem. The command to take care of the “Levite who is in your gates” may be a acknowledgement that not all Levites went to Jerusalem and also a way to still provide for these landless—and now jobless—class of peoples within kingdom.


Coogan, Michael D. The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Hayes, Christine. Introduction to the Bible. Yale Open Courses Series. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2012. Weinfeld, Moshe. “Deuteronomy, Book of.” Edited by David Noel Freedman. Anchor Bible Dictionary II. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

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