Re'eh, Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Centralizing the Cult
15 August 2009

In Re'eh, Moses instructs the Children of Israel to centralize the Cult in “the place that the Adonai your God will choose.” We hear this phrase at least 15 times..

The Children of Israel are instructed:

1. To destroy the sacred places of Canaanite worship;

2. Not to worship as the Canaanites;

3. To establish an exclusive site for sacrifice;

4. That families are to go to this central shrine for sacrifices;

5. That people may convert their livestock into money, go to the central shrine, and there purchase animals to sacrifice, food and provisions; and

6. That the people may eat meat at any time, rather than only at sacrifice.

The command to centralize the Cult had far reaching effects on the religion, economy, and politics of the Kingdom of Judah.

Dr. Beth Alpert Nakhai, of the University of Arizona at Tucson, edited Re’eh for
The Torah: A Woman’s Commentary. She writes:

“Creating sacrifices only in Jerusalem would have been a boon for that city’s economy, strengthening the crown as it faced Assyrian imperialism, especially in the 7th century B.C.E.”

The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Rabbis Dudley Weinberg and W. Gunther Plaut theorize that the core of the Book of Deuteronomy was written during the reign of King Hezekiah, who ruled in Judah from 725 to 687 B.C.E.

King Hezekiah outlawed idolatry and pagan shrines. He attempted to centralize religious activity in the Temple at Jerusalem. See 2 Kings 18; 2 Chronicles 29 30 and 31.

After Hezekiah died, the people of Judah returned to idolatry and the core of the Book of Deuteronomy was lost.

In 621 B.C.E., King Josiah instituted radical reforms. The idols were smashed. The local shrines were overthrown. Sacrifice was centralized in the Temple in Jerusalem. Passover was celebrated for the first time as a pilgrim festival in Jerusalem rather than a family celebration at home.

While the Temple was being refurbished, a Book of Teaching was discovered. See 2 Kings 22 and 23 and 2 Chronicles 34 and 35.

The reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah are so similar to the commands of Deuteronomy, that Rabbis Weinberg and Plaut believe that the core of Deuteronomy was written during the time of King Hezekiah and discovered during the time of King Josiah.

I believe that the centralization of the Cult in Jerusalem had the following impacts:

1. It created a banking and market system. Livestock was sold and converted to money. The pilgrims with their families would travel to Jerusalem where they would camp out or rent rooms, purchase provisions, and purchase animals for sacrifice.

2. The influx of pilgrims would enrich the Temple treasury. The King could use this money to build the army. A stronger army would deter Assyrian aggression.

3. Increased use of the Temple, would require capital improvements. Public works increases employment and puts more money in circulation.

4. The nation would be unified. The local shrines and the local priests would be put out of business. Opportunities for idolatry would be reduced. All religious power was concentrated in the Aaronite priests in Jerusalem.

5. Livestock would be raised and sold for eating on as everyday food.

Rabbi Lewis M. Barth of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, sees a theological aspect of the centralization of the Cult.

Rabbi Barth says Adonai had to be changed from a desert God to the God in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Barth explains that Adonai had been established as the desert God through theophany--revelation, as at the Burning Bush.

Before the Cult could be centralized in Jerusalem, the people’s memory of Jerusalem---as a pagan city with pagan gods--had to be changed.

Instead of theophany, the authors of Deuteronomy repeatedly used the phrase “the place that Adonai your God will choose”, and the commands for pilgrimage and sacrifice, to ensure that people would accept Jerusalem as their single sacred site.