Deuteronomy 12 has three basic commandments. Two of them are straightforward enough, but one of them is extremely puzzling. First, the Israelites are commanded to destroy all the shrines of other religions in the land they will enter. Not very nice, but that's Yahweh for you. Second, the establishment of the Temple is foreordained. No problem there. The third, however, is plain weird: the dietary laws are explicitly revoked. As long as they aren't at the Temple, the people are given permission to eat unclean animals. I haven't found any explanation for this, and it is evidently ignored. In fact, the prohibition against eating unclean animals is repeated two chapters later, then revoked again in Ch. 20. Orthodox Jews today just ignore these permissions and follow the restrictions as laid out in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.
12 “These are the statutes and ordinances which you shall be careful to do in the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live upon the earth. 2 You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains and upon the hills and under every green tree; 3 you shall tear down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and burn their Ashe′rim with fire; you shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy their name out of that place. 4
Asherim (most transliterations omit the apostrophe) were wooden poles or statues honoring a goddess of the same name.
You shall not do so to the Lord your God. 5 But you shall seek the place which the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there; thither you shall go, 6 and thither you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the offering that you present, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herd and of your flock; 7 and there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the Lord your God has blessed you. 8 You shall not do according to all that we are doing here this day, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; 9 for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance which the Lord your God gives you. 10 But when you go over the Jordan, and live in the land which the Lord your God gives you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you live in safety, 11 then to the place which the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, thither you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the offering that you present, and all your votive offerings which you vow to the Lord. 12 And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your menservants and your maidservants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you. 13 Take heed that you do not offer your burnt offerings at every place that you see; 14 but at the place which the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you.
The Temple as a site of central religious authority is an important feature of the society that will be depicted in later books. Not every contemporary society had an equivalent.
15 “However, you may slaughter and eat flesh within any of your towns, as much as you desire, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which he has given you; the unclean and the clean may eat of it, as of the gazelle and as of the hart. 16 Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it out upon the earth like water. 17
This is very strange. The prohibition against eating blood remains, but permission is given to eat unclean animals.
You may not eat within your towns the tithe of your grain or of your wine or of your oil, or the firstlings of your herd or of your flock, or any of your votive offerings which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or the offering that you present; 18 but you shall eat them before the Lord your God in the place which the Lord your God will choose, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, and the Levite who is within your towns; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all that you undertake. 19 Take heed that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land.
20 “When the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he has promised you, and you say, ‘I will eat flesh,’ because you crave flesh, you may eat as much flesh as you desire. 21 If the place which the Lord your God will choose to put his name there is too far from you, then you may kill any of your herd or your flock, which the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you; and you may eat within your towns as much as you desire. 22 Just as the gazelle or the hart is eaten, so you may eat of it; the unclean and the clean alike may eat of it. 23 Only be sure that you do not eat the blood; for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. 24 You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out upon the earth like water. 25 You shall not eat it; that all may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord. 26
This just repeats the previous instruction, but also seems to allow people who live too far from the Temple to eat what would have been their sacrifices without having them dispatched by the priests at the Temple. Or at least that's how I read it. But the next paragraph appears to revoke that permission. Yeah, I'm a bit confused.
But the holy things which are due from you, and your votive offerings, you shall take, and you shall go to the place which the Lord will choose, 27 and offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, on the altar of the Lord your God; the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the Lord your God, but the flesh you may eat. 28 Be careful to heed all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you for ever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.
29 “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take heed that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do likewise.’ 31 You shall not do so to the Lord your God; for every abominable thing which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.
Here again is the accusation that the Canaanites practiced human sacrifice. As we have noted before, this is almost certainly false. There is no archaeological evidence for it, and no documentary evidence other than these claims in the Torah. It is most likely just a slander.
32 [a] “Everything that I command you you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to it or take from it.
- Deuteronomy 12:32 Ch 13.1 in Heb