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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Monotheism & the text of Deut. 32:8 MT & 4QDeut.

Deuteronomy Deut. 32:8-9 has been caught up in recent discussions of ancient Jewish (Hebrew) monotheism. Central to this discussion is the textual history of passage as evidenced in the Masoretic Text (MT), Septuagint (LXX), and Qumran fragment 4QDeutj. The modern English translations reflect this textual variation.

Deut. 32:8-9  When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. 9 For the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. — RSV

Deut. 32:8d ... according to the number of the sons of God. — RSV

Deut. 32:8d ... according to the number of the gods; — NRSV

Deut. 32:8d  ... According to the number of the sons of Israel. — NASB 1971

Deut. 32:8d ... According to the number of the angels of God — LXX Charles Thomson

Deut. 32:8 When the Most High was apportioning nations, as he scattered Adam’s sons, he fixed boundaries of nations according to the number of divine sons, — LXX NETS tr. Melvin K. H. Peters

Note the variations at the end of Deut. 32:8. The NASB 1971 follows the Masoretic Text (MT) ‏בני ישראל. The majority of Septuagint (LXX) manuscripts read ἀγγέλων θεοῦ which Charles Thomson translated directly. Two LXX manuscripts 848 and 106c read υἱοῖς θεοῦ which appears to agree with the tradition found in Qumran fragment 4QDeutj which reads ‏בני אל[הים where the text is broken after lamed. The possible readings include Beni El, Beni Elohim and Beni Elim. 

E. Tov [1] suggests that the MT reading reflects a theologically motivated revision of the an earlier text form preserved by 4QDeutj. The precise form of that early text is uncertain since the text  ‏בני אל]הים is broken after lamed and the LXX readings are not useful since θεοῦ serves as an LXX translation equivalent for El, Elohim and Elim. John F. Hobbins posted on this text a while back:  

Most scholars agree that the masoretic text of Deuteronomy 32:8 reflects a theological revision of a more original text reflected in 4QDeutj and the Septuagint. Biblia Hebraica Quinta 5 and the Oxford Hebrew Bible sample edition concur on this point, but differ on details.
— John F. Hobbins ancienthebrewpoetry
The idea that the text of Deuteronomy might have been revised to reflect concerns about monotheism might sound threatening to some people. There is however a perfectly normal literary process involved. A number of the poetic portions of the Hebrew bible appear to be poems appropriated[2] from cultures of the Ancient Near East (ANE) external to and often more ancient than biblical Israel. These poems reflect the polytheism and mythology of the pagan cultures of their origin. The process of appropriating these texts is not instantaneous. Some texts are just borrowed without revision and continue to reflect their origin in the MT. Other texts are "cleaned up" over time to make them more compatible with Jewish Monotheism. In Deuteronomy 32:8-9 according to R. Bauckham[3], both the MT and the 4QDeutj readings "were evidently extant in the Second Temple period", but no early support is provided for the MT reading.

If we adopt the 4QDeutj reading:
"... there two possible ways of reading the text. On one reading, the Most High apportions the nations to his sons ('the sons of God' in 4QDeutj), of whom YHWH is one. According to the other reading, the Most High and YHWH are the same. In his exercise of universal sovereignty over the nations (as the Most High), he allocates them to the heavenly beings of his entourage ('the sons of God' in 4QDeutj ), but reserves Israel for his on direct rule (as YHWH the covenant God of Israel)."  — R. Bauckham[3]     
Should we consider the first reading a viable option, where YHWH  and ‏עליון ὁ ὕψιστος The Most High refer to two different deities?  We will take a look at that question in the next post.

 [1] Emanuel Tov, Textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, Fortress Press, Minneapolis 2001, page 269-270.

[2] On a somewhat tangential topic, the appropriation of human speech for divine use, see: Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine discourse: philosophical reflections on the claim that God speaks, OUP 1995.

[3] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, p112.


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