Monday, June 16, 2008

Deuteronomy 32:8

Deuteronomy 32 is poetry from verse 1 to 43. Much like Exodus 23:17, verse 8 is of little theological significance until we peel off a layer or two of redaction and theological emendation. Comparing the various ancient attestations of the verse reveal some interesting clues to the nature of the original text. The verse as it appears in the Masoretic text (I'll transliterate from now on, since I can't get a decent Hebrew font working):

bəhanhēl elyōn gōîm bəhaprîdō bənê ādām yasēb gəbulot ‘amîm ləmispar bənê yisrāēl

When the Most High gave inheritance to the nations, when he divided the sons of Adam / He set the boundary of the people according to the numbering of the sons of Israel.


The Septuagint preserves a different reading:

ὅτε διεμέριζεν ὁ ῞Υψιστος ἔθνη, ὡς διέσπειρεν υἱοὺς ᾿Αδάμ, ἔστησεν ὅρια ἐθνῶν κατὰ ἀριθμὸν ἀγγέλων Θεοῦ


When the Most High was distributing the nations, as he scattered the sons of Adam / He set the boundaries of the nations according to the numbering of the angels of God.


We have another alternate reading in j4QDeutj, which replaces yisrāēl with ’lwhm (plene spelling of elohim), giving us:

When the Most High gave inheritance to the nations, when he divided the sons of Adam / He set the boundary of the people according to the numbering of the sons of God.


The Dead Sea Scroll account is most likely an older reading than the MT, with the LXX reading between the two. The received text edited by the Masoretes may have read
bəhanhēl elyōn gōîm bəhaprîdō bənê ādām yasēb gəbulot ‘amîm ləmispar bənê ēl (sons of God), which may have been cause for concern. Rather than preserve a reading that seemed to refer to the offspring of El (Canaanite reference or otherwise), the Masoretes (or their predecessors), may have prefixed the letters ysr to El, giving us the word for Israel. While we can't know for sure, Hebrew Bible scholars are confident in the reading preserved in the DSS; so much so, in fact, that the new Oxford Hebrew Bible inserts the older reading into their critical edition (sample w/ Deut 32:8 here). The new Biblia Hebraica Quinta makes the argument in the footnote, but it is prominent. John Hobbins addresses the manuscript evidence much more thoroughly here. An interesting little side note, to say the least.

4 comments:

LifeOnaPlate said...

I'm about to read this, but I wanted to say before I forgot, the FBI is looking to hire Hebrew speaking folk right now, big time, and my wife has some job information of you're interested.

LifeOnaPlate said...

ps- she says it's a "set your own hours" gig.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Very interesting and concise. I like how you keep the blog post short, but refer to other places for further reading if people are so inclined.

Excellent.

maklelan said...

Thanks, plate. That's interesting that the FBI is hiring people who speak Hebrew. I'm more interested in Biblical Hebrew, but it would be fun to look into.