Archive for the ‘Old Testament Studies’ Category

After struggling with my own conscience the last few days  over whether or not the Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) module was worth a $112 investment, I was finally able to convince myself to buy the module for Accordance (my wife will not confirm this story). BHQ contains a more robust listing of the textual critical notes than its predecessor BHS.  For those of you whose eyes just glazed over, just know that in antiquity, many different texts witness to the “original” Old Testament. BHQ compiles many of the known witnesses and lists the differences in the margin and provides a commentary on why the editors prefer one witness over another.

I needed to find a good variant to test. I flipped over to Deuteronomy 32:8 where in the Masoretic Text, it reads:

When the Most High causes the nations to inherit
When he separated the sons of Adam (or Man)
He caused the borders of the people to stand
According to the number of the sons of Israel

In other texts, the same verse reads:

When the Most High causes the nations to inherit
When he separated the sons of Adam (or Man)
He caused the borders of the people to stand
According to the number of the sons of God (also angels of God, sons of the gods, heavenly court)

The former reading is attested in the Masortetic Text and the latter reading is attested in the Old Greek (Septuagint) and Dead Sea Scrolls. Some English translations chose the latter reading (ESV, NRSV, NET, and commentators such as Alter and McConville). Many of the English translations that I read (JPS, KJV, NIV, HCSB, NASB) opted for “sons of Israel.” Which is it?

BHQ prefers the “Sons of God” reading. They explain:

That v. 8 represents a deliberate emendation for theological motives is reasonably certain (McCarthy, Tiqqune Sopherim, 211–14). Even more interesting is the series of subsequent corrections to which [the Masoretic Text] was subjected as a consequence of an emended v. 8, showing that the phenomenon of theological corrections was not something that happened in a half-hearted way. It required more than the convictions of an isolated scribe to have effected five further interrelated changes (Gen 46:20, 21, 22, 27; Exod 1:5).

They are, of course, hinting that the scribe(s) who changed the text from Sons of God(s) to Sons of Israel did so because they were strict monotheists. The correlation of the “Sons of Israel” to the nations in this passage is that both groups are 70 in number. In Genesis 10, 70 nations are listed. In Gen 46:2-27 and Exodus 1:5, 70 “sons of Israel” are listed.

I also think we can list one more theological motivation for the change. Angels are not the only beings referred to as “sons of God;” Israel is as well: “You are the sons of the Lord your God” (Deut 14:1). The scribe may have read “sons of God”  as “sons of Israel” and decided to change the text to reflect that interpretation (thus insulating the text from a polytheistic reading as well). The editor of the NET Bible explains:

“Sons of God” is undoubtedly the original reading; the [Masoretic Text] and [Septuagint] have each interpreted it differently. The [Masoretic Text] assumes that the expression “sons of God” refers to Israel (cf. Hos 1:10), while [the Septuagint] has assumed the phrase refers to the angelic heavenly assembly (Pss 29:1, 89:6, cf. as well Ps 82).

I agree with the NET. Sons of God was probably the “original” reading and best explains both the Old Greek and Masoretic variants. How, then, should we understand “sons of God?”  Alter points to an earlier stage in the development of Israel’s monotheism where YHWH is “surrounded by a celestial entourage of divine beings or lesser deities.” I doubt that the Deuteromistic author would consciously advocate such a view (see Deut 32:17-29). On the other hand, McConville and Tigay both understand “sons of God” to refer to angelic divine council. This concept has great evidence for it as attested to by Pss 29:1, 89:6, 82, and Job 1. The text is, therefore, pointing out God’s specific love for Israel over the other nations. He assigned angels to other nations while YHWH himself is over Israel.

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