Deuteronomy 32–Particular Love

Deuteronomy 32:8-9 has been pared with Psalm 82 as illustrating an old pagan religion underlying the religion of the Bible. The question here, of course, is whether you believe God revealed himself to some of the early Israelites, or whether their religion just developed in a purely human way.

Part of the problem with Deuteronomy 32:8 is that we don’t know for sure what its original wording was. Admittedly, the Massoretic text of the Hebrew is a stretch. It seems to say that God divided up the nations of the world according to the number of the sons of Israel (bene Yisrael). There were traditionally 70 nations, so this is supposed to refer to Exodus 1:5. However, the old Greek translation (LXX) says “angels of God” instead of “sons of Israel”. But an even older text was found with the Dead Sea Scrolls. It has “sons of God” (bene ‘elim).

A little detective-like thinking shows what must have happened. The original must have said “sons of God.” The verse would say that God divided up the human race (bene Adam) according to the number of the bene ‘elim. But what does that mean? Some interpreted this to mean Jacob’s kids. Some interpreted it to mean the heavenly counsel of angels. The book of Daniel has the idea that nations have angelic princes (Daniel 10:13)..

Modern scholars who think that monotheism evolved from polytheism interpret this text as polytheistic. Sons of god means other gods. The Most High (Elyon) heads a family of divine sons. The mythology in the writings we have found at Ugarit would support this.

However, that doesn’t mean that the original was really polytheistic. How often did John Milton, a stern Puritan monotheist, use pagan mythology in his poetry? We have to allow for some poetic license. What the pagan imagines as gods, our singer may imagine as angelic servants through whom God rules the nations. This is a song, and it was sung in a world full of mythology. That the singer might use mythological ideas in poetry does not really surprise me. It certainly provides no basis to build a whole theory.

The context here is the divine lawsuit. In verse 7 fathers and elders are summoned to the witness stand. They testify that God fathered all the nations (see Amos 9:7), but that he has made Israel his special possession

For the LORD’s special portion is his people;

Jacob is his particular inheritance..

Deuteronomy 32:9

It seems unfair that God has chosen a people, especially since the people he has chosen is not us. His chosen are not the Americans, or the Chinese, or the English, or the Turks. Why couldn’t God have just loved the human race in general. There is a chapter about that in Michael Wyschogrod’s The Body of Faith. He says that all real love is particular, not abstract. God’s love for a particular people guarantees the concreteness of God’s love even for those who are not chosen. We rightly respond with praise, not jealousy.

“And when man contemplates this mystery, that the Eternal One, the creator of heaven and earth, chose to become the father of his creatures instead of remaining self-sufficient unto himself, as the Absolute of the philosophers, there wells up in man that praise that has become so rare yet remains so natural,” (p. 65)


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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