Tag Archives: polytheism

Deuteronomy 32:8-9

El, the god of IsraelThis is part of my expanding Bible Manipulations series.

  • Texts:  Hebrew –> English  and  Hebrew (ancient- Dead Sea Scrolls) –> Hebrew (Masoretic)
  • Manipulation: translating dissimilar terms to the same meaning.
  • Purpose: to cover up polytheism of the Old Testament Jews.
  • Background: Reading only English translations, one can never see the Polytheism of the Old Testament.  The ancient Canaanites (of which the Israelites were originally one tribe) were polytheistic.  Their gods included El, Bal, Yahweh and more. (for details, see “The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright – “Who was Yahweh Before He Was Yahweh?” p110).  To avoid this, it is often best to transliterate instead of translate, but the average reader has little patience for such readings.

Elyon and Yahweh

Here is Deuteronomy 32:8-9 in the New American Bible (a Catholic Bible):

New American Bible
When the Most High assigned the nations their heritage, when he parceled out the descendants of Adam, He set up the boundaries of the peoples after the number of the sons of God;
While the LORD’S own portion was Jacob, His hereditary share was Israel.
- Deuteronomy 32:8-9
The Hebrew (transliterated):Behanchel Elyon goyim behafrido beney adam yatsev gvulot amim lemispar beney Yisra’el.

Ki chelek Yahweh amo Ya’akov chevel nachalato.

the Most High = Elyon

LORD’S = Yahweh

Avalos (pg 43-44) discusses these verse showing that

  • “Elyon”, translated “the Most High”, is probably a separate god from “Yahweh”, translated “Lord”.
  • Th polytheistic nature of this passage became clear with the discovery in 1929 of Ugarit (related to Hebrew) texts in modern-day Syria at Ras Shamra.  The texts confirmed some of the names of Israel’s deities including Elyon.
  • In fact, Yahweh appears to be only one of Elyon’s 70 son.  Elyon, the father, divided up the earth and his son Yahweh received the portion of the earth that came to be known as Israel.

A further translation difference in this passage can be seen int the phrase “sons of God” (El’s 70 children) which is translated variously as:

  • Accurate
    • “sons of God”:  NASB , REB (Revised English Bible)  (namely, El’s 70 sons)
    • “he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods;”:  RSV & NRSV
    • “under the care of divine guardians“:  The Message
    • “according to the number of the heavenly assembly“:  Net Bible
  • Inaccurate
    • “children of God”: New Jerusalem Bible  (politically correct, allowing women into the heritance).  Covering up patriarchy in the Bible.
    • in relation to Israel’s numbers“: The Jewish Study Bible (The Jewish Publication Society)
    • “sons of Israel” : NIV
    • children of Israel” : KJV, ASV
    • “the number of the Israelites“:  Amplified Bible

Avalos tells us that the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed that the oldest Hebrew version of Deuteronomy 32:8 states “sons of El” or “sons of Elohim” and that later editors, to hide the polytheism, translated into the Masoretic Hebrew Text and changed “gods” to “sons of Israel”.

My Conclusion: This is a good example of an early scribal manipulation which is only one of many, many examples how the texts were probably changed over the centuries in order to try and show a more homogeneous Bible.  Hiding early Israel’s polytheism was important to these ancient scribes.

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