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.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

46 responses to “Deuteronomy 32:8-9

  1. Temaskian

    Very good! Excellent! Thoroughly enjoyed this, Sabio.

    “Hear O Israel the Lord thy God is 1 God.”

    Indeed the God of Israel is 1. 1 among 70 of the sons of Elyon!😀

  2. Thanks Temaskian. Glad you enjoyed it !

  3. Laura Cooper

    Very interesting! I will have to read some of Robert Wright’s work.

  4. This is really interesting. I’ve been hoping somebody would compile these things. There are TONS of examples from apologetic translations like the NIV. Eventually it would be nice to see it incorporated into the Skeptics Annotated Bible, perhaps.

  5. Thanx Laura & Luke. Compliments motivate me to add more — for as you intuit, they take some effort.

    I too have always wished for a site that compiles these — the Skeptic Bible (unless it was updated) took too simple of an approach. My list will be a reference for me but I hope other can use it. I am hoping it allows people to have more focused dialogue and avoid huge generalizations (without evidence) when possible. For it is hard to dialogue with others who share few ground concepts.

  6. I had previously heard about polytheism among the ancient Israelites (Baal and Asheroth and so forth), but not this take. Interesting, but I don’t know enough about Hebrew or the texts to really comment on this idea.

    But what this leaves us with is a god who is (somewhat invisibly) the merger of several ancient Canaanite dieties, because all of these names (YHWH, El, Elyon, etc.) are used to describe the same god now.

    BTW, the JPS Tanakh renders these lines as “When the Most High gave nations their homes, and set the divisions of man, He fixed the boundaries of peoples, in relation to Israel’s numbers. For the Lord’s portion is His people, Jacob His own allotment.”

    Because you should have a Jewish translation in there.

  7. i don’t know why this is so shocking. there’s a difference between monotheism and monolatry. like many processes in our world, esp. that of philosophy and science, theology developed over time and the traces can be seen in the books throughout Jewish and Christian history despite many theologians trying to white-wash over it.

  8. In all fairness, Luke, it is shocking. Very, very few Christians I know, know this and most those that do, have apologetic to “white-wash” it as you said. So THAT is why it is so shocking. This knowledge is not embraced by those Christians who drive our war machines, close abortion clinics and try to fire university profs who teach evolution (me). You are fighting to reform the Christianity this would shock. They may teach this in seminary but I wager that even in the Sunday schools of your future Church, this may be barely mentioned. But maybe I am wrong about UCC, but I’ll bet I am close to 100% write for almost all the rest.

    So THAT is why it is so shocking.

  9. @ Thyrn
    Absolutely! What was I thinking. I have the JSB on my shelf in front of me and forgot to open it — shame on me. I added it to the post — thank you. Surprise, surprise, even the Jews got it wrong.

  10. “but I’ll bet I am close to 100% write for almost all the rest.”

    empirical data required. i did a short post on it, but i’ll have to dig further. most churches i’ve attended (well, attended and STAYED ;-)) have read Karen Armstrong and weren’t all that phased by it.

    another instance of American Pop-Christianity? with the phrase: “his knowledge is not embraced by those Christians who drive our war machines, close abortion clinics and try to fire university profs who teach evolution (me).” points to yes.. because my style of Christian don’t really do any of these things. and we’re a larger chunk than most give credit for. most mainline denoms wouldn’t do that, moderate to prog. christians wouldn’t… however, conservative and evangelical and fundies do… and they have the most market share and are working their way into our pews, so it’s a messy business. i don’t think there’s any good way to discern what’s going on in the mind of the Christian populous. i’m sure gonna try to find out though… good things on the horizon.

    hell, this stuff isn’t even new! Calvin and Luther knew this, it’s not just a 19th century thing. but that’s another post. and much more research than i have time for at the given moment.

  11. Yes, perhaps lots of religious professionals know it, but they keep it a secret from their parishioners for the most part. They don’t want to trouble their faiths.

    Point being, this stuff WILL change the faith of many — so, sadly, they are wise not to share.

    I also hold that if liberal folks truly get the implication of the very nature of scripture, it will change their faith too — but that will come in future posts. (so much to read, write and think about!)🙂

    Thanx for the comment Luke

  12. geoih

    So what you’re really saying is that it’s all made up?

  13. @ geoih

    I am not sure if that is a rhetorical question, but I do believe it is all made up, of course. I don’t believe a god split up his land among his 70 sons and gave one of his sons (YHWH) Israel.

    But when you put it that way, it is clearly fiction to the modern ear. But if you change things and sweeten it up with monotheism and righteousness and other myths, it is more palatable to modern readers (though you and I still would find it clearly fiction).

    Does that answer your question, or was that what you were saying?

  14. “Yes, perhaps lots of religious professionals know it, but they keep it a secret from their parishioners for the most part. They don’t want to trouble their faiths.”

    aside from your experience, where are you getting the info to make these general statements? i don’t think it’s the case at all.

  15. well… i overstated my case. i see it in my context on certain levels and various instances… however, i’m wondering where you are getting this info…

  16. @ Luke

    Like you, Luke, I too was going off my impressions concerning demographics of religion in USA. So I checked them out and supplied the data below. See if it matches your intuitions:

    2004 Data says (from Wiki):

    The 2004 survey of religion and politics in the United States identified the evangelical percentage of the population at 26.3 percent while Roman Catholics are 22 percent and mainline Protestants make up 16 percent. And I’d wager (from other stuff I have read) also that the average mainline folks don’t know their Bibles (like all my friends) and just ride off the sugar-coated Jesus sermons they hear for their images — mixed with childhood Sunday school stories.

    As you know, very few Catholics know their bibles except for the little they are spoon fed. They are 22% of population. Evangelicals (as you admit) are 26.3 % of population. (Mainlines are only 16%). Your denomination is less than 1% of all Christians. Baptists 16.3% of all Christians.

    So you can see that the majority of American Christians buy into the Bible in the ways that they would find problems with what I am posting about their scriptures even if it is not a surprise to you.

    But Luke, what numbers would really make a difference to you? I understand you don’t want to be lumped with all the Evangelicals and Conservatives and Fundies (?and Catholics). But they make up a huge percent of our population and are very influential. Besides that, the voices of liberal Christians against them is pathetically weak, IMHO. This is nothing about you, this is about the majority of Christians. But perhaps you want different numbers.

    Here are my links:
    1) Adherents
    2) Wiki

    Let’s hear your thoughts (maybe I should turn this into a post, since it is a theme of yours – and of mine).

  17. Yeah, i guess i was shocked as the UCC and UU and even the Jesuit schools I ran in taught me this from an early age. It wasn’t a shock when I learned it again in seminary. but it was for many in our class… so even here we have people that try to ignore this or not deal with it… so you’re right, the majority of Christians are largely in the dark about it. and the circles i run in are the exception and no where near the rule.

    it largely pisses me off, and it’s part of the reason i’m going into ministry… partly. so thanks for the data, i am happy to have that on here as well and feel that the last comment alone could be a post related to this as i feel it is necessary to your argument. thanks for the quick research.

  18. Glad it was useful. Go out there and do your best, lad !

  19. geoih

    Quote from Sabio Lantz: “Does that answer your question, or was that what you were saying?”

    I think we understand each other.

  20. Temaskian

    Just curious, Sabio: have you ever tried bringing up information like this in your conversations with your average Christian friends?

  21. @ Temaskian

    Yes, but most Christians do not know or study the Bible at all and thus the conversations dies. They are not into their religion for head reasons. For those who are, they can discuss for a short time but they claim that I am misreading the scripture. If that happens, we are at a stand still.

    But I have about 5 ex-Christian friends who these conversations also helped lead to their deconversion. And to tell you the truth, in only about 2 or 3 of them do I think deconversion offered them benefit.

  22. Temaskian

    Were you the one responsible, in full or in part, for those 5 de-conversions?

    In what way was it beneficial for the 2 or 3 but not for the other 3 or 2?

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  24. Steve Wiggins

    I really appreciate the content of your article, Sabio! I’ve addressed this in a couple of podcasts over on my own blog. Just one tiny thing, though. The New American Standard Bible isn’t actually a Catholic Bible (the New American Bible is). The NASB was an inter-denominational revision of the American Standard Bible undertaken by the Lockman Foundation, generally for Protestant use. Sorry to be a stickler, but it’s an occupational hazard!

  25. Thanx Steve, it was just a typo, thanks, fixed it.

  26. TJ

    There is a very easy to follow yet comprehensive YouTube video that expounds on this. To say the least, it made me re-evaluate a few things.

  27. Sabio

    Thank you TJ
    That was excellent !

  28. TJ

    No problem, glad you liked it

  29. rey

    A passage where the original polytheism of Israel is not so well hidden is in Psalm 82. Here’s the NRSV.

    Verse 1 “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:”

    So God is judging lower gods in a divine council, and what follows is what he is supposed to be saying to them, his judgment of them.

    “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?’ Selah. Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

    Then in verse 5 we apparently get a comment from the narrator about the lower gods “They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” A pretty negative assessment.

    In verse 6, God begins to speak again, “I say, You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you;” apparently identifying the big God who is judgeing these others as Elyon, “nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”

    Then finally in verse 8, the narrator says “Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!”

    Apparently then the writer of the Psalm looks forward to a time when Elyon will kill off his wicked sons and take the earth back from them.

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  31. josh

    hi, i like this and would like to learn more, but i dont like the idea of poeple abbandoning their faith, knowledge should’nt one’s foundation but shoud rather strengthing it.

  32. Tony

    Actually, Sons of God in the OT refers to the Angels of God. Compare Deut. 32:8 with Job 1:6. You’re analysis is flawed. Only one God, YHWH (Creator) with many titles. Deut. 32:8 should read, “Sons of God.” The Masoretic Text probably has “Sons of Israel” outta bias.

  33. @ Tony
    It is not *my* analysis, but that of Hector Avalos. He is a brilliant Hebrew scholar — read his book if you want more. Or not.
    I don’t have the tools to argue fluently between these texts. But from various readings and multiple sources and pretty obvious reading, I am pretty convinced that the Jews were clearly polytheistic for much of their early history and probably later also.

  34. This is really sloppy.

    Is not a separate “god” from YHWH, in fact, it is literally translated as “supreme one” and then “interpreted” as “most high”.

    The second highlited word for ‘sons of God’ is literally ‘sons of Israel’

    It could be rendered children or sons and hold the same meaning. It doesnt “hide” any patriarchy at all. The Israelites, as a Nation, were referred to as “children” and “sons” interchangably.

    There are reasons interpretive translation is utilized. The hebrew and greek languages have only a minute fraction of the english vocabulary. And since the vast majority of the human population would never take the time to learn hebrew or greek just to read the bible, translation is necessary. But a simple word for word translation is still nearly unintelligible, and an interpretive translation is necessary.

    May I ask, when you do “research” for posts like these, do you ever consult sources that aren’t seeking to dismantle the religious text?

  35. @ John

    (1) “really sloppy” : great conversation opener.

    (2) Sorry, I couldn’t understand your second sentence.

    (3) Patriarchy is undeniably present in the OT. But heck, it was like that all over the world at that time. That is not the issue, the issue is if the translator was trying to make the passage more politically correct. I think they were, but it seems you disagree.

    (4) Having made a living as a translator and interpreter (between Japanese and English) I understand the need to avoid word-for-word/literal translations — especially for languages from different language families (Japanese and Hebrew are outside our language family by a great distance). So we agree. You sound like you thought I would disagree.

    (5) You said:

    May I ask, when you do “research” for posts like these, do you ever consult sources that aren’t seeking to dismantle the religious text?

    Writers on this material are rarely unbiased. I must say, I found the unbelievers the least biased. I’m sure you disagree. But you are right, bias is hard to get around. I do have access to believer interpretations and do consult them occasionally but I disagree with them for the most part. Such is life.

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  37. Alma

    These goes far beyond polytheism. It goes to hide who Jehovah really is. The truth of his evilness and perdition hiding from most humans who revere an evil entity. The manipulators in cohort with the evil one to misguide most of humanity. I do not say this lightly. Please research The Holy Virus by Lional Parkinson. Most religious writings become the war tools of devious men who want total control.

  38. @ Alma,
    Since I don’t believe in a “Jehovah” either way be it orthodox Christian or Marcion, I can not seriously entertain your odd comment. Sorry.

  39. Claud

    People believe whatever they want to believe based on their own bias and consequently they seek out authors, theologians and so called experts that align with particular biases. My particular bias is that I believe the bible we have today for most part is true as long as it read in the correct context, yes it is also true that there a number of mistranslations, this will be true for which ever version you choose to adopt. It is my article of faith that the (originals) autographs of the biblical texts (which are no longer extant} were indeed infallible and without error, also there were other autographs also not extant that are not in the canon of the bible as we know it today which were also infallible, however corruption has entered in, two such examples would be the book of Yasher and the book of Enoch.

    With fervent prayer and study one can get a consistent view of a Almighty Creator who is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. In respect of the discussion topic I would suggest one reads Michael S. Heiser on the Divine Heavenly Council, this puts Deuteronomy 32:8 into the correct biblical context.

  40. Thanx for sharing your opinions Claud.
    And for admitting your two faith elements:
    (1) trust in the non-extant original autographs of the Christian anthology.
    (2) when you talk to your god, he helps you see through mistranslations and misinterpretations such that you can discern the perfect truth.

    I have Muslim and Mormon and Buddhist acquaintances who say the same about their holy works and their brilliant insight due to their wonderful religious practices. So you are among the company of many, though you each contradict each other of course.

  41. Claud

    Thank you for your kind words.
    If I may I would like to comment on your conclusion. You are right insofar as you have correctly identified that there were scribal changes made to Deuteronomy 32:8.
    However the reasons for the change have nothing to do with attempting to hide polytheism. Monotheism was what made the ancient Israelites standout from their polytheistic neighbouring nations, therefore any notion that they themselves were polytheistic is incorrect.
    It is true to say they often strayed from the worship of the one true God, due to rebellion (sin) and the influences of their neighbours, but this does mean they themselves were polytheistic. I can hear you saying that’s not what I meant. I mention this only to illustrate the point that if you had to prove the case for Israelite polytheism, this is the closest you get, and no attempt was made in the scriptures to hide this.
    The reason for the scribal changes is far more complex than one might imagine, time does not allow me to explain and elaborate in full detail, but I will attempt to summarise the reason for the change, and what the text in the original form actually means, hopefully this will whet your appetite to research and investigate more to substantiate what I am saying for yourself.
    • Jewish Bible finalised AD 90 at the council of in Jamnia some 60 years after the death and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah, prior to this there was much disagreement over what books should be included.
    • One among many of the books that was not included was the so called Book of Enoch, which in the 1st century was part of the Essene canon, which contained prophecies of Jesus Christ. (which is still in the Ethiopian Canon to this day)
    • It is a matter of historical record that Talmudic Jews towards the end of the 1st Century were actively twisting the Hebrew scriptures in an attempt to disprove that Jesus was the Messiah. This was what was handed down to the Masoretes and became the Masoretic text. We know these differences exist because we can see them clearly by comparing the Masoretic text and the Greek Septuagint text that Jesus and the apostles quoted from.
    • It was necessary for the Deuteronomy 32:8 to be amended by the scribes to take away any allusion to the sons of God (Angels), which were the Watchers spoken of in the book of Enoch.
    • The Sons of God referred to in Deuteronomy 32:8 are the same types of beings referred to in Genesis 6:4 (Angels)
    • The scribal amendment is so desperate and ill conceived, it is clear to any objective reader that when the most high separated the sons of Adam and set the bounds of the people, it made little sense to number the bounds according to the number of the children of Israel who were yet to be born.
    • The sons of God referred to in Deuteronomy 32:8 are part of the Most High’s divine heavenly council (congregation of the mighty)[ Psalms 82]
    • Other nations were worshipping these sons of God. (Deuteronomy 4:19)

    So in summary we can see that the Deuteronomy 32:8 was about the Most High dividing mankind to be governed by subservient angelic beings. Most of Christendom is totally unaware this fact, due to 1st Century Talmudic Jews and later the Masoretic scribes attempts to manipulate scripture to hide the identity of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

  42. @ Claud,
    Thank you for explaining your interpretation of those documents. May I ask what sect of Christianity do you identify closest with?

  43. Claud

    I identify with all sects of Christianity and all other faiths that accept the bible ( as flawed as it is by mankind’s dabbling) as the inspired word of God. I also accept that there are other books outside the canon as it commonly agreed upon today. Only further prayer and study that come from having a spiritual relationship with God, allow one to discern the truth of God’s word, like sanctification, it is a work of a lifetime. Therefore, I do not adhere any particular creed or sect. When I use the term God, I mean an eternal omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being, the like of which there is no other.

  44. So, Claud, do you attend a church? If so, which one? Where you raised in a denomination. What types of denominations have you participated with at any length?

  45. Claud

    I do attend a church close to my home, but I am not a member, I do think fellowship is important. I have no interest in denominations, they are divisive, the body of Christ is not divided therefore the type of church is unimportant. The wheat and the tares must grow together until the time of the harvest, the Shepherd has his sheep in every denomination.
    I was raised a Christian and baptised in my early teens, but like a lot of people I turned away in my late teens, I came back to faith in my mid thirties. What is important to me now is my relationship with God, and sharing my faith.

  46. LFine

    Dr. Michael Heiser explains what the books of the Bible actually say about this, using the ancient languages and not just English translations.

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