More on Richard Hess and Deut 32:8-9

In his most recent response to me, Richard Hess made the statement that I misrepresented him from his book Israelite Religions, p. 103, stating that I failed to mention that he agreed with Mark S. Smith’s interpretation of Deut 32:8-9. I responded that this hardly seems to be the case for two reasons: (1) he does not expressly state his agreement with Smith in his summary of Smith’s reading of Deut 32:8-9, and (2) in Hess’s post on Bill Craig’s website, he expressly disagrees with the position that Smith advocates.

Smith argues that Deut 32:8-9 represents an older Israelite theology in which Elyon and Yahweh are distinct entities, Elyon being the father of Yahweh, to whom Israel is given as an inheritance. Smith does not merely argue that this is the background myth behind Deut 32:8-9, but that this is what Deut 32:8-9 is narrating. Smith bases this reading on the DSS readings in 4QDeutj/q.

But in Hess’s post on Bill Craig’s blog, not only does Hess not mention the 4QDeut readings (which say that Elyon divided the sons of Adam, apportioning the peoples according to the number of the sons of God/the gods), but he obfuscates stating that this reading is “not in the Hebrew.” What he meant was that this reading is not in the MT. This was misleading enough.

But contrary to Hess’s claim that he agrees with Smith’s interpretation, on Bill Craig’s website Hess opts instead to follow the MT reading (with no explanation as to why he chooses the Hebrew tradition which is much later than that represented in the DSS, which again he fails to mention). More importantly, it is Hess’s choice to follow the MT rather than the DSS upon which he bases his argument (at least in this article) that Elyon and Yahweh are not separate deities (father and son) in the poem, but rather are one and the same deity. Hess states:

[T]he Hebrew identifies the two [i.e., Elyon and Yahweh] as both personally involved with Israel, and thus most likely as identical.

Note what he’s doing here. He says that “the Hebrew” (again disguising the existence of the DSS readings from a novice) portrays both Elyon and Yahweh as “personally involved with Israel, and thus most likely as identical.” But where does “the Hebrew” identify Elyon as personally involved with Israel? Not in 4QDeut! Only in the MT reading. Remember: “Elyon . . . divided the sons of Adam . . . according to the number of the sons of Israel.” Whereas, the DSS readings say, “according to the number of the sons of God/the gods.” In the DSS, there is no “personal involvement” between Elyon and Israel; this is only true in the MT. That’s how Hess argues that Elyon and Yahweh should be identified as the same entity–by recourse to the MT.

Now, there may be some sense in which Hess agrees with Smith’s interpretation, although he doesn’t explicitly state as much in that section of his book, but it isn’t clear to me how, unless the position he articulated on Bill Craig’s website isn’t the position he holds. Or perhaps he agrees with Smith’s interpretation of the DSS reading (separate deities and all?), but has some reason why he chooses the later MT tradition over the earlier DSS tradition (which is the vorlage to the LXX’s monotheistic translation of “sons of God” as “angels of God”), making his agreement with Smith essentially irrelevant. If so, I have yet to find Hess’s argument why the MT is to be preferred to the earlier tradition.

Perhaps I’m missing something.

One thought on “More on Richard Hess and Deut 32:8-9

  1. That 4QDeut retains the original reading is further born out by the fact that another passage in Deuteronomy comports with the DSS. Deuteronomy 29:26 (V:25 in Hebrew) reads as follows in the NRSV:

    26 They turned and served other gods, worshipping them, gods whom they had not known and WHOM HE HAD NOT ALLOTTED TO THEM;

    Unlike Deut. 32:8-9, in this passage Yahweh, not Elyon (El), is the one who does the allotting, but an allottment of nations to the gods is nonetheless in view. Other gods exist, but the Israelites are Yahweh’s. (See also Micah 4:5.)

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