Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God -- By: Michael S. Heiser

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 158:629 (Jan 2001)
Article: Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God
Author: Michael S. Heiser


Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God

Michael S. Heisera

Moses’ farewell song in Deuteronomy 32:1–43 is one of the more intriguing portions of Deuteronomy and has received much attention from scholars, primarily for its poetic features, archaic orthography and morphology, and text-critical problems.1 Among the textual variants in the Song of Moses, one in verse 8 stands out as particularly fascinating. The New American Standard Bible renders the verse this way: “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.”

The last phrase, “according to the number of the sons of Israel,” reflects the reading of the Masoretic text בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָל, a reading also reflected in some later revisions of the Septuagint: a manuscript of Aquila (Codex X), Symmachus (also Codex X), and Theodotion.2 Most witnesses to the Septuagint in verse 8, however, read, ἄγγελῶν θεοῦ (“angels of God”), which is interpretive,3

and several others read υἱῶν θεοῦ (“sons of God”).4 Both of these Greek renderings presuppose a Hebrew text of either בני אלהים or בני אלים. These Hebrew phrases underlying ἄγγελῶν θεοῦ and υἱῶν θεοῦ are attested in two Hebrew manuscripts from Qumran,5 and by one (conflated) manuscript of Aquila.6

Should the verse be rendered “sons of Israel” or “sons of God”? The debate over which is preferable is more than a fraternal spat among textual critics. The notion that the nations of the world were geographically partitioned and owe their terrestrial identity to the sovereign God takes the reader back to the Table of Nations in Genesis 10–11. Two details there regarding God’s apportionment of the earth are important for understanding Deuteronomy 32:8. First, the Table of ...

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