Genesis 49/Deuteronomy 33: Two Transitional Passages In The Life Of Israel -- By: Gordon R. Ainsworth

Journal: Michigan Theological Journal
Volume: MTJ 01:2 (Fall 1990)
Article: Genesis 49/Deuteronomy 33: Two Transitional Passages In The Life Of Israel
Author: Gordon R. Ainsworth

Genesis 49/Deuteronomy 33: Two Transitional Passages In The Life Of Israel

Gordon R. Ainsworth

Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33 stand as important theological promises to future generations of Israel. Rather than being insignificant, as many liberal expositors have argued, they must be seen within their context. These passages were designed to be encouragements to Israel to fully trust in the Lord as well as a warning for them to obey, in order for the promises to be realized.

Modern critical studies generally view Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33 as independent tribal sayings gathered into a corresponding literary form which already existed in the ancient world.1 Normally the material is associated with the period of the Judges, although some of the data is said to come from the late 14th or early 13th centuries B.C.2 The tribal sayings of both passages originated out of actual past history of the tribes but were recast into prophetic oracles from the viewpoint of the speaker.

Conservative scholarship questions any approach which diminishes the meaning and function of the passages as they appear in the text. With the upswing in literary studies in the last twenty years new light has been shed on the nature of this material and its understanding. Literary interpretation, in particular genre study, has helped gain new insight into the makeup of the

units and the purposes both passages serve in their contexts. Both Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33 come at strategic places in the history of Israel, and the following study will seek to elucidate their value as literary-theological factors. Because the passages concern the tribes of Israel, one tribe, Dan, will serve as a test case. If it can be demonstrated that the material concerning Dan fits the literary-theological ideas of the passages, then this should also be true for the rest of the tribes.

Genesis 49


Genesis 49 provides the first important material on the development of the tribes. It is a transitional section that marks the end of the patriarchal period and the beginning of Yahweh’s work with the nation as a whole. Westermann calls Genesis 49 an intermediate stage between the blessing in the family, as depicted in the patriarchal n...

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