The Sons of El

Dave Washburn dwashbur at
Tue Jan 19 14:04:49 EST 1999

Lloyd Barre wrote:

> Dear List Members,
> I am interested in your opinions on Deut 32:7-9.  I have provided a summary of my view on it to get things going.
> Thank you.
> Lloyd Barre
> Think back to the older days,
> think over the years, down the ages.
> Ask of your father, let him teach you;
> of your elders, let them enlighten you:
> When Elyon gave the nations their inheritance,
> when he divided the sons of men,
> he fixed their bounds according to the number of the sons of El, 
> Yahweh's portion is his people,
> Jacob his inheritance.
> The introduction begins with the statement that a student may
> learn of an ancient event, the knowledge of which first came to
> his grandfather's generation.  The event was an executive decision
> by El who assigned his divine "sons" to rule over various peoples.
>  Here Yahweh is made the preeminent "son of El" who has been
> assigned the people of Jacob.  This  theological scheme is
> illustrated in the following diagram: 
> 				          El
> 					|
> 				  Sons of  El
> 					|
> Chemosh	Dagon          Baal    Yahweh	Milcom       Hadad        Qos
>         |                     |                 |              |              |                   |              |
>    Moab           Philistia       Canaan     Jacob	Ammon        Aram      Edom

Please note that I will be pasting parts of several other posts into 
this.  I will do my best to give proper attribution.

I see several unproven assumptions in this.  The first is the 
assumption that `elyon == El.  This has not been shown, and in 
fact based on usage in the HB it cannot be shown with any 
certainty.  We have `elyon standing alone, in compound with El, in 
compound with Elohim, in compound with YHWH and in parallel 
with YHWH.  So the structure above is built on assumption and 
overly simplistic, at best.

Another assumption is the reading "sons of El."  As Irene Riegner 
pointed out, 

The LXX says "according to the
number of angels of god," "aggelwn theos."  BHS notes that an Old 
version, the Syrohexaplaris also used this and that these versions
"correct" what the editors of BHS assumed was the original, "sons 
of El
[  )l  ]," or sons of Elim  [  )lym  ].  If "sons of El" or "sons of the
gods" is correct, then "he fixed their bounds according to the 
number of
sons of El / gods" would certainly make sense.  Before accepting 
emendation, I would need to know the reason behind the 

I quite agree; the emendation appears to be made on slim grounds 
indeed.  John Ronning offers this explanation:

As for the "sons of El/Elohim," the same song/poem says that God 
Israel (v. 18).  Deut 14:1 says "You are the sons of Yhwh your 
God, you
shall not cut yourselves . . ."  Hos 1:10/2:1  God's people are called
beney 'el xay, sons of the living God - the same verse has "the 
sons of
Israel" perhaps providing the reason for the MT of Deut 32:8, the
interpretation being that the sons of God are the sons of Jacob who 
into Egypt, numbering 70, being also the number of nations listed in
Genesis 10.  The tradition behind the MT (if not the original reading)
evidently wanted to avoid the interpretation "angels of God" (LXX).

I find this unconvincing.  The commentary of Keil and Delitzsch 
(vol. 1 p. 470) says:

The Septuagint rendering, "according to the number of the angels 
of God," is of no critical value,--in fact, is nothing more than an 
arbitrary interpretation founded upon the later Jewish notion of 
guardian angels of the different nations (sir xvii. 14), which probably 
originated in a misunderstanding of chap. iv. 19, as compared with 
Dan. x. 13, 20, 21, and xii. 1.

If this is correct, the reading "children of Israel" is much to be 
preferred and the question of the "Sons of El" becomes moot.  A 
more pertinent question would be to address the context: is this 
really talking about a prehistoric event when El or `Elyon divided up 
the peoples, or does the following context suggest that what is 
being described is the way YHWH separated Jacob/Israel out from 
among the nations to be His specially chosen?

Dave Washburn
"Oh, the mind boggles!" -Wakko

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