Saturday, May 4, 2013

Deuteronomy 1:1-2:37

Esau was Jacob's older brother. (Genesis 25:25-26) Both brothers had multiple names. Jacob was also called Israel (Genesis 32:38). He was the progenitor of the Israelites.

Esau was also called Edom.(Genesis 25:30) He settled in the land of Seir. (Genesis 36:8)  His descendants were the Edomites.

Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright (Genesis 25:29 ff.) and his father's blessing (Genesis 27:1 ff.). The two eventually reconciled (Genesis 33:4).

All that is ancient history.

As the Israelites traveled through the wilderness, they came to the border of Edom (Numbers 20:14 ff). They requested passage through the territory promising to stay to the main road and to pay for whatever they ate or drank (Numbers 20:17). The Edomites refused and the Israelites went by another route (Numbers 20:21).

That is the more immediate background.

The Book of Deuteronomy purports to be a series of speeches made by Moses, just before his death, to the Israelites, just before their invasion of Canaan. Deuteronomy means "Second Law" and much of the book is taken up with the laws by which the Israelites should live once they occupy the land. The book of Leviticus was, I suppose, the "first law."

Moses begins his first address to the Israelites with a recitation of the events of their wilderness sojourn. There are some variations in the way the story is told. For instance, in Numbers 13:1, it is YHWH who advises Moses to send spies into Canaan. In Deuteronomy 1:22 it is "all" the Israelites who ask Moses to send spies.

In Numbers  20:12, it says that Moses will not enter the land of promise because he did not give YHWH the glory when he brought water from a rock at Meribah. In Deuteronomy 1:37, the stated reason that Moses will not enter Canaan is YHWH's anger over the Israelites refusal to invade.

In Deuteronomy 2:1-8, we read of the Israelites travels around Edom. As it is told here, the Israelites are not refused passage, but skirt Edom so as not to alarm the Edomites.

What's up with these discrepencies?

The Pentateuch is not the work of a single author. There are several sources behind the five books attributed to Moses. Accounts of the same events vary in their details. Multiple theological views come into play.

I think that Deuteronomy itself, though probably made up of several layers of tradition, has a cohesive theology. As we read along, let's try to dope that theology out.

Next: Deuteronomy 3-4.

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