Are Deuteronomy 32 and 33 a continuous thought and pertaining to the identical referent? The tone and content of chapter 32 is so hateful and abhorrent toward "Jeshurun" but chapter 33 is so positive and hopeful. It sounds somewhat schizophrenic.


Deuteronomy 32 and 33 sounds so schizophrenic because, as Jeff S. Anderson says (The Blessing and the Curse: Trajectories in the Theology of the Old Testament, page 65), the blessing in Deuteronomy 33 is considered by critical scholars to be a likely insertion into the Deuteronomic material.

Deuteronomy 32:48-52 and 34:1-4 are so closely related that, when read in parallel, chapter 33 seems almost an intrusion:

Deut 32:48-52: On that very day the LORD said to Moses, "Go up on Mount Nebo, here in the Abarim Mountains (it is in the land of Moab facing Jericho), and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites as their possession. Then you shall die on the mountain you have climbed, and shall be taken to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and there was taken to his people; because both of you broke faith with me among the Israelites at the waters of Meribath-kadesh in the desert of Zin by failing to manifest my sanctity among the Israelites. You may indeed view the land at a distance, but you shall not enter that land which I am giving to the Israelites."
Deut 34:1-4: Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the headland of Pisgah which faces Jericho, and the LORD showed him all the land-Gilead, and as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, the circuit of the Jordan with the lowlands at Jericho, city of palms, and as far as Zoar. The LORD then said to him, "This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that I would give to their descendants. I have let you feast your eyes upon it, but you shall not cross over."

The blessings of chapter 33 are well placed immediately before chapter 34 and the death of Moses, but the redactor who inserted this text would not necessarily have been trying to match it closely with the theme of the preceding material.

Barry L. Bandstra (Reading the Old Testament: Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, page 25) says that although the Deuteronomic Source material was composed late, Deuteronomy 33 can be traced back to Israel's tribal origins and has certain affinities with the Elohist Source.

Further evidence that this chapter is much earlier than Deuteronomy 32 is that there is no mention of Simeon, something in common with other early tribal lists in the Bible. So, although considered to be an insertion into the overall text, it comes from a much earlier tradition and is not part of a continuous thought.

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