When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, When he separated the children of men, He set the bounds of the peoples According to the number of the children of Israel. (ASV)
The Revised Standard Version replaces "children of Israel" with "sons of God", and the New Living Translation renders this verse as "When the Most High assigned lands to the nations, when he divided up the human race, he established the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of angelic beings".
It's the Masoretic Text which has "sons of Israel". The Septuagint and the Dead Sea scrolls preserve a rather more revealing rendition of this verse: using "angels of God" and "sons of God" respectively.
This is a late reference to the old Hebrew polytheism. YHWH, the god of the Hebrews, is one of the sons of the high god El (traditionally 70 in number): a brother of Baal, Chemosh, and the other Caananite gods. Here, El divides humanity into portions and allocates these to his sons: in the next verse, YHWH receives Jacob's people (the Hebrews) as his share.
Eventually, YHWH would come to be regarded as the "one and only God" (absorbing aspects of his father El and his brother Baal), and henotheism (worship of one god among many thought to exist) would become monotheism (belief in the existence of only one god). Hence, this verse remains as a Biblical contradiction: one of several allusions to the existence of multiple deities, which contradicts those verses advocating strict monotheism (Deuteronomy 4:35, Deuteronomy 4:39, Deuteronomy 6:4, Deuteronomy 32:39, Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 44:8, Isaiah 45:5, Isaiah 46:9, Mark 12:29, Mark 12:32, John 17:3, 1 Corinthians 8:6). Note that Deuteronomy contradicts itself on this issue, indicating that it was compiled from older material (at least in part).
Surviving Biblical references to other gods are mostly commands not to worship them: it is generally not obvious whether they are thought to exist or not. But there are references to a plurality of gods in Genesis 1:26, Genesis 3:22, Genesis 11:7, Psalms 82:1 and Psalms 86:8: other gods praise the chief god in Psalms 97:7 and Psalms 136:2: God attacks rival deities directly in Exodus 12:12 and Numbers 33:4 (and refrains from doing so in 1 Samuel 6:5). Apologists generally try to claim that the references are to other angelic beings, or even to idols: however, the Bible says "gods". --Robert Stevens 11:08, 12 Jan 2006 (CST)
Response to Con piece: "This is a silly argument and is generally not used by well-informed Bible critics" - It would be reasonable to assume that a "well-informed" Bible critic would also be aware of the historical context, from extra-Biblical sources. The Hebrews were originally polytheistic, we know this from sources such as the Ugaritic texts. I'm well aware of the apologetic claims that the numerous references to other gods in the Old Testament are actually referring to something else (angels, idols, the Trinity, whatever will suffice for the context): but that's all apologetics, not fact. --Robert Stevens 07:25, 23 Nov 2006 (CST)
Sons of God refers to angels and beings in Heaven. Also, YHWH cannot be the son of El, because from the beginning of Genesis (first in Genesis 2), the two names appear together as YHWH Elohim.
This is a silly argument and is generally not used by well-informed Bible critics.
1 - In ancient times gods were identified primarily with geographies and secondarily (or subsequently) with the people who occupied those areas. When people migrated, they typically "adopted" the gods of their "adopted" land.
2 - Baal was not a god, but a name generally attributed to gods. It can be viewed in the same vein as the name Pharaoh being assigned to kings of Egypt. The word means "lord" and was used by early Hebrews to identify YHVH (or YHWH). This no more proves polytheism than a man who bears the monikers "Dad" and "Bob" proves two separate individuals.
As the term became associated with foreign gods, it was expunged from Hebrew culture. Note, for example, the names of early Hebrews often incorporated the word "Baal."
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