The Japanese titles of books so far have been pretty easy to translate. “The Creation of the World,” “The Book of Levi,” “The Census.” Shinmeiki has been giving me a ton of trouble, though. Ki is the same ending that’s been used in all the books so far and will be used in a ton of them after this. It means something like “account” or “record.” Shinmei, though, isn’t a word, at least in modern Japanese. The mei is the character for “command” or “decree,” while the shin is the same character used in mousu, a very humble form of “to say.” Looking at other combinations it’s used in, shin has a meaning similar to “declare” in English. So Shinmeiki is, literally, something like “The Account of the Declared Commands.”
In Greek, Deuteronomy means “the second Law,” the first law being, I suppose, Leviticus, though heavens knows Exodus and Numbers had a ton of law portions in them. Wikipedia, if you can trust it (and it’s quoting a book from a reputable author, so I’m guess you can), says that this probably actually comes from a mistranslation of Deut. 17:18, which means in Hebrew “a copy of this law,” but became “this second law” in the Septuagint.
The Hebrew title, meanwhile, again comes from the first line, and means something like “The spoken words [of Moses].” This reflects how the book is set up, at least at the beginning. The premise of this book is that Moses is giving one final speech to the Israelites before they enter the promise land without him. It’s a premise, though, not a reality. No one would have had clay tablets out, scribbling down Moses’ words as he said them; you just couldn’t physically do that.
But as a premise, it raises an interesting question. I’ve mentioned several times that I think it’s interesting to compare what the Bible directly puts in the mouth of God versus what other people say God says. And that means that, at least for now, everything that’s being said here is what Moses says, not God. Which begs the question: just how infallible is Moses?
I say this because the first chapter is entirely recap of things that have already happened and there are a ton of contradictions with what we’ve already read. Moses combines the choosing of judges to hear cases with the appointment of leaders of the tribe in verses 9-18, and attributes the idea to deputize to himself rather than his father-in-law Jethro. Does Moses want to downplay his connection to the Midianites, who they just had a war with?
And then, when it comes to why Moses won’t enter the Promised Land, he leaves out his mistakes at the waters of Meribah, and instead includes himself in the curse on the whole generation (v 34-39). Is Moses trying to make himself look like an innocent to a generation who wouldn’t remember these events?
From a textual criticism point of view, the answer is probably that the writer of Deuteronomy (or at least this portion of Deuteronomy, since most scholars think 1-4 and 29-34 were later additions) was probably trying to get rid of uncomfortable portions of the wilderness narrative. The Isrealites incorporated ideas from foreigners into their judicial system?! Moses made mistakes?! Have to get rid of those ideas.
But in this instance I actually enjoy reading this in a more literal way, that Moses himself is giving his version of events, and in his version he comes off looking better than in the third-person accounts of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. He doesn’t have to turn to his father-in-law for guidance, he comes up with his own solution. He didn’t do anything wrong, he’s just bearing part of the communal guilty of the Israelites. It plays into my little headcanon that Moses isn’t always saying exactly what God wants him to, that the editors wanted us to always be thinking about whether the Law is infallibly direct from God or interpreted through fallible men like Moses.
(And I am so sorry that I just linked you to TVTropes; that site will eat your life)
Another thing that I noticed while reading this was the mention of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as the reference to YHWH as “the God of your ancestors.” I would probably have just passed that over reading it in English, but since I’ve been reading this in Japanese as well I have to look at things more closely, and I recognize words. Just to confirm my suspicion, I did some word and phrase searches on oremus. My guess was right; this kind of language, talking about AI&J and “your ancestors” and all the promises and so forth was pretty sparse throughout Leviticus and Numbers. Abraham and Isaac mentioned only once in each book; Jacob gets a few more mentions in Balaam’s oracles. “Ancestor” and “ancestors” appear only seven times across two books, and only three times in reference to the promise to Abraham.
Turn that around, and the combination Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is mentioned seven times just in Deuteronomy, with Jacob getting five extra references. “Ancestor” and “ancestors” appear 46 times, and pretty much every single one of them is a reference to the covenant with Abraham. So clearly this is a theme in the book, and something I want to keep an eye on.
The Japanese: sanchi “mountainous region,” michinori “distance (between, from, to)” (v 2), tokiakasu “to explain” (v 5), sudeni “already,” hisashiku “for a long time” (v 6), muki “direction” (v 7), omoni “burden, load” (v 9), momegoto “troubles” (v 12), kenmei “wise,” shiryobukai “thoughtful” (v 13), teian suru “to suggest, to propose” (v 14), katayori “bias,” mibun “status, position,” kaoiro o ukagau “to look into one’s face” (v 17), ononoku “to tremble (esp. with fear)” (v 21), sorau “to assemble,” haken suru “to send, to dispatch” (v 22), meian “a good idea” (v 23), teisatsu suru “to scout, to reconnoiter” (v 24), urotaeru “to be upset, to be dismayed, to panic” (v 29), zenaku o wakimaeru “to know good from evil” (v 39), an’i “easy, facile” (v 41), gouman “insolent, arrogant.”
I know for a fact that the majority of these are words I’d encountered before, but you forget a lot over a four month hiatus, which is another reason that I need to keep at this – it will help me remember my Japanese. Because if I’m forgetting basic things like sudeni, then I really need to practice more.