Random example of translation differences: in verse 24, the NRSV has “You have been rebellious against the Lord as long as he has known you,” with an asterisk noting that this is from the Greek and the Samaritan versions; the Masoretic (i.e. the authoritative Jewish) text reads “You have been rebellious against the Lord as long as I have known you,” the “I” being Moses. Why the translators on the NRSV decided that the Greek and the Samaritan versions preserved an older reading than the Masoretic, I don’t know, because having it be “I know” certainly works well. Indeed, it’s the helpful reminder in all this outsider-bashing that Moses himself is an outsider. He knew he was a Hebrew from childhood, but he was raised Egyptian and eventually married into the Midianites. Moses is both a part of and apart from the Israelites. Maybe this makes him the ideal arbitrator between them and God… well, although given how I’ve seen him expand on very short commands from God with his own words, I’m not sure whether he is ideal, but Deuteronomy certainly presents him as such.

The NCT, meanwhile, gives verse 24 as “Ever since the Lord chose you, you have continually rebelled against him.” Some of this is difference due to the very different way that Japanese places its verbs relative to Hebrew and English, but I’m not sure why they went with “chose” (o-erabi-ni-natta) over “knew” (go-zonjiru). To my knowledge there’s no meaning where erabu can mean “to know” or “to meet.”

Either way, this chapter is emphasizing the unworthiness of the Israelites. They aren’t getting this land because they’re righteous, but instead because the previous inhabitants were worse (v 5). Moses begins to list everything they did wrong, starting with the Golden Calf. God could very easily have decided to wipe them out then, Moses reminds them, but God instead graciously gave them a second chance, then a third chance, and so on, so that now they’re almost ready to enter the Promised Land. Again, there’s that sense of communality here – all the people actually present at the Golden Calf are now dead, but as a people, God did not abandon them.

Christianity gets a lot of flack for talking about unworthiness, especially in modern Western society where self-esteem is considered so essential. Don’t get me wrong, I saw in Japan what the opposite extreme of shame-based culture can sometimes produce. But both countries are examples of things going too far to extremes.

Case in point: bankers in America essentially crash our entire economy. They give themselves a raise. JR Hokkaido has a train break down and a few people are injured. The Vice President commits suicide.

Obviously being driven to suicide is a terrible thing – but so is blithely not caring about the results of your actions. Self-esteem can become self-aggrandizement if we’re not willing to face our flaws.

Some of this is an issue of punching up or punching down. If you’re telling people who are powerless and marginalized that they’re unworthy and should be grateful for what they have, you’re a bully and a tyrant and the villains of Job. If you’re telling people who are powerful and wealthy that they’re unworthy and should be grateful, you’re a prophet. And that’s how Moses is addressing the Israelites. They’re about to become conquerors and rulers, and he sure as heck wants them to not be arrogant and entitled when that happens.

What, exactly, the residents of Canaan did that makes them so awful and wicked isn’t said here. I imagine that a lot of it is probably an exaggeration to try to justify the genocide narrative, since that’s frequently how these things go. From Ceasar and the Celts to Colonists and the Natives, it’s always great to take something bad your enemy does, make it worse, ignore anything wrong you’ve done, and say it justified you getting their land. Moses is, at least, trying to chip away at that last point about ignoring your own failings. Would that all empires did the same.

The Japanese: kuppuku suru “to submit, to yield” (v 3), wakimaeru “to see reason, to know better” (v 6), soreru “to veer off, to stray” (v 12), mi o hirugaesu “to turn aside adroitly” (v 15).

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