Conflating Angels and the Sons of God

Does LXX Deut 32:43 contain an attempt to actively promote the conflation of the angels of God with the “sons of God” of earlier divine council motifs? Following Smith and Handy’s theory of a four tiered Syro-Palestinian pantheon, the bn ‘el were taxonomically distinct from the lowly ml’k. The biblical literature seems to preserve this distinction. The use of the word ‘elohîm on rare occasions to describe angels does not undermine it, as all members of the pantheon, great and small, could be categorized under the term in its generic sense. The benê ‘elohîm, however, were a clear and distinct class of deity. As Israel moved away from polytheism and toward a transcendant view of deity, these tiers were collapsed, and the roles of these deities were conflated. Might one consider repeated appeals to this conflation an indication of opposition?

Deuteronomy 32 shows two examples of propaganda aimed at identifying angels with the sons of God. In v. 8 the original benê ‘elohîm is simply replaced with αγγελλων θεου. The same occurs in Job 2, but elsewhere the phrase is left alone. The translator may simply interpret the phrase as referring to angels. In verse 43, however, there is textual expansion that makes a clear attempt at equating the two. The original verse probably contains an imperative for “all the gods” to bow, but LXX inserts two cola in place of this phrase, putting αγγελλοι θεου and υιοι θεου in parallel. (for the expanded verse as secondary, see Arie van der Kooij, “The Ending of the Song of Moses: On the Pre-masoretic Version of Deut 32:43,” in Studies in Deuteronomy in Honor of C. J. Labuschagne on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday [ed. Florentino García Martínez, et. al.; Leiden: Brill, 1994], 93–100.)

The expanded cola seem intended to evade the mention of “all the gods,” but also to provide a key for the interpretation of “sons of God” elsewhere. They are to be identified with the angels of God. It does not seem unlikely to me that this was a question that remained open in the minds of some during the translation of Deuteronomy into Greek. The translator may have been seeking to provide definitive evidence of the equation of the two groups of divine beings, protecting the transcendant Yhwh and mitigating the polytheistic undertones of the parent text.



3 responses to “Conflating Angels and the Sons of God

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