The Origins of Deuteronomy 32

Intertextuality, Memory, Identity

by Tina Dykesteen Nilsen (Author)
©2018 Monographs 274 Pages


The remarkable poem in Deut 32:1–43 is a triple conclusion to the life of Moses, to Deuteronomy and to the Pentateuch/Torah. In content and style, it is an encapsulation of history, prophecy, and wisdom, of a poetic quality hard to surpass. The song was supposed to be learned by heart, was given its own scroll in Qumran, and was, as far as we know, the first Hebrew text to be written colographically. Yet, the poem is shrouded in vagueness and ambiguity, and scholars have pondered its origins, function, meaning, and message.
The Origins of Deuteronomy 32: Intertextuality, Memory, Identity plunges into the debate. Extensive theoretical discussions form the foundations for an analysis of similarities and dissimilarities between Deut 32 and other texts from many different perspectives. This indicates a close relationship to the Persian period edition of the Book of Isaiah. In light of a reconstruction of Yehud, theories of social memory and social identity formation are employed in a discussion on the functions of Deuteronomy and the Book of Isaiah, yielding results for our understanding of Deut 32. The origins and textual relationships are considered in light of newer insights on scribes working together. This radically changes the framework within which we must see the origins of Deut 32 (or any text) and its textual relationships. With its combination of theoretical expositions and applications to the text, this book will be useful for both scholar and student.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Part I. Question and Text
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Chapter 2. A History of Research
  • Introduction
  • The Origins of Give Ear
  • The Debate: Beginnings and Complexities
  • Linguistics
  • Historical Allusions
  • Form
  • Redaction
  • Similarities to Other Texts
  • The Relationship of Give Ear to Other Texts
  • A Variety of Similar Texts
  • Give Ear Influenced the Book of Isaiah
  • The Book of Isaiah Influenced Give Ear
  • Mutual Influence
  • Summary
  • Notes
  • Chapter 3. Preliminary Issues
  • Introduction
  • Delimitation
  • Relationship to Framework
  • Integrity
  • Textual Criticism
  • Verses 1–4
  • Verses 5–6
  • Verses 7–9
  • Verses 10–12
  • Verses 13–14
  • Verse 15
  • Verses 16–18
  • Verses 19–22
  • Verses 23–25
  • Verses 26–27
  • Verses 28–30
  • Verses 31–33
  • Verses 34–35
  • Verses 36–38
  • Verses 39–42
  • Verse 43
  • Summary
  • Notes
  • Part 2. What and When? Intertextual Connections
  • Chapter 4. Theories and Methods of Intertextuality
  • Introduction
  • Intertextuality and Influence
  • Synchronic Intertextuality
  • Influence Studies
  • Synthesis
  • Methodology
  • Method
  • Methodological Considerations
  • Summary
  • Notes
  • Chapter 5. Similes and Metaphors
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical Perspectives
  • What Is Metaphor?
  • What Is Simile?
  • The Functions of Metaphors and Similes
  • How Are Metaphors and Similes Identified?
  • Metaphors and Similes in This Book
  • Metaphors and Similes Compared and Contrasted
  • Simile 1: Speech is like Precipitation (Deut 32:2)
  • Simile 2: Yahweh Guards His People like The Apple of His Eye (Deut 32:10)
  • Simile 3: Yahweh is like a Vulture (Deut 32:11)
  • Metaphor 1: Yahweh (and the Gods) is a Rock (Deut 32:
  • Metaphor 2: Yahweh and His People are Parent and Child (Deut 32:5––20)
  • Metaphor 3: Yahweh has Handed Over His people by Selling it (Deut 32:30)
  • Metaphor 4: God’s People are Vines of Sodom and Gomorrah (Deut 32:32)
  • Metaphor 5: Serpentine Venom (v. 33)
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 6. Lexemes and Phrases
  • Introduction
  • Lexemes and Phrases
  • Deut 32:1
  • Deut 32:2
  • Deut 32:3
  • Deut 32:4
  • Deut 32:5
  • Deut 32:6
  • Deut 32:7
  • Deut 32:8
  • Deut 32:9
  • Deut 32:10
  • Deut 32:11
  • Deut 32:12
  • Deut 32:13
  • Deut 32:14
  • Deut 32:15
  • Deut 32:16
  • Deut 32:17
  • Deut 32:18–19
  • Deut 32:20
  • Deut 32:21
  • Deut 32:22
  • Deut 32:23–25
  • Deut 32:26
  • Deut 32:27
  • Deut 32:28
  • Deut 32:29
  • Deut 32:30
  • Deut 32:31
  • Deut 32:32–33
  • Deut 32:34
  • Deut 32:35
  • Deut 32:36
  • Deut 32:37
  • Deut 32:38
  • Deut 32:39
  • Deut 32:40
  • Deut 32:41
  • Deut 32:42
  • Deut 32:43
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 7. Archaisms, Forms, Themes and Biblical Parallels
  • Introduction
  • Limitations
  • Positive or Negative Results?
  • The Difficulty of Literary Structures
  • Archaisms
  • Forms
  • Forms of Give Ear
  • Forms of the Book of Isaiah
  • Observation on Two Formulas
  • Themes
  • Theoretical Considerations
  • Divine and Mythical Beings
  • Yahweh and People
  • Food and Drink
  • Remembrance and Forgetting, Understanding and Foolishness
  • Non-Themes
  • Themes: Summary
  • Biblical Parallels
  • Theoretical Considerations
  • Historical Traditions and Deuteronomy
  • Hosea and Micah
  • Earlier Parts of Isaiah (Isa 2–23; 28–33)
  • Jeremiah and Ezekiel
  • Psalms
  • Lamentations
  • Wisdom Traditions
  • Biblical Parallels: Summary
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 8. Diachronic Explanations
  • Introduction
  • Synchronic Results
  • Diachronic Explanations
  • The Book of Isaiah: The Date and Place of Composition
  • Could the Similarities Be Accidental?
  • Could Give Ear Be Older?
  • Could Give Ear Be Younger?
  • Could Give Ear Be Contemporaneous?
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Part 3. Why and by Whom? Memory, Identity and Scribal Production
  • Chapter 9. Theories of Social Memory and Identity Formation
  • Introduction
  • Social Memory and Identity Formation
  • Theories of Social Memory: Early Development
  • Theories of Social Memory: Studies on the Hebrew Bible
  • Social Identity Theories: Beginnings and Developments
  • Social Identity Theories: Studies on the Hebrew Bible
  • Yehud: Identity through Memory
  • Persia: An Imperial Backcloth
  • Neighbors: Close Identities?
  • Inner-Yehudite Groups
  • Text, Memory and Identity: Some Recent Studies
  • Persian Sub-Periods?
  • Summary: Discussions and Application
  • Notes
  • Chapter 10. Memory and Identity in Deuteronomy and the Function of Give Ear
  • Introduction
  • Deuteronomy
  • The Origins of Deuteronomy
  • The Memory of Moses
  • Memory and Identity in Deuteronomy
  • Memory and Identity in Give Ear
  • Give Ear without Deuteronomy
  • Give Ear within Deuteronomy
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 11. Isaianic Memory and Identity and the Work of Scribes
  • Introduction
  • A Non-Deuteronomic Composition
  • Non-Deuteronomistic Poems in the Deuteronomistic History
  • Give Ear: An Isaianic Poem?
  • Isaianic Texts in the Deuteronomistic History?
  • Give Ear: Isaianic Memories and Identities?
  • Memory and Identity in the Book of Isaiah
  • The Book of Isaiah and Deuteronomy: Bordering Memories and Identities
  • Give Ear: Isaianic Memories and Identities?
  • Give Ear and Textual Production in Yehud
  • The Work of Scribes
  • Give Ear as a Scribal Product
  • Give Ear: Imitation and Authority
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 12. Conclusion
  • Index of Modern Authors

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This book is a revised edition of my PhD-thesis. I was able to plan, write and complete it thanks to a large number of people, of whom I mention only some.

My first thanks go to my doctoral supervisor, Knut Holter. For four years he patiently read every text I ever sent him and gave me constructive response on everything from the large research design to the smallest comma, providing useful discussions on the way. Special thanks also to the PhD evaluation committee, who gave me advice and criticism both during and after the examination: Karl William Weyde, Diana Edelman and Magnar Kartveit.

Thanks to Bård Mæland, rector of the former School of Mission and Theology, now prorector of research at VID Specialized University, for giving me the opportunity to work on this material, and thanks to both him and Tomas Sundnes Drønen, dean at the Faculty of Theology, Diaconia and Leadership Studies at VID, for economic support towards this publication. Thanks to librarians Nina Sundnes Drønen, Trine Osen Lande, Dina Margrete Gilja Broberg, Ragnhild Lunde and Solveig Garnes for locating and administrating the vast amount of literature that was essential for my work. Thanks to the administration for making everything run smoothly. Also I wish to thank the colleagues with whom I shared office location during my doctoral studies: Øivind Holtedahl and Arnhild Leer-Helgesen for partaking in joy and ← xi | xii → frustration; Stian Eriksen for making me laugh (in office); Sverre Lied for keeping me on my toes, and Karen Margrete Smestad for adding freshness at the end of my project. Thanks also to Anna Rebecca Solevåg, Marta Høyland Lavik and Beth Elness-Hanson for cheering.

Many scholars have helped me in my work, by sharing their published and unpublished works with me, discussing with me, or giving me response to chapters. I thank them: Kåre Berge, Torleif Elgvin, Gard Granerød, Kristin Joachimsen, Louis Jonker, Øystein Lund, Carmel McCarthy, Olivier Randrianjaka, Terje Stordalen, Karl William Weyde, and Ingunn Aadland. I also thank the OTSEM-participants who gave response at an early stage of my work. Also thanks to the many scholars I met at IOSOT and the SBL annuals who sent their unpublished papers to me afterwards upon my request.

Thanks to the staff at Peter Lang, especially to Meagan Simpson and Michael Doub, for accepting this publication and working on it with me, and to Jennifer Beszley for taking care of production.

Thanks to Kieran O’Mahony, Anthony O’Leary, and Francolino Gonçalves for fuelling my interest in biblical studies. I warmly thank my parents, Randi Dykesteen and Knut Inge Nilsen, and my brother, Klaus Inge Nilsen, for providing me from an early age with a home environment of critical thinking.

My deepest gratitude goes to my husband Alessandro Falcetta and our children Andreas and Matthias, who have always supported me, each in their own way. They have more than any other seen the ups and downs of my engagement with the project. At the same time they and Happy (the wheaten terrier) are constant reminders that the greatest joy is not found in books, but in being together. Thank you.

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· 1 ·


“And Moses spoke in the ears of the whole assembly of Israel the words of this song to its end” (Deut 31:30). Thus Deuteronomy introduces a remarkable poem: the Song of Moses (Deut 32:1–43), also known by its first word in Hebrew, Haazinu, that is, “Give Ear.” The poem as it now stands is a triple conclusion to the life of Moses “the greatest prophet,” to Deuteronomy and to the Pentateuch/Torah, and is, at the same time, an introduction to the rest of the Deuteronomistic History. In content and style, it is an encapsulation of history, prophecy and wisdom, of a poetic quality hard to surpass. The song was supposed to be learned by heart, was given a separate scroll in Qumran, and was, as far as we know, the first Hebrew text to be written colographically.

Yet, the poem is also enshrouded in vagueness and ambiguity, and scholars have pondered its origins, function, meaning and message. About a dozen PhD-dissertations and monographs as well as innumerable articles have been written on the subject, raising new arguments for older conclusions, yet never settling the debate. The origins are as veiled in foggy mystery as ever. Surely, this book, too, will not solve the puzzle or present the ultimate solution, but is one more contribution to the discussion, adding some new aspects with a new voice.

My own journey into the questions surrounding this poem’s obscure origins began when I was performing lexical searches related to a study on Isaiah ← 3 | 4 → 40–55, and, to my surprise, found some striking parallels between these two texts. I soon found that others before me had seen these same similarities. Several questions sprang to my mind: Are the affinities between this poem and the Book of Isaiah just on a surface level, or do they go deeper, and can they also be found when comparing the poem to other texts? Are the similarities accidental, or must they be explained in terms of a compositional relationship? If the latter, what may that relationship be? And what does it tell us about the origins of the poem?

These questions led to the three underlying assumptions of this book: First, the poem in Deut 32:1–43 may not always have been the Song of Moses, as it may have existed before its insertion into Deuteronomy. Hence, I will call the poem “Give Ear,” as it may only have become “the Song of Moses” from the moment of its Deuteronomic insertion. Second, Give Ear is related to other texts on the level of composition; that is, profound, extensive and unique similarities are not accidental or merely in the reader’s mind, but must be explained in terms of how the texts came to be. Third, if we can determine what this relationship is, then we can also know something about this poem’s origins. Thus, the origins of Give Ear and its relationship to other texts are two intertwined and inseparable aspects of the same question.

Now, I am by no means the first person to hold this view. As Chapter Four shows, there is a solid tradition for linking diachronic relationships between texts with the dating of these texts, despite the many pitfalls involved in the process. Identifying similarities to other texts is also a favored way to date Give Ear, as Chapter Two demonstrates. My research question, too, is the inseparable duality of: What is the compositional relationship of Give Ear to other texts, and what are its origins? It is an old question (or two), so why bother with yet another wrestle to answer it? Because in my quest, I use new tools, new theories, new knowledge, and combine micro- and macro-perspectives in new ways. This is how:

Having dealt with preliminary matters in Part One of the book, Part Two analyzes what similarities and dissimilarities Give Ear has to other texts, using these data to arrive at a probable date of its origins. This is by far the longest part of the book, due to the necessary consideration of textual details. Most scholars who do this delimit their analysis to only a few verses of Give Ear, or else they treat each verse separately from all the others. This is very useful on a micro-level, and I do the same. However, I also do what only a minority does: I not only look for similarities in individual verses, but look at Give Ear in its entirety, on a macro-level; that is, I am looking not for the odd affinity ← 4 | 5 → here and there, but for patterns. And the patterns I look for are not just those of similarities, but I also consider dissimilarities, since they may tell us just as much as similarities do. The combination of micro- and macro-perspectives gives a fuller picture than each one on its own. On the one hand, any random verse could, in theory, contain affinities to all sorts of texts, while, on the other hand, the poem as a whole may give an impression of being similar to certain texts when, perhaps, the impression is built on a vague superficiality. However, the combination of the two perspectives rules out random similarities while ensuring a solid foundation for identifying patterns. It is the larger picture that matters; but that picture is made up of tiny pixels.

Also unlike many scholars, I compare several aspects, not just one or two, of the texts involved, again looking for patterns. First I analyze similes and metaphors, comparing those of Give Ear to metaphors and similes used throughout the Hebrew Bible, but also to non-biblical texts, analyzing to what extent similarities are apparent or not, considering also dissimilarities, function and the like. Next, I analyze what is commonly regarded as the strongest evidence in discussions on textual relationships: lexemes and phrases. Aided by digital tools, I compare the lexemes and phrases in each verse of Give Ear with all other texts preserved in the Hebrew Bible. To avoid superficial affinities, I also consider how the lexemes and phrases are used. I then switch method somewhat, as the next chapter discusses matters which cannot be used to argue for a certain compositional relationship, though they could be used as arguments against such relationships. These matters are linguistic features, forms, themes and other biblical parallels.

Chapter Eight functions as a bridge between Part Two and Part Three. This chapter considers the results of the preceding analyses, focusing on which theory concerning the origins of Give Ear best fits the findings. I argue for a close relationship par excellence to the Persian period edition of the Book of Isaiah, and thereby for a Persian period dating of Give Ear.

Part Three continues to deal with the question of Give Ear’s origins and its relationship to other texts, but from a different perspective, which is also more speculative. While Part Two looks at origins as a question of when by looking at what is similar and dissimilar, Part Three explores origins as the questions of why (i.e. what function) and who. A study into the origins of Give Ear would be incomplete if it did not discuss why the poem was redacted into its present textual context and what its function was both before and after its insertion. Likewise, the question of who actually composed it cannot be ignored. In discussing these matters, Part Three tries to answer the research ← 5 | 6 → question in the opposite direction from Part Two, by using the date of the origins as a starting point, and then look even more closely at the poem’s relationship to the Book of Isaiah as well as its present position in Deuteronomy. It thus presupposes the results and explanations reached in Part Two (affinity to the Book of Isaiah, Persian period), and explores these further by engaging new theories and insights from a variety of areas. The functions of both Deuteronomy and the Book of Isaiah are discussed from the perspective of social memory and social identity formation against the tapestry of how many scholars reconstruct Yehud. I then apply memory and identity-theory to Give Ear, something which has not been done before. These theories, which both work on a macro-level, explain the poem’s function within Deuteronomy, but also its dysfunction within the same book, the latter pointing to its relationship to the Book of Isaiah as a key to who composed it. The perspective of textual production is central to the discussion, for while other scholars writing on the origins of Give Ear have tended to assume—explicitly or implicitly—the existence of individual authors, I consider the origins and the textual relationships in light of newer insights on scribes working together. This view on scribal production radically changes the framework within which we must see the origins of Give Ear (or any text) and its textual relationships. Having journeyed along this long path, the book reaches its goal in the conclusion, answering: What is the compositional relationship of Give Ear to other texts, and what are its origins?

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· 2 ·



Give Ear (Deut 32:1–43) is arguably among the most studied texts in the Pentateuch, and a survey of its history of research is bound to be limited to those aspects that are to the fore of my own study. In this chapter, the focus will be on the origins of Give Ear and its relationship to other literature.1 The discussion in Chapter Eight includes critical remarks to some of the views summarized in the present chapter.

The Origins of Give Ear

The Debate: Beginnings and Complexities

To my knowledge, Kamphausen was the first to refute Mosaic authorship of Deut 32:1–43, placing it in the 8th century.2 Although new arguments have kept appearing since then, some of the criteria used go all the way back to Kamphausen.3 The debate is complex, as evidenced by two scholars changing ← 7 | 8 → their minds: Eissfeldt first dated the poem to the Persian period (1934), but was later convinced that it must be from the 11th century BCE (1958), while Sellin changed his mind in the opposite direction.4 A closer look at Sellin’s engagement serves as an example of the discussion.

In 1912, Cornill wrote a response to Sellin’s Einleitung (1910), in which Sellin had argued for an early date of Deut 32:1–43.5 Against this, Cornill claims that Deut 32:1–43 is independent of its framework, to which it does not fit.6 Based on the poem’s function, linguistic features and reminiscence to other texts, he dated it to the Babylonian exile.

In 1913, Sellin published a response to Cornill’s Zur Einleitung, in which he upholds the early date.7 Sellin claims that the text must be pre-Hosean because it does not mention the exile; the historical allusions must be identified to the Syrian war. Cornill’s linguistic proofs are found unconvincing by Sellin; firstly, Sellin points out, Cornill forgets that there is a difference between prose and poetry; secondly, we can only date a text on account of other dated material, and thirdly, we only have a small amount of what was once the Israelite literature. In the second edition of his Einleitung, Sellin upholds his view, but ten years later, an interesting change has happened.8 As before, Sellin argues that Deut 32:1–43 cannot come from the Babylonian period.9 His arguments are primarily twofold: Firstly, Deut 32:23–25 refer to the seven plagues, and not to the exile, which is not mentioned anywhere in the poem. Secondly, the enemy portrayed cannot be the Babylonians. This latter is because Babylonians elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures are as a fast, terrible and frightening people, representing the mighty world-power Babylon; a view that cannot be reconciled with the “no-people” mentioned in Deut 32:21. However, rather than upholding a date prior to the exile, Sellin now proposes a date later than the exile, in the Persian period. He argues that the “no-people” are Samaritans in the widest sense, i.e. all the Canaanite peoples that confronted the Jews of the early postexilic period. That this is so, is proved by the parallels to the “no-people” in Sir 50:25–26 and the gloss of Isa 7:8b, both texts referring to the inhabitants of northern Israel after its fall to Assyria. The idea is also found in Ezra 9–10; Neh 9–10 where the inhabitants are simply called עַמֵּי הָאֲרָצת, i.e. it is not a real people. Another proof is that “Sodom” and “Gomorrah” (Deut 32:32) refer to the postexilic Jewish enemies Sanballat and Tobia in Neh 2:10, who, as a Moabite and an Ammonite descend from Sodom. Furthermore, the fullness of the description of the enemies fit the early postexilic situation of Jews in conflict with their neighbors; the enemy is the same as that in Zech 8:10; Isa 59:18; Neh 4:5.8. Finally, ← 8 | 9 → Sellin laments that other scholars have used the poem’s similarities to Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah to date its composition, when in fact it is much closer to Trito-Isaiah. In Rost’s 1949-edition of Sellin’s Einleitung the poem in Deut 32:1–43 is explicitly attributed to a disciple of Third Isaiah around 500 BCE.10

In Sellin’s debate with Cornill we find many of the criteria used later in the debate—linguistic arguments, historical allusions, redaction and literary context, form and content, and similarities to other literature. At the same time, it exemplifies how the same criteria are used to draw opposite conclusions—a phenomenon that we see repeated to this day.


Until recently, linguistic arguments have played an important role in the dating of Give Ear. There is consensus that the Hebrew of Give Ear is a mix of predominantly early and some late grammar, orthography and vocabulary; however, there has been no agreement on how to explain this peculiar phenomenon, as we see from the Cornill/Sellin-debate. In the latter half of the last century, scholars tended to be rather ambivalent in their conclusions. In 1972, Robertson published Linguistic Evidence in Dating Early Hebrew Poetry.11 The book attempts to establish the difference between early poetic Hebrew (prior to the 8th century BCE) and standard poetic Hebrew (after the 8th century), and argues that Deut 32:1–43 must be either from a transitional period, or else be a late poem containing archaizing elements.12 Both Nigosian, who rests heavily on Robertson, and Sanders support this ambivalent view, though they favor a preexilic date.13 Other scholars include Albright, who preferred the 10th century; and Hidal and Mayes, who both argued for archaizing with a date in the 6th or 5th century.14 In more recent years, Thiessen has explained the mix by arguing that Deut 32:1–43 was a liturgical composition that was passed down orally from an early stage to a later, allowing for changes in the process.15 At the same time, Robertson’s method has been met with severe criticism, amongst others from Vern and Kim, questioning at all the possibilities of dating on linguistic grounds.16 We shall visit their arguments in Chapter Seven.

Historical Allusions

Allusions to historical events have been invoked to date Give Ear, however, such allusions are vague. This is exemplified by the attempts to identify the ← 9 | 10 → inimical “no-people” mentioned in Deut 32:21. Proposals of their identification range from the Philistines (Eissfeldt), via the Canaanites (Cassuto), nomads such as Midianites, Amalekites and Kedemites (Tigay), the population of the Northern kingdom Israel at the time of Hezekiah (Boston), or Assyrians (Kamphausen; cf. Nigosian), Assyrians and/or Babylonians (Mowinckel), Babylonians (Cornill, Alday), to Samaritans (Sellin).17 Even if an identification had been possible, Wright’s criticism from 1962 is still valid: Even if the “no-people” were to be, say, the Philistines, that does not imply that the text comes from a Philistine period.18 However, the text probably does mirror something of its own historical context, but proposals are as plentiful as those of the “no-people’s” identification, due to the poem’s vagueness. Thiessen argues that this is intentional; according to him,

any attempt to determine the historical context that occasioned the Song is wrongheaded from the start. […] The language is purposefully vague and the enemy intentionally faceless. The author’s goal was not to describe a particular historical situation but to compose a liturgical work that would not quickly become obsolete.19


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (June)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XII, 274 pp.

Biographical notes

Tina Dykesteen Nilsen (Author)

Tina Dykesteen Nilsen is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at VID Specialized University, Stavanger. She earned her Ph.D. from the School of Mission and Theology (now VID). She holds the Licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and has studied in Dublin and Jerusalem.


Title: The Origins of Deuteronomy 32