Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Whoops! Moment for Sefer Devarim

Let's try to examine the narrative perspective of the text of Devarim.

While tradition claims that Sefer Devarim is supposed to be said by Moshe (as opposed to the other books), we can easily find some issues with this claim. The text of Devarim is not really in the 1st person, as we would expect a personal perspective by Moshe to be. We
find that there are several units of text: 1:1 to 4:41 is one speech (in 1st person), introduced in the 3rd person ("And Moshe said..."). 4:41 to 4:49 seems like an extra addition. 5:1 to 26:16 is another Moshe speech in 1st person, introduced initially in 3rd person, that takes up most of the book. 27 contains several 3rd person accounts that seem much like stuff from the rest of the Torah, continuing through to the end of 28. 29-30 contains yet another speech with the same pattern. 31 is again 3rd person like the rest of the Chumash. 32 is Haazinu, 33 is the Brachot, and 34 is more narrative in 3rd person.

One question that comes up is -- who is the narrator? If the narrator of the rest of the Chumash was G-d (let's just assume that for the moment), who narrated Moshe's speeches and other miscellaneous tidbits in the book of Devarim? It's unlikely that Moshe, who wrote his speeches in 1st person, would then proceed to describe himself delivering them in the 3rd person.

We also have the classic issue of who wrote the last chapter of Devarim? How could Moshe know nobody would know his resting place? And would Moshe, the humblest of men, have written about himself that "there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face"?

But these aren't the biggest issues.

Within his speeches themselves, Moshe does a pretty good job differentiating between himself (1st person) and G-d, who is referred to in 3rd person. Except for one main place: the 2nd paragraph of the Shema (Devarim 11:13-21).

The first thing to notice is that there is no break in the flow. The previous stanzas simply have Moshe talking as usual (for Devarim), talking about G-d in 3rd person and himself in 1st person.

However, in verse 13, Moshe refers to the Mitzvot as "Mitzvotai", my commandments, which is very unusual. Moshe might tell B"Y to keep the commandments which he communicated to them (as happens a couple of verses earlier) but never does he say the Mitzvot are HIS. The Mitzvot are always termed "G-d's commandments", since they belong to Him. Only G-d says "My Commandments". (You can check in other places).

The bigger problem is with 14-15, where Moshe says that HE will give rain to our land, and that HE will give crop to our animals so that we may eat and be satiated. Since when does Moshe have such powers?

Then, in verse 18, "and you shall put these words of mine on your hearts and on your soul" apparently refers to Moshe's words, not G-d's. Apparently the words we're meant to study are Moshe's rather than G-d's.

What is happening here? The other verses can be kvetched with some effort, but 14-15 in particular show that this passage was not supposed to be spoken by Moshe.

My opinion? The author of D either messed up here, or someone edited the document and put in this piece without realizing the major issue that was created. It's funny how we've all been saying this specific paragraph for ages, never realizing the problem within. Vekal Lehavin.