Editorial Comments in the Opening Chapters of Deuteronomy
Commenting on the introductory verses of Deuteronomy, Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089, Spain – 1164, England) writes:
ואם תבין סוד [השנים] עשר, גם ויכתוב משה (דברים לא, כב), והכנעני אז בארץ (ברא’ יב, ו), בהר ד’ יראה (שם כב, יד), והנה ערשו ערש ברזל, (דברים ג, יא) תכיר האמת
If you understand the secret of the twelve—as well as “and Moses wrote” (Deut. 31:9), “and the Canaanites were then in the land” (Gen. 12:6), “on the mountain God will appear” (Gen. 22:14), “here is his iron bed” (Deut. 3:11) – you will recognize the truth.
The “secret of the twelve” is an oblique reference to his (Ibn Ezra’s) opinion that the last twelve verses of the Torah were not written by Moses but by Joshua, because they speak about Moses’ death and the mourning of the Israelites. What Ibn Ezra means here is that the last twelve verses of the Torah are only an example of a broader phenomenon of late editorial comments in the Torah.
I knew this Ibn Ezra since high school but I never really digested the point until I went for my M.A. in biblical history at Hebrew University, which I received in 2002. In one of the classes I took with Professor Mordechai Cogan (my advisor), he was discussing the phenomenon of editorial comments in the Bible, and specifically ones that imply a late date of composition.
The parade example came from Deuteronomy 1-4. Weeks later (it took some time to digest), I read through this section of the Torah with fresh eyes and the phenomenon hit me like a ton of bricks. I can remember having gone to my friends’ house for Shabbat dinner—my wife and daughter were in the U.S. at the time visiting her parents—and speaking for hours about this with my old havrusa/study partner and his wife. I may have inadvertently ruined their Shabbat dinner, I’m not sure, but I was distracted.
I would like to take this opportunity to illustrate the phenomenon here, using the opening speech of Deuteronomy as the classic example. 
1. The “Other Side” of the Jordan—The opening speech is framed by editorial comments (1:1-5, 4:44-49) about where Israel was during the wilderness experience and where Moses delivered the speech. The reason IbnEzra lists this as late editorial is not only because of the third person narrator’s voice in a speech that is all first person, but also because of the term used to refer to where the Israelites were standing—the Transjordan, i.e. the “other side” of the Jordan. If the Israelites were on the other side of the Jordan, where is the author of the verse standing when it was written?
The other examples we will look at—these are not all the examples, only the most interesting ones—all come in the form of parenthetical remarks in the geographical descriptions.
2. The Land Israel Took— Moses’ description of his command to the Israelites to pass by the Moabites is interrupted by a description of how the Moabites and Edomites settled. Looking at the final verse of this remark describing the latter group there is a very surprising comment:
דברים ב:יב וּבְשֵׂעִיר יָשְׁבוּ הַחֹרִים לְפָנִים וּבְנֵי עֵשָׂו יִירָשׁוּם וַיַּשְׁמִידוּם מִפְּנֵיהֶם וַיֵּשְׁבוּ תַּחְתָּם כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל לְאֶרֶץ יְרֻשָּׁתוֹ אֲשֶׁר נָתַן יְ־הוָה לָהֶם.
Deut 2:12 Moreover, the Horim had formerly inhabited Seir, but the descendants of Esau dispossessed them, destroying them and settling in their place, as Israel has done in the land that YHWH gave them as a possession.
Clearly, whoever wrote this verse did so after the settlement of the Israelites and not in the time of Moses.
3. Og’s Bed— Moses’ description of the Bashan is interrupted with a description of Og’s bed (this is the second of Ibn Ezra’s examples for this section).
דברים ג:יא כִּי רַק עוֹג מֶלֶךְ הַבָּשָׁן נִשְׁאַר מִיֶּתֶר הָרְפָאִים הִנֵּה עַרְשׂוֹ עֶרֶשׂ בַּרְזֶל הֲלֹה הִוא בְּרַבַּת בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן תֵּשַׁע אַמּוֹת אָרְכָּהּ וְאַרְבַּע אַמּוֹת רָחְבָּהּ בְּאַמַּת אִישׁ.
Deut 3:11 Now only King Og of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. In fact his bed, an iron bed, can still be seen in Rabbah of the Ammonites. By the common cubit it is nine cubits long and four cubits wide.
What bothers Ibn Ezra here are three things. First, Moses literally just killed Og weeks before. Why would Moses need to use his bed for proof when the people could have seen him or his body with their own eyes? Futhermore, why would Og’s bed be in Rabbah of the Ammonites and not in his own palace in the Bashan? Finally, if for some reason the bed was in Rabbah, how could Moses or the Israelites see it? They did not attack Ammon and the Israelites would not enter that city until the time of David (as per 2 Samuel 12:26-3).
4. “To This Very Day”—The last example we will look at (Deut. 3:14) is also part of the description of the Bashan.
דברים ג:יד יָאִיר בֶּן מְנַשֶּׁה לָקַח אֶת כָּל חֶבֶל אַרְגֹּב עַד גְּבוּל הַגְּשׁוּרִי וְהַמַּעֲכָתִי וַיִּקְרָא אֹתָם עַל שְׁמוֹ אֶת הַבָּשָׁן חַוֹּת יָאִיר עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.
Deut 3:14 Yair the Manassite acquired the whole region of Argob… and he named them– that is, Bashan– after himself, Havvoth-jair, as it is to this very day.
Yair’s conquest of an area in the Bashan is referenced schematically in Numbers 32:41. However, if this verse was written in Moses’ lifetime, why would he say that they are called Havvot Yair until this very day – it only happened weeks earlier!
Furthermore, one cannot help but notice that this account sound suspiciously similar to that of one of the judges:
שופטים י:ג וַיָּקָם אַחֲרָיו יָאִיר הַגִּלְעָדִי וַיִּשְׁפֹּט אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל עֶשְׂרִים וּשְׁתַּיִם שָׁנָה. י:ד וַיְהִי לוֹ שְׁלֹשִׁים בָּנִים רֹכְבִים עַל שְׁלֹשִׁים עֲיָרִים וּשְׁלֹשִׁים עֲיָרִים לָהֶם לָהֶם יִקְרְאוּ חַוֹּת יָאִיר עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ הַגִּלְעָד.
Judg 10:3 After him came Yair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years. 10:4 He had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys; and they had thirty towns, which are in the land of Gilead, and are called Havvoth-jair to this day.
It appears that the author of this gloss lived long after Yair the judge, but believed—like the editor of Numbers but unlike the editor of Judges—that he lived during the time of the Israelite conquest of the Bashan.
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July 11, 2013
July 8, 2020
Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is a fellow at Project TABS and editor of TheTorah.com. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures (Hebrew Bible focus) and an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period focus). In addition to academic training, Zev holds ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter 2016) and editor (with Jacob L. Wright) of Archaeology and History of Eighth Century Judah (SBL 2018).
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