Translation commentary on Deuteronomy 1:4

Verse 4 in Hebrew continues without a break from verse 3, but in many languages it is better to make a break, as Good News Translation does (also New Revised Standard Version). “This was after…,” or we may say “He spoke to the people after….”

He had defeated: the Hebrew text is ambiguous, since the pronominal suffix “he” can mean either Moses or Yahweh. Revised English Bible keeps the ambiguity by using the passive construction “after the defeat of…”; this, however, is not recommended. Good News Translation has “the LORD,” while Contemporary English Version, Bible en français courant, Nova Tradução na Linguagem de Hoje, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, and Spanish common language version (Biblia Dios Habla Hoy) have “Moses,” which is the preferred interpretation and recommended for translators. This does not mean that Moses single-handedly defeated Sihon; it means that the Israelites, commanded by Moses, defeated the Amorites commanded by Sihon. It is a fairly common thing to credit victory (and defeat) to the commander of the fighting troops.

For the defeat of Sihon the king of the Amorites, see Num 21.21-32. These Amorites were the people living in the hill country east of the Jordan (see Num 13.29). Amorites will be expressed in some languages as “people of Amor.” King in certain languages will be rendered as “high [or, great] chief” or just “the great one.” So Sihon the king of the Amorites may also be expressed as “Sihon, the great chief in the town of Heshbon, who ruled over the people of Amor.”

Heshbon was a town some fifteen kilometers (nine miles) east of the northern tip of the Dead Sea. Bashan was the region to the northeast of Lake Galilee. For the location of the towns of Ashtaroth and Edrei, see map, page xii.

Who lived … who lived: since the verbs have a king as subject, in both cases the verb may be rendered “who ruled” (Good News Translation, Revised English Bible; New Revised Standard Version “reigned”). The Hebrew text says that Og had “lived [or, ruled] in Ashtaroth in Edrei”; the Greek translation, the Septuagint, has “in Ashtaroth and in Edrei.” Taking its clue from the account in Num 21.33-35 (see also Deut 3.1), which reports the defeat of Og in Edrei (verse 33), Revised English Bible, Bible en français courant, and others connect “in Edrei” with the verb “he defeated” and translate “defeated Og … (who lived in Ashtaroth) in Edrei.” This is possible, but most, like Good News Translation, New Revised Standard Version, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch, New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh, New Jerusalem Bible, translate “lived [or, ruled] in Ashtaroth and Edrei” (see Josh 12.4; 13.12, 31). Biblia Dios Habla Hoy takes Ashtaroth to be a town and Edrei a region, but this does not seem very likely. It is recommended that the translation say “who ruled in the towns of Ashtaroth and Edrei” or “who ruled over the people in the towns of…,” and the first part of the verse may be alternatively expressed as “He [Moses] spoke to the people after he had defeated Sihon, who….”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on Deuteronomy. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2000. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

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