Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Ancients, particularly the priests, ver. 9. (Haydock) — These exhorted the people to observe diligently, what they had all heard from the mouth of Moses, chap. v. i. (Calmet)
Ver. 2. Stones. The Latin translation of the Samaritan copy, defines the number to be two, (Exodus xx. 18,) and shews that the law, which was to be written upon them, was no other than the decalogue, to which the curses and blessings here recorded have a direct reference. When no number is specified, the dual is commonly understood. (Haydock) (Leviticus xii. 5, &c.) — Two large stones would be sufficient to contain the words of the decalogue, and they would more strikingly represent the two tables written with the finger of God. They were probably first polished, and the letters raised upon them in relievo, as the Arabic marbles in the University of Oxford are done. The white plaster being then used to fill up the interstices between the letters of black marble, the words would appear very plainly. (Kennicott, Dis. 2.) — Others think that a high and durable monument was raised both for an altar and for the inscription, though some would allow four others for this purpose. (Calmet) — Plaster. The Hebrew does not specify all over; and Houbigant supposes, that the cement was only used to join the stones together. Neither do the Hebrew or Septuagint intimate that the plaster was laid on for the purpose of writing more easily.
Ver. 3. That, &c. Hebrew and Septuagint, “And thou shalt write upon them (stones) all the words of,” &c. (Haydock) — This law, the decalogue, (Masius in Josue viii. 32,) or all the laws of Moses, leaving out the historical parts of his work, or the 20th and three following chapters of Exodus, or the discourses of Moses in this book, &c. Josue, in effect, wrote upon stones the Deuteronomy of the law of Moses, which Josephus explains of the curses and blessings inscribed upon the two sides of the monument, as an abridgment of the whole law. (Calmet) — The Jordan is not in Hebrew expressly, but in the Septuagint. After the Israelites had crossed this river, they were thus to make a solemn profession of their adherence to the law of God, (Haydock) as they did (ver. 12,) after they had taken Hai; though Josephus insinuates, that they deferred for five years the accomplishment of what is here required. (Tirinus)
Ver. 4. Hebal. It affords a matter of surprise to Ludolf, that this barren mountain of cursing, (ver. 13,) should be fixed upon by God, for the erection of his altar and for solemn feasting, instead of Garizim, which is most luxuriant. Reland believes that their very names designate sterility and fruitfulness. But we must observe that the Samaritan copy, both here and Exodus xx., specifies that Garizim was to be the place so highly distinguished. Almost all interpreters agree in condemning the Samaritans of a wilful corruption of their text, on this account. But Kennicott adduces several very plausible arguments in their defence, and even throws the blame upon the Jews, who are accused of having taken similar liberties with their text, by St. Jerome, (Galatians iii. 10,) in leaving out the word col, all, which he found in the Samaritan Pentateuch, (ver. 26,) as well as in St. Paul. It is remarkable that the Protestant “version allows the corruption of the present Hebrew copies. For as it inserts other necessary words elsewhere, so here, says the Doctor, it inserts the word all, noting it with a different character, as deficient in the present Hebrew.” Another plain instance of fraud is acknowledged by many of the Jews, (Judges xviii. 30,) where, because the grandson of their lawgiver became the first priest of Michas’ idol, in the tribe of Dan, they have inserted an n over or in the name of Moses, to change it into Manasseh. “The letter nun was written, says Jarchi, in order to change the name for the honour of Moses.” (Talmud, fol. 109.) Michaelis adduces the same reason from Abendana, (Gottingen, comment. 4, 1753) thus acknowledging a wilful corruption made by the Jews, which in the former volume he had asserted had never yet been clearly proved against them. Kennicott himself had once been of the same persuasion. Josue xv. 60, eleven cities are omitted, perhaps originally by mistake, though St. Jerome thinks that they may have been left out by the ancient Jews, because Bethlehem Ephrata is there described as in the tribe of Juda, agreeably to the prophecy of Micheas v. 2. It seems, therefore, that the Jews were as capable of falsifying the text as the Samaritans. Their hatred against the latter was also excessive, insomuch that they vented all sorts of imprecations against them, and even decreed, “that no Israelite eat of any thing that is a Samaritan’s, nor that nay Samaritan be proselyted to Israel, nor have nay part in the resurrection.” (R. Tanchum.) (Walton, proleg. 11. 4.) — Hence we read, (John iv. 9,) the Jews do not communicate with the Samaritans. See Ecclesiasticus 1. 25.[l. 28.?] Many passages of the New Testament set the character of the latter, however, in a more favourable light than that of the Jews. They were open to conviction, on the preaching of Christ and of the apostles. See St. Chrysostom on John iv., and the history of the Samaritan cured of the leprosy, whose behaviour, contrasted with the ingratitude of the nine Jews, obtained the glorious approbation of the Son of God, who disdained not to describe himself, on another occasion, under the character of the good Samaritan, Luke x., and xvii. The Samaritans are also acknowledged by the Jews themselves, to be more zealous for the law of Moses, and more rigid observers of the letter of it, than the people of their own nation. (Obadias; Hottinger.) — It is not probable, therefore, that they would designedly interpolate that very law, which alone they received as of divine authority among the writings of the prophets. Besides, what interest could they have on this occasion to substitute Garizim? As they had possession of both the mountains in question, if they had known that Hebal had been honoured with the altar, &c., what hindered them from building their temple upon it? What could be the reason why Joatham chose Mount Garizim as the place from which he might address the men of Sichem, to bring them to a sense of their duty? unless because he was convinced not only that Abraham had sacrificed there when he first came into Chanaan, (Genesis xii. 6,) but also that God had chosen it for the place where his covenant with Israel should be ratified, as soon as the Israelites had taken possession of the country. But it may be said all the ancient versions agree with the Hebrew. No doubt those which have been taken from that text agree with it. But the Samaritans have a version in their own dialect, and another in Arabic, both which were in the possession of Walton, who believes that the former “was made not long after the days of Esdras, while the Samaritans and the Jews followed the same religion.” This, as well as the Arabic, which is extant in this place, both in its own and in the Samaritan character, all admit the word Garizim; and the Greek version, which some believe was made from the same text soon after the reign of Alexander the Great, (Hottinger) if it really ever existed, must no doubt have retained the same reading. These versions claim a higher antiquity than that of the Septuagint. But in reality the versions can prove nothing on either side, in the present case, as the interpolation is supposed to have taken place before they were made, and soon after the building of the famous temple of Sanaballat, which Prideaux places about the year 409, B.C. This temple chiefly enkindled the mortal hatred of the Jews against the Samaritans; and as it was built upon Mount Garizim, they were afraid lest they might from this text conciliate greater authority to that place, and assert that it was the house of the sanctuary, as they afterwards did, having priests of the stock of Aaron, who there offered holocausts, when Benjamin visited them above 400 years ago. Their claim however was unjustifiable, and their priesthood schismatical. Though Moses commanded that an altar should be erected on one of these mountains, he did not determine that the ark was to remain there for ever, nor does he seem to have decided where it was to be fixed. God afterwards chose Mount Sion for his habitation, and revealed his will by his prophets. These the Samaritans ought to have obeyed, as well as the pastors, whom the Almighty had commissioned to determine all difficult matters, chap. xvii. The text before us decides nothing in their favour. The substitution of Hebal makes nothing against them, much less does it establish the pretensions of the Jews, who, if they had intended to authorize the building of the temple at Jerusalem, ought rather, it should seem, to have written Moria or Sion. As they have not done this, perhaps it may be as well to admit that this variation may have originally happened, by the inadvertency or malice of some transcriber of great authority, whose copy being followed by others for some time, without any criminal design, might at last supersede the proper word, particularly when the erroneous reading was become common, and was found to annoy an enemy. Authors of great eminence are forced, at least, to account for many variations of equal importance in this manner. It seems difficult to lay the blame of such mistakes upon a whole nation, which can never be prevailed upon to join in the collusion so heartily, but that some man of more conscience than the rest will expose the imposture. When this variation took place, we may well suppose that the copies of the law were not very numerous. After a succession of wicked princes had reigned in Judea, they drew down the vengeance of God upon the whole nation, and almost all were led away captives to Babylon, where they remained seventy years. In this state of confusion, while impiety overflowed the land, how few would have an opportunity or a will to take an exact copy of the law! Some have thought that it was almost entirely forgotten in the days of Joas. Others have asserted that Esdras had to write afresh, as it were by inspiration, all that had been given by the more ancient sacred penmen. These opinions are not indeed to be admitted, but they shew that many have supposed that the copies of the law were once exceedingly scarce. Perhaps they were never more so than when the Jews were just returning from captivity, the time when the schismatical temple of Garizim was erected, and when, we have before observed, this variation is supposed to have taken place. Josephus, though a bitter enemy of the Samaritans, speaks with hesitation respecting the precise situation of the altar prescribed by Moses. The ancient Fathers seem to have taken no notice of this controversy, perhaps because it was not yet agitated with so much heat as it has been since. Our Saviour condemns neither party. If however the Samaritan copy be in this respect interpolated, as we know the reason of it, the authority of the whole Pentateuch must not on that account be rejected, as Houbigant well observes. The Jews objected to the Samaritans, that they had inserted the word Sichem: (chap. xi. 30,) “I have said to you, O Samaritans, ye have falsified your law: for ye say the plain of More which is Sichem. [they add Sichem of their own accord.] We ourselves indeed confess that the plain of Moreh is Sichem.” (Eliezer.) — Lightfoot, who mentions these words, (V. ii. p. 505,) expresses great surprise at this Jew’s accusing the Samaritans of so slight a matter, and at his not at all mentioning that far greater subornation as to Mount Garizim. What seems still more wonderful is, that no such accusation is brought against them in that famous dispute which Josephus ([Antiquities?] xiii. 3,) informs us took place before king Ptolemy, in which the parties bound themselves by oath to produce their proofs according to the law; and yet the historian mentions not one text from it, nor does he insinuate that the Samaritans were arraigned on account of any wilful corruption, which might then have been so easily proved. The king condemned them unheard, if we believe Josephus, though the Samaritans give quite a different account, and say that Ptolemy decreed the victory to them. (Act. Erud. Lips. 1691.) See Josue viii. 30. (Kennicott) (Haydock)
Ver. 5. Stones: the same as those which composed the monument, (Calmet) or rather different from them, (Menochius) as those were polished, ver. 2.
Ver. 6. Polished. Hebrew simply, “of whole stones.”
Ver. 8. And clearly. Hebrew, “very plainly;” (Haydock) so that they might be easily read. Some Rabbins say that Josue wrote them in 70 different languages, that all nations might read them. Happy expedient! (Calmet)
Ver. 12. Garizim. The children of Jacob, by Lia and Rachel, have the more honourable function of blessing, while those of the handmaids, with Ruben and Zabulon, the first and the last sons of Lia, at their head, on Hebal, have to answer to the various curses which were to be proclaimed by the priests and Levites, ver. 14. These were stationed with the ark, between the two mountains; and when they pronounced, for example, “Blessed is he that maketh not a graven or molten thing,” &c., those on Garizim answered Amen; and when they turned towards those on Hebal, and said, Cursed, &c., they replied in like manner. In the mean time, the body of the Levites might be with the other five tribes on Mount Garizim, though the priests, and those of greater dignity, might remain beside the ark, to perform this sacred function; as we read in Josue that they were stationed between the two divisions of the army. (Bonfrere) — Some think that Levi is placed with the rest only according to the order of his birth, and that Joseph stands for two tribes. (Vatable) — Josephus asserts, that the whole army was divided into two parts, as well as the tribe of Levi, part of which stood on each of the mountains. Then the tribes on Garizim prayed that God would bless the observers of his law; and those on Hebal answered, Amen; and after they had repeated the same blessings, those on Garizim made a similar acclamation. In like manner, they repeated the curses one after another. (Calmet) — But this would make both the mountains equal in dignity. He places the altar likewise, with the inscription of blessings and curses on each side of it, in the midst of the valley, or rather nearer to Garizim; as he says it was not far from Sichem, which was built at the foot of that mountain, on the north side, while Hebal lay still farther to the north of the city, and being scorched with the sun-beams, was rendered fruitless and unpleasant. (Haydock) — If Josephus afterwards (Antiquities v. 1,) say that the altar was on Hebal, we must either acknowledge that his work has been there interpolated, or that he contradicts himself. Kennicott also takes notice of a strange mistake in the grand edition of St. Ephrem, in the Latin translation, by Benedict; which, in opposition to the Syriac, has (ver. 13,) “these shall rise to curse on Mount Garizim,” though Hebal is universally allowed to be the mount of cursing.
Ver. 14. Pronounce. Hebrew, “answer,” as the older Protestant editions, 1540, &c., had it; though “our last translators, 1613, says Kennicott, in this, as in several other instances, altered for the worse,” shall speak. A select company of Levites in the valley, repeated what had been declared from Hebal.
Ver. 15. Thing. Protestants, any….image. They insert the word any, and translate image, as they almost constantly do where idols are meant, to make the ignorant believe, that all images are to be rejected with the utmost abhorrence, as cursed things. Why then do they not observe the injunction themselves? (Chap. xvi. 22.) (Haydock) — Secret. The magistrates had to punish all acts of public idolatry with the utmost severity. But God will not suffer those to escape who do such things even in the most private manner. — Amen, truly; (Calmet) so be it.
Ver. 16. Honoureth not. Hebrew, “curseth.” Septuagint, “despiseth.” See Leviticus xx. 9. — “Exodus xxi. 17., Moses proclaimed, He that curseth his father or (Hebrew and) mother, shall die the death.” But here he goes still farther, and denounces a curse on those who make light of (Hebrew makle, vilipendit) their parents; or, as Denis the Carthusian expresses it not amiss, on him “who does not honour, by shewing them obedience in due time, or by not relieving their wants as far as possible; and chiefly, if instead of honouring, he curses and uses opprobrious language towards them.” “I have made this remark, says Amama, (p. 376,) in order to admonish the Germans and the Dutch that this passage has been translated by Luther with too great carelessness, curseth, as if the same Hebrew word, kalal, were here used as in the text of Exodus. But those who are not too brazen, will confess that the Hebrew text, and the more accurate versions, require greater reverence to be shewn to parents. Etiam illi judicabunt qui nondum ære lavantur.” This author, in his animadversions upon the Vulgate, often takes occasion to mention the blunders “of B. Luther,” as well as of the Septuagint and other interpreters; for he seems to be satisfied with no version which has hitherto been published. (Haydock)
Ver. 17. Landmarks, contrary to the prohibition, chap. xix. 14. The Rabbins say that Cain first adopted such distinctions. The ancient Greeks placed little pillars at the end of their fields, with the name of the owner engraven upon them. (Pollux, iii. 9.) — All Thrace was divided in this manner. (Xenophon, Anab.)
Ver. 18. Blind; or, according to the Rabbins and Grotius, those who are on a journey, and do not know the road. “Cursed, said Diphilis, is the man who does not tell the right road.” Those who lead the simple astray, are no less blameable, Leviticus xix. 14. (Calmet)
Ver. 23. Mother. Some copies of the Septuagint have “daughter-in-law;” and some Latin manuscripts add, “Cursed is he who sleepeth with his neighbour’s wife; and all the people shall say, Amen.” (Calmet)
Ver. 24. Secretly, as is commonly the case; though such as committed murder in public, were equally if not more guilty. (Haydock) — Assassins, traitors, and those guilty of calumny, &c., are to be abhorred.
Ver. 26. In the. The Samaritan, Septuagint, and St. Paul (Galatians iii. 10,) read, in all the words, &c., which must probably be understood of the principal points of the law, specified in the preceding verses. (Calmet) See ver. 4. — The Jews could derive no advantage from the omission of the word all, as the general proposition would be equivalent. (Capellus.) — Some are of opinion, that the blessings which Moses ordered to be proclaimed, were the reverse of these curses, ver. 12. But, is that man truly blessed who observes one point of the law, while he perhaps is transgressing the rest? At this rate, the same man might be blessed and cursed at the same time. (Kennicott) — They are more probably, therefore, expressed in the following chapter, where the observance of all the commandments is previously required. The curses are denounced indefinitely, to imply that those who transgress the law, must stand before an unerring Judge, to receive an adequate punishment in eternity for their crying sins against the law, which was given on Mount Horeb, chap. xxix. 1. Against such criminals the preceding curses are levelled. But those recorded in the ensuing chapter, are of a temporary nature, and to be publicly inflicted without delay upon those who refuse to adhere to the service of the Lord. “God had made such a covenant with the Israelites, says Houbigant, that he would so long uphold their republic as they should worship the true God.” (Haydock) — The foregoing curses may thus refer to the ten commandments; ver. 15, denounces vengeance against all who transgress the first table of the law, which relates to God; ver. 16, sanctions the honour due to parents; ver. 18, 24, and 25, condemn those who injure or kill; as ver. 20, 21, 22, and 23, do those who are guilty of impurity; ver. 17, curseth those who steal; and ver. 19, those who bear false witness; ver. 26, is intended as a general sanction of the law, as the two last commandments secure the observance of it most effectually, by forbidding even the thought or desire of doing evil. See Kennicott, Dis. ii. p. 86. (Haydock)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The commandments must be written on stones: and an altar erected, and sacrifices offered. The observers of the commandments are to be blessed, and the transgressors cursed.
1 And Moses, *with the ancients of Israel, commanded the people, saying: Keep every commandment that I command you this day.
2 And when you are passed over the Jordan into the land which the Lord thy God will give thee, thou shalt set up great stones, and shalt plaster them over with plaster,
3 That thou mayst write on them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over the Jordan: that thou mayst enter into the land which the Lord thy God will give thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, as he swore to thy fathers.
4 Therefore when you are passed over the Jordan, set up the stones which I command you this day in Mount Hebal, and thou shalt plaster them with plaster:
5 And thou shalt build there an altar to the Lord thy God, *of stones which iron hath not touched,
6 And of stones not fashioned nor polished: and thou shalt offer upon it holocausts to the Lord thy God.
7 And shalt immolate peace-victims, and eat there, and feast before the Lord thy God.
8 And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law plainly and clearly.
9 And Moses, and the priests of the race of Levi, said to all Israel: Attend, and hear, O Israel: This day thou art made the people of the Lord thy God:
10 Thou shalt hear his voice, and do the commandments and justices which I command thee.
11 And Moses commanded the people in that day, saying:
12 These shall stand upon Mount Garizim to bless the people, when you are passed the Jordan: Simeon, Levi, Juda, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin.
13 And over-against them shall stand on Mount Hebal to curse: Ruben, Gad, and Aser, and Zabulon, Dan, and Nephtali[Nephthali?].
14 *And the Levites shall pronounce, and say to all the men of Israel, with a loud voice:
15 Cursed be the man that maketh a graven and molten thing, the abomination of the Lord, the work of the hands of artificers, and shall put it in a secret place: and all the people shall answer, and say: Amen.
16 Cursed be he that honoureth not his father and mother: and all the people shall say: Amen.
17 Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s landmarks: and all the people shall say: Amen.
18 Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of his way: and all the people shall say: Amen.
19 Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, of the fatherless, and the widow: and all the people shall say: Amen.
20 Cursed be he that lieth with his father’s wife, and uncovereth his bed: and all the people shall say: Amen.
21 Cursed be he that lieth with any beast: and all the people shall say: Amen.
22 Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or of his mother: and all the people shall say: Amen.
23 Cursed be he that lieth with his mother-in-law: and all the people shall say: Amen.
24 Cursed be he that secretly killeth his neighbour: and all the people shall say: Amen.
25 Cursed be he that taketh gifts, to slay an innocent person: and all the people shall say: Amen.
26 Cursed be he that abideth not in the words of this law, and fulfilleth them not in work: and all the people shall say: Amen.
1: Year of the World 2553.
5: Exodus xx. 25.; Josue viii. 31.
14: Daniel ix. 11.