Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is Not This the Carpenter?

The traditional image of Christ's profession is that of a carpenter. Through the ages this image has been featured in works of art[1], literature[2], music[3], and even film[4].
In the 1970s, Geza Vermes challenged this understanding of Christ as a carpenter.
Those familiar with the language spoken by Jesus are acquainted with a metaphorical use of 'carpenter' and 'carpenter's son' in ancient Jewish writings. In Talmudic sayings the Aramaic noun denoting carpenter or craftsman (naggar) stands for a 'scholar' or 'learned man' :
'This is something no carpenter, son of carpenters, can explain.'
'There is no carpenter, nor a carpenter's son, to explain it'
Thus, although no one can be absolutely sure that the -sayings cited in the Talmud were current already in first-century AD Galilee, proverbs such as these are likely to be age-old. If so, it is possible that the charming picture of 'Jesus the carpenter' may have to be buried and forgotten. -Geza Vermas, Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels, 21-22.

On the face of it, Geza Vermes presents a strong case. Is it though?
The talmudic passage geza Vermes refers to begins at the very end of the Balynoian Talmud, m. Avodah Zarah, 50a.
R. Joseph b. Abba said: Rabbah b. Jeremiah once visited our town. When he came he brought with him this teaching: If an idolater took stones from a Mercurius and paved roads and streets with them, they are permitted; if one of Israel took stones from a Mercurius and paved roads and streets with them, they are prohibited; and there is no carpenter nor carpenter's son who could dismantle it. R. Shesheth said: I am neither a carpenter nor a carpenter's son, yet I will dismantle it.
אמר רב יוסף בר אבא איקלע רבה בר ירמיה לאתרין ואתא ואייתי מתניתא בידיה <עובד כוכבים> {גוי} שהביא אבנים מן המרקוליס וחיפה בהן דרכים וטרטיאות
מותרות ישראל שהביא אבנים מן המרקוליס וחיפה בהן דרכים וסרטיאות אסורות ולית נגר ולא בר נגר דיפרקינה אמר רב ששת אנא לא נגר אנא ולא בר נגר אנא ופריקנא

The phrase we-leyith naggar we-la bar naggar diparkeina literally means there is no carpenter or son of a carpenter to dismantle it.
The context is of a rabbinic debate in Babylon over the propriety of a Jew taking stones from a pile dedicated to Mercury and using them in construction. If a Jew does it, the road he paved is forbidden for Jewish use, yet the same thing done by an idolater is permitted. This is said by the Amoraic rabbis to be such a difficult question that there is no carpenter or son of a carpenter to dismantle it. We are obviously dealing here with a proverb, one that seems to mean a problem none can solve. Rav Sheshet says that though he is no carpenter or son of a carpenter, he can solve the problem. Rav Sheshet was a Torah scholar addressing other Torah scholars! If a carpenter was a metaphor for scholar, then the use of it here is rather bewildering. Geza Vermes' interpretation seems to be drawn from what Rashi had wriiten centuries earlier in his commentary to the Babylonian Talmud.
Carpenter... carpenter's son - scholar... scholar's son.
Diparkeinah - who could explain it and explain why the matter before us is difficult.
נגר בן נגר - חכם בן חכם
דיפרקינה - שיוכל לתרצה ולקמן מפרש מאי קא קשיא ליה

Elsewhere in the Talmuds, whenever the word naggar appears, it is always in the context of an actual carpenter or woodworker. Even Rashi explains bar naggara (carpenter's son) as an ordinary woodworker[5].
The context of Mark 6 does not fit a metaphorical reading of the word carpenter either.
And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. -Mark 6:1-3.
The people of Nazareth hear Christ teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and are surprised, indeed, startled by his wisdom (and perhaps his originality as well). Why would that come as a surprise if carpenter were a metaphor for learned scholar? The surprise of the people is due rather to their not expecting one of the regular guys, a carpenter whose family everybody knows, to be able to expound scriptures like that.
An added factor to consider is that next door almost to Nazareth was the big, bustling city of Sepphoris, which was undergoing a building boom during Christ's lifetime. A carpenter would be a logical choice of profession. In those days, a carpenter was more of a contractor, he helped with blueprints, and tricky, technical work, such as hinges and shutters. It was one of the only professions to be paid in money. By today's standards, Christ was probably lower middle class.
All in all, I think the "charming picture" stands.

[1]Luca Cambiaso, "The Holy Family in the Carpenter's Shop: Jesus hold a lamp while Joseph carves a design."

[2]Elizabeth Linton, "The True History of Joshua Davidson."

[3]Christopher Wren, "Jesus Was a Carpenter."

[4]Owen Wilson's character in "Meet the Parents."

[5]See Rashi's commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, m. Baba Bathra, 73b.

[6]Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, Daily Life at the Time of Jesus, pg. 51.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ramhal on the Path of the Upright

I have written this work not to teach men what they do not know, but to remind them of what they already know and is very evident to them, for you will find in most of my words only things which most people know, and concerning which they entertain no doubts. But to the extent that they are well known and their truths revealed to all, so is forgetfulness in relation to them extremely prevalent. It follows, then, that the benefit to be obtained from this work is not derived from a single reading; for it is possible that the reader will find that he has learned little after having read it that he did not know before. Its benefit is to be derived, rather, through review and persistent study, by which one is reminded of those things which, by nature, he is prone to forget and through which he is caused to take to heart the duty that he tends to overlook.

A consideration of the general state of affairs will reveal that the majority of men of quick intelligence and keen mentality devote most of their thought and speculation to the subtleties of wisdom and the profundities of analysis, each according to the inclination of his intelligence and his natural bent. There are some who expend a great deal of effort in studying the creation and nature. Others devote all of their thought to astronomy and mathematics, and others to the arts. There are those who go more deeply into sacred studies, into the study of the holy Torah, some occupying themselves with Halachic discussions, others with Midrash and others with legal decisions. There are few, however, who devote thought and study to perfection of Divine service - to love, fear, communion and all of the other aspects of saintliness. It is not that they consider this knowledge unessential; if questioned each one will maintain that it is of paramount importance and that one who is not clearly versed in it cannot be deemed truly wise. Their failure to devote more attention to it stems rather from its being so manifest and so obvious to them that they see no need for spending much time upon it. Consequently, this study and the reading of works of this kind have been left to those of a not too sensitive, almost dull intelligence. These you will see immersed in the study of saintliness, not stirring from it. It has reached the stage that when one sees another engaging in saintly conduct, he cannot help but suspect him of dullwittedness. This state of affairs results in evil consequences both for those who possess wisdom and for those who do not, causing both classes to lack true saintliness, and rendering it extremely rare. The wise lack it because of their limited consideration of it and the unwise because of their limited grasp. The result is that saintliness is construed by most to consist in the recitation of many Psalms, very long confessions, difficult fasts, and ablutions in ice and snow - all of which are incompatible with intellect and which reason cannot accept.

Truthful, desirable saintliness is far from being conceptualized by us, for it is obvious that a person does not concern himself with what does not occupy a place in his mind. And though the beginnings and foundations of saintliness are implanted in every person's heart, if he does not occupy himself with them, he will witness details of saintliness without recognizing them and he will trespass upon them without feeling or perceiving that he is doing so. For sentiments of saintliness, fear and love of God, and purity of heart are not so deeply rooted within a person as to obviate the necessity of his employing certain devices in order to acquire them. In this respect they differ from natural states such as sleep and wakefulness, hunger and satiety, and all other reactions which are stamped in one's nature, in that various methods and devices are perforce required for their acquisition. There is also no lack of deterrents which keep saintliness at a distance from a person, but then again there is no lack of devices by which these deterrents may be held afar. How, then, is it conceivable that it not be necessary to expend a great deal of time upon this study in order to know these truths and the manner in which they may be acquired and fulfilled? How will this wisdom enter a person's heart if he will not seek it? And since every man of wisdom recognizes the need for perfection of Divine service and the necessity for its purity and cleanliness, without which it is certainly completely unacceptable, but repulsive and despised - "For God searches all hearts and understands the inclination of all thoughts" (I Chronicles 28:9) - what will we answer in the day of reproof if we weaken in this study and forsake that which is so incumbent upon us as to be the very essence of what the Lord our God asks of us? Is it fitting that our intelligence exert itself and labor in speculations which are not binding upon us, in fruitless argumentation, in laws which have no application to us, while we leave to habit and abandon to mechanical observance our great debt to our Creator? If we do not look into and analyze the question of what constitutes true fear of God and what its ramifications are, how will we acquire it and how will we escape wordly vanity which renders our hearts forgetful of it? Will it not be forgotten and go lost even though we recognize its necessity? Love of God, too - if we do not make an effort to implant it in our hearts, utilizing all of the means which direct us towards it, how will it exist within us? Whence will enter into our souls intimacy with and ardor towards the Blessed One and towards His Torah if we do not give heart to His greatness and majesty which engender this intimacy in our hearts? How will our thoughts be purified if we do not strive to rescue them from the imperfections infused in them by physical nature? And all of the character traits, which are in such great need of correction and cultivation -who will cultivate and correct them if we do not give heart to them and subject them to exacting scrutiny?
-Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto (Ramhal), the introduction to Mesilat Yesharim.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hillel and the Donkey Driver

A story is told about a donkey driver who came to Hillel the Elder. He said to him: ‘Rabbi, see how we are better off than you (Babylonians), for you are put to great trouble with all this travelling when you ascend from Babylon to Jerusalem, but I go forth from the entrance of my house and lodge in the entrance to Jerusalem’. He waited a bit and then said to him: ‘For how much would you rent me your donkey from here to Emmaus’? He answered: ‘A denarius’. ‘How much to Lod?’ He answered: ‘Two’. ‘How much to Caesarea?’ He answered: ‘Three’. He said to him: ‘I see that, in so far as I increase the distance, you increase the price’. He answered: ‘Yes, price is according to distance’. He said to him: ‘And should not the reward for my own feet be (at least) the equivalent of a beast’s feet?’ This is what Hillel used to maintain: ‘According to the painstaking, the reward’...
-Avot de Rabbi Nathan B”, Anthony Saladrini, trans., Leiden, 1975.
The above gives a rough idea of distances in the first centuries CE, and what a donkey driver might have charged for the journey. Each stage of the journey is roughly a day's distance, and would cost a day's wages.

El-Amarna Letters Online


The El-Amarna Letters come from a diplomatic archive in Egypt, correspondence from Egypt's Canaanite vassals, and are an unparralelled resource for studying the geo-political background to the world of the Bible and ancient Israel. They can be read online now, at the link provided above! Enjoy.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ritual Curses Then and Now

If against a man his companion lifts the tongue, or if he
invokes the gods against him, this is the ritual suitable for him: They
bring out to the grassland a loaf of bread and a jug of wine. He
breaks the loaf on the left and puts it on the ground, then he offers
wine on the left, and speaks in the following way: “Whatever
person has lifted the tongue before the gods, whoever invoked
the gods against me, as this grass is dry, let himself and his house in
the same way go dry too.
-KUB 17.28 ii 33-47

The above is part of an ancient Hittite ritual invoking a simile curse against slanderers and cursers. Imagine my surprise the other day when my Ukrainian wife mentioned similar rituals in Slavic magic, as practiced by village znakhari*
A search of the internet revealed one example which I'll reproduce here.
In your garden pick some weeds and recite over them:As this grass becomes dry, thus shall every tongue cease to speak of me and spread slander about me. The grass shall become dry and my enemy shall cease from troubling me. Amen.
When the grass becomes dry, cast it to your enemies. They will forget about you- they will have their own troubles to overcome.

Of course the two are not identical, nor is there any reason to suppose that spells are stationary, yet the combination of tongues, grass and dryness in context of a ritual involving a curse is remarkable.

*A znakhar or znakharka is both a healer, fortune-teller and witch.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Enoch the Shoemaker or Why God Took Up Enoch

And I asked my teacher Rabbi Yehudah the Preacher Ashkenazi, of blessed memory, what the matter of Enoch was, by virtue of which he had merited all this[1], for the matter of Elijah was known, but why Enoch?
He said that he recieved[2] that Enoch was an ushkaf, that is, he sewed together shoes, and with every incision and incision that he would make using the stitching awl, he would bless with a whole heart and perfect intent the Name, be blessed[3], and extended the blessing to Metatron the exalted, and never did he forget during even a single incision to bless, but would always do so, until because of so much love he was not, for God took him and he merited being called Metatron and his virtue is very great indeed.

ושאלתי את פי מורי הר׳יהודה הדרשן אשכגזי ז״ל מה היה עניין חגוך שעל ידו זכה לכל זה, כי עניין אליהו ז״ל ידוע, אבל חנוך למה, ואמר שקבל שחנוך היה אישכף כלומר תופר מנעלים, ובכל נקיבה ונקיבה שהיה נוקב במרצע בעור, היה מברך בלב שלם ובכוונה שלימה לשם ית׳, וממשיך הברכה למטטרון הנאצל, ומעולם לא שכח אפי׳ בנקיבה אחת מלברך אלא תמיד היה עושה כן, עד שמרוב אהבה איננו כי לקח אותו אלהים (בראשית ה׳) וזכה להקראות מטטרון ומעלתו גדולה עד מאד.

Rabbi Isaac of Acre, in Meirat Einaim, pg. 47

Rabbi Isaac ben Samuel of Acre was an early kabbalist who lived between 1250-1340, and lived in the port city of Acre until it was captured by the Mameluk sultan al-Ashraf Khalil in 1291. R. Isaac himself was taken prisoner. After his release he moved to Italy and Spain. He is perhaps best known through the controversy over the origins and antiquity of the Zohar, the central book of the Kabbalah. His testimony amounts to the only contemporary historical evidence on the publication of the Zohar, so its importance cannot be overrated. For more on that, see I. Tishby's The Wisdom of the Zohar, pg. 13-18.
R. Isaac belonged to the main branch of Kabbalah, the theosophical-theurgical one. In other words, the contemplation of the upper reaches and also of how man affected them. The above quote from R. Isaac is a clear theurgical statement. God in kabbalistic thought is represented by a series of emanations, the ten sephirot, each with its unique names and attributes. Metatron the exalted was considered to be malchut, the tenth and lowest sephirah. This Metatron is distinct from the created Metatron, Enoch, who is merely given that title.
Enoch, who lived before the commandments were given to Moses, loved God and served him whole heartedly, focusing his love and intents on God during such a mundane and menial act as sewing together shoes. This blessing caused power to flow downwards to the lowest sephirah. Because of this great love of Enoch for God, he was taken up and exalted. Abstract emotion and devotion, without accompanying acts, do not suffice to cause a change in the world. The opposite also holds true.
Moshe Idel surmises that although it is filtered through R. Isaac's kabbalistic leanings, this story reflects a rich but lost Enochic tradition in the possesion of the German Pietists (Hasidei Ashkenaz) of the 12th century, which itself preserves older material. He points out that the German R. Yehudah recieved this traditions from an anonymous master, presumabely also a German. Idel further points out that in some Muslim legends Idris (Enoch) is a tailor.[4]

[1]His ascent. Unlike Elijah, where we are given his story before his ascent, the Bible records of Enoch merely that he walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. This brevity puzzled R. Isaac.

[2]Heb. kibel, which implies a teaching or saying given to one by one's teacher or master.

[3]A common term for God in medieval Jewish literature.

[4]See chapter 4 of Moshe Idel's The Angelic World- Apotheosis and Theophany, Miskal, 2008, from where I have drawn most of the material for this post.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Philosophical Statement of the Mishnah

I was reading Jacob Neusner's "Scriptures of the Oral Torah", and in the chapter on the Mishnah (whatever opinion one might hold of the author) there is an excellent overview of this key work of Judaism, and the philosophical message in it. The following, then, is an extract from Neusner's book.
The Division of Agriculture treats two topics, first, producing crops in accord with the scriptural rules on the subject, second, paying the required offerings and tithes to the priests, Levites, and poor. The principal point of the division is that the Land is holy, because God has a claim both on it and upon what it produces. God's claim must be honored by setting aside a portion of the produce for those for whom God has designated it. God's ownership must be acknolwedged by observing the rules God has laid down for use of the Land. In sum, the Division is divided along these lines: (1) Rules for producing crops in a state of holiness- tractates Kilayim, Shebiit, Orlah; (2) Rules for disposing of crops in accord with the rules of holiness- tractates Peah, Demai, Terumot, Maaserot, Maaser Sheni, Hallah, Bikkurim, Berakhot.

The Division of Appointed Times forms a system in which the advent of a holy day, like the Sabbath of creation, sanctifies the life of the Israelite village through imposing on the village rules on the model of those of the Temple. The purpose of the system, therefore, is to bring into alingment the moment of sanctification of the village and the life of the home with the moment of sanctification of the Temple on those same occasions of appointed times. The underlying and generative theory of the system is that the village is the mirror image of the Temple. If things are done in one way in the Temple, they will be done in the opposite way in the village. Together the village and the Temple on the occasion of the holy day therefore form a single continuum, a completed creation, thus awaiting sanctification.
The village is made like the Temple in that on appointed times one may not freely cross the lines distinguishing the village from the rest of the world, just as one may not freely cross the line distinguishing the Temple from the world. But the village is a mirror image of the Temple. The boundary lines prevent free entry into the Temple, so they restrict free egress from the village. On the holy day what one may do in the Temple is precisely what one may not do in the village. so the advent of the holy day affects the village by bringing it into sacred symmetry in such wise as to effect a system of opposites; each is holy, in a way precisely the opposite of the other. Because of the underlying conception of perfection attained through the union of opposites, the village is not represented as conforming to the model of the cult, but of constituting its antithesis. The world thus regains perfection when on the holy day heaven and earth are united, the whole completed and done: the heaven, the earth, and all their hosts. This moment of perfection renders the events of ordinary time, of "history," essentially irrelevant. For what really matters in time is that moment in which sacred time intervenes and effects the perfection formed of the union of heaven and earth, of Temple, in the model of the former, and Israel, its complement. It is not a return to a perfect time but a recovery of perfect being, a fulfillment of creation, which explains the essentially ahistorical character of the Mishnah's Division of Appointed Times. Sanctification constitutes an ontological category and is effected by the creator.
This explains why the Division in its rich detail is composed of two quite distinct sets of materials. First, it addresses what one does in the sacred space of the Temple on the occasion of sacred time, as distinct from what one does in that same sacred space on ordinary, undifferentiated days, which is a subject worked out in Holy Things. Second, the Division defines how for the occasion of the holy day one creates a corresponding space in one's own circumstance, and what one does, within that space, during sacred time. The issue of the Temple and cult on the special occasion of festivals is treated in tractates Pesahim, Sheqalim, Yoma, Sukkah, and Hagigah. Three further tractates, Rosh Hashshanah, Taanit, and Megillah, are necessary to complete the discussion. The matter of the rigid definition of the outlines in the village, of a sacred space, delineated by the limits within which one may move on the Sabbath and festival, and of the specification of those things which one may not do within that space in sacred time, is in Shabbat, Erubin, Besah, and Moed Qatan. While the twelve tractates of the Division appear to fall into two distinct groups, joined merely by a common theme, in fact they relate through a shared, generative metaphor. It is, as I said, the comparison, in the context of sacred time, of the spatial life of the Temple to the spatial life of the village, with activities and restrictions to be specified for each, upon the common occasion of the Sabbath or festival. The Mishnah's purpose therefore is to correlate the sanctity of the Temple, as defined by the holy day, with the restrictions of space and of action which make the life of the village different and holy, as defined by the holy day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

From Sadness to Joy

In recent years, the tradition of Breslov Hasidim to celebrate Rosh ha-Shanah at the tomb of Rebbe Nachman in the central Ukrainian town of Uman has become increasingly popular. Thousands make the pilgrimage each year. This recent Rosh ha-Shanah, however, culminated in disgraceful, riotous behavior on the part of some of the younger pilgrims. Football hooliganism should have no place in the conduct of any believer of any religion. Happily, the majority do live their lives in a way that honours God and respects their fellow man. Because of the international scandal, it is to be expected that more and more people are wondering who these Hasidim are, and what the pilgrimage is about. This is why I thought I would share a little on the founder of Breslov Hasidism, including excerpts from his teachings.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was the great grandson of the Baal Shem-Tov (or Besht), considered the founder of Hasidism. He blazed a new path in the world of Hasidism, at the same time a path he paradoxically considered to be old as well. "It is impossible for there not to be controversy over me, for I am walking along a new path that man has never ever walked in before, even though it is a very old path, but nevertheless it is entirely new."[1]
R. Nachman revelled in the paradoxical. He alternated between saintly behaviour and foolish pranks. Perhaps more than any other Hasid, R. Nachman found in stories and music a path to God. His stories are elaborate, mysterious, Kafka-esque constructions of stories within stories, so much that one loses sight of where he started and where he was going. The point, one might with some justice say, is in the world created by the story, more than anything else.
R. Nachman's path brought him into conflict with everyone. He attacked the Haskalah, or Enlightenment, despite being influenced by them and agreeing somewhat with their programme. What he considered dangerous was not the particulars, but their outlook on life, and what their path would lead to in the spiritual life of Jews. Indeed, he set up his residence in Uman, which was a centre for the Haskalah movement. This is also where, three weeks before his death, he instructed his followers to celebrate Rosh ha-Shanah each year.
The other Hasidic masters R. Nachman accused of complacency and spiritual stagnation. They in turn considered him and his followers dangerous heretics, persecuting them both during and after his lifetime. Many are the accounts of bans, beatings, and being informed on to Tsarist and Soviet authorities.
R. Nachman apointed no succesor, and his followers are often known as the Dead Hasidim, for having no living tsaddik to lead them.

"A great mitzvah[2] is to be ever joyful."[3]
One of R. Nachman's main preoccupations was with finding joy, or, rather, that sorrow gets in the way of worshipping and drawing closer to God. One of his better known statements is one in which he compared life with crossing a narrow bridge. "And know, that a man must pass over a narrow, narrow bridge, and the point and principle is that he fear not at all."[4]
The following is a further example of his philosophy, of how he sought to find the joy in even what appeared to be hopeless situations.
"And you have withheld some of God from him, and have crowned him with honour and splendour."
(Psalm 8)

It is known that whatever is missing in man, be it spiritual or be it temporal, is because of the lack of the Shechinah,[5] which is as God. And this is [the meaning of] 'And you have withheld', certainly, some of God, that is, the lack is certainly on God's part, that is, the Shechinah. But when a man knows that the lack is from above and from below, he will definitely have great sorrow and sadness, and wont be able to worship Ha-Shem Yitbarach[6] with joy. Because of this he must answer to himself what am I and what is my life, for the King himself is telling me his shortcoming, and can there be a greater honour than that? From that he comes to a great joy, and his mochin[7] are become new again. And this is [the meaning of]: 'and have crowned him with honour and splendour.' That is, by the honour and splendour which he has, that the King himself tells him of the lack, you have crowned him with new mochin.
-Likuttey Moharan, 89.

[1]Shivchey Moharan, Inyan ha-Machloket 1, 17a.

[2]Lit. a commandment, but also with the added meaning of an act of piety.

[3]Likuttey Moharan Tanina, 24.

[4]Likuttey Moharan Tanina, 48.

[5]Or Divine Presence. In the Kabbalah the Shechinah is personified as God's wife, who, as a result of going into exile when the temple was destroyed, became separated from her husband. The world will not return to a perfect state until the two are reunited.

[6]The Name, may He be blessed. Another term for God, used so as to avoid profaning God by too frequent a repetition of his name.

[7]Lit. brains. In Hasidism the term refers to states of consciousness.

Cast All Their Sins into the Depth of the Sea

As a result of an interesting online correspondence with David Larsen (well, I commented on his blogpost and he replied), I felt like posting a little something on the custom of tashlich.

In Hatzor, the town I grew up in, there was a small mountain spring in which every Rosh ha-Shanah tashlich was done. I went there a few times myself as a child. Standing at the edge of the water, after saying a prayer that includes Micah 7:19, pockets and hems are shaken of crumbs (or just shaken, the custom varies), which symbolises sins being cast into the depths of the ocean. Hayyim Vital, Isaac kabbalist Isaac Luria’s disciple, mentioned an additional, mystical significance, that the Accuser would be cast into the depths.
The Ashkenazi custom of going on the first day of Rosh ha-Shanah, after the minhah prayer just prior to the setting of the sun, to the big sea, or to the spring, or to a well of living water, a custom termed tashlich, is a fine custom, though it is best to hold it outside the city. And a man stands on the shore, or at the edge of a well, or at a fountain and exclaims three times 'Who is a God like unto thee, &c. (Micah 7:18), Thou wilt give truth to Jacob, &c. (Micah 7:20)' which are at the end of Micah the Morashtite... And when you say 'And cast all of their sins into the sea (Micah 7:19)', focus your intentions on having all your sins and transgressions cast [into the depths] and on the Accuser on High being cast into the depths of the sea on high*, for this cause it must be said at the sea or at living waters.

"עניין המנהג שנהגו האשכנזים לילך ביום ראשון דר"ה אחר תפלת המנחה מעט קודם שקיעת החמה אצל הים הגדול, או אצל המעיין, או באר מים חיים וקורים אותו תשליך, הנה הוא מנהג יפה ויותר טוב הוא אם יהיה חוץ לעיר.
ויעמוד על שפת הים, או על שפת הבאר, או המעיין ויקרא שם ג' פעמים מי א-ל כמוך כו' תתן אמת ליעקב כו' שבסוף מיכה המורשתי... וכשתאמר ותשליך במצולות ים כל חטאתם תכוון שיושלכו כל חטאתיך ועונותיך וגם המקטרג העליון יושלך במצולות הים העליון, כי לסבה זו הוצרך לאמרו על הים או על המים החיים"... (שער הכוונות עניין ר"ה).
-Shaar ha-Kavvanot, Inyan Rosh ha-Shanah.

Although entering the water is frowned upon generally, but as reported by the 19th c. Jewish traveler, Israel ben Joseph Binyamin, the Jews living in remote mountain villages of Kurdistan used to be in the habit of swimming in the water, but this died out after they emigrated to Israel.
Nobody knows when tashlich first appeared. The first literary mentions are relatively late, going back only to the late 14th century, but on the other hand, the custom is found in practically all Jewish communities, and seems to hearken back to older days. There are intriguing links with a hypothetical enthronement festival that Sigmund Mowinckel proposed took place every year between Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. An example is the tradition in the Babylonian Talmud that kings were anointed only at a river, drawing upon David's instructions on how his son Solomon was to be made king. David Larsen mentioned a theory that the king was immersed in the Gihon at Jerusalem, which represented a death and resurrection. Another link with days gone by and the tashlich is baptism, or ritual immersion, extremely popular since at least the Second Temple period. Josephus in Antiquities 14.10 cites a decree by the city of Halicarnasus allowing Jews to build synagogues by the sea. This is not direct evidence for tashlich existing as far back as that, but the reason synagogues were built by the sea is for reasons of ritual purity. This is at the heart of the tashlich. The Mekhilta contains several references to prophets recieving prophecies only by bodies of water when the land was impure or they were in exile.
Tashlich was originally a folk tradition, invoking the ire of scholars, because the people considered that they were casting their actual sins into the water.
It is best to avoid the people who are as light-minded as women and say, Ich vil geyn mayn aveyres shiteln [I will shake off my transgressions], and, taking hold of the folds of their clothing, shake them, thinking to themselves that by so doing a mman can shake off the transgressions that he commited all the year before. And he ought not to to think so, for it really is a desecration of the great Name of God before the nations that know of the custom. For when they see Jews going to the river, they say laughingly, The Jews are going shiteln ire zind in vasser [to shake their sins into the water]. But if a person wants to observe the custom, let him say, Ich vil geyn tashlikh makhen [I will perform the Casting]. For the principal purpose of the custom is to pray to God, to cast out our iniquities into the depths of the sea, because in sayings these verses we are contemplating Teshuvah [repentance]... And the custom of shaking the hems of our clothing is symbolic, too; we do it to shake off the shells of the evil spirits that cling to us because of the filth of our iniquities...
-Abraham ben Sabbatai Sheftel ha-Levi Horovitz of Prague, Emek Berakhah, Cracow 1597, as included in S. Y. Agnon's Days of Awe.

*Or the sea of the upper realms.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Amos in Later Jewish Tradition

What follows is a selection of texts and traditions, by no means exhaustive, relating to Amos and the book of Amos, in the Judaism of late classical and medieval eras, as well as in Qumran.

All the selections from the Zohar I’ve included are to be found in Isaiah Tishby’s “The Wisdom of the Zohar”. When his footnotes are included, I’ve indicated so by his initials in square brackets.
The Damascus Document is from Wise, Abegg, and Cook’s “The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation”.

*Amos and the Dead Sea Scrolls*

The book of Amos played a small but crucial role in the formulation of Essene thought and teachings. The very first Dead Sea scroll discovered was the Damascus Document, or Zadokite Fragments. In 1896 Solomon Shechter discovered two medieval manuscripts in the genizah, or repository, of a Cairo synagogue. Schechter considered them a work of the first century B.C., but it wasn’t until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls that his position was proved correct.
The Damascus Document seems to have been one of the fundamental texts of the Dead Sea sect, outlining their history and position as God’s true covenantal people.
The Dead Sea Scrolls often use symbolic pseudonyms for members of the sect, for its enemies, and for the world surrounding it. Thus it is doubtful that the Damascus of the text is the actual city, but rather a code word for either Babylon[1] or Qumran[2].
Damscus is drawn from Amos 5:26-27 “So shall ye take up Siccuth your king and Chiun[3] your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves; Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith He, whose name is the LORD God of hosts.”
The group dramatically recast these verses in allegorical terms of their own sacred history.
…All who backslid were handed over to the sword, but all who held fast escaped to the land of the north, as it says, “I will exile the tents of your king and the foundation[3] of your images beyond the tents of Damascus” (Amos 5:27. The books of Law are the tents of the king, as it says, “I will re-erect the fallen tent of David” (Amos 9:11). The “king” is the congregation and the “foundation of your images” is the book of the prophets whose words Israel despised. The star is the Interpreter of the Law[4] who comes to Damascus, as it is written, “A star has left Jacob, a staff has risen from Israel” (Num 24:17). The latter is the Leader of the whole nation; when he appears, “he will shatter all the sons of Sheth” (Num. 24:17). They escaped in the first period of God’s judgement, but those who held back were handed over to the sword. And such is the verdict on all members of the covenant who do not hold firm to these laws: they are condemned to destruction by Belial…
-4Q266, 7:13-8:2.
Damascus is where the new covenant was set up after the period of exile. The history of Israel’s rebellion against God and the subsequent destruction and exile is made personally relevant to those of the sect, for their lives run according to the pattern set in scripture.

In 4Q174, a text known as “The Last Days: A Commentary on Selected Verses”, Amos 9:11 is again used, but the “fallen tent of David” is here a reference to “the fallen Branch of David, [w]hom He shall raise up to deliver Israel”. That is, the Davidic Messiah.

The Jeremiah Apocryphon (4Q387) describes the last days, in which Israel will suffer under a false priesthood and will be “fighting against one another because of the law and because of the covenant.” In other words, false interpretations of the law and covenant will lead to strife and bloodshed, which, according to the author of this text, is the meaning of Amos 8:11: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD”.

*Amos in Early Rabbinic Judaism*

The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan (ARNA) is a very early commentary on a mishnaic tractate, Sayings of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot). The latter is a collection of teachings and maxims of the early sages. ARNA expands on those themes and ideals, particularly on the study of Torah.
Pirkei Avot 1:1, perhaps one of the best known statements in the work, quotes the members of the great assembly[5] as saying, “Make a hedge about the Torah.”
ARNA 2 poses the question, “What the hedge which the prophets made about their words?” One of the examples provided is from Amos.
The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophecy? (Am. 3:8): [yet God is] not merely like one lion but like all the lions in the world.” Judah Goldin, on pg. 180-181 of his translation of ARNA, explains the hedge of the prophets as their having employed “some metaphor in the description of God who, strictly speaking, is beyond description and comparison.”

The Babylonian Talmud (t. Yoma, 86b) quotes rabbi Yose bar Yehudah as saying that, “A man transgresses once, and he is forgiven; twice, and he is forgiven; thrice, and he is forgiven; [but if he transgresses] a fourth time, he is not forgiven, as it says: “Thus saith the LORD: For three transgressions of Israel, yea, for four, I will not reverse it” (Amos 2:6).”
When our rabbis entered the orchard of Yavneh they said that Torah is destined to be forgotten in Israel, as it is said: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). And it is written: “And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:12).
The word of the LORD- This is Halakhah.
The word of the LORD- This is the end time.
The word of the LORD- This is prophecy.
And from where will they roam seeking the word of the LORD? They said a woman is destined to take a portion of terumah and go to synagogues and study houses to know if it be impure or pure, but none shall know if it be impure or pure…
Shimeon ben Yohai says heaven forbid that Torah should be forgotten by Israel[6], as it is said: “For it shall never be lost from the mouth of their offspring” (Deut. 31:21). It is to fulfill, “they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it”, that is, they will not find a clear doctrine and a clear halakha in one place.
–Babylonian Talmud, t. Shabbat 138b.
The prophetical activity of Amos commenced after Hosea's had closed, and before Isaiah's began. Though he had an impediment in his speech[7], he obeyed the call of God, and betook himself to Beth-el to proclaim to the sinful inhabitants thereof the Divine message with which he had been charged. The denunciation of the priest Amaziah, of Beth-el, who informed against the prophet before King Jeroboam of Israel, did him no harm, for the king, idolater though he was, entertained profound respect for Amos. He said to himself: "God forbid I should think the prophet guilty of cherishing traitorous plans, and if he were, it would surely be at the bidding of God." For this pious disposition Jeroboam was rewarded; never had the northern kingdom attained to such power as under him. However, the fearlessness of Amos finally caused his death. King Uzziah inflicted a mortal blow upon his forehead with a red-hot iron. Two years after Amos ceased to prophesy, Isaiah was favored with his first Divine communication.

-Louis Ginzberg, “The Legends of the Jews” vol. IV, part IX.

S. Y. Agnon, a preeminent Israeli writer of the 20th century and Nobel laureate, was asked by a relative of the Archbishop of Canterbury if there was anything in Judaism comparable to the power and drama of Easter. Agnon in response drew upon his vast storehouse of knowledge of traditional Jewish texts and rituals to compose “Days of Awe”, which although technically is an anthology of texts dealing with then period from Rosh Ha-Shanah to Yom Kippur, is far more than that. It is a journey through the days leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the day of judgment, the time when people remember and reflect on their sins, their follies, mistakes and shortcomings, a time for reparation and restitution, of drawing nearer to God and man. Yom Kippur is perhaps the day of the Jewish calendar. Agnon wrote “The liturgical poem beginning “These I do Remember,” which is recited after the description of the Temple service, is in memory of the ten who were martyred by Rome, who were killed for the sake of the unification of the Name of God. For when the temple still stood and the altar stood in its habitation, sacrifices were offered upon the altar every day. But now what is offered are the souls of the righteous.
It is cited in the Midrash: Why were the ten martyrs, the sages of Israel, given over to be slaughtered at the hands of the wicked kingdom of Rome? Because his brothers sold Joseph into slavery. For the quality of divine justice brings charges every day before the throne of glory, and says, “Is there any superfluous letter in your Torah? You have said, ‘And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death’ (Exod. 21:16). The ten brothers sold Joseph, and yet You have not punished them or their seed” [Ele Ezkerah][8]. Therefore the decree against the ten sages of Israel was passed, in punishment for the sake of Joseph.”
The book of Amos lies at the heart of this tradition.
As a different recension of the midrash about the ten martyrs explains it, “Israel would not have come to this[9] had they not taught the emperor Torah, as once when he was sitting and studied Torah he found it written: “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death” (Exod. 21:16). And he went and plastered all his walls with shoes, sticking them to the walls and sent for Rabbi Shimeon ben Gamliel and his friends, and said unto them: Whosoever kidnapped a man from Israel and sold him, what is his penalty? They replied that he must be put to death, and he said unto them: If that be so, then you must be put to death, accept the judgement of heaven. They asked him what for, and he replied for the brothers of Joseph who sold him, as it is written: “And sold Joseph” (Gen. 37:28). It is further written: “Because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes” (Amos 2:6). That is why that evildoer plastered his home with footwear, so that they would know for what Joseph was sold, for when it says for shoes it means for the price of shoes… They said if Joseph’s brothers sold him, what is our crime and why will you execute us? He replied unto them that if Joseph’s brothers were alive today then I would catch them and execute judgment upon them, but since they are not alive I will do so upon you…”
Joseph quite probably is a veiled reference to Jesus, a popular accusation in anti-Jewish polemics was that the Jews sold and betrayed him. See the section below for a later example.

*Amos in Medieval Commentaries*

Saadia Gaon (882-942)
Saadia was born in Egypt but moved to Iraq, where he became the head of the academy in Sura, and was one of the most prominent and influential leaders in the Jewish world. He polemicised greatly against the Karaites, and introduced philosophical, rational interpretations into his defence of rabbinic Judaism.
"Amos 1:3.
I have forgiven him three sins, but this, the fourth one, I will not forgive."

Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1164)
One of the premier Spanish commentators, grammarians, and poets.
He wrote extensively on the scriptures, particularly from the standpoint of grammar plain, unallegorical or homiletical interpretation.
"Amos 3:3.
Before I [the Lord] shall afflict you I will inform you of it by my prophets, perhaps you shall return unto me. Had I not appeared to my prophet and revealed to him my secret with which to reprove you, he would not have prophecied of himself, for how should he know what I am going to do, and thus are his words not by chance. See this, is it possible for two men to go simultaneously to the same place for the same thing if they did not agree to do so beforehand? And so, when you see that the words of the prophet are true, know that I have sent him, how then can he disobey me and not prophecy just because you said unto him prophecy not?"
"Amos 3:4.
If even the lion does not roar except over his prey, have I [the Lord] roared in vain?"
"Have you seen prey able to escape from a lion when he rises from his thicket and roars? How then do you think to escape my [the Lord’s] decrees?"

David Kimhi
Kimhi perhaps exerted more influence over non-Jewish translations of the Bible than any other Jewish exegete. When the Bible known as the King James Version was prepared, the translators frequently consulted Mikraot Gedolot (the Rabbinic Bible), an Old Testament printed with several commentaries, including Kimhi’s ones on the prophets.
"Amos 2:1.
This is about what is said in the book of Kings: “Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall. And there was a great indignation against Israel.” The indignation was from the king of Edom against Israel from that day forth, because the king of Moab burnt the son of the king of Edom during the war, for he was with Israel, as we have interpreted there, for this God, may he be blessed, punished him [the king of Moab]. And the interpretation of la-sid – burnt them completely, until the ashes were like lime… And Jonathan[10] translated it as, “for burning the bones of the king of Edom and using them to whitewash his house.” This means that he used those ashes to whitewash his house out of spite and vengeance. "
"Amos 3:6.
As the targum[10] states: “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city outside its proper time”, because a trumpet is sounded many times in the city without the panicking, during celebrations or for singing, or to assemble the people for the establishment of municipal ordinances, that is why this was translated as “outside its proper time”, since it is known that when none of these are taking place, [the trumpet] is to warn the people of an enemy, so how shall the people not be terrified when they hear it. So shall you not be terrified by the words of the prophet which I [the Lord] send unto you?"
"Amos 3:6.
Why do you suppose that a calamity should overtake your city which has not been done by God, may he be blessed, after the prophet has said unto you [that it would happen] before it occurred, and since you will see the prophet’s words coming true, how is it that you will not return unto me [the Lord]?"

Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508)
Abravanel was a member of the most renowned Jewish family in Portugal. He served as treasurer to Afonso V, but his successor, Joao II, implicated Abravanel in a plot, as a result of which Abravanel fled to Spain and served as a minister under Ferdinand and Isabella. Despite his great influence he was unable to prevent the expulsion of the Spanish Jews, and went into exile with them.

“The Christian sages thought to use this verse as proof of their faith, and interpreted the three sins of Israel the same as I did, idolatry, bloodshed, and incest, but with the fourth being “they sold the righteous for silver”, that is Jesu the Nazarene.
The refutal of their proof is made up of two parts: The first is that this section was said of none other than the kingdom of Israel, and they know very well that the matter of Jesu the Nazarene was not in the First Temple period when the kingdoms were divided, but took place during the Second Temple period, and Israel had been exiled for over X years.
The second refutal is that Amos himself repeated his prophecy, and said: “Hear this, O ye that would swallow the needy… making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances of deceit; That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes…” (Amos 8:6). Here it is made clear that he was not speaking of any particular person, but of many poor, whose judgment was perverted for bribes of silver or of shoes, which is why Amos used the plural.”
-Commentary on the Prophets and Writings.

*Amos in the Kabbalah*

The book of Amos is used in two main ways by the Zohar, the premier book of the Kabbalah, which appeared during the 13th century.
The first way is to ground a unique doctrine in the biblical framework, or perhaps it was even suggested by the verse in the first place.
The second way is to enhance the prestige, authority, and reputation of Simeon bar Yohai, and, by extension, the teachings of the Zohar itself.

Zohar I, 183b.

Rabbi Hiyya and Rabbi Jose were in the presence of Rabbi Simeon. Rabbi Hiyya said: We have learned that an uninterpreted dream is like an unread letter[11]. Does this mean that it will be fulfilled without [the dreamer] knowing, or that it will not be fulfilled at all?
He said to him: It will be fulfilled without being disclosed, because the dream has its own power[12], and [the dreamer] need not know whether it will be fulfilled or not. Everything that happens in the world is first of all intimated by a dream or a herald, for it has been made clear that everything that happens in the world is first of all announced in the firmament, and from there it spreads out into the world and is transmitted by a herald. And this because it is written “For the Lord God will do nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). This is the case when there are prophets in the world. But, if not- even if prophecy does not exist[13]- the sages are the next best to the prophets. And if not, it is intimated in a dream. And if not, the matter may be found in the birds in the sky[14].

Zohar I, 191a.

Rabbi Judah began by quoting “Will a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey? Will a young lion utter a sound from his den if he has captured nothing?” (Amos 3:4). Come and see how attentive men must be to the worship of the Holy One, blessed be He, for whoever occupies himself with the study of the Torah and the worship of the Holy One, blessed be He, instills in everything awe and fear of him. When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world, He made every creature in the world in the likeness that was suited to it, and afterward He created man in the most exalted likeness[15], and gave him dominion over all the others because of this likeness; for as long as man remains in the world, all the creatures in the world will raise their heads and gaze upon man’s exalted likeness, and then they will be in fear and awe of him, as it is said “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air…” (Genesis 9:2). In what circumstances?[16] –When they look up and see that he has this likeness with the neshamah within him.
Rabbi Eleazar said: Even if the neshamah is not within him, the righteous do not change from their original state when they had the likeness. But if man does not follow the ways of the Torah the holy likeness vanishes from him[17], and the beasts of the field and the birds in the air can then rule over him. Once the holy likeness disappears, man’s likeness also disappears.

Zohar III, 15a.

One day [Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai] was sitting at the gateway to Lydda. He raised his eyes and saw the sun shining, but its light was blotted out three times. As the light grew dark, black and green colors appeared in the sun.
He said to his son, Rabbi Eliezer: Follow me, my son, and let us see, for a decree has certainly been proclaimed in the world above, and the Holy One, blessed be He, does not act before informing the righteous, as it is said, “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants, the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

Zohar II, 15a, Midrash ha-Ne’elam.

When Rabbi Hiyya came and related all this to Rabbi [Judah ha-Nasi], he was amazed, and his father, Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel, said to him; My son, Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai is a lion, and Rabbi Eleazar, his son, is a lion. But Rabbi Simeon is not like other lions. Of him it is written, “The lion has roared. Who will not fear?” (Amos 3:8). And since the worlds above tremble before him, how much more should we? He is a man who has never had to ordain a fast for something that he really desired. But he makes a decision, and the Holy One, blessed be He, supports it. The Holy One, blessed be He, makes a decision, and he annuls it.

*Amos in Early Modern Jewish Preaching*

Saul ha-Levi Morteira (1596-1660)
A Venetian Jew by birth, Morteira moved to Amsterdam in 1616 and served as one of the rabbinic leaders there until his death. He was part of the court which excommunicated the philosopher Spinoza. Morteira preached a sermon every year on a verse from the weekly Torah lesson, his main concern being the proper ethical conduct of his congregation, both towards the gentiles and among themselves. Although this is a common theme for preachers of all times and persuasions, in affluent 17th c. Amsterdam, Morteira's focus was particularly relevant. Marc Saperstein[18] notes that Morteira emphasised that "arrogant behavior, ostentatious apparel, and high living by Jews angers both God and their Gentile neighbours", something which would have resonated with people who were 3rd or 4th generation exile from Iberia. The trauma of the Spanish expulsion had not yet gone away completely.Saperstein further notes that the Dutch Calvinist preachers vigorously denounced a life of luxury, indeed "were certain that such behaviour would arouse God's wrathful punishement".
A few words more from Saperstein before delving into the sermon itself:
"The art of the sermon is expressed in the way the preacher derives his thesis from the traditional sources. In this case, Morteira argues that his contemporaries were courting disaster by making precisely the same mistake their ancestors had made in Egypt... Despite the extensive use of biblical and rabbinic material, this is not a sermon intended primarily to elucidate the classical sources for their own sake. Here we see a preacher marshalling the ancient texts in order to address what he considers to be a pressing problem of his time."

R. Isaac said, Whoever takes pleasure in an optional banquet will eventually be exiled, for the Bible states, Who feasts on lambs from the flock, and soon after Now they shall head the column of exiles (Amos 6:4, 7).
"Our rabbis taught, Whoever feasts excessively anywhere will eventually destroy his household, make his wife a widow and his fledglings orphans, and forget what he has learned. He will be the center of many conflicts, and his words will not be heeded.
He profanes the Name of Heaven and the names of his father and his teacher; he gives a bad name to himself, his children, and his children's children to the end of time. Abbaye said, They call him 'oven heater.'
Raba said, 'tavern dancer.'
R. Papa said, 'dish licker.'
R. Shemaiah said, 'one who folds and lies down' (Bab. Talmud, t. Pes 49a)...
The prophet Amos Amos denounced such behavior when he said, They lie on ivory beds, stretched upon their couches (Amos 6:4), reproaching them for their splendid beds, costing fortunes. Stretched upon their couches refers to the large cloths that overhang the couch on every side, serving absolutely no function except in their appearance, not to mention the other costly accoutrements of the bed.
Then he said, Feasting on lambs from the flock, and on calves from the stall (Amos 6:4). Here he was referring to the various kinds of food with which they contrive to fill their bellies. They drink from the wine bowls (Amos 6:6), calling out to each other until they empty the barrels, hurting both those who provide the wine and their own health...
While all of this is bad in itself, it is doubly bad when they are not concerned about the ruin of Joseph (Amos 6:6), meaning that they forget they are in exile, forget that some of their brothers have no bread at all for themselves or their children. It would be better for them to spend their money inviting the poor and providing them with food and other necessities. But they curse the poor and spend their money on trivial luxuries that can do them no good, giving money again and again to men who mock them as soon as they leave their homes. They do no good to themselves, and they do great harm to their children.
As parents discipline their children, so did the sages not hesitate to give all manner of ethical instruction that would discipline us, for our own benefit. They touched upon this subject directly in the passage cited at the beginning of the sermon, as is clear to all who understand their words. First, they prohibited all feasts and banquets unconnected with the performance of a commandment, saying, "Whoever takes pleasure in an optional banquet will eventually be exiled, for the Bible states, Who feasts on lambs from the flock, and soon after Now they shall head the column of exiles." A religious banquet is one for a circumcision, a wedding, completion of study of a talmudic tractate, Rejoicing in the Law (Simhat OTrah, redemption of a first-born sonPurim, Hanukkah, and other ordained festivals. All others are optional banquets.
-The People's Envy: Sermon on Shemot (Ca. 1622, Amsterdam).

Jonathan Eybeschuetz (Ca. 1690-1764)
Eybeschuetz was a noted scholar and rabbi of the 18th century, who became embroiled in a bitter controversy with Jacob Emden, who accused him of being a secret follower of Sabbetai Tzvi, the false messiah. Eybeschuetz was still recognised as a brilliant halakhist and preacher. Here is a small portion of a sermon preached in Metz.
Woe unto those who desire the day of the Lord... that day is darkness (cf. Amos 5:18). Many also do no discern the true nature of the New Year's Day. They look forward to it because they enjoy the sound of the singer, who chants melodious hymns with his beautiful voice. Woe unto those who do not know what occurs on the day of reckoning: that day is darkness! You know that fire is pitch dark, giving forth no light. Though the elemental fire is near the sphere of the moon, it bestows no light upon the world. And hell is all fire; it is darkness and gloom.
-Sermon of Ethical Rebuke Preached... during the Penitential Period Preceding the New Year's Day, 5505 [1744], to the Congregation of Metz.

[1] Thus Abegg, Flint, and Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, pg. 434. They argue for Damascus being a reference to the Babylonian captivity on the strength of Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:43, in which Damascus is replaced by Babylon.

[2] Thus L. Schiffman, “Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls”, pg. 93-94.

[3] Chiun here is read not as a name of a deity, but as a variant of the Hebrew for a foundation or stand.

[4] According to Schifmann (pg. 93), the Interpreter of the Law is “the sectarian official who interprets Torah for the sect with divine inspiration.”

[5] An institution which according to Jewish tradition existed from the days of Ezra until Alexander the Great.

[6] There appears to have been some confusion as to whether or not the Torah reffered to by the sages in Yabneh meant their oral teachings or the Law of Moses. The consensus that was reached was that Torah meant halakhic rules, IE, the oral Torah.

[7] Leviticus Rabbah 10:2 employs a pun on the name Amos, which if read as amus would mean ‘laden’, or ‘burdened’.
The rest of the references employed by L. Ginzberg are Pesikta de-Rabbi Kahana 16, 125b, Pesikta Rabbati 33, 150b, and Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah, 97.

[8] The date of composition for this midrash is uncertain, and there are at least four recensions.

[9] That is, the ten sages would not have been martyred.

[10] Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to the Prophets, an Aramaic paraphrase of portions of the Bible

[11] B.Talmud, t. Berakhot 55a. [IS]

[12] The dream has been linked to a supernal power that has decreed that it shall be fulfilled. [IS]

[13] Even now that prophecy has ceased. [IS]

[14] Birds can give information to initiates by their movements and chirping. [IS]

[15] In the image of God, which is the configuration of the sefirot, depicted as primordial man. [IS]

[16] According to the explanation that follows, the verse quoted from Amos is taken to mean that the beasts attack and seize man when the image of God is removed from him. [IS]

[17] In outward appearance even the sinner has a human form, but the sacred radiance of the sefirot that surrounds the human image has been taken away from him, and the other creatures see him merely as an animal. [IS]

[18] Saperstein, "Jewish Preaching, 1200-1800: An Anthology", pg.270-271.

Monday, July 26, 2010

He Gave His Cheek to Him that Smiteth Him

My friend Walker posted on his blog something I had written for an online debate with a notorious evangelical anti-Mormon over the context of certain portions of the Sermon on the Mount.

There are five occurences of smiting the cheek in the Old Testament. Six, if you count a duplicate in Chronicles.

The implications of smiting on the cheek are made clear in the following two scriptures.

"They have gaped upon me with their mouth; they have smitten me upon the cheek reproachfully; they have gathered themselves together against me." - Job 16:10.

"He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach." -Lam 3:30.

In these verses, smiting on the cheek is linked to insults. This holds true as well for the following three scriptures:

"And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so. Then the king of Israel called an officer, and said, Hasten hither Micaiah the son of Imlah. And the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah sat each on his throne, having put on their robes, in a void place in the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets prophesied before them. And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made him horns of iron: and he said, Thus saith the LORD, With these shalt thou push the Syrians, until thou have consumed them. And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, Go up to Ramothgilead, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the king's hand. And the messenger that was gone to call Micaiah spake unto him, saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good. And Micaiah said, As the LORD liveth, what the LORD saith unto me, that will I speak. So he came to the king. And the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And the king said unto him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the LORD? And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace.
And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil? And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee. But Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah went near, and smote Micaiah on the cheek, and said, Which way went the Spirit of the LORD from me to speak unto thee? And Micaiah said, Behold, thou shalt see in that day, when thou shalt go into an inner chamber to hide thyself. And the king of Israel said, Take Micaiah, and carry him back unto Amon the governor of the city, and to Joash the king's son; And say, Thus saith the king, Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace. And Micaiah said, If thou return at all in peace, the LORD hath not spoken by me. And he said, Hearken, O people, every one of you." - 1 Kgs 22:8-28.

At the city gates (centre of public life), in front of the leaders of the people, Zedekiah slaps Micaiah on the cheek, humiliating him, this for attempting to deceive the kings.

"Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek." - Micah 5:1 (4:14).

The besieging enemy will smite the ruler with a rod (symbol of authority) upon the cheek, an humiliating gesture of subjugation.

"I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly." - Psalm 3:6-7 (7-8)

The Psalmist calls upon the Lord to inflict a humiliating and crushing defeat on his enemies.

Now on to material from the rest of the ancient Near East:

In the "Descent of Ishtar into the Netherworld," Ereshkigal of the abode of the dead curses a eunuch (or government official) with a great curse and says:

"The food of the gutters of the city shall be your food;
The sewers of the city shall be your drink;
The shadow of the wall shall be your station;
The threshold shall be your habitation;
the besotted and the thirsty shall smite your cheeks."

The eunuch will live in the gutter, and be humiliated by the lowest of the low- the drunks and bums.

An Akkadian maqlu text preserves the following imprecation:

"I strike your cheek, I tear out your tongue." - G. Meier, "Die assyrische Beschworung Maqlu", 50, 8:101.

As part of the Akitu, or Babylonian New Year ritual, the urgallu, or priest, would do the following on day five:

"After reciting this, he shall remove the table; he shall summon the craftsmen together, he shall deliver the table with all that is on it to the craftsmen, and shall cause them to carry it to Nabu; the craftsmen shall take it, they shall go in the…to the bank of the canal; when Nabu arrives at ….they shall set it up for Nabu; when they have placed the table before Nabu, while Nabu is getting out of the ship Id-da-he-du, they shall offer the loaves of the table; then they shall place on the table water to wash the hands of the king. Then they shall conduct the king into Esagila; the craftsmen shall go out of the gate. When the king has come in before Bel, the urigallu shall come out of the chapel; then he shall receive from the hands of the king, the scepter, the ring, and the harpe, or ceremonial weapon; he shall take his royal crown; he shall bring these things in before Bel, and shall place them on a seat before Bel. He shall come out of the chapel; he shall strike the king's cheek; he shall place…behind him; he shall bring him before Bel; he shall pull his ears; he shall make him kneel on the ground; the king shall repeat the following once:

I have not sinned, lord of the countries; I have not despised thy divinity;
I have not destroyed Babel; I have not caused it to be scattered;
I have not shaken Esagila; I have not forgotten its rituals;
I have not smitten suppliants on the cheek;
I have not humiliated them;
I care for Babel; I have not broken down its walls."

- James Pritchard, "Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament", pg. 334.

Around 750 BC, the Aramaeans Mattiel, king of Arpad, and Bargayah, king of KTK entered into a parity treaty. On stela I from Sefire the following curses are recorded, to be heaped upon the violator of said treaty:

40. [Just as] this calf is cut in two, so may Mattiel be cut in two, and may his nobles be cut in two!
[And just as]
41. a [har]lot is stripped naked], so may the wives of Mattiel be stripped naked, and the wives of his offspring, and the wives of [his] no[bles!
42. And just as this wax woman is taken] and one strikes her on the face, so may the [wives of Mattiel] be taken [and…

The laws of eshnunna and the laws of Hammurabi both treat knocking out eyes, teeth, and slaps on the face as severe offences, for which large fines are levied.

A little after Christ’s time, we read in the Mishnah, t. Baba Kama 8:6 that, “If one boxes another man's ear, he has to pay him a sela. Rabbi Yehudah in the name of Rabbi Yosei HaGalili says, [He has to pay him] a maneh [i.e., one hundred dinar;]. If he slapped him he has to pay him two hundred zuz; [if he did it] with the back of his hand, he has to pay him four hundred zuz. If he pulled his ear, plucked his hair, spat so that the spittle reached him, removed his garment from upon him, uncovered the head of a woman in the marketplace, he must pay four hundred zuz.”

The Tosefta Baba Kama 9:31 expands the ruling:

"If one struck someone with the back of his hand… he must pay four hundred zuz, not because it is a painful blow but because it is a humiliating blow."

Smiting the cheek was part of the humliations Christ was subjected to after his arrest.

“And the men that held Jesus mocked him, and smote him. And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee? And many other things blasphemously spake they against him.” - Luke 22:63-65.

Nahum Sarna, in his article "Legal Terminology in Psalm 3:8," relates an account from the life of Abraham Shapira:

“In modern times, Abraham Shapira (1870-1965), head watchman of Petah Tikvah and a keen student of the ways and customs of the Bedouin, once observed the trial of two members of a tribe. One had been accused of stabbing someone with a sword, the other of having smacked someone on the face. The presiding sheikh dealt leniently with the stabber but severely with the other one. In explaining his verdict, he stated: ‘The striking of the cheek is a graver offence than stabbing with a sword, for the latter enhances the dignity of a man, while striking him on the cheek humiliates him.’"

Earlier in the same study, Sarna comments that “the various contexts make it absolutely clear , beyond the peradventure of a doubt, that to be struck on the cheek was an intolerable insult, a deep humiliation, not a mere slight to be soon forgotten.”

From personal experience growing up in Israel, I remember that fights, both among Jewish kids and Arab ones, did not get truly nasty until someone spat on another, or slapped him on the face. If that happened, knifings or severe beatings would immediately follow. Things could be patched up at any moment BEFORE such insults. After them, impossible without third-party intervention and serious peace-making efforts.

Back to the Sermon on the Mount, we saw that eye, tooth and smote cheek are mentioned together. The context could not be any clearer: Christ talked of not returning the ultimate personal insults. Nowhere does he say that man must not defend himself, family and friends. Nowhere does he say that if one does not follow that one is not a Christian.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Limitations of Archaeology

A picture is worth a thousand words...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Perceptions of Deity

Most of the information contained in the Hebrew Bible on idols and their worshippers is polemic. Isaiah 44:10-21, where the idol worshipper uses the same block of wood for fire and for bowing down to, is a classic example. It is worth noting that polemic rarely takes into account the meaning of the thing targeted to its devotees or adherents. In other words, the attitude of an idol worshipper to his idol might differ substantially from the portrait painted by Isaiah.

The Babylonian might have pointed out that for several centuries Yahweh, after emerging from the obscurity of a remote desert, had lived inside, or at the least in close association with, a decorated chest made of acacia wood. He was of rather uncertain temper, but in the main could be kept good-humoured by regular offerings of the smoke of burnt beef fat, of which he was inordinately fond. In contrast, Marduk was a spiritual being, creator of heaven and earth, and so transcendent that it was impossible to see or to comprehend him
H.W.F. Saggs, The Encounter with the Divine in Mesopotamia and Israel (London: Athlone Press, 1978), p. 15.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Philo on Reviling Gods, or: Are Gods Really Magistrates

Common wisdom has it that in the Bible that elohim, the Hebrew word for gods, can refer to human judges or magistrates.

As noted in a previous post (Ye are Gods), this notion stems from Targum Onkelos, was developed by medieval exeggetes, and reigned uncontested until the 1920s. It has been thoroughly debunked in academic circles, yet persists among fundamental evangelicals and orthodox Jews.

It is worth looking beyond ibn Ezra, beyond Onkelos, examining different sources and different voices. I found an intersting Philo quote referenced in an essay by Eliezer Segal. "Aristeas or Aggadah: Talmudic Legend and the Greek Bible in Palestinian Judaism," in: W. O. McCready and A. Reinhartz, eds., Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 159-172, 286-292. The chapter is available by Segal in a free PDF. http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/PDFs/Aristeas.pdf

Philo of Alexandria was a prolific Jewish writer contemporary with Christ. Philo came from an important family, his brother Alexander even serving as one of Alexandria's top officials. The Septuagint, the Bible that he used, rendered Exodus 22:28 (thou shalt not revile elohim) as theous ou kakologeseis. Philo himself when interpreting this passage does not allude at all to magistrates.

"But, as it seems, he is not now speaking of that God who was the first being who had any existence and the Father of the universe, but of those who are accounted gods in the different cities; and they are falsely called gods, being only made by the arts of painters and sculptors, for the whole inhabited world is full of statues and images, and erections of that kind, of whom it is necessary however to abstain from speaking ill, in order that no one of the disciples of Moses may ever become accustomed at all to treat the appellation of God with disrespect; for that name is always most deserving to obtain the victory, and is especially worthy of love."
-Philo of Alexandria, The Life of Moses 2.205, trans. C. D. Yonge.

Philo reads the word gods as (surprise, surprise) refering to gods, divine beings. That he does not believe in their existence does not change the definition of the word for him. Theous means divine beings, which is also a title of God, hence respect should be shown it even if applied to beings that exist only as a figment of gentile imagination.

Monotheistic Declarations

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
-Deutoronomy 6:4.

Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and shew us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth.
Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.

-Isaiah 43:9-10.

The above are two oft-used prooftexts for monotheism.
Before concluding that they are absolutes, it is worth taking a look at similar statements from the ancient world. As these come from avowed polytheistic sourcs they make for most interesting reading indeed.

From the Sumerian world.
From the mountain of sunrise to the mountain of sunset,
There is no (other) lord in the land, you alone are king,
Enlil, in all the lands there is no queen, your wife alone is queen.
-Hymn to Enlil as the Ruling Deity of the Universe. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET), 3rd ed. with supplement, pg. 576.

Heaven - he [Enlil] alone is its prince, earth - he alone is its great one,
The Anunna - he is their exalted god,
When in his awesomeness he decrees the fates, no god dares look at him...
-Hymn to Enlil, the All-Beneficent. ANET, pg. 575.

From the Ugaritic corpus.
I alone am the one who can be king over the gods,
Who can fatten gods and men,
Who can satisfy the multitudes of the earth!
-Baal IV. vii 50-53.

From the Egyptian Magical Papyrii.
This is the Consecration for All Purposes: Spell to Helios

"I invoke You, the Greatest God, Eternal Lord, World Ruler, who are over the World and under the World, Mighty Ruler of the Sea, rising at Dawn, shining from the East for the Whole World, setting in the West. Come to me, Thou who risest from the Four Winds, benevolent and lucky Agathos Daimon, for whom Heaven has become the Processional Way. I call upon Your Holy and Great and Hidden Names which You rejoice to hear. The Earth flourished when You shone forth, and the Plants became fruitful when you laughed; the Animals begat their Young when You permitted. Give Glory and Honor and Favor and Fortune and Power to this, NN, Stone which I consecrate today (or to the Phylactery [charm] being consecrated) for [or in relation to] NN. I invoke You, the greatest in Heaven, E'I LANCHYCH AKARE'N BAL MISTHRE'N MARTA MATHATH LAILAM MOUSOUTHI SIETHO' BATHABATHI IATMO'N ALEI IABATH ABAO'TH SABAO'TH ADO'NAI, the Great God, ORSENOPHRE' ORGEATE'S TOTHORNATE'SA KRITHI BIO'THI IADMO' IATMO'MI METHIE'I LONCHOO' AKARE' BAL MINTHRE' BANE BAI(N)CHCHYCHCH OUPHRI NOTHEOUSI THRAI ARSIOUTH ERO'NERTHER, the Shining Helios, giving Light throughout the Whole World. You are the Great Serpent, Leader of all the Gods, who control the Beginning of Egypt and the End of the Whole Inhabited World, who mate in the Ocean, PSOI PHNOUTHI NINTHE'R. You are He who becomes Visible each Day and Sets in the Northwest of Heaven, and Rises in the Southeast.

In the 1st Hour You have the Form of a Cat; Your Name is PHARAKOUNE'TH. Give Glory and Favor to this Phylactery.

In the 2nd Hour You have the Form of a Dog; Your Name is SOUPHI. Give Strength and Honor to this Phylactery, or to this Stone, and to NN.

In the 3rd Hour You have the Form of a Serpent; Your Name is AMEKRANEBECHEO THO'YTH. Give Honor to the God NN.

In the 4th Hour You have the Form of a Scarab; Your Name is SENTHENIPS. Mightily strengthen this Phylactery in this Night, for the Work for which it is consecrated.

In the 5th Hour You have the Form of a Donkey; Your Name is ENPHANCHOUPH. Give Strength and Courage and Power to the God, NN.

In the 6th Hour You have the Form of a Lion; Your Name is BAI SOLBAI, the Ruler of Time. Give Success to this Phylactery and Glorious Victory.

In the 7th Hour You have the Form of a Goat; Your Name is OUMESTHO'TH. Give Sexual Charm to this Ring (or to this Phylactery, or to this Engraving).

In the 8th Hour You have the Form of a Bull; Your Name is DIATIPHE', who becomes visible everywhere. Let all Things done by the use of this Stone be accomplished.

In the 9th Hour You have the Form of a Falcon; Your Name is PHE'OUS PHO'OUTH, the Lotus Emerged From the Abyss. Give Success and Good Luck to this Phylactery.

In the 10th Hour You have the Form of a Baboon; Your Name is BESBYKI. [Prayer for gift omitted?]

In the 11th Hour You have the Form of an Ibis; Your Name is MOU RO'PH. Protect this great Phylactery for Lucky Use by NN, from this Present Day for All Time.

In the 12th Hour You have the Form of a Crocodile; Your Name is AERTHOE'. [Prayer for gift omitted?]

You who have set at Evening as an Old Man, who are over the World and under the World, Mighty Ruler of the Sea, hear my Voice in this Present Day, in this Night, in these Holy Hours, and let all done by this Stone, or for this Phylactery, be brought to fulfillment, and especially NN matter for which I consecrate It. Please, Lord KME'PH LOUTHEOUTH ORPHOICHE ORTILIBECHOUCH IERCHE ROUM IPERITAO' YAI! I conjure Earth and Heaven and Light and Darkness and the Great God who created All, SAROUSIN, You, Agathon Daimonion the Helper, to accomplish for me everything done by the Use of this Ring or Stone!"

When you complete the Consecration, say, "The one Zeus is Serapis!"

-PGM IV.1596-1715

Moshe Weinfeld, in his book The Decalogue and the Recitation of "Shema": The Development of the Confessions, points out (pg. 128) that all these texts are hymnodal-liturgical, and that the Shema is confessional-liturgical.
On page 130 Weinfeld states that "there appears to be a deep connection between the definition of God as 'one'and the obligation to love him." He provides two passages from the Hebrew Bible which make the connection obvious.

And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest...
-Genesis 22:2.

My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her...
-Song of Solomon 6:9.

If people know of other, similar statements, please share!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Who Hath Stood in the Counsel of the Lord?

For who hath stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it?
כִּי מִי עָמַד בְּסוֹד יְהוָה וְיֵרֶא וְיִשְׁמַע אֶת דְּבָרוֹ מִי הִקְשִׁיב דברי [דְּבָרוֹ] וַיִּשְׁמָע.

-Jeremiah 23:18

Walker, this one is for you.

Medieval Jewish commentaries on the scriptures are fascinating. They often are very perceptive, as the following example shows.

The word rendered as counsel in the translation of Jeremiah 23:18 is sod. Not sod as in certain hostile instructions of the English language, but, as the Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testaments puts it, a circle of confidants. From this developed an abstract, secondary meaning of something confidential, a secret if you will. It corresponds fairly closely to the word mysteries. Indeed, Jewish mysticism such as kabbalah is termed in Hebrew torat ha-sod, or the doctrine of the mystery.

One might be tempted to conclude that medieval commentators were oblivious to the history of word development because they frequently projected backwards onto the text a current theological understanding, but it simply is not true that they always twisted the text to match their preconceptions. They were just as likely to examine the text with sound philological methods.

Metsudot (fortresses) is a commentary in two parts by Rabbi David Altschuler of Prague, completed after his death by his son Yehiel during the early part of the 18th century. There are to parts each named metsudah. Metsudat David deals with difficult phrases, Metsudat Zion with difficult words. None of the commentary is original, but is a distillation of prior works in lucid, popular form. This garaunteed its popularity, even a place in all editions of Mikraot Gedolot (the Rabbinic Bible) since the 18th century.

Metsudat David.

"Who has marked
" - indeed he who has marked his word like Jeremiah who hearkened unto the Lord's voice and carried out his commandments is the one who hears the prophecy unlike the wicked.

"For who hath stood" - He [the prophet] gave a reason for why they [the wicked] would not hearken unto them when he said for who of these stood in the counsel (sod) to recieve prophecy and who saw the visions of prophecy and who among them heard his word for being wicked they aren't worthy of prophecy.

מצודת דוד
"מי הקשיב" - אמנם מי שהקשיב דברו כירמיהו שהקשיב בקול ה' ועשה מצותיו הוא השומע הנבואה ולא הרשעים האלה

"כי מי עמד" - נתן טעם למה לא ישמעו אליהם באמרו כי מי מאלה עמד בסוד ה' לקבל נבואה ומי ראה מראות הנבואה ומי מהם שמע את דברו כי בהיותם רשעים אינם ראויים לנבואה

Metsudat Zion.

"In the sod" - it should be said in the place wherein prophecy is effected.

"Marked (hikshiv)" - a matter of listening and recieving.

מצודת ציון
"בסוד" - ר"ל במקום השפעת הנבואה

"הקשיב" - ענין האזנה וקבלה

Sunday, July 4, 2010

To Begin at the Beginning... of What?

With apologies to Dylan Thomas.

In a recent online discussion with an evangelical fundamentalist over John 1:1, the claim was made that "in the beginning" means the ultimate beginning of everything.

"There is not a Greek word for prior to archE. This is in the original.

There you have it.

If in the Greek something was archE it was original. Grab your lexicon and look up archE. It means nothing like it prior to it (whatever the object is your speaking of)."

He continued in the same vein.

"Research archE and argue that there should be a word or phrase that mandates prior to archE in the Greek.

There is nothing in the Greek language that represents prior to or before archE.

This is the point of origin (originAL). This fact [sic] and not spin.

If you discover the word or term or phrase then I will stand down. Until then we are dancing and not singing. Just let me know what you discover. At this point the archE is the original and NOTHING before the original unless you discover a Greek arguement for what was mentioned."

When I asked the beginning of what, I recieved a reply which must stand as a masterpiece of reason and logic.

"The Beginning not a Beginning not your Beginnig BUT THE BEGINNING.

The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your eginning [sic]. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning."

Several days have since passed, like so much water under the bridge, I chanced to be reading Rashi and came across this insightful exposition of the first verse of Genesis. The medival commentators contain some real gems. Sometimes, as is the case here, the methods used feel strikingly modern.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki), a French rabbi of the 11th century, is to this day considered the premier Jewish commentator on the Bible and the Babylonian Talmud. His commentaries are frequently printed in the margins of said works. His were the first comprehensive commentaries. Much of them are drawn from aggadic and midrashic materials, but such are not used indiscriminately, but in order to shed light on difficult passages, or to explain the biblical roots of Jewish teachings and traditions. However, in the following extract from his commentary on Genesis, Rashi looks at the text of Genesis 1:1 and provides other biblical occurences of the wrod reishit (what in english is translated as the beginning) to support his perceptive interpretation of the phrase.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Bereshith bara. In the beginning God created. This verse says expound me only in the manner that our Rabbis explained it: God created the world for the sake of the Torah, which is called (Proverbs 8:22) "the beginning (reshith) of His way," and for the sake of Israel, who are called (Jeremiah 2:3) "the beginning (reshith) of His increase." If, however, you wish to explain it in its plain sense, explain it thus: At the beginning of the creation of heaven and earth when the earth was without form and void and there was darkness, God said, Let there be light. The text does not intend to point out the order of the acts of Creation -- to state that these (heaven and earth) were created first; for if it intended to point this out, it should have been written Barishona bara, "At first God created..." Because wherever the word reshith occurs in Scripture, it is in the construct state. For example, Jeremiah 26:1, "In the beginning of (reshith) the reign of Jehoiakim," Genesis 10:10, "The beginning of (reshith) his kingdom," Deuteronomy 18:4, "The firstfruit of (reshith) thy corn." Similarly here you must translate bereshith bara Elohim as though it read bereshith bero, at the beginning of God's creating. A similar grammatical construction is in Hosea 1:2, "tehillat dibber [yahweh] beHosheah", which is as much to say, "At the beginning of God's speaking through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea." Should you, however, insist that it does actually intend to point out that these (heaven and earth) were created first, and that the meaning is, "At the beginning of everything He created these", admitting therefore that the word reshith is in the construct state and explaining the omission of a word signifying 'everything' by saying that you have texts which are elliptical, omitting a word, as for example Job 3:10, "Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb" where it does not explicitly explain who it was that closed the womb; and Isaiah 8:4 "He shall take away the spoil of Samaria" without explaining who shall take it away; and Amos 6:12 "Doth he plough with oxen," and it does not explicitly state, "Doth a man plough with oxen"; Isaiah 46:10 "Declaring from the beginning the end," and it does not explicitly state, "Declaring from the beginning of a thing the end of a thing" -- and if it is so, you should be astonished at yourself, because as a matter of fact the waters were created before heaven and earth, for lo, it is written, "The Spirit of God was hovering on the face of the waters," and Scripture had not yet disclosed when the creation of the waters took place -- consequently you must learn from this that the creation of the waters preceded that of the earth. And a further proof that the heavens and the earth were not the first thing created is that the heavens were created from fire (esh) and water (mayim), from which it follows that fire and water were in existence before the heavens. Therefore you must needs admit that the text teaches nothing about the earlier or later sequence of the acts of creation.

"בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא" – אין המקרא הזה אומר אלא דרשני, כמו שדרשוהו רבותינו ז"ל: בשביל התורה שנקראת (משלי ח כב) "רֵאשִׁית דַּרְכּוֹ", ובשביל ישראל שנקראו (ירמיהו ב ג) "רֵאשִׁית תבואתו".

ואם באת לפרשו כפשוטו, כך פרשהו: "בראשית בריאת שמים וארץ, וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ, וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר". ולא בא המקרא להורות סדר הבריאה, לומר שֶאֵלו קדמו; שאם בא להורות כך, היה לו לכתוב: "בראשונה ברא את השמים" וגו', שאין לך "ראשית" במקרא שאינו דבוק לתיבה של אחריו, כמו: (ירמיהו כו א) "בְּרֵאשִׁית מַמְלְכוּת יְהוֹיָקִים", (בראשית י י) "רֵאשִׁית מַמְלַכְתּוֹ", (דברים יח ד) "רֵאשִׁית דְּגָנְךָ". אף כאן אתה אומר: "בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים" וגו', כמו "בְּרֵאשִׁית ברוא". ודומה לו (הושע א ב) "תְּחִלַּת דִּבֶּר ה' בְּהוֹשֵׁעַ", כלומר: תחילת דיבורו של הקב"ה בהושע, "ויאמר ה' אל הושע" וגו'.

ואם תאמר: להורות בא שאלו תחילה נבראו, ופירושו: בראשית הכל ברא אלו, ויש לך מקראות שמקצרים לשונם וממעטים תיבה אחת, כמו: (איוב ג י) "כִּי לֹא סָגַר דַּלְתֵי בִטְנִי", ולא פירש מי הסוגר, וכמו (ישעיהו ח ד) "יִשָּׂא אֶת חֵיל דַּמֶּשֶׂק", ולא פירש מי ישאנו, וכמו (עמוס ו יב) "אִם יַחֲרוֹשׁ בַּבְּקָרִים", ולא פירש "אם יחרוש אדם בבקרים", וכמו (ישעיהו מו י) "מַגִּיד מֵרֵאשִׁית אַחֲרִית", ולא פירש "מַגִּיד מֵרֵאשִׁית דבר אַחֲרִית דבר". אם כן תמה על עצמך, שהרי המים קדמו, שהרי כתיב: "וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם", ועדיין לא גילה המקרא בריית המים מתי היתה. הא למדת שקדמו המים לארץ. ועוד, שהשמים מאש ומים נבראו. על כרחך לא לימד המקרא בסדר המוקדמים והמאוחרים כלום.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Scripture Over All Else?

The finally definitive move for the Rabbis was to transfer all Logos and Sophia talk to the Torah alone, thus effectively accomplishing two powerful discursive moves at once: consolidating their power as the sole religious virtuosi and leaders of "the Jews", aand protecting one version of monotheistic thinking from the problematic of division within the godhead. For the Rabbis, Torah supersedes Logos, just as for John, Logos supersedes Torah. Or, to put it into more fully Johanine terms, if for John the Logos Incarnate in Jesus replaces the Logos revealed in the Book, for the Rabbis the Logos Incarnate in the Book displaces the Logos that subsists anywhere else but in the Book. This move on the part of the Rabbis at the end of the rabbinic period effectively displaces the structure of western thought, embodied in the Fourth Gospel, whereby Logos is located most directly and presently in the voice of the speaker, Jesus, with the written text understood at best as a secondary reflection of the speaker's intention.

Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: the partition of Judaeo-Christianity, pg. 129.