SHNATON: An Annual for Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies • XXII
Edited by NILI WAZANA
More on the Story about Nahash in 4QSama,
Its Purpose and Diffusion
The article explores the well known passage in 4QSama about Nahash and reinforces its understanding as a Midrashic expanded version of the original passage, which was close to the Massoretical text. A new suggestion regarding the purpose of this expanded version is given: it was intended to harmonize between the story about Nahash in 1 Sam 11 and that in Judges 21, according to which the entire population of Yabesh Gilead were killed. This expanded passage was known in ancient times, as reflected in Josephus’ Antiquities. It is claimed here that the version attested in 4QSama was probably known also to the author of 1 Maccabees already at the turn of the second century BCE.
The Image of God in the Book of Job
This article offers a literary analysis of the character of God in the Book of Job. The analysis rests upon the premise that the book is, on the whole, a unified work, and that the common tendency of scholars to analyze the narrative framework and the poetic speeches independently is misguided. The analysis begins with an inquiry into God’s motivation for responding positively to the suggestion of Satan to subject Job to two difficult tests. Through a comparison with other instances in the Bible in which God tests human beings, it is argued that the God of the Book of Job exhibits an unusually radical need to prove both to himself and to the members of his heavenly council that he is adored absolutely and unequivocally. If Job accepts the extreme pain and torture which God inflicts upon him with complete submission, that would establish that He is not worshipped simply because He is good or fair. This would magnify God’s glory and honor, establishing that His greatness is not bound to the realm of the ethical. At the same time, however, it is shown that God admires Job above all other people specifically because Job personifies to such a perfect extent the virtues of goodness and justice with which He himself identifies.
God thus suffers from a sense of guilt over the evil that he feels entitled to perpetrate against Job. The recognition that the divine character suffers from a dichotomy within His own identity enables us to understand and appreciate some of the highly undignified, perplexing, and irrational things that God says and does throughout the book from beginning to end. It is not the book of Job that is divided against itself, but the character of God within a unified book. It is suggested that one can account for the characterization of God in the Book of Job in such undignified terms following the assumption that the book is highly subversive and irreverent, and that it was meant as a sort of ‘theological satire’. The inclusion of the book within the biblical canon conferred upon it a less cynical and more serious and reverent atmosphere.
The Ritual of Reading Scripture (Nehemiah 8:1–12)
The reading of the Torah is presented in Nehemiah 8 as a spontaneous act: the people who gathered in Jerusalem on the New Moon of the seventh month asked Ezra to bring the book of the Torah; Ezra obliged, brought the book of the Torah, and read from it ‘from the first light until midday’ (Neh. 8:3). However, the details of the description make it clear that this was certainly not the case. The public reading of the Torah was a preconceived, structured event, a full-fledged ritual.
The purpose of the article is to uncover the peculiar features of this ritual – what it included and what it missed or omitted. The unique nature of the ritual may be observed from every perspective that we examine it, and it is not similar to anything that we know from biblical sources. Nevertheless, the possibility of parallels that may be found in the biblical literature, and the sources that may have influenced it, are brought up and discussed.
A further question examined in the article is the afterlife of this ritual and its impact on Jewish liturgy of the post-exilic community, on the one hand, and of later Jewish synagogal worship, on the other. The examination of the sources related to this question and a comparison of the ritual of reading with the synagogal liturgy as we know it, lead to the unavoidable conclusion that the ritual as described in Nehemiah 8 was a unique event, a particular expression of the post-exilic community, with its specific historical, political, social, and religious parameters.
Mesopotamian Lexical Lists: Compositions for Reading,
Writing, and Interpreting the Cuneiform Script
Lexical Lists are considered the oldest literary texts known from Mesopotamia and are among the most widespread textual genres in the ancient Near East. In nearly every site where cuneiform tablets were revealed, especially outside Mesopotamia, lexical lists were also found. In spite of the fact that this genre is commonly mentioned in studies dealing with the relationship between the biblical world and the scribal environment of the Ancient Near East, the lexical list deserves a more detailed treatment than it usually receives in order to appreciate fully its multiple forms and functions.
The purpose of this article is to introduce in detail the lexical list genre and discuss its historical development and use in ancient Near Eastern scribal schools. The role of the lexical list in the intellectual and scribal milieu of Mesopotamia will also be assessed. Thus, its importance in the generation and spread of knowledge in the fields of ancient linguistics, the sciences, religion, and literature will be properly elucidated.
The Historical Background of a Topographical List of Ramesses III
Topographical lists are a literary and artistic genre which has been discussed widely in scholarly literature. The potential of this genre for the study of historical geography of the Land of Canaan in the Bronze and Iron ages was identified immediately. Many scholars studied these lists and tried to identify archaeological tells with toponyms mentioned in the lists. However, in most cases, these lists could not be used to learn about the history of Canaan, since many of them were copied from prototypes dating from the days of Thutmosis III (1479–1425 BCE) and Ramesses II (1279–1212 BCE), and could only capsulate the historical reality during the reign of the latter.
Furthermore, not enough attention was given to the physical setting of the list within the scene, the accompanying epigraphs and the corpus of royal texts. In this article I re-examine a topographical list of Ramesses III from his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu in western Thebes. I discuss the significance of the originality of the toponyms and their possible identification, the integration of the list within the scene of Pharaoh smiting his enemies, and its relation to the royal inscriptions of Ramesses III. The list appears to be original and unique and reflects the outcome of the battle of Ramesses III against the Philistines and their allies.
The Cedar Forest’s Traditions in the Egyptian
Tale of the Two Brothers and Genesis 2–3
The episode describing Bata, the protagonist of the Egyptian Tale of the Two Brothers, in The Valley of the oš, is unique in its irregularity and uses of foreign motifs. Given that this valley is identified as the Cedar Forest of Lebanon, and that several of those foreign and irregular motifs reveal affinity to the biblical story of the Garden of Eden as well as to other texts from the Ancient Near East, it is suggested that both of these stories are dependent on an ancient tradition from Canaan.
Rashbam on Moses’ Role in Writing the Torah
A basic axiom of Judaism over the generations has been that the Torah is of divine origin and that it was written by Moses through the authority of the Holy Spirit. However, what was the nature of God’s revelation to Moses that enabled him to write the Torah? Did God dictate the Torah to Moses word by word (a textual revelation)? Or was Moses, perhaps, given greater creative license to formulate the content of divine communication according to his own stylistic literary considerations? The author examines the opinion of R. Samuel b. Meir (Rashbam) on this matter.
Rashbam did not deal explicitly with Moses’ role in writing the Torah. Nevertheless he can be shown to have had a definite opinion about this issue. Rashbam assumed that Moses had certain creative freedom in writing the Torah, and that the Torah includes his own independent statements besides statements that he received from God. In the third and fourth parts of the article the author examines the causes and the intellectual conditions underlying Rashbam’s view. In the fifth part the author shows that the findings of the previous parts of the article are not completely correlated with Rashbam’s explicit methodological statements, and he suggests the reasons for this interesting complexity.
Contending with the Disparity Between Peshat and Derash:
Nachmanides in the Footsteps of Ibn Ezra
Numerous points of contact exist between Ibn Ezra and Nachmanides in their attitudes to midrashic homiletics. The striving of both commentators for the plain sense of the scriptual text leads them to declare in favor of an interpretative method which is not subject to aggadic homiletics. Both commentators testify that they themselves diminished the authority of aggadic homiletics during their disputations with scholars of other faiths, Ibn Ezra during a disputation with Islamic scholars and Nachmanides during his Barcelona disputation before church scholars. These disputations probably brought into sharper focus the need to stay with the plain sense of the scriptures and to curtail as far as possible the authority of the aggadic homilies.
Both Ibn Ezra and Nachmanides felt the need to justify their reservations about the aggada and therefore cited precedents from scholars of earlier generations. Ibn Ezra found support in the teachings of the Ge’onim, whose writings were an important source of inspiration in all his commentaries. On the other hand Nachmanides relies first and foremost on Rashi, regarding him as the doyen of all Bible commentators and well versed in all branches of scriptural studies. Although Nachmanides cites Rashi as the religious authority for permission to deviate from Talmudic rabbinical interpretation, his reasoning is taken specifically from the words of Ibn Ezra in the latter’s introduction to the Pentateuch.
Ibn Ezra was the first to attempt to lay down rules which would enable a commentator systematically to resolve the contradictions which arise between the plain meaning (peshat) and both halakhic and aggadic homiletics (derash). Most of these rules formulated by Ibn Ezra were adopted by Nachmanides in his commentary to the Torah. The rules called ‘asmakhta’ (a mere textual hint) and ‘yesh lo sod’ (‘therein lies a mystical secret’) were to express the weakness of the link between the burden of the midrash and the verse. His intention with the claims ‘divrei yahid’ (‘a solitary opinion’), ‘sevara’ (‘hypothesis’), ‘lo kabbalah’ (‘not a received tradition’), and ‘derekh aggada’ (‘in aggadic fashion’) is to diminish the authoritativeness of the midrashim themselves. Nachmanides took over these special terms from Ibn Ezra as well as the mode of their application in Bible exegesis, as, like his predecessor, he tackled the disparity between the midrash and the plain meaning of the biblical text.
The two disciplines that were Nachmanides’ chief province alongside biblical exegesis – Halakhah and Kabbalah – influenced his way of applying Ibn Ezra’s rules. As a Talmudic scholar, he was drawn to a more precise and ‘halakhic’ use of the rules ‘asmakhta’ and ‘divrei yahid’. Being a Kabbalist led him to a more mystical interpretaion of the argument ‘yesh lo sod’ and of the term ‘kabbalah’ when contrasted with ‘sevara’.
The criticism which Nachmanides directs towards Ibn Ezra in the context of his treatment of midrash, is usually related to the application of his various rules to specific midrashim. It can be generally stated that the disagreements between them are not about the actual methodology but rather about details of its application. In reading Nachmanides’ exegeses one comes across numerous rebukes directed at Ibn Ezra’s treatment of midrashim; however, from our discussion it nevertheless becomes clear that Nachmanides’ critical approach towards midrashic interpretation, and also the assortment of methods he uses in order to settle controversies between peshat and midrash, were actually based on Ibn Ezra’s assumptions, conceptions, and methodology. ‘Concealed love’ therefore overpowers ‘open rebuke’.
Rabbi Yitzchak De Lattes – A Maimonidean Provençal Author
and His Manuscript Torah Commentary
This article relates to the writing of Rabbi Yitzchak ben Yaakov De Lattes (known as the ‘Kiryat Sefer’) and to the methodology of his exegesis. The work of De Lattes is divided into two parts: Sha‘arei Zion, which includes 16 chapters of introduction, methodology, and summaries of various subjects; and Toldot Yitzchak, his biblical exegesis. The author’s main purpose in this work is to create an overview of halakhic issues based on their order in the biblical commentary and in relation to the issues raised in each weekly portion.
This work is representative of the dominant intellectual-philosophical tradition of halakhic authorities in 13th–14th century Provence. A concentration on rules and conclusions is characteristic of this school of thought as it is strongly influenced by Maimonides in the realm of halakha and philosophy. In his commentary, De Lattes fuses exegesis with philosophy and halakha.
This article focuses mainly on describing the exegetical side of Toldot Yitzchak. In relation to halakhic and philosophical issues, De Lattes’s exegesis is an integral part of the Provençal tradition. Not only is the essence of his commentary based on the commentaries of previous exegetes from Provence, mainly those of R. Yoseph Caspi, Radak, Ralbag, and R. Abba Mari ben Aligdor, but De Lattes even uses exegetical methodologies and writing styles that are characteristic of biblical exegetes in Provence at the time. In the framework of his commentary he rewrites biblical narratives and divides them into literary units in an attempt to emphasize the message within each unit and summarize the content of each book and biblical portion. De Lattes often elucidates the cantillations and the educational values that arise from the sentences themselves. In addition, his commentary is innovative in its clarification of sentences and narratives, mainly through De Lattes’ interpretation of the course of events in various writings and uncovering of the specific literary style of each individual narrative.