Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Did They *Really* Find The Well of Miriam?

So it has been reported on several blogs, and in an Arutz Sheva article as well.

Yet I am not convinced that the well of Miriam has been found. There are several questions and steps:
  1. Did the archaeologist discover the feature that the Arizal identified as the well of Miriam?
  2. Did the Arizal accurately identify the feature which Chazal identified as the well of Miriam?
  3. Did Chazal accurately identify what became of the Well of Miriam, which was mentioned in Chumash?
These are three separate questions. In terms of question #1, it seems, based on the article, that he did:

The famous preeminent Kabbalist master known as the Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of 16th-century Jerusalem, Egypt and Tzfat, was the first to note the location of Miriam's Well - somewhere in the Kinneret. It is on his authority, in fact, that many of the burial sites of famous Talmudic sages and others in the Land of Israel are known.

A work by one of the Arizal's students, called "Shaar HaGilgulim," states that the Arizal identified an area of the Kinneret as the site of Miriam's Well. However, the book did not specify the precise location. In another work, however, entitled Nagid U'Mtzaveh by Rabbi Yaakov Tzemach, written 60 years after the Arizal's death, the following is cited:

"When I, Chaim [Rabbi Chaim Vital, possibly the Arizal's top student], came to my teacher of blessed memory [the Arizal] to study this [Kabbalistic] wisdom, my teacher of blessed memory went to Tiberias and took me with him... and when we were on a boat in the water, opposite the pillars of the old synagogue, my teacher of blessed memory then took a cup and filled it with water from between the pillars, and gave me that water to drink, and said to me: Now you will attain with this that wisdom, for this water that you have drank is from Miriam's well. And from then on, I began entering the depths of this wisdom."
A 19th-century source - Rabbi Chaim HaLevy Horowitz, in his work Hibat Yerushalayim - states, "When one goes from within the city to the Tiberias Hot Springs, somewhere in the middle of the way, where are found ruins of 13 syngagogues, there are rocks jutting out of the Kinneret, and one walks on them for a few strides... and there is the well."

Based on these descriptions, archaeologist Stepansky searched the shores of the Kinneret in and around Tiberias, and found what appears to be the remains of the pillars. They are located south of the municipal beach, near the shoreline of the Holiday Inn Hotel (formerly the Ganei Hamat Hotel). Four hundred years ago, the site was underwater, as the level of the Kinneret was some two meters higher than it is today.

But what was the Arizal's methodology in identifying this site as the Well of Miriam? Was it through Ruach haKodesh? Attempting to match Torah sources to visible phenomena?

The Arutz Sheva article mentions an "ancient midrash" which
tells of a person who "suffered from boils and went down to immerse in the waters in Tiberias, and it was an opportune time, and he saw Miriam’s Well and washed in it and was healed... The well was opposite the main entrance to the ancient synagogue of Tiberias..."
So perhaps he relied upon this midrash. But which ancient Midrash is it? I'd like to see that midrash inside {readers: please help out here if possible} -- and I wonder how ancient it is.

The idea, echoed by the Kol Bo {though the Kol Bo explicitly does not attribute it to any one place}, that the well of Miriam is capable of healing leprosy, seems at odds with the idea put forth in II Kings 5 that it is not the intrinsic properties of a specific body of water than can bring healing to leprosy, but rather as an act of God.

What gives me some slight pause it the gemara in Shabbat 35a:
R. Hiyya said: One who wishes to see Miriam's well should ascend to the top of the Carmel and gaze, when he will observe a kind of sieve in the sea, and that is Miriam's well.
From looking on a map, it seems that Mount Carmel overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, not the Sea of Galilee. And the "top of Carmel," Rosh haKarmel, is a specific point at the top of the mountain which looks like a head. Yam, Sea, when unqualified means the Mediterranean Sea, at least in Tanach. I could be wrong about this, though. Click on the map to see what I mean.

Now, perhaps we have the wrong girsa in the gemara and it should specify a different mountain. Indeed, the Arutz Sheva article mentions different girsaot as a cop-out without mentioning the problem, saying
The Talmud and Midrash say it can be seen from the top of a mountain as a type of sieve in the sea (though the mountain is identified differently in the various sources).
Which midrash, though. (I haven't taken the time to look it up.) Within our gemara, though, it is clear that Mt. Carmel is meant, for the context is:

R. Nehemiah said: For as long as it takes a man to walk half a mil from sunset.' R. Hanina said: One who wishes to know R. Nehemiah's period should leave the sun on the top of the Carmel, descend, dip in the sea, and reascend, and this is R. Nehemiah's period. R. Hiyya said: One who wishes to see Miriam's well should ascend to the top of the Carmel and gaze, when he will observe a kind of sieve in the sea, and that is Miriam's well. Rab said: A moveable well is clean, and that is Miriam's well.
This is a further question on the "ancient" nature of the midrash." If it is indeed "opposite to the entrance to the ancient synagogue of Tiberias," why give this strange description involving ascending a mountain? Say instead to go opposite the synagogue! The "ancient" midrash would seem to be post-Talmudic. Unless we start talking once again about rising and lowering of sea level.

Assuming that the Arizal's sieve in the sea is equal to Chazal's sieve in the sea, we must further ask whether Rabbi Chiyya's labeling of a specific feature visible from a mountain is in fact an accurate labeling of the Biblical Well of Miriam. For this rock formation is presumably natural. How long has it been there? The Well of Miriam was a miracle, and it moved around with the Israelites through the desert. Did it really then move offshore after the Israelites entered the land of Israel, hovering at a distance in the Mediterranean Sea -- or else, in the Sea of Galilee?

What Rabbi Chiyya described was not something observed from up close. It was visible off in the distance, kind of like seeing Moshe's grave appear in the distance. (Perhaps one can argue that the next statement, of Rav, implies having regular dealings with it, but this is not necessarily so.)

Did Rabbi Chiyya say this via ruach hakodesh, from some derasha, or from some tradition? Perhaps. On the other hand, some facts develop as folklore and these common beliefs are adopted as fact. People standing on Rosh haKarmel could have seen this feature and believed it was the Well of Miriam, and Rabbi Chiyya was repeating this belief.

As an example of this, from Midrash Rabba and in Niddah 24b:

It was taught: Abba Saul (or, as some say, R. Johanan stated): I was once a grave-digger. On one occasion, when pursuing a deer, I entered the thigh-bone of a corpse, and pursued it for three parasangs but did neither reach the deer nor the end of the thigh-bone. When I returned I was told that it was the thigh-bone of Og, King of Bashan.

It was taught: Abba Saul stated, I was once a grave-digger and on one occasion there was opened a cave under me and I stood in the eye-ball of a corpse up to my nose. When I returned I was told that it was the eye of Absalom. And should you suggest that Abba Saul was a dwarf [it may be mentioned that] Abba Saul was the tallest man in his generation, and R. Tarfon reached to his shoulder and that R. Tarfon was the tallest man in his generation and R. Meir reached to his shoulder. R. Meir was the tallest man in his generation and Rabbi reached to his shoulder. Rabbi was the tallest man in his generation and R. Hiyya reached to his shoulder, and R. Hiyya was the tallest in his generation and Rab reached to his shoulder. Rab was the tallest man in his generation and Rab Judah reached to his shoulder, and Rab Judah was the tallest man in his generation and his waiter Adda reached to his shoulder.

Thus, in both cases, Abba Shaul was told by others that a specific geographical feature was a Biblical relic, and he passed this information on. Perhaps this is so as well for Rabbi Chiyya's statement.

Or perhaps not.

(Note: Unlike some others, who feel compelled to take the aforementioned stories of Abba Shaul figuratively, I feel that there are features that make it clear that they are meant literally -- but also that it is clear that others are telling him this.)

Thus, I would be more careful in assuming that we have found the Biblical Well of Miriam.

Update, June 11: Yitz and Anonymous make a number of good comments. Here are my further thoughts on the matter.
  1. Firstly, I must confess that I find the idea of the Well of Miriam much more poetic and compelling that any reality of the same. As a concept, the well of Miriam followed the Israelites around the wilderness, providing water and thus Hashem's continued assurance for Israel's wellbeing, wherever he may wander. A midrash that this Divine Providence accompanied the Israelites, even as they entered the land of Israel, demonstrates this continued concern for Israel's welfare. And the Kol Bo that it circles all the wells at a certain time shows that this continues even as Israel enters exile, galut.
    As a reality, as a specific location of a dried up well, it does not resonate with the same message. And it has the potential for becoming a shrine, which does not seem to be the original intent.
    Thus, I may be a bit biased in this regard, and who knows? Perhaps this impacts my analysis.
  2. Anonymous makes a good point:
    I didn't know there WAS a Biblical source for Miriam's well, other than the juxtaposition of her death and the demand for water. (Which is problematic for the argument that the well still exists)
    I mis-wrote, and Anonymous is likely correct that this juxtaposition is the only source for Miriam's well.

    I would point out another possible source, though: When Miriam gets leprosy, Moshe prays for her: ana kel na refa na lah, which roughly translates to "Oh LORD, please make her well." Thus, perhaps here is where Hashem, in response, makes Miriam's well. And the well is supposed to cure leprosy.

    (Yes, I'm kidding. :)

    Perhaps some point also to Bemidbar 21:16:
    טז וּמִשָּׁם, בְּאֵרָה: הִוא הַבְּאֵר, אֲשֶׁר אָמַר יְהוָה לְמֹשֶׁה, אֱסֹף אֶת-הָעָם, וְאֶתְּנָה לָהֶם מָיִם. {ס} 16 And from thence to Beer; that is the well whereof the LORD said unto Moses: 'Gather the people together, and I will give them water.' {S}
    (Though Ibn Ezra does not.)

    If Anonymous' source is the source, it is a case of hem amru veHem amru. Chazal deduce it stopped at this point, but perhaps we can say it went away, and it is constantly moving around wherever Chazal place it.

    We have the Tosefta Sota which states that it finished, but not that Miriam's death terminated it absolutely:
    תוספתא מסכת סוטה (ליברמן) פרק יא הלכה ח

    ר' יוסה בר' יהודה אומ' כיון שיצאו ישראל ממצרים נתמנו להן שלשה פרנסין טובין אילו הן משה אהרן ומרים בזכותן נתנו להן שלש מתנות עמוד הענן ומן ובאר באר בזכות מרים עמוד ענן בזכות אהרן מן בזכות משה מתה מרים בטלה הבאר וחזרה בזכות משה ואהרן מת אהרן בטל עמוד הענן וחזרו שניהם בזכות משה מת משה בטלו שלשתן ולא חזרו שנ' ואכחיד את שלשת בירח אחד

    Regardless, we may have to recast question 3 as whether it accords to the reality of Miriam's well (rather than the Biblical conception), or to the initial midrashic conception of the same.
  3. Anonymous writes:
    Abba Shaul is told who the body parts belong to. But he himself testifies that these unbelievably gigantic body parts exist. That is hard to take literally, not just the identification with Og/Avshalom.
    Yet the gemara appears to take this literally, at least the skull of Avshalom, by talking about how he was not merely a dwarf and also by demonstrating this shrinking of the generations.

    Now it may be that he entered some geological formation that appeared like the thigh-bone of a corpse in structure, and this is what he believed it to be.

    Or maybe not.
  4. Anonymous also points out that
    If it really is Carmel not Arbel, then the "sea" has to be the Mediterranean. I live in Haifa. You simply can't see the Kinneret from here. The Kinneret is in a valley, and the mountains of Nazareth are in between.
    and thus my previous wavering whether it could be Carmel and yet also be the Kinneret is not justified. It would have to be the Mediterranean.
  5. Yitz, if I understand him correctly writes that the alternate girsa as being the Arbel. Or some other source that mentions it being the Arbel.

    This could well substitute for rosh haCarmel -- instead having rosh haCarmel. We then would have a few considerations if we would try to resolve it.

    On the side of Carmel, we have the surrounding context in the gemara, which is all about the rosh haCarmel (in the previous statement), which makes the redactor, Rav Ashi's bringing it in move fluid. We also have the fact that rosh haCarmel does not only mean head of the mountain, but specifically meant head of the mountain -- there was a goat-head shaped structure at the top that passing seafarers would worship, thus explaining rosh haCarmel.

    On the side of rosh haArbel, we have the fact that it is, relative to rosh haCarmel or Carmel, relatively obscure. In which case we can bring in lectio difficilior. In which direction would a change happen? (Though perhaps you could argue it was changed to accord with a concept of the Well in the Galilee.) Also, we do have Talmudic usage of rosh in rosh hagag and rosh habirah.

    I wonder if this current find is visible from the head of Mt. Arbel.
  6. Yitz also points to Vayikra Rabba 25:5 and to a Midrash Tanchuma about the well of Miriam. Tanchuma is a compose, some of which is fairly early but some of which is apparently 9th century. Meanwhile, Vayikra Rabba is mid-7th century, so is post Talmudic.
    However, I tried looking in my Vayikra Rabba to see it in Hebrew/Aramaic, and I saw some mention of Teveria, but not about anyone immersing in a Well of Miriam. It could be mine has different numbering, or the numbering is different, so I'll have to leave in depth analysis to a later time. The English of it is apparently:
    "It happened that someone who suffered from boils went down to immerse in the waters in Tiveria; it was an opportune time, and he saw Miriam's Well and washed in it and was healed."
    From a Hebrew link from Heical haNegina, we have:
    במדרש ויקרא רבה מצוין מיקומה של באר מרים בתוך "ימה של טבריה" ומוזכרת יכולתה לרפא מוכי שחין הטובלים בה, אולי הֵד לכך שכבר בתקופה הרומית השתמשו בחמי טבריה וגדר כאתרי מרפא לתחלואים שונים ובהם מחלות עור.

    I do see it in Tanchuma. There, it reads:
    מדרש תנחומא (ורשא) פרשת חקת סימן א

    מעשה בשיחין אחד סומא שירד במים לטבול במערה נזדמנו לו באר של מרים וטבל ונתרפא
    Such that it is not the chamei Teveria, the springs of Tiberias, but rather any old cistern in a cave. And the Well of Miriam happened to him, or he encountered it.

    Now, recall that the Well of Miriam is a "moving well," and it could well be that this well, within this midrashic conception, is moving around from place to place all the time, somewhat like the Kol Bo mentioned.

    Thus, this ill person could "encounter" it by accident as he went to immerse in a cistern. And someone else, in perhaps the same story but changed to Chamei Teveria, or perhaps in a different incident, could "encounter" it as he immerses in the Chamei Teveria or the springs in that area.

    If it is a well that moves around in this way, it is different from Rabbi Chiyya's conception of the Well that is hovering in place off of Israel in the Mediterranean Sea, or in the Galilee. And this would not necessarily be a proof that it is in the Galilee, against the reading of the gemara.
  7. Update: I found it Bemidbar Rabba and Tanchuma. In Bemidbar Rabba:
    במדבר רבה (וילנא) פרשה יט ד"ה כו אז ישיר

    ונשקפה על פני הישימון זה באר שבאה עמהן עד שנכנסה לתוך ימה של טבריה והעומד על פני הישימון רואה בתוך הים כמלא תנור והוא הבאר הנשקף על פני הישימון.
    and the same in Tanchuma:
    מדרש תנחומא (ורשא) פרשת חקת סימן כא

    ונשקפה על פני הישמון זה לענין באר שבאת עמהם עד שנגנזה לתוך ימה של טבריה והעומד על פני הישימון רואה בתוך הים כמלא פי תנור והוא הבאר הנשקף על פני הישימון
    This, it is off in the sea of Galilee, and looks like the mouth of an oven rather than a sieve.

    Now, Bemidbar Rabba is likely post-Rashi, while Tanchuma is a composite work, part of which is early (e.g. Talmudic at least) while part is as late as 9th century. If so, it might not compare favorably with the Talmudic source.
  8. More later, perhaps, as sources arise. Thanks again, everyone, for the assistance!

10 comments:

yitz said...

Hey Josh, if you would've read the post at MY blog about Miriam's Well, youd've found this:
According to one source, the Well sank into the Sea of Galilee: "It happened that someone who suffered from boils went down to immerse in the waters in Tiveria; it was an opportune time, and he saw Miriam's Well and washed in it and was healed". (Vayikra Rabba, 25:5). These healing effects are also mentioned [Hebrew link] in the Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Chukas. Even in our day and age, "some have a tradition to draw water [from a well] Saturday night because Miriam's Well supplies all the wells each Saturday night, and one who does so and drinks will be cured of illness" (Kol Bo, Orach Chaim, 299:10).
The "Hebrew link" on my blog will take you to someone who quotes the Midrash Tanchuma as well.
I also came across in my research that some appear to have a girsa that it wasn't Mount Carmel but rather Mount ARBEL, which is well-known to be just outside Tiveria and quite close to the Kinneret, which indeed is referred to as "Yam" already in the Chumash.

joshwaxman said...

thanks. I'll update my post sometime later today (have to run off to work).

Vayikra Rabba and Tanchuma are fairly early midrashim (7th century and Tannaitic, respectively, if I recall correctly). Was the Hebrew link Shofar, because I saw that.

The thing is, even the Vayikra Rabba, if 7th century, is post-Talmudic, as mentioned. And it does not really say that it sank in the Galilee, as least not the part explicitly cited. I'll write later.

joshwaxman said...

But I've got to look at the sources inside. Thanks again.

yitz said...

The Hebrew link was not Shofar, I think it was Netivot Shalom, but a very interesting piece. I can't remember, tho, where I saw the possibility of the Tanna who mentioned a mountain being the Arbel. That would certainly point all of Chazal & the Arizal in the same direction!

Anonymous said...

1) If it really is Carmel not Arbel, then the "sea" has to be the Mediterranean. I live in Haifa. You simply can't see the Kinneret from here. The Kinneret is in a valley, and the mountains of Nazareth are in between.

2) I wonder if the phrase "leave the sun" in the midrash hints as to whether the sea in question is to the east or the west?

3) Abba Shaul is told who the body parts belong to. But he himself testifies that these unbelievably gigantic body parts exist. That is hard to take literally, not just the identification with Og/Avshalom.

4) I didn't know there WAS a Biblical source for Miriam's well, other than the juxtaposition of her death and the demand for water. (Which is problematic for the argument that the well still exists)

joshwaxman said...

thanks.
I've updated my post to incorporate some of this new info.

yitz said...

Thanks for updating your post. I saw Vaykra Rabba 25 "inside" tonight. After the passage you quote is the mention of the mountain, Har HaYeshimon, which, except for the name, is virtually identical with the Gemara in Shabbos 35a. One of the meforshim there [Vayikra Rabba], the Radal [Rav David Luria] mentions the apparent difficulty with the Gemara Shabbos 35a. He says that perhaps in Shabbos, too, the girsa should be "HaYeshimon" & the reason that "Carmel" crept into the Gemara was that the previous passage - immeidately before - refers to the Carmel, & the one who TRANSCRIBED the Gemara carried it over. Very interesting...

yitz said...

Okay, this post is a bit 'old' but here goes:
I've found some more sources. Check out Yerushalmi Kelayim, Chapter 9, Halacha 4, towards the end. There "Yeshimon" is also mentioned, and Yama Shel Tiveria too.
Then there's the Rach, Rabbeinu Chananel on the Gemara Shabbos 35a, who also mentions "Yama shel Tiveria."
The Arizal's right on target!!!

joshwaxman said...

thanks. I'll check them out.

Yosi Stepansky said...

I may have commented already, can't remember. The Carmel Mt. was ientified by the jews of Tiberias as the mt. above Tiberias (Poriya mt.) and that explains seeing Beer Miriam from Mt. Carmel..."Maon" (not the Biblical one near the yishuv 'Carmel' S. of Hevron) was also a settlement above Tiberias in Talmudical times...Prof. Elchanan Reiner has written widely on this, including on the Tradition of Beer Miriam.
Archaeologist Yosi Stepansky
stepansky@bezeqint.net

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