Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Samaritans make Yisro bow

Summary: It is a general feature of the Samaritan Torah that they "fix" the text to solve difficulties. This is something to keep in mind if you would think to rely on a Samaritan variant as preferable to the Masoretic text. Three examples from this week's parsha alone. They make Yitro bow to Moshe; they make the nation hear the sounds; and they emend Har Eval to Har Grizim, which they deem holy. There are others. Also, Ibn Ezra argues against Lower Biblical criticism.

Post: Read the summary above. To now proceed...

As I read through Vetus Testamentum, a few examples jumped out at me as obvious emendations to make the text run more "smoothly" or to solve other apparent difficulties.

One such example I already discussed last week. All the nation saw the sounds and the flames (thunder and lightning?). But how can one see sound? There are a bunch of rather good, convincing answers, and at the end of the day, natural language is simply weird and irregular like this. But in the Samaritan Torah, we have the following variant:

Another example. In a previous year, I discussed (here and here) the ambiguity as to whether Moshe bowed to Yisro, Yisro bowed to Moshe, or they bowed to each other. But the best show of respect towards the Jewish people and towards Hashem would be to have Yisro bow down to Moshe. And so, this is resolved in favor of Yisro bowing as follows:

Also, they harmonize the two accounts of Mattan Torah, and bring in from elsewhere what the people said to Moshe. And they juxtapose to the aseret ha-dibrot the setting up of stones covered in lye, but they place it on their own holy mount, namely Har Gerizim, rather than the Masoretic text's Har Eival. And they were the ones with motive to falsify the text in this manner:

One final, most-excellent example from parashat Yitro. In Shemot 19:12:

יב  וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ אֶת-הָעָם סָבִיב לֵאמֹר, הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם עֲלוֹת בָּהָר וּנְגֹעַ בְּקָצֵהוּ:  כָּל-הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהָר, מוֹת יוּמָת.12 And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying: Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it; whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death;

Ibn Ezra explains:
[יט, יב]
והגבלת -
שים גבול בהר. ע"כ כמוהו הגבל את ההר וקדשתו לשום גבול בהר. והארכתי כל כך בעבור שאמר המשוגע שהפך בספרו דברי אלוהים חיים, אמר: כי רצה משה לומ: הגבל את העם. ויצא מפיו ההר במקום העם.
And see Rashbam for the same idea; and see Rashi. In Ibn Ezra's short commentary, he calls this person (who says Moshe misspoke) the מבהיל (or מהביל) rather than the משוגע, writing בעבור שאמר המהביל שתתחלף) מלה במלה ]. Clearly, Ibn Ezra does not think strongly of this position. Meanwhile, it seems that the Samaritans were troubled by the same issue, and so rework the pasuk, replacing העם with ההר but placing העם later in the verse where it works better.

Who is this Meshugenna? It is the same Yitzchaki we've seen Ibn Ezra blast in the past (and see here in Tzofnat Paneach), when he said that Yitzchaki's books deserved to be burnt. And indeed, in sefer Tzachos, he again repeats that Yitzchaki's books deserve to be burnt.

In sefer Tzachot, after showing that several close words have similar meanings, Ibn Ezra argues against Lower Biblical criticism -- that is, emending of texts to make them more "correct". Apparently, this "Yitzchaki" was a grammarian who wrote a book claiming that more than 100 words needed to be switched (ha'am / hahar was one of them. Here are the beginning of his words on the matter. Read inside -- it is interesting.

This is interesting, in that suggestions of emendations can gain great strength from old textual variants which indeed have them. But given the trend in the Samaritan Torah, in that they have surely falsified their text, particularly to solve problems (whether the problems are real or not), I would not even deem this as much supporting evidence at all!


Yosef Greenberg said...

Very interesting.

Have you ever found varients in their text that sound convincing enough that you would replace it with ours?


joshwaxman said...


certainly not in the Samaritan Torah. though i haven't read it extensively; still, i get this overarching sense from the text in general, such that any extremely plausible emendation is colored by the rest, and by the apparent general goal of the work, and thus suspect because of its plausibility.

but i am generally conservative in textual emendations in general, at least as it comes to the Masoretic text of *Tanach*. (gemaras, I get the sense that they weren't as careful in preserving the text.) there might be one or two things in LXX (which is admittedly a Targum) and/or Dead Sea Scrolls (which has its own distinctive features) that we find parallels to in Yerushalmis, that make it rather plausible that this was indeed the text before Chazal. E.g. the famous question of how the words of the chacham are the same as the rasha, which disappears when we see that their version of the pasuk had otanu. But specifics don't really come to mind at the moment...


Yosef Greenberg said...

Not bad, not bad at all. ("varients" was supposed to be "variants", but my spell checker (or was it me?) missed it.)

The question still remains; who indeed wrote the Hagaddah?

Ever had a post on it?

It probably old enough in any case.


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