Post: A few months back, when considering evidence from the Samaritan Torah as having input as to the correct masoretic text, I noted that since the composer of that Torah had an agenda to rework the text in order to harmonize it, anything along this harmonizing trend should be treated with some measure of suspicion.
S. wrote at the time, in a comment:
Just to play devil's advocate, what is your basis for saying the Samaritan Torah tends harmonizes? Perhaps the Masoretic Torah is just more messed up? Have you/ how would you address this?I responded there. But the answer lies in considering the many instances of harmonization and then spotting the trend. There is one such instance of this in parashat Masei:
The text on the right is the Masoretic text, while the text on the left is the Samaritan text. Where the two texts are identical, it is marked with dashes. So what the Samaritan text has is:
ותהינה מחלה ונעה, חגלה מלכה ותרצה בנות צלפחד לבני דדיהן לנשים
Obviously, the order of Tzelophchad's daughters has been changed. Why the divergence?
See Rashi on parashat Masei:
|11. Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah married their cousins.||יא. וַתִּהְיֶינָה מַחְלָה תִרְצָה וְחָגְלָה וּמִלְכָּה וְנֹעָה בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד לִבְנֵי דֹדֵיהֶן לְנָשִׁים:|
|Mahlah, Tirzah…: Here it enumerates them according to seniority over each other in age, and they were married in the order they were born. But throughout Scripture (26:33, 17:1, Josh. 17:3), it lists them in order of their intelligence and informs us that they were all equal. — [B.B. 120a]||מחלה תרצה וגו': כאן מנאן לפי גדולתן זו מזו בשנים ונשאו כסדר תולדותן, ובכל המקרא מנאן לפי חכמתן ומגיד ששקולות זו כזו:|
Thus, this instance in Masei is unique, and the gemara in Bava Basra 120a explains the difference. And what is the order in all those three other places? Let us look at Bemidbar 26:33:
|33. Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, only daughters, and the names of Zelophehad's daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah.||לג. וּצְלָפְחָד בֶּן חֵפֶר לֹא הָיוּ לוֹ בָּנִים כִּי אִם בָּנוֹת וְשֵׁם בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד מַחְלָה וְנֹעָה חָגְלָה מִלְכָּה וְתִרְצָה:|
That is, identical in order to the Samaritan text. And also identical in the grouping (2 | 3) and vav pattern.
Do I adopt the midrashic explanation, of age vs. intelligence? Not necessarily. There might be some unknown reason, or it might be entirely random, with no regard for birth order. Or as Ibn Ezra writes:
מחלה תרצה -הזכירם הכתוב בתחלה כאשר נולדו, ועתה הזכירם כאשר נשאו לאנשים בתחלה.
He ties it in to words in the pasuk that they are now marrying. Though I am not convinced that this reason for a different order is really knowable. But would I adopt the Samaritan variant, in which the difficulty does not appear? Absolutely not!
Clearly one of these variants -- the Masoretic or the Samaritan -- is not the original. There does not seem to be any conceivable reason for a scribe to reorder them towards the Masoretic version. (Except I suppose that the masoretic text is so corrupt that the scribe just put them in in any order, from memory.) In contrast, there is excellent reason for a scribe to reorder them to match the Samaritan version. Not only does it eliminate the question for the reason of the reordering, but it makes a beautiful, harmonious text such that the daughters are in the same order in all four locations. And we know from many other places that this precise agenda exists in the Samaritan texts, whether in spelling, ordering, or even bringing in details from sefer Devarim.