Friday, December 09, 2011

Commentators who live in glass houses, redux

On an extremely old parshablog post on Vayishlach, from 2003, Z comments:
It is now 8 years since you wrote this post. I wonder how different it would look if you wrote it today. just curious.
It would indeed look somewhat different. In part, this is due to my own development, and in part, due to knowledge gained over the past eight years.

So, here is a do-over of that old post.

Towards the end of parashat Vayishlach, the Torah lists Esav's descendants. Afterwards, it lists the kings of Edom. The pasuk states (Bereishit 36:31):

31. And these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the children of Israel:לא. וְאֵלֶּה הַמְּלָכִים אֲשֶׁר מָלְכוּ בְּאֶרֶץ אֱדוֹם לִפְנֵי מְלָךְ מֶלֶךְ לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:

Then, in the pesukim which follow, a list of eight kings are given. Now, one can make a number of points regarding this:

  1. In terms of a start-time for these kings: Esav was Yaakov's uncle, and even with his many children, there would not be a "king", a מלך, within Edom for some number of generations. 
  2. In terms of an end-time for these kings: If Moshe is writing it, then all these kings should occur before Moshe's death. The total span would then be about 250 years (210 in Egypt and 40 years in the wilderness), but again, there should be a good amount of time before the first king of Edom. Consider that from Yaakov to Moshe is 4 generations, rather than 8 -- Moshe ben Amram ben Kehat ben Levi.
  3. The pasuk refers to לִפְנֵי מְלָךְ מֶלֶךְ לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, which implies that this was authored after there was some Israelite king, which would be quite some time after the Israelites entered the land of Israel. 

Different meforshim offer different answers. But one could readily answer that (a) a מלך was more of a mayoral role, of a town or city, such that they could quickly have kings; (b) that the Edomites seem to take multiple wives and concubines, and so have explosive population growth, and may absorb other groups into themselves as well; (c) that 400+ years in Egypt might be arguable; (d) that these eight kings may have each been old, and no king is a direct descendant of the previous, such that one did not need to wait for a full generation before the next king; and (e) that either Moshe is a 'king', or else the pasuk is stressing that the people of Israel had not yet even developed enough to have a king, rather that the pasuk referring to knowledge of a specific king.

Thus, it is eminently resolvable, if one desires to resolve it.

Here is what Ibn Ezra writes:
[לו, לא]
ואלה המלכים -
יש אומרים:
כי בדרך נבואה נכתבה זאת הפרשה. 

ויצחקי אמר בספרו: 
כי בימי יהושפט נכתבה זאת הפרשה. 
ופירוש הדורות כרצונו הכי קרא שמו יצחק כל השומע יצחק לו. 
כי אמר:
כי הדד הוא הדד האדומי, 
כי מהיטבאל אחות תחפנחס. 
וחלילה חלילה שהדבר כמו שדבר על ימי יהושפט וספרו ראוי להישרף, ולמה תמה על שמנה מלכים שמלכו שהם רבים. 
והנה מלכי ישראל כפלים במספר. ושני אלה המלכים קרובים לשני מלכי ישראל. גם מלכי יהודה רבים הם ממלכי אדום עד ימי משה, והאמת שפירוש לפני מלך מלך על משה מלך ישראל, וכן כתוב: ויהי בישורון מלך.
"And these are the kings: Some say that this segment was written via prophecy {J: such that these kings, or some of them, actually ruled after Moshe's death; or at least, that one could refer to the existence of future kings of Israel}.
And Yitzchaki said in his book, that this segment was written in the days of Yehoshafat, and he explained the generations as he wished. Is his name called Yitzchak? All who hear laugh at him. {J: A rewording of a pasuk into an insult.} For he said that Hadad {the 4th king here in Vayishlach; this is probably a typo for Hadar, the eighth king} is Hadad the Edomite {an adversary of Shlomo Hamelech -- see 1 Kings 11:14. He was the survivor of the royal house of Edom, where everyone else was wiped out by King Yoash}. And he said מְהֵיטַבְאֵל {the wife of the eighth king in Vayishlach, Hadar} was the sister of Tachpanches {given by Pharaoh to Hadad, king of Edom, not Hadar, king of Edom, as a wife, in I Kings 11:20}.
And forfend, forfend, that the matter is as he said, regarding the days of Yehoshafat. And his book is worthy of burning.
And why be confounded about the eight kings, that they are many? Behold, the kings of Israel were double in number, and the years of these kings approach the days of the kings of Israel. Also, the kings of Yehuda were greater that the kings of Edom until the days of Moshe. And the truth is that the meaning of לִפְנֵי מְלָךְ מֶלֶךְ refers to Moshe king of Israel. And so is written, 'and there was in Yeshurun a king."
I interjected this idea in curly brackets above, but I will repeat it here. I think there is a slight typographical error in Ibn Ezra, and where he says הדד, he means הדר. There were two kings of Edom in the list in Vayishlach with similar names. The fourth king was Hadad and the eighth king is Hadar. The eighth king, Hadar, is described as marrying Mehatavel:

וַיָּמָת, בַּעַל חָנָן בֶּן-עַכְבּוֹר, וַיִּמְלֹךְ תַּחְתָּיו הֲדַר, וְשֵׁם עִירוֹ פָּעוּ; וְשֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ מְהֵיטַבְאֵל בַּת-מַטְרֵד, בַּת מֵי זָהָב.

Yitzchaki equates this last king of the list, Hadar with a resh, with a king of Edom mentioned in I Kings 11, Hadad with a daled. That fellow was contemporary to King David and King Shlomo. I assume Yitzchaki would argue that the resh and daled was a transcription error. And if this is written referring to these early days, before kings of Israel, then it must be a generation or two in. Or maybe there were some calculations involved.

Back in 2003, I wondered what was bothering Ibn Ezra so much about Yitzchaki? After all, it seems that Ibn Ezra is willing to say that certain pesukim were later interpolations by another editor. The last eight, or rather twelve, psukim of the Torah, Ibn Ezra says were written after Moshe's death. In this, he follows a Tanna cited in the gemara, that Yehoshua wrote those pesukim. But, Ibn Ezra extends it to other pesukim in the Torah as well. Here is an excerpt from the end of my 2003 post:
One thing is clear. Ibn Ezra considers Yitzchaki to be saying kefira, and [Yitzchaki's] sefer worthy of being burnt, but [Ibn Ezra] does not consider his own sefer to be so. Ibn Ezra does, however, make his comments on Devarim 1:2 intentionally obtuse, perhaps because it is not for public consumption by the masses. He considers Yitzchaki to be kfira, I think, because 1) This is a long section of Torah, and not just a quick editorial comment, with details of what happened in many generations up to Yehoshafat, and this type of information should not make it into Bereishit. 2) The idea of things being added to the Torah as late as Yehoshafat was unpalatable. Besides for these two issues which make Yitzchaki kefira, we can see that Ibn Ezra thinks that Yitzchaki's arguments necessitating a late date are silly, and the associations with these late kings and sisters of kings based on common names is also silly.
Since then, I've learnt a bit more about Yitzchaki and Ibn Ezra's reaction to him.

As I discussed in this February 2010 post, in parshat 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;

And Ibn Ezra says:

[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 לומר הגבל את העם. ויצא מפיו ההר במקום העם.

Thus, after explaining the true meaning of the pasuk, he writes that
"I have gone on at length so much because of how the meshuga overturned in his book the words of the Living God. He said that Moshe wished to say 'Hagbel et haAm', and it came out of his mouth [a bit later, in Shemot 19:23] with the word haHar in place of haAm."
Continuing now by quoting my 2010 post:
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.
Here is the relevant selection from Tzachot:

It is no longer so astonishing to me that Ibn Ezra would criticize Yitzchaki, even as Ibn Ezra lived in a glass house. Yitzchaki was not just suggesting, in this one place, a way of understanding peshat in the pesukim. He was not simply persuaded to suggest that a few running pesukim were authored at a later date.

Rather, it seems that Yitzchaki was arguing against the integrity of the text of the Chumash. He was engaging in Lower Biblical Criticism, by asserting that the text was riddled with typographical errors. (Indeed, Hadar / Hadad now makes sense.) He suggested that Moshe misspoke. I am not certain that Yitzchaki was engaging in Higher Biblical Criticism, by suggesting a late editor / author only for this one section. Quite possibly, Yitzchaki was suggesting late authorship, in the days of Yehoshafat, for the entirety of sefer Bereshit, or all of Torah.

Ibn Ezra could then have been reacting to the entirety of the endeavor, and the author's specific aims.

I am not the only one who was confounded by the seeming contradiction of Ibn Ezra's sod and his criticism of Yitzchaki. Take this excerpt from a comment as an example:
Ibn Ezra to Genesis 36:31 condemns as heretical the assertion that Genesis 36:31-39 were written by a post-Mosaic prophet, contrary to the teaching of the talmudic sages. [See 36:32 where Ibn Ezra affirms "ki lo yipol midivrei Rabboteinu zal artzah".] Yet, in Deut. 34:1, Ibn Ezra has no problem explicitly declaring that he thinks Joshua wrote 34:1-4 in just the same manner that Joshua wrote 34:5-12. This is an astonishing contradiction within the Ibn Ezra. [See R. Yehudah Nachshoni in his Hagut Bifarashi'yot Hatorah - of which Artscroll has a fine English translation - in which he, with all due respect, completely misses this point. R. Nachshoni writes "it is true that Ibn Ezra expands the idea from 8 to 12 verses, but what difference does this make in the basic idea that a number of verses were written by Yehoshua?" R. Nachshoni is oblivious to the fact that Ibn Ezra has already ruled in Genesis 36:1 that it is heresy to contract the talmudic ascription of Mosaic authorship to the Pentateuch, an account that leaves no more than room for the final eight verses to have been written by Joshua.]
This then led the author of that comment to badly kvetch a Sifrei to support twelve psukim rather than eight, but no more. But besides the two suggestions I made in 2003, we now see that there is much greater cause for Ibn Ezra to blast Yitzchaki and his work, as the work was an assault on the authorship and integrity of the Torah text.

I'll end by noting that when Ibn Ezra says sod, (IMHO) he is protecting himself while making a controversial statement. But the ambiguity can lead to reinterpretation, especially by those who do not like the sod. See this post at Curious Jew, and see here on parshablog.


Hillel said...

R' Waxman,
The answer to the contradiction is obvious - clearly there was no "Ibn Ezra" and the works attributed to him are a compilation of different works from different anthers cobbled together (sometimes poorly) by a later editor.

Seriously - since Ibn Ezra always refers to post-Mosaic phrases and verses as a secret, perhaps he was upset at Yitzchaki either because (i) Ibn Ezra had a tradition of some kind for his comments, and was against making changes based on sevara, or (ii) Ibn Ezra didn't mind secretively hinting at post-Mosaic authorship, but was against wholesale and explicit attacks on the text.


S. said...

You've been blogging since 2003? That's amazing! Chazak u-varuch!

Z said...

Thank you for revisiting this topic. Great job as usual.

I would just add that perhaps like yourself the Ibn Ezra by the time he reached Devorim had also changed his views from when he wrote on Bereshis :)

Yankel said...

BTW in Divrei Hayamim Hadar is also called Hadad.

joshwaxman said...

Thanks! Yes, I should have mentioned this. I did note it a few weeks later, in a parenthetical note in a follow-up post...


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