Thursday, July 05, 2012

Targum Onkelos, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Summary: Why translate כְּגַנֹּת עֲלֵי נָהָר as כְּגִנַּת שִׁקְיָא דְּעַל פְּרָת, making it refer specifically to a garden on the Euphrates. Rav Chaim Kanievsky answers with a unique fertile property of the Euphrates. Rabbi Yitzchak Zeev Diskin suggests the same, as well as that it is a reference to Gan Eden. I suggest that there is a gzeira shava of nahar nahar to earlier in the parasha, to where the speaker, Bilaam, lived. And finally that it is a reference to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

PostA curious targum for a pasuk in Balak. Bemidbar 24:6:

כד,ה מַה-טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל.מָא טָבָא אַרְעָךְ, יַעֲקוֹב; בֵּית מִשְׁרָךְ, יִשְׂרָאֵל.
כד,ו כִּנְחָלִים נִטָּיוּ, כְּגַנֹּת עֲלֵי נָהָר; כַּאֲהָלִים נָטַע ה, כַּאֲרָזִים עֲלֵי-מָיִם.כְּנַחְלִין דְּמִדַּבְּרִין, כְּגִנַּת שִׁקְיָא דְּעַל פְּרָת; כְּבֻסְמַיָּא דִּנְצַב יְיָ, כְּאַרְזִין דִּנְצִיבִין עַל מַיָּא.

"Like a watered garden upon the Euphrates." Two aspects which strike me as strange are:

1) ganot in the Biblical Hebrew is plural, whereas ginat in the Aramaic is singular
2) Nahar is rendered not as river, nor as (typical unspecified Nahar) Nile, but as Peras, the Euphrates (the Nehar Hagadol Nehar Perat).

In terms of (1), we could just say that the nikkud is incorrect, and it should be plural. But why specifically the Euphrates? I've seen some answers, and I have one additional one I'll save for the end.

a) According to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, in Taama deKra:

Rav Chaim Kanievsky
כגנות עלי נהר ובתרגום כגנת שקיא דעל פרת וצ״ע למה דוקא על פרת וי״ל דמבואר בתוס׳ גיטין נ׳ א׳ ד״ה מאי דא״א לזרוע על שפת הנהר משום שהמים מקלקלין הזרעים א״כ איזה שבח זה כגנות על הנהר, אמנם בפרת אי׳ בב״ר פט״ז מעשי מודיעים עלי אדם נוטע בי ירק והיא' עומדת לג׳ ימים א״כ שם הגנות  מוצלחים ביותר וודאי לזריעה ולכן תרגם דעל פרת

"And it requires investigation, why specifically on the Euphrates? And there is to suggest that it is stated in Tosafot in Gittin 50a, d"h mai, that planting is not possible on the side of the river, because the water ruins the seeds. If so, what benefit is there in כְּגַנֹּת עֲלֵי נָהָר? However, regarding the Euphrates river, it is stated in Bereishit Rabba parasha 16, 'my actions testify upon me. A man plants me an herb and it flourishes in 3 days.' If so, there the gardens are extremely successful for planting, and therefore it translated 'upon the Euphrates'."

Perhaps; but perhaps if a garden is not directly on the riverbank, it can still prosper, such that the gemara and Tosafot is not such a problem.

Rabbi Yitzchak Zeev Diskin, in Zivchei Tzedek, offers two explanations.

The first is as Rav Kanievsky suggested. The second is to link it to Gan Eden, which is the כְּגִנַּת שִׁקְיָא, as we see in Bereishit that it is watered by the Euphrates.

I would suggest a third explanation. Who is the speaker here? It is Bilaam, who lived in Petor, which is on the Euphrates.

As we read earlier in the parasha:
ה  וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אֶל-בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעֹר, פְּתוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר עַל-הַנָּהָר אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי-עַמּוֹ--לִקְרֹא-לוֹ:  לֵאמֹר, הִנֵּה עַם יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם הִנֵּה כִסָּה אֶת-עֵין הָאָרֶץ, וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב, מִמֻּלִי.5 And he sent messengers unto Balaam the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the River, to the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying: 'Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt; behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me.

The Nahar is the one in Aram Naharayim, and refers to the Euphrates. If so, there is an obvious gezeira shava of Nahar Nahar, that when Bilaam speaks of Nahar, he is speaking of the Euphrates.

A 16th-century hand-coloured engraving of the
 "Hanging Gardens of Babylon" by Dutch artist
Martin Heemskerck, with the Tower of Babel in
the background
Finally, there was a famous garden, or even better, a group of gardens, which are on the Euphrates river. They are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

To cite a description by Strabo (ca. 64 BCE – 21 CE):

"Babylon, too, lies in a plain; and the circuit of its wall is three hundred and eighty-five stadia. The thickness of its wall is thirty-two feet; the height thereof between the towers is fifty cubits; that of the towers is sixty cubits; and the passage on top of the wall is such that four-horse chariots can easily pass one another; and it is on this account that this and the hanging garden are called one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The garden is quadrangular in shape, and each side is four plethra in length. It consists of arched vaults, which are situated, one after another, on checkered, cube-like foundations. The checkered foundations, which are hollowed out, are covered so deep with earth that they admit of the largest of trees, having been constructed of baked brick and asphalt – the foundations themselves and the vaults and the arches. The ascent to the uppermost terrace-roofs is made by a stairway; and alongside these stairs there were screws, through which the water was continually conducted up into the garden from the Euphrates by those appointed for this purpose, for the river, a stadium in width, flows through the middle of the city; and the garden is on the bank of the river."[5]

Note the text I bolded. This famous garden, or gardens (ganot / ginat) was watered (shikya) by the waters of the Euphrates (Perat).

It makes sense, in this poetic pasuk, to refer to that famous watered garden.

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