Monday, June 17, 2013

Justifying "the land of Ammon"

Check out these two posts first -- The land of the children of his people, and the land of whose people?

Eretz Bnei Amo -- does it perhaps mean Eretz Bnei Ammon? From an earlier post, this image of the Samaritan variant. As I noted there, I don't think this is the original reading, just that it could reflect an ancient understanding of the Eretz Bnei Amo phrase. And I didn't start from the Samaritan variant. I had always thought of this possibility, and discovered the Samaritan variant afterwards.A commenter left a lengthy comment, and I reply here, to add some justification for thinking the reference is to Ammon.

The well written question:
Dear Parsha Blog,

I am puzzling over the theory you've previously suggested that "eretz bnei amo" (the land of his people) in Bamidbar 22:5 really means the land of *Amon*. A friend of mine in Shul independently made the same suggestion to me yesterday.

But I don't understand what that would mean? Bilam clearly was summoned from *Aram* (in Mesopotamia), per Devarim 23:5, as you also mention in your posts. Not Amon. Balak was king of Moav, and presumably Balak was in Moav when he sent for Bilam -- in fact see 22:36, when Bilam arrives he meets Balak in Moav. What would 22:5 possibly mean if it is referring to the land of Amon? Who is located in Amon, and how is Amon connected to the summoning of Bilam?

If the Torah meant "Amon", does the text provide enough other facts to make sense of how Amon is involved? Or would it require all sorts of speculation and invention to rationalize the relevance of Amon? 
When I consider the fact that "Amo" and "Amon" are so close in spelling, and Amon does feature in *other* nearby parshiyot of the Torah (e.g. Chukat, battles of sichon & og), and "eretz bnei amo" is kind of an odd phrase, the conclusion I draw is: it's easy to imagine how a Samarian scribe who maybe wasn't following the story details too closely could have mistakenly transcribed "Amon" in 22:5. 
What I don't understand is how interpreting 22:5 as meaning/referring to "Amon" leads to a more coherent pshat? What does the land of Amon have to do with Balak king of Moav sending messengers to summon Bilam from Aram? 
If our Masoretic text had instead said "eretz bnei amon", then I suspect objective, truth-seeking bloggers :-) would be wondering what that means (since Petor is in mesopotamia), and suggesting that the correct text is really eretz bnei *amo* and simply means Petor was Bilam's homeland, and that the reference to *Amon* in the (hypothetical) masoretic text is erroneous. No? 
Bottom line, it seems to me that "Amon" in the Samarian text is just an easy-to-imagine typo, and not a variant reading that makes more sense than our masoretic version Amo. Am I missing something? My friend still agrees with your theory, for what that's worth -- but I don't undesrtand why!

My response, much shorter:

 Why should  ארץ בני עמו be a reference to the Iand of Ammon?

 1) In Ki Teizei both Ammon + Moav are (possibly) implicated in the hiring of Bilaam.
[Devarim 23:4-5]:  "An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation shall none of them enter into the assembly of the LORD for ever;
because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Aram-naharaim, to curse thee."

2) we see already national ambiguity in parashat Balak, bet. Midianite + Moabite. This coalition might have included the close neighbor Ammon as well, + Balak might have ruled there as well.

3) Before I suggested that this was Bilaam's source, not destination.

4. ארץ בני עמו is weird, calls out darsheini. (The land of Bnei Ammon is an entity. The land of the children of his people is a rather awkward phrase.)

5) Indeed in Devarim it is more explicit that Petor is in Aram Naharayim. But local to Bemidbar it is just on the
Nahar without further elaboration

6) You rightly point to a pasuk that says he met him in Moav: 
עיר מואב which is on the border of Arnon, the utmost border,
Bemidbar 22:36.

This river Arnon was the border 
between Moav and
Ammon. (And their meet 
happened at this very border, 
right by eretz Bnei Ammon.) 
So Ammon is still plausibly 
involved, either as a source or destination.


JXG said...

מן ארם ינחני

I think it's clear that Bilam is from Aram. If we insist on "Amon," then maybe that would describe only the route the messengers took.

joshwaxman said...

thanks, good point


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