Monday, March 07, 2005

Pekudei: The Curtain Over the Ark of the Testimony

There's an interesting variant possibly recorded in Tg Yonatan in parshat Pekudei. In Shemot 40:3,

ג וְשַׂמְתָּ שָׁם, אֵת אֲרוֹן הָעֵדוּת; וְסַכֹּתָ עַל-הָאָרֹן, אֶת-הַפָּרֹכֶת. 3 And thou shalt put therein the ark of the testimony, and thou shalt screen the ark with the veil.
The veil, or curtain, is a translation of הַפָּרֹכֶת. This is strange because the verb וְסַכֹּתָ usually means to cover from above, and what we would expect covering the ark of the testimony from above is the kapporet, a gold covering of the ark upon which sat the golden keruvim. So we would expect הכפרת rather than הפרכת. Note the difference between the two words is just the placement of the letter כ, kaf.

Rashi explains that וְסַכֹּתָ here means to shield, rather than to cover (thus the translation screen).

However, while Tg Onkelos translates it as ית פרוכתא, the curtain, Tg Yonatan translates instead ית כפורתא, the kapporet. Perhaps this reflects a variant text. Further, perhaps this variant text was the original, such that there is no longer a difficulty with the choice of word.

On the other hand we might summon the principle of lectio difficilior - that the more difficult word is probably original, since one could imagine a conscious or unconscious "correction" to an easier word choice, but not to the more difficult word choice. Further, we might say this "correction" may have either occurred in the Torah's text, in which case it would be a variant text of Torah rendered faithfully by the Targum. Alternatively, the "correction" could be a mistake in translation from the Hebrew since we would expect kapporet. Finally, the "correction" may have occurred somewhere in the transmission of the Targumic text.


Beisrunner said...

מ,כ ויקח ויתן את-העדת, אל-הארן, וישם את-הבדים, על-הארן; ויתן את-הכפרת על-הארן, מלמעלה. מ,כא ויבא את-הארן, אל-המשכן, וישם את פרכת המסך, ויסך על ארון העדות--כאשר צוה יהוה, את-משה.

Here, where Moshe performs what was commanded in 40:3, the *parochet* is described as being "vayasech" over the ark. This is near-unambiguous proof that the Torah's current text is correct.

It is easy to see what motivated Targum Yonatan, but in the end it just seems there are more possible meanings to the verb "lesakot" than we would have expected.

joshwaxman said...

Great point!

I agree. This is thus a good demonstration of the truth of the principle of lectio difficilior.

Anonymous said...

Another source which could take us in an interesting, slightly different direction:

במדבר ד,ה
ובא אהרן ובניו, בנסע המחנה, והורדו, את פרכת המסך; וכסו-בה--את, ארן העדת.

Here it seems that the parochet IS used to physically cover the ark... sometimes!


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