Friday, June 29, 2007

Balak/Pinchas/Mattot/Vayeshev: Midianites as a Generic Term

In parshat Balak and Pinchas, there is some fluidity between Moav and Midian. Balak deals with princes of both, and is himself king of Moav. (Some teirutzim place him as initially a prince of Midian, appointed over Moav.) He sends both Midianite and Moabite princes to Bilaam. But then, midway through the story, these become "the princes of Balak" and finally "the princes of Moav" arise with Bilaam, and no mention is made of the princes of Midian. (One midrash explains that they left already.)

At the end of Balak, it is the daughters of Moav with whom the Israelites commit harlotry:
א וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל, בַּשִּׁטִּים; וַיָּחֶל הָעָם, לִזְנוֹת אֶל-בְּנוֹת מוֹאָב. 1 And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab.
Yet the sole concrete example is a Midianite woman:

ו וְהִנֵּה אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּא, וַיַּקְרֵב אֶל-אֶחָיו אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִית, לְעֵינֵי מֹשֶׁה, וּלְעֵינֵי כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְהֵמָּה בֹכִים, פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד. 6 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting.
In Pinchas, they are told to harass the Midianites in general because of what they did:
יז צָרוֹר, אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִים; וְהִכִּיתֶם, אוֹתָם. 17 'Harass the Midianites, and smite them;
יח כִּי צֹרְרִים הֵם לָכֶם, בְּנִכְלֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר-נִכְּלוּ לָכֶם עַל-דְּבַר-פְּעוֹר; וְעַל-דְּבַר כָּזְבִּי בַת-נְשִׂיא מִדְיָן, אֲחֹתָם, הַמֻּכָּה בְיוֹם-הַמַּגֵּפָה, עַל-דְּבַר-פְּעוֹר. 18 for they harass you, by their wiles wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the prince of Midian, their sister, who was slain on the day of the plague in the matter of Peor.'
with no mention of Moav. And when they want to spare the Midianite women, in parshat Mattot, Moshe yells at them because it was the Midianite women (plural) -- rather than Moabite women -- who caused Israel to sin.
טו וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם, מֹשֶׁה: הַחִיִּיתֶם, כָּל-נְקֵבָה. 15 And Moses said unto them: 'Have ye saved all the women alive?
טז הֵן הֵנָּה הָיוּ לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בִּדְבַר בִּלְעָם, לִמְסָר-מַעַל בַּיהוָה, עַל-דְּבַר-פְּעוֹר; וַתְּהִי הַמַּגֵּפָה, בַּעֲדַת יְהוָה. 16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to revolt so as to break faith with the LORD in the matter of Peor, and so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD.
יז וְעַתָּה, הִרְגוּ כָל-זָכָר בַּטָּף; וְכָל-אִשָּׁה, יֹדַעַת אִישׁ לְמִשְׁכַּב זָכָר--הֲרֹגוּ. 17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
יח וְכֹל הַטַּף בַּנָּשִׁים, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדְעוּ מִשְׁכַּב זָכָר--הַחֲיוּ, לָכֶם. 18 But all the women children, that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
The answer, I think, is that there is fluidity in the terminology of Midianite (and Moabite here), and one should not get too hung up upon it.

Indeed, people have a bunch of hangups about a similar issue in parshat Vayeshev. Who bought Yosef? Was it Midanites? Midianites? Ishmaelite merchants? There seems to be a switch, which is compelling evidence in favor of the Documentary Hypothesis.

But what if Ishmaelite is used for Arab, or for a specific type of merchant (it is used together with socharim), much as Canaani is used in other contexts to mean a specific type of merchant. And Midianite itself can be fluid, as we have seen. While it is still possible to divide the narrative on Documentary Hypothesis grounds, it is also possible to simply say that:

Reuven convinced them not to kill directly but to place him in the pit. He leaves (to, say, take care of his sheep).
While he is gone, a bunch of merchants pass, who can be described accurately as Ishmaelites, Midianites, or (a variant) Midanites.
Yehuda convinces his brothers that rather than letting Yosef starve to death in the pit, they should profit. They (meaning Yehuda and the brothers) draw him from the pit and sell him to the Midianites.
Reuven returns and is shocked to see that Yosef is no longer in the pit.

PS: Baruch Shekivanti. I appear to have made many of the same points two years ago, though without e.g. the tie in to the sale of Yosef.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

1. Perhaps (a la Rashbam) the Midianites found Yosef alone in the pit, kidnapped him, and sold him to the Yishmaelites.

This would seem to be the only simple reading of 37:28.

It is reconcilable with 37:36; when we speak of "selling a slave down the river" we don't mean that the seller went down the river, rather that the slave dealer did.

It fits with 39:1 which says, in contrast to 37:36, specifies that the Yishmaelites physically "brought" Yosef to Egypt, unlike the Midianites who simply "sold" him.

It agrees with Yosef's later claim (to the Egyptian cupbearer) that he was "stolen" from his homeland.

It fits 42:22-23, where the brothers express regret not for selling Yosef but for ignoring his cries, and Reuven's reply "gam damo hineh nidrash" - what blood? But for all they knew Yosef had been killed.

It explains the brothers' failure to guess who Yosef is (even after such hints as his seating them by birth order, favoring Binyamin, imprisoning Shimon, mentioning their father, and his overall weird behavior), and their utter bewilderment when Yosef reveals himself.


2. Perhaps, about the time the Midianites were kidnapping Yosef, Reuven tried to convince the brothers to spare him. Whether successful or not in convincing them, he went back to the pit, only to find Yosef gone.

This would explain why when Reuven notices that Yosef is not in the pit, the first thing he does is go tell his brothers that Yosef is gone! Otherwise this is very strange.

It's the only way to understand Reuven's statement that "halo amarti lachem al techetu bayeled velo shamatem", which is not a reasonable interpretation of his original suggestion to throw Yosef in a pit, yet was not contested by the brothers.

(I saw this theory in an article by Yehuda Kraut in "Le'ela", Spring/Summer '02)


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