Wednesday, October 10, 2007

parshat Noach: Noach Had A Tevah. But What Is A Tevah?

Hashem tells Noach to build a teva:
יד עֲשֵׂה לְךָ תֵּבַת עֲצֵי-גֹפֶר, קִנִּים תַּעֲשֶׂה אֶת-הַתֵּבָה; וְכָפַרְתָּ אֹתָהּ מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ, בַּכֹּפֶר. 14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; with rooms shalt thou make the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.
טו וְזֶה, אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה אֹתָהּ: שְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת אַמָּה, אֹרֶךְ הַתֵּבָה, חֲמִשִּׁים אַמָּה רָחְבָּהּ, וּשְׁלֹשִׁים אַמָּה קוֹמָתָהּ. 15 And this is how thou shalt make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.
טז צֹהַר תַּעֲשֶׂה לַתֵּבָה, וְאֶל-אַמָּה תְּכַלֶּנָּה מִלְמַעְלָה, וּפֶתַח הַתֵּבָה, בְּצִדָּהּ תָּשִׂים; תַּחְתִּיִּם שְׁנִיִּם וּשְׁלִשִׁים, תַּעֲשֶׂהָ. 16 A light shalt thou make to the ark, and to a cubit shalt thou finish it upward; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.
יז וַאֲנִי, הִנְנִי מֵבִיא אֶת-הַמַּבּוּל מַיִם עַל-הָאָרֶץ, לְשַׁחֵת כָּל-בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ רוּחַ חַיִּים, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם: כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-בָּאָרֶץ, יִגְוָע. 17 And I, behold, I do bring the flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; every thing that is in the earth shall perish.
But what is a tevah? An ark? Is this a box or is it a boat? The drawings of the two would be different.

In the epic of Gilgamesh, it appears to be a boat, if we are to trust the translation.
 Tear down the house and build a boat!
Abandon wealth and seek living beings!
Spurn possessions and keep alive living beings!
Make all living beings go up into the boat.
The boat which you are to build,
its dimensions must measure equal to each other:
its length must correspond to its width.
Roof it over like the Apsu.
Though the dimensions being equal in length an width gives the idea of a cube. (Apsu seems to be the heaven or rakia, opposite tehom or tiamat.)

But there are other bases for assuming it is a box. I recall seeing that in cognates in other languages, is means chest or ark, not boat.

However, the word only occurs in two places in Tanach, namely here and when the infant Moshe is placed in the Nile. Regardless of how it is used in other languages, we might develop a sense of what in means specifically in Biblical Hebrew, which is a container used for going on the water. Words have different connotations in different languages. For example, "mansion" in English is a stately, fancy house, but in Middle English, it just means "dwelling."

Meanwhile, in Egyptian, the cognate means coffin. This is indeed appropriate. We might cast it as fulfilling the literal aspects of the decree, while yet escaping. Thus, Noach, and UtanPishtim, are part of the entire world upon whom death has been decreed. They enter a coffin for the duration of the flood. And they exists through the decree of the flood. Moshe, too. Death has been decreed by Pharaoh on all Hebrew male born, by throwing them into the Nile. He is cast into the Nile, though in this tevah, coffin. And this fulfills the literal word of the decree. Indeed, a midrash stresses this by discussing how Pharaoh was told by his astrologers that a Hebrew child would overthrow him, which was the cause for his decree. When Moshe was cast in the Nile, his astrologers told him that they saw that the redeemer had been cast into the Nile, at which point Pharaoh ended his decree.

Since I mentioned Robert Alter in the previous post, I might as well mention his take again. Rather than noting the Egyptian cognate teva as coffin, he in fact contrasts aron, meaning coffin, with teva, meaning ark. He does this on the last perek of Bereishit, about Yosef's aron:


Anonymous said...

Who is the רד"א?

joshwaxman said...

Don't know, didn't bother to look it up. :)

Name as cited in my sources (about hakazat dam, IIRC), but did not take the time to expand it.


Anonymous said...

No problem, just where di you first see/hear the source (the רד"א) quoted? Thanks.

joshwaxman said...

i replied on the other post about the refuah card, but I'll reply here as well.

Be'er Heitiv on that Siman (resh lamed).

Here is a scan of it, posted at the top of my blog at the moment:


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