Monday, June 22, 2009

Who in the world is Nun?

By request. In a comment on my post, "Who in the world is Bedan?" an anonymous commenter asked:
Since you are on the topic Who was Nun of Yeshuah Ben Nun,and dont say Yeshouah's father.
1)Is he of any signifigance?
2)Did he do anything of signifigance?
3)Why does the torah feel the need to talk about him all the time?
OK. Nun was Yehoshua's mother. Satisfied now? ;)

My immediate reactions to the three questions are (1) No. (2) Yes, he fathered Yehoshua. (3) Does the Torah indeed really need to talk about him all the time? Rather, the way of referring to Yehoshua is of the form Name ben FatherName. Just as Zimri ben Salu. And in fact, just like each of the meraglim.

But stopping to think about it, on a peshat level, why is he repeatedly Yehoshua bin Nun and not simply Yehoshua? I would suggest that minor characters, who we don't know very well, or know for only limited bits of time, will be referred to by that pattern. But those who are main characters do not follow that pattern. Thus, it is Avraham, not Avraham ben Terach. And it is Moshe, and Miriam, and Aharon. Who is this Yehoshua, that we should know him as a main character?

Indeed, if we look at sefer Yehoshua, we see this progression. He transitions from the attendant of Moshe to the leader. Towards the very beginning of the sefer he is Yehoshua bin Nun. Thus, the very beginning of the sefer:
א וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי מוֹת מֹשֶׁה--עֶבֶד ה'; וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, מְשָׁרֵת מֹשֶׁה לֵאמֹר.1 Now it came to pass after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, that the LORD spoke unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying:
ב מֹשֶׁה עַבְדִּי, מֵת; וְעַתָּה קוּם עֲבֹר אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה, אַתָּה וְכָל-הָעָם הַזֶּה, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לָהֶם לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.2 'Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.
but later in the same perek, he is Yehoshua. In perek 2, it is Yehoshua bin Nun throughout (in all two or three places). In perek 3, he is only Yehoshua, and so too for the rest of the sefer. This is because he is a main character. Thus, I would suggest that he gets his full name because he is not a main player in chumash, just as the nesiim were not major players.

There is a desire to know more about our favorite Biblical characters, and to know more about names we hear over and over, but it might just not be possible. I don't recall any midrashim telling of any great deeds of Nun.

We can try to analyze Nun's name, however. Here's where we have some fun with speculation.

Nun in Aramaic and other Semitic languages means fish. But it means something different, though related, in Egyptian. It is the name of the watery abyss,

To cite Wikipedia:

In Egyptian mythology, Nu is the deification of the primordial watery abyss. In the Ogdoadcosmogony, the name nu means "abyss".

Nu, being a concept, was viewed as not having a gender, but also had aspects that could be represented as female or male as with most Egyptian deities. Naunet (also spelt Nunet) is the female aspect, which is the name Nu with a female gender ending. The male aspect, Nun, is displayed with a male gender ending. As with the other three four primordial concepts of the Ogdoad, Nu's male aspect was depicted as a frog, or a frog-headed man. In Ancient Egyptian art, Nun also appears as a beardedman, with blue-green skin, representing water. Naunet is represented as a snake or snake-headed woman.

Interestingly, Hoshea bin Nun could be taken similarly to Moshe: he was saved from the watery abyss.

Or we can take it as the name of an Egyptian deity. There are other Israelites with names suggesting Egyptian deities, not just Nun. I'm thinking of Achira ben Ainan. Since Hoshea is the equivalent of the theophoric name Yeho-shua, perhaps there was some Egyptian deity originally tacked on to Hoshea's name, and that is why Moshe took pains to name him Yehoshua.

Anyway, is anyone aware of any midrashim about Nun?


OJ said...

Somewhat off-topic:
Yair Zakovitch in his good "lo kakh katuv baTanakh" writes that Joshua was not buried in serah but at heres (archaic for 'sun') and amasses other evidence to demonstrate that there was a repressed mythology in Joshua giving him superpowers over the sun.

regarding: the 'bin' in 'bin Nun'. I assume Joshua spoke another dialect of Hebrew that was vocalized more like Arabic. There is evidence within the Tanakh of other dialects:
זעק vs. צעק
shibbolet vs. sibbolet
יצחק vs. ישחק

madaral said...

Ramban understands Bin Nun as a referring to Bina. Nun in itself refers to Bina (Nun Sha'arei Bina).

Anonymous said...

Two Intresting resources first Wiki
Not much there but then I hit upon here it gets intresting here is the link:
Somone named ARI says
"There is a yalkut Shimoni in Divrai Hayamim 1 perek 7 that says that Nun was from Ephraim. And he was actually the leader of the group of B'nai Ephraim who made a premature Aliyah to Israel and were wiped out by the Egyptians who chased them down. It makes sense that his son Yehoshua should be worthy of finishing the mission that his father started. [An interesting Parallel can be seen from Tzolofchad who accroding to some midrashim was the leader of the maapilim who tried to enter Israel after the sin of the spies and was killed- his daughters - binot tzelophchad are famous for asking for their fathers portion in Israel thereby carrying on the love of their father for the land of Israel- This may be something to take to heart, there seems to be a direct link between the love of israel of a parent and child]"

Anonymous said...

I would like to see the original text of this Yalkut

joshwaxman said...

thanks. here you go:
דברי הימים א - פרק ז - המשך רמז תתרעז

ובני אפרים שותלח וברד בנו וגו' והרגום אנשי גת הנולדים בארץ כי ירדו לקחת את מקניהם ויתאבל אפרים אביהם ימים רבים. אמר רב אלו בני אדם שמנו לקץ וטעו, ואותם מתים החיה יחזקאל שאמרו יבשו עצמותינו אבדה תקותנו וגו'. ר' אליעזר אומר כל אותם שנים שהיו ישראל יושבם במצרים היו בני אפרים יושבים בטח שאנן ושלו, עד שבא נון מבני בניו של אפרים ואמר נגלה עלי הקב"ה להוציא אתכם, בגאות לבו שהם מזרע המלוכה ושהם גבורי כח במלחמה, עמדו ולקחו בניהם ובנותיהם ויצאו ממצרים ועמדו המצריים והרגו כל גבוריהם. בני אשר ימנה וישוה וישוי ובריעה וגו' הוא אבי ברזית, ר' לוי ור' סימון, ר"ל אמר שהיו בנותיהם נאות והיו נשואות למלכים שנמשו בשמן זית (כתוב בפרשת ויצא):

I might make this into its own post...


Anonymous said...

chaim says
really the story is much more exciting.
i quote a bit from a sefer michlol maamorim page 1717 printed by moisad r kook
They told the mother of joshua that her son would kill his father her husband. And the rules of Egypt were that the executioner could marry his victim. The soothsayers gave a sign that when he would come to marry her her breasts would fill with milk. She believed them and through her son in the river. He was saved and afterwards became pharoes executioner. He afterwards killed his father for some crime and when he came to marry his wife he found out it was his mother. That his why the meraglim despised him calling him a father killer.
I don’t have the full quote but I believe it ends up somehow why he was called the son of a fish

Anonymous said...

HEre is source page 24


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