Monday, November 01, 2010

Sated, or Sated with years?

Summary: A little more information, to make a more informed decision of the merits of the Masoretic text vs. the Samaritan text, on whether it is 'sated' or 'sated with years'.

Post: From DovBear on the Parsha:
(2) Gen 25:8 ויגוע וימת אברהם בשיבה טובה זקן ושבע ויאסף אל־עמיו׃
The MT has only "sated." The Peshita, the LXX and the Samaritan give us the more common "sated with years"
I  get mildly annoyed by such summaries because it does not, IMHO, provide enough information, but just enough that people who don't know will think that they know and leap to a possibly incorrect conclusion. Thus, we see elsewhere that in an instance of Peshitta, Septuagint and the Samaritan text in agreement against the Masoretic text, where this alternative text is smoother, he favors all the agreement of all these texts (although in that instance he was incorrect about the evidence from the Peshitta). Though he does not explicitly state it here, it feels like that is the conclusion he would draw; and even if not, I would guess that this is the conclusion most readers would draw.

I feel that this presentation does not give enough weight to the nature of the texts in question, and to the particulars of meaning. I say this even though I am going to claim, in the end, that this variant has something even better going for it.

Let me start with a question. Here is the pasuk according to the Masoretic text (Bereishit 25:8):

8. And Abraham expired and died in a good old age, old and satisfied, and he was gathered to his people.ח. וַיִּגְוַע וַיָּמָת אַבְרָהָם בְּשֵׂיבָה טוֹבָה זָקֵן וְשָׂבֵעַ וַיֵּאָסֶף אֶל עַמָּיו:

Here is the text of Targum Yonatan on this pasuk:

ומית אברהם בשיבו טבא סיב ושבע כל טובא ברם ישמעאל עבד תתובא
ביומוי ובתר כן , אתכנש לעמיה :

Or, to translate to English:
"And Avraham expired and died in good old age, old, and satisfied with all good; howbeit, Yishmael repented in his {Avraham's} lifetime, and after that, he was gathered to his people."

There is quite a lot of expansion here, with insertion of an entire idea about Yishmael. But besides that, satisfied is modified by "with all good". Should we believe that there was an Ur-text which formed the basis for Targum Yonatan, which had as Hebrew ושבע בכל טוב?

Probably not, because it is a translation, and sometimes in the course of clarifying what a text means, the translator will insert a word or two. We see this even in Targum Onkelos on many occasions. So, this is simply a translation of ושבע.

Now imagine that coinciding with this text, there were a group of people who did not give a darn about preserving the integrity of the Biblical text. They did not have Pharisaic hangups about each letter needing to be preserved, so as not to invalidate the Torah. Rather, they were more concerned with meaning. To this end, they made thousands of emendations to the text to clarify meaning. Insertion of geographical details; copying from one segment of Torah to another to fill in details which were poor in one location; replacing their holy mountain in place of another one as a site for blessing; standardizing the spelling to conform to state of the art contemporary spelling, and so on and so forth. They were concerned with meaning, and did not care much for Oral Law. Their Biblical text should have all, or much, of the important ideas.

Thus, their Biblical text was not so much a Torah text but a Hebrew Targum. And in this Hebrew Targum, they wrote ושבע בכל טוב.

Knowing this, and knowing the Targum Yonatan, would you now be convinced that there was an Ur-text which formed the basis for Targum Yonatan? Not really. Yes, it is a possibility that this was not one of the things that these sectarians deliberately modified, and that Targum Yonatan preserved that reading, even though our Masoretic text lacks it. But at the same time, it is quite plausible that since ושבע means ושבע בכל טוב, Tg. Pseudo-Yonatan offered the translation, and the sectarian clarified Pentateuch / Hebrew Targum offered the same idea.

Now, this hypothetical situation does not precisely match the reality as I will soon describe it, but the point here was to try to get across my basic mindset, and to demonstrate the cause for my reservation. The Samaritan text is this "Hebrew Targum", which Biblical scholars (not rabbis on the defensive, trying to defend the Masoretic text) agree has been modified with a religious agenda as well as a harmonizing / simplifying agenda. The Septuagint and the Peshitta are translations in other languages, and to leap to the conclusion that any insertion, which happens to make sense as mere clarifying language, is based on an Ur-text seems over-eager to me. I am not saying that it is not a possibility, or even a strong possibility, in many cases, but it is not the only possibility.

Let us turn now to examine our texts. We have seen the masoretic text. The Samaritan text makes two emendations to this pasuk:

The text on the right is the Masoretic text while the text on the left is the Samaritan text. See how on the previous pasuk, they change kedem to keidmah, such that it duplicates keidmah earlier in the verse. Within this pasuk, note how they dislike עמיו as plural. It seems wrong to have עמיו since Avraham is just one person. Yet this is how the Masoretic text consistently has it, and how the Samaritans consistently edit it in order to "fix" the grammar. Yet, there is quite likely a good explanation of this seemingly 'incorrect' phenomenon. For example, some scholars suggest that עמיו in the plural means 'kinsfolk', as opposed to the singular which would mean 'people / nation'. Or it might just be a function of the idiom, somehow. The Samaritans are fixing the language, as they fix it on countless other occasions.

They also use the word ימים. Before we adopt this as original, we have to ask ourselves whether there might be something driving the Samaritans, who clearly have this agenda, to emend the text. And we don't have to look far. Compare Avraham's death to Yitzchak's death:
בראשית פרק לה
  • פסוק כ"ט: וַיִּגְוַע יִצְחָק וַיָּמָת וַיֵּאָסֶף אֶל-עַמָּיו, זָקֵן וּשְׂבַע יָמִים; וַיִּקְבְּרוּ אֹתוֹ, עֵשָׂו וְיַעֲקֹב בָּנָיו.  {פ}

Note the same phrases. 'Gathered to his people'. 'Expired and died'. 'Old and satiated of years'.

Well, that last one was different. But at least we had 'old and satiated'.

Now, there is a "problem" locally in parashat Chayei Sarah. What in the world does 'satiated' mean? Chazal might derive the answer via gezeira shava. The Karaites might say that we should examine other occurrences and derive from context of those other occurrences. Rishonim, particularly pashtanim, might note the connection between these verses. (See Ramban, who says בטוב, but also brings in the other pasuk.) But Samaritans would not leave such an ambiguity in the text. They would simply 'fix' the text so that ימים appears in Chayei Sarah as well!

DovBear notes this, somewhat, by saying it is more 'common'. Yes, it is more common, by a bit. It appears in that other pasuk in sefer Bereishit, once in Divrei Hayamim, about David, and once in sefer Iyon, that he died 'old, and satiated of days'. So three against one. This might well indicate that this is the idiom. But on the other hand, given that the Samaritans will be aware of this common idiom, it is just like them to deliberately (rather than accidentally) emend it to match. I consider maximum entropy to be the more likely original, because natural language is not always so smooth. Spellings differ, and ways of expressing ideas differ. And so, there is lectio difficilior, that the more difficult version is more likely original, and there is lectio difficilior when the Samaritan text is involved, in which it is even more likely original.

So, perhaps the text was the more common, smoother one. But, there is extremely good reason to be suspicious, and reason that your typical blog reader or writer would not appreciate.

Turn now to the text of the Septuagint.

8 καὶ ἐκλιπὼν ἀπέθανεν Αβρααμ ἐν γήρει καλῷ πρεσβύτης καὶ πλήρης ἡμερῶν καὶ προσετέθη πρὸς τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ.

8 And Abraam failing died in a good old age, an old man and full of days, and was added to his people.

What is the basis for saying that he is full of days? Well, recall that this is a translation in Greek. We don't get to see the original Hebrew text! We only get to see the Greek, and then try to reconstruct the Hebrew original.

There are two possibilities here. The first is that it is a translation, and the translator was well-aware of the common idiom which appears three other times in Tanach. Rather than leaving the meaning of 'full' ambiguous, he did what a good translator should do and filled in some context. If so, there is no proof that the Ur-text had ימים.

The second possibility is that there was a Hebrew original which had ימים. Does this grant more credence to the Samaritan Hebrew text? Only maybe. On quite a number of occasions, the LXX echoes the Samaritan. This means that the Hebrew text which stood behind the Greek LXX translation could well have been the Samaritan. If so, then who cares?! We know that the Samaritans mangle their text. On the other hand, it could have reflected the original text. Yet I don't see the proof.

The evidence from the Peshitta is stronger. Usually, it echoes the Masoretic text. Yet here it appears to diverge:

Yet, this translation into Syriac by early Christians is still a translation. They do not possess a Hebrew-text equivalent of it. If so, once again perhaps this does reflect a Hebrew original, which would bolster the Samaritan (admittedly more so than Septuagint, since it does not regularly follow the Samaritan text), or else it is a clarifying remark by the translator.

However, let me add something to the mix, to suggest that even Chazal might have darshened the Samaritan text. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, once again, reads:

ומית אברהם בשיבו טבא סיב ושבע כל טובא ברם ישמעאל עבד תתובא
ביומוי ובתר כן , אתכנש לעמיה :
Or, to translate to English:
"And Avraham expired and died in good old age, old, and satisfied with all good; howbeit, Yishmael repented in his {Avraham's} lifetime, and after that, he was gathered to his people."

Note the word ביומוי. Could this be a derasha off of the word ימים?

The idea that Yishmael repented in Avraham's lifetime has its basis in Bava Batra 16b. To quote:
ש(בראשית כד, א) וה' ברך את אברהם בכל מאי בכל רבי מאיר אומר שלא היתה לו בת רבי יהודה אומר שהיתה לו בת אחרים אומרים בת היתה לו לאברהם ובכל שמה ר"א המודעי אומר איצטגנינות היתה בלבו של אברהם אבינו שכל מלכי מזרח ומערב משכימין לפתחו רבי שמעון בן יוחי אומר אבן טובה היתה תלויה בצוארו של אברהם אבינו שכל חולה הרואה אותו מיד מתרפא ובשעה שנפטר אברהם אבינו מן העולם תלאה הקדוש ברוך הוא בגלגל חמה אמר אביי היינו דאמרי אינשי אידלי יומא אידלי קצירא דבר אחר שלא מרד עשו בימיו דבר אחר שעשה ישמעאל תשובה בימיו

Or in English:
[It is written,] The Lord had blessed Abraham in all things20  [ba-kol].What is meant by 'in all things'? R. Meir said: In the fact that he had no daughter; R. Judah said: In the fact that he had a daughter. Others say that Abraham had a daughter whose name was ba-kol. R. Eliezer the Modiite said that Abraham possessed a power of reading the stars21  for which he was much sought after by the potentates of East and West.22  R. Simeon b. Yohai said: Abraham had a precious stone hung round his neck which brought immediate healing to any sick person who looked on it, and when Abraham our father departed from this world, the Holy One, blessed be He, suspended it from the orb of the sun. Abaye said: This bears out the popular saying, As the day advances the illness lightens. Another explanation is that Esau did not break loose so long as he was alive. Another explanation is that Ishmael repented while he was still alive. 
While this is presented as a derasha of Hashem beirach et Avraham ba-kol, perhaps we can present it as a derasha on  זָקֵן וּשְׂבַע יָמִים. He was satiated within his lifetime. Because the bad things (such as Esav's sinning) were reserved for after his death. Or because within his lifetime, he managed to see Yishmael repent.

If this is so, then this is just one of quite a number of places where Chazal darshen a pasuk which matches the Samaritan text. That still doesn't mean that the Samaritan text is correct; it could simply mean that whoever formed the derasha had a vulgar text before him.


S. said...

>This means that the Hebrew text which stood behind the Greek LXX translation could well have been the Samaritan

No, not the Samaritan. There's no Greek text with Har Gerizim. A Jewish text that agreed with the Samaritan. Although you can still posit that this text too was changed, by careless Jews, it wasn't by the Samaritans.

joshwaxman said...

thanks. yes, that is more along the lines of what i meant.

what i am imagining is a text *derived* in places from the Samaritan readings. not in its entirety, but in a number of sections or places. though not that careless duplicated the error, though this is something that could also occur.

in other words, when making a copy of a text, a scribe seized one several vulgar texts that were floating around. and thus eventually there was a Hebrew text which stood behind the LXX which was derived, in all these places, eventually from a Samaritan text.

kol tuv,


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