Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Who asks that manna doesn't fall today in the Sinai?

Summary: Correcting an error in the JewishEncyclopedia. It wasn't Chivi! It was Ibn Ezra, rejecting Chivi.

Post: While researching a previous post, about a Karaite (who turned out not to be a Karaite) who suggested that the man was a natural phenomenon, I encountered the following paragraph, and sentence, in Wikipedia:
Some others of Ḥiwi's views are preserved in Ibn Ezra's commentary on the Pentateuch. The passing of the Israelites through the Red Sea Ḥiwi explained by the natural phenomenon of the ebb-tide; and the words "the skin of his [Moses'] face shone" ("ḳaran," literally, "cast horns" or "rays"; Ex. xxxiv. 29) he explained as referring to the dryness of his skin in consequence of long fasting (see Ibn Ezra on the passage in Exodus). Ḥiwi further inquired why manna from heaven no longer descends in the desert of Sinai as it is said to have done in olden times (Ibn Ezra to Ex. xvi. 13). 
These few instances of Ḥiwi's criticisms are sufficient to show his skeptical and irreverent spirit, the cause of which D. Kaufmann traced back to anti-Jewish polemical Pahlavi literature (J. Darmesteter, in "R. E. J." xviii. 5et seq.).
This struck me as at odds with the Ibn Ezra that I had seen inside. While Ibn Ezra mentions Chivi and poses this question, it is Ibn Ezra posing the question as part of an array of questions designed to utterly debunk Chivi! Though this error is not original to Wikipedia. They drew it, in its entirety, from JewishEncyclopedia. What is nice about Wikipedia is that when you spot an error like this, you can correct it. Therefore, I changed the sentence there to read:
Some others of Ḥiwi's views are preserved in Ibn Ezra's commentary on the Pentateuch. The passing of the Israelites through the Red Sea Ḥiwi explained by the natural phenomenon of the ebb-tide; and the words "the skin of his [Moses'] face shone" ("ḳaran," literally, "cast horns" or "rays"; Exodus xxxiv. 29) he explained as referring to the dryness of his skin in consequence of long fasting (see Ibn Ezra on the passage in Exodus). Ḥiwi further explained the manna as a naturally occurring phenomenon (Ibn Ezra to Ex. xvi. 13).
To demonstrate that this is correct, I will present the relevant Ibn Ezra and translate it into English.
ירקב שם חוי שאמר:

כי המן הוא הנקרא בלשון פרסי תרנגבי"ן ובלשון ערבי מ"ן ובלשון לע"ז מנ"א. 
כי קושיות רבות עמדו עליו. האחת כי איננו יורד היום במדבר סיני כי ההר ידוע ואני ראיתי זה הדומה למן במלכות אלצכי"ר. והוא יורד בניסן ובאייר ולא בחדשים אחרים.
ועוד: אם תשימהו לשמש לא ימס.
ועוד: כי בלילה לא יבאש.
ועוד: כי איננו חזק ואין צורך שידוכנו אדם במדוכה, שיעשה ממנו עוגות.
ועוד: כאשר יושם בלשון יומס.
ועוד: כי איננו משביע שיוליד דם טוב, רק הוא נכנס ברפואות.
ועוד: כי ביום השישי היה יורד משנה.
ועוד: כי לא היה יורד בשבת.
ועוד: כי ירד לכל מקום שיחנו.
ועוד: כי עבר עימהם את הירדן, ולא שבת עד חצי ניסן על דרך הפשט.
"May the name of Chivi rot, who said than the man is that which is called targevin in Persian {see comment by Bar Uryan in comment section; this is manna taranjebin}, man in Arabic, and manna in Laaz {Abarbanel puts this as Roman, that is, Latin}. For many questions stand against him:
  1. One, it {=targevin} does not descend nowadays in the wilderness of Sinai, for this mountain is known; and I have seen this thing similar to man in the kingdom of Altzakir {again, thanks to Bar Uryan, in the comment section; this is Alcazar}, and it descends in Nissan and Iyar and not in other months. {Unlike the manna which fell continuously.}
  2. And further, if you place it in the sun it does melt.
  3. And further, at night it does not turn bad.
  4. And further, it is not tough, such that there is no need to crush it with a mortar, in order to make cakes from it.
  5. And further, when you place it on the tongue, it melts.
  6. And further, it does not satiate, such as to create good blood, but rather is put into medical cures.
  7. And further, on the sixth day, it {meaning the manna in the wilderness} descended double.
  8. And further, it did not descend on Shabbat.
  9. And further, it descended to every place they encamped.
  10. And further, it crossed over the Jordan river with them, and did not cease until half into the month of Nissan, according to the path of peshat.
Now, I can see how the scholars who put together this encyclopedia article could have misread this Ibn Ezra. Ibn Ezra declaring that it falls in such and such a country, after a statement that it doesn't fall in Sinai, can be mistaken for Ibn Ezra trying to shlug up the statement. But if you read the entirety of Ibn Ezra's comment, his general thrust is that Chivi believes it is substance X which occurs naturally, and Ibn Ezra gives many reasons it could not be substance X. And, to this end, Ibn Ezra asks that if this substance X is so naturally occurring, then how come it does not naturally occur nowadays. And he proceeds to ask that even in places it does occur, it only occurs in specific months. And so on and so forth, drawing distinctions between Biblical manna and substance X.

Note that Ibn Ezra does not say that Chivi is a Karaite. Indeed, as I discussed in the previous post, even the Karaites considered Chivi to be a heretic. That Abarbanel labels him a Karaite is of no matter; his only exposure to Chivi is via Ibn Ezra. The same goes for Malbim, who explicitly relies on Ibn Ezra and Abarbanel.

The picture above, by the way, is from an article about various types of natural manna. See here.


S. said...

Although it is certainly a matter of historic import if Hiwi was or was not a Karaite, I would point out that nothing ever stopped people from calling Karaites Tzedokim or Boethusim. "Karaite" could just be rabbinic for "medieval Jewish heretic."

Bar Uryan said...

Re "Altzakir", according to the gentleman here, this in reference to Alcazar.

Bar Uryan said...

And re "targevin", it seems in fact in reference to taranjebin; google supplies 528 results for "taranjebin", 59 results for "taranjebin manna", 63 for "taranjebin alhagi", and 13,600 for "alhagi manna".

joshwaxman said...

thanks! i'll edit as soon as i get the chance.

according to this website, "Manna taranjebin is produced by an insect, Poophilus nebulosus, on camel's thorn plant. The manna has been traditionally used in herbal medicine and recent studies have studied/confirmed some of its therapeutic effects."

This fits well with Ibn Ezra saying it is used in refuot. Besides the fact that it is a phonetic match. Thanks!


Bar Uryan said...

Cf. the NY Times article you cited previously: "Hedysarum manna comes from Hedysarum alhagi, the camel thorn bush."


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