KJ (King James translation): And Miriam and Aaron
spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he
had married an Ethiopian woman.
BN (BibleNet translation): And Mir-Yam and Aharon spoke against
Mosheh because of the Kushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Kushite woman.
TEDABER... BE: If they had spoken "to" him about her, the text would say EL or possibly IM; but does BE infer that they spoke "about" Mosheh, or "against" Mosheh; i.e. was this mere gossip, or fully-fledged criticism? And given that there are two of them, why is it TEDABER in the singular and not TEDABRU in the plural?
LAKACH: Doesn't mean married; he could perfectly well have taken her as a
concubine. The verse insinuates that they were upset about him taking a Kushite
woman; is this because she was black; or because he didn't seek advice on who
to take; or an argument about polygamy; or something else entirely? I ask this latter because the verses that
follow have nothing to do with the woman whatsoever, but their perceived demotion in the wake of the appointment of the seventy elders.
KUSH: 12:2 VA YOMRU HA RAK ACH BE MOSHEH DIBER YHVH HA LO GAM BANU DIBER VA YISHMA YHVH
KJ: And they said, Hath
the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the
LORD heard it.
BN: And they said: Has YHVH really only spoken with Mosheh? Has he not also spoken with us? And YHVH heard it.
Inferring huge tranches of missing text, the ones in which, apparently, god
spoke to or through Aharon and Mir-Yam too. This has huge implications,
especially for Mir-Yam's role - we have seen her in a prophetic role with the song at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20), this now appears to confirm it, even through the fact of Mosheh denying or suppressing it.
This appears to take us back to the previous chapter, where El-Dad and Mey-Dad took to prophesying, and Yehoshu'a bin Nun objected, calling for their imprisonment. There Mosheh responded: "I wish all the Beney Yisra-El were prophets" (Numbers 11:29). Here the opposite seems to be the case: Mir-Yam and Aharon are complaining that Mosheh has centralised the oracular role upon himself.
12:3 VE HA ISH MOSHEH ANAV ME'OD MI KOL HA ADAM ASHER AL PENEY HA ADAMAH
KJ: And the LORD spake
suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto
the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out.
BN: Then, suddenly, YHVH said to
Mosheh, and to Aharon, and to Mir-Yam: Come out all three of you to the tent of
meeting. And the three came out.
PIT'OM: In what manner does YHVH "suddenly" speak to them? This, with
TSE'U, requires contextualising as stage directions. Where were they when it
happened? It seems they were already before YHVH, which means the previous
verses had something liturgical going on, which may itself explain the seeming
absences in the Kushite story; in order to "come out" to the tent of
meeting, they have to have been inside the Holy of Holies in the first place; if they were
anywhere else, the verb would have been BO'U. Were they then having an argument inside the Holy of Holies? No wonder YHVH was angry!
The tone of this feels like an angry parent with his naughty children: I want all three of you, in my tent, right now!
12:5 VA YERED YHVH BA AMUD ANAN VA YA'AMOD PETACH HA OHEL VA YIKRA AHARON U MIRYAM VA YETS'U SHNEYHEM
KJ: And he said, Hear now
my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the
LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will
speak unto him in a dream.
BN: And he said: Listen to me. If
there is a prophet among you, I, YHVH, will make myself known to him in a
vision, I will speak with him through dream.
So we are indeed still dealing with the issue of El-Dad and Mey-Dad, and Mosheh's democratic response - presumably it was this, rather more than his bed-companions, that Mir-Yam and Aharon were criticising in the Holy of Holies. Does this
description match the one we got before; or inform it? Go check. And does this
inform the jealousy referred to a verse or three back? And what has
any of this to do with the Kushite woman?
But also, like all this passage, a phrase that seems to convey a different
theology than the rest of the Torah, and makes me wonder if we don't have yet
another source text being interpolated into the anthology by the Redactor. When did Mosheh ever
prophesy, in the sense that this passage uses the word? Never. My sense is that
this is Midrash of the Prophetic era, remembered in oral tradition, added in
the Ezraic manuscripts.
12:8 PEH EL PEH ADABER BO U MAR'EH VE LO VE CHIYDOT U TEMUNAT YHVH YABIYT U MADU'A LO YERE'TEM LEDABER BE AVDI VE MOSHEH
KJ: With him will I speak
mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude
of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against
my servant Moses?
BN: With him I speak in person, and eye to eye, in plain words not through revelations and metaphors; and he sees YHVH as I am. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant,
CHIYDOT:The kind of revelations given to the later prophets, or presumably to Sha'ul
in his incident of prophesying, and to Muhammad later on.
TEMUNAT YHVH: I love the way the translators avoid the difficult inferences of
text by wilfully mistranslating, or by finding suitably ambiguous or vague
translations. Supreme example here. TEMUNAT YHVH does not mean "similitude".
This clearly tells us that YHVH and Mosheh meet face-to-face. And that is
problematic, because previously (Exodus 33) we have been told, in no uncertain
terms, that no one, including Mosheh, can meet YHVH face-to-face and live; Mosheh gets to stand behind a rock and see part of the anterior of YHVH as he passes
in a cloud, and no more than that. So we have, yet again, contradictory
versions. Indeed, as I pointed out before, the whole of this passage is a
deeply contradictory version.
LO YEREYTEM: There is something tyrannical in the use of this verse. Mosheh is
described as having special privileges with YHVH, for which no other person
should dare to challenge him on anything, not even his choice of concubine or
wife. The Divine Right of Kings. The absolute dictatorship of the
self-appointed. Unacceptable, in the terms of the Torah already given, where Yitro first, and then YHVH, clearly tell Mosheh to get advisers and ministers, and to delegate
responsibility, as he did in the last chapter. And then all the occasions when YHVH speaks directly to both
Mosheh and Aharon, with no distinction in the manner; so whatever is being stated
here of Mosheh must also be true of Aharon too, even if not of Mir-Yam, and
therefore makes a nonsense of the statement LO YEREYTEM.
12:9 VA YICHAR APH YHVH BAM VA YELECH
וַיִּחַר אַף יְהוָה בָּם וַיֵּלַךְ
KJ: And the anger of the
LORD was kindled against them; and he departed.
BN: And the anger of YHVH was kindled against them; and he departed.
Another divine tantrum. He really must grow up and stop doing this. He is
supposed to be an omnipotent deity, not a baby in diapers; this is the second tantrum-over-nothing
in the same passage. What kind of role-modeling is this? Come back, YHVH, this
needs quiet discussion and explanation, not foot-stamping and door-slamming.
12:10 VE HE ANAN SAR ME AL HA OHEL VE HINEH MIRYAM METSORA'AT KA SHALEG VA YIPHEN AHARON EL MIRYAM VE HINEH METSORA'AT
KJ: And the cloud departed
from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow:
and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she
BN: And when the cloud had lifted from over the Tent, behold, Miryam was leprous, as white as snow; and Aharon
looked at Mir-Yam; and, behold, she was leprous.
Once again the divine tantrum turms out to be an incident of Nature, yet another eruption of the great volcano. Visions of Pompeii - for which click here. Several different stories seem to be interwoven, none of them ever complete,
all of them presented as though they were unconnected. If she has the plague,
can we assume it is the same plague that came with the quails, and that the
reason Mir-Yam and Aharon were in the Holy of Holies was liturgically related to
the matter of the plague; and therefore that the anger of YHVH referred to
before the quails, and the anger of YHVH now, are also related. And Mir-Yam white
as snow stands against the Kushite woman - black, may we say, as the tents of
Kedar (Song of Songs 1:5) All this clearly interweaves, and what is needed is to storyboard all
the events, and then anagram them back into an order that actually makes sense.
I suspect we will end with a very different tale.
Or is she simply covered in volcanic ash?
And then, at yet another level, there is an attempt to connect her criticism of Mosheh, and her desire to be considered his equal in the matter of prophesying (interpreting the meanings of the actors of YHVH), and her being punished with plague for doing so.
This episode provides us with an excellent insight into the understanding of "god" in the ancient world: Aharon and Mir-Yam meet in the Ohel for a confabulation about their brother and leader, perhaps there new position with respect to the seventy elders, perhaps the Kushite woman, perhaps the quails, perhaps the general issue of his "meekness" (see above), their frustration at his being, frankly, a terrible leader; but even as they are talking, the volcano starts to rumble, and they believe it is YHVH's anger at their dissent. They rush outside to see how bad the eruption is this time, and there are clouds of dust right overhead, so dense that Mir-Yam is covered in it head-to-foot, though Aharon somehow manages not to be; so they know that it was Mir-Yam with whom YHVH was angry. So the incomprehensibilities of Nature are explained; so human sin is always the explanation.
12:11 VA YOMER AHARON EL MOSHEH BI ADONI AL NA TASET ALEYNU CHATAT ASHER NO'ALNU VA ASHER CHATANU
KJ: And Aaron said unto
Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have
done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned.
BN: Then Aharon said to Mosheh: Please, my
lord, do not rebuke us. We know that we have acted foolishly, and that we have done wrong.
The tone is obsequious; Aharon, the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol, the man chosen by YHVH to be Mosheh's spokesman in Mistrayim, possessor of the caduceus pole, the "Rod of Aharon"... and at the same time, supplanted elder brother, reduced to begging at the feet of "my lord"... if Mosheh is truly establishing the sort of dictatorial despotism that this describes, then no wonder Korach and co were busy, even now, plotting a rebellion. 12:12 AL NA TEHI KA MET ASHER BE TSETO ME RECHEM IMO VA YE'ACHEL CHATSI VESARO
KJ: Let her not be as one
dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's
BN: Please, don't let her die like those who come out of their mother's womb with the flesh already half-consumed.
A very difficult piece of figurative Yehudit to render in English; the variations in the translations are well worth looking at - click here for several. Can we presume that the effect of being covered in volcanic ash is an appearance not unlike leprosy, but also the ash is hot, so it burns, as psoriasis and eczema "burn", and the skin does some very odd things. 12:13 VA YITS'AK MOSHEH EL YHVH LEMOR EL NA REPHA NA LA
KJ: And Moses cried unto
the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee.
BN: And Mosheh called to YHVH,
saying: Heal her now, El, I beseech you.
EL: Not YHVH, but specifically EL. And this is so unusual that it merits commentary - a question indeed. Is this perhaps yet another version of the legend being included, a non-Yisra-Eli, perhaps a Kena'ani (Canaanite) legend, some tale of the water-goddess Mir-Yam, even perhaps some liturgical piece connected with the purification rites in the cult of the water-goddess, and not a Mosheh legend at all?
And even if not, it is still textually odd, because the narrative states that Mosheh calls to YHVH, and in the next verse YHVH responds, but the prayer is addressed to El. pey break 12:14 VA YOMER YHVH EL MOSHEH VE AVIHA YAROK YARAK BE PANEYHA HA LO TIKALEM SHIVAT YAMIM TISAGER SHIVAT YAMIM MI CHUTS LA MACHANEH VE ACHAR TE'ASEPH
KJ: And the LORD said unto
Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven
days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be
received in again.
BN: Then YHVH said to Mosheh: If
her father had but spit in her face, should she not hide in shame seven days? Let her be locked out of the camp for seven days, and after that she shall be
brought in again.
Once again we see Mosheh speaking to YHVH in the "normal" manner, and our sense
of the stage directions has Aharon standing next to him in the Ohel. The manner
is liturgical: the Mi She Beirach prayer in the previous verse; and YHVH's answer likewise - though I
remain convinced that all YHVH's answers are delivered through the mouth of the
Nechushtan, the brass serpent, and that we need to try to work out who was the
oracle who did the delivering: one possibility, in the context of this passage,
is that it was Mir-Yam herself, and that her jealousy had to do with Mosheh replacing
her with a Kushite woman because she got sick; and that the jealousy wasn't
about him taking a wife or concubine at all, nor about her color.
And if that is correct, then it's the Kushite woman who is sending Mir-Yam away
now (as Sarah sent Hagar?).
Hiding her shame for seven days because her father spat in her face tells us
much about the society of the time, and at many levels. Worth an essay.
Quarantine of this kind is explained earlier in the Torah - see Leviticus 13.
TESAGER: Given that what is "outside the camp" is the Sinai desert for many hundreds of square miles, where does one take a person in order to "let her be shut up"; I think we need to translate this as "lock her out of the camp" rather than "Let her be shut up outside the camp".
TESAGER: requires us to go back to Yehoshua's
intervention earlier over El-Dad and Mey-Dad (Numbers 11:28), because he uses a different verb (KELA'EM - כְּלָאֵם - lock them up). Locking Mir-Yam out is the precise opposite of Yehoshua's intention.
One last thought. We move in this episode between the Kushite woman, the complaint of unequal status, and the "leprosy" that affects Mir-Yam; at some points YHVH is angry, and sends the leprosy as a punishment; but at this later stage, YHVH treats the "leprosy" as an affliction, and intercedes as healer, providing a simple solution: no anger there, no sense of punishment for anything, and Mir-Yam of such continuing status that the wilderness journey is delayed a full week out of respect for her and to provide for her recovery. It is simply implausible that all this is one and the same story; we have to read it as being at least two, and possibly as many as four different tales, sewn together by the Redactor, and neither terribly coherently nor terribly competently, so that it becomes hard to know what the intention of this tale is. 12:15 VA TISAGER MIRYAM MI CHUTS LA MACHANEH SHIVAT YAMIM VE HA AM LO NASA AD HE'ASEPH MIRYAM