Numbers 12:1-16


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12:1 VA TEDABER MIRYAM VE AHARON BE MOSHEH AL ODOT HA ISHAH HA KUSHIT ASHER LAKACH KI ISHAH KUSHIT LAKACH


וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמֹשֶׁה עַל אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח כִּי אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית לָקָח



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

וַיֹּאמְרוּ הֲרַק אַךְ בְּמֹשֶׁה דִּבֶּר יְהוָה הֲלֹא גַּם בָּנוּ דִבֵּר וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה

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


וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה עָנָו מְאֹד מִכֹּל הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה

KJ: (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)

BN: Now the man Mosheh was very meek, more so than any man upon the face of the earth.


Another verse that merits an essay, especially in the light of my note to the last verse.

samech break


12:4 VA YOMER YHVH PIT'OM EL MOSHEH VE EL AHARON VE EL MIRYAM TSE'U SHELASHTECHEM EL OHEL MO'ED VA YETS'U SHELOSHTAM



וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה פִּתְאֹם אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל מִרְיָם צְאוּ שְׁלָשְׁתְּכֶם אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיֵּצְאוּ שְׁלָשְׁתָּם 



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



וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָה בְּעַמּוּד עָנָן וַיַּעֲמֹד פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל  וַיִּקְרָא אַהֲרֹן וּמִרְיָם וַיֵּצְאוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם



KJ: And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth.

BN: Then YHVH came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the door of the Tent, and called Aharon and Mir-Yam; and they both came forth.


Which requires re-examining the stage directions again: YHVH is outside the tent, and now calls Aharon and Mir-Yam outside too. This does not concur with the previous verse.



12:6 VA YOMER SHIM'U NA DEVARAY IM YIHEYEH NEVIY'ACHEM YHVH BA MAR'AH ELAV ETVADAH BA CHALOM ADABER BO



וַיֹּאמֶר שִׁמְעוּ נָא דְבָרָי אִם יִהְיֶה נְבִיאֲכֶם יְהוָה בַּמַּרְאָה אֵלָיו אֶתְוַדָּע בַּחֲלוֹם אֲדַבֶּר בּוֹ



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?


12:7 LO CHEN AVDI MOSHEH BE CHOL BEITO NE'EMAN HU



לֹא כֵן עַבְדִּי מֹשֶׁה בְּכָל בֵּיתִי נֶאֱמָן הוּא

KJ: 
My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.

BN: My servant Mosheh is not so; he is trusted throughout my house


A phrase with a strong echo of Yoseph in Mitsrayim.

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



פֶּה אֶל פֶּה אֲדַבֶּר בּוֹ וּמַרְאֶה וְלֹא בְחִידֹת וּתְמֻנַת יְהוָה יַבִּיט וּמַדּוּעַ לֹא יְרֵאתֶם לְדַבֵּר בְּעַבְדִּי בְמֹשֶׁה



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, against Mosheh


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

וְהֶעָנָן סָר מֵעַל הָאֹהֶל וְהִנֵּה מִרְיָם מְצֹרַעַת כַּשָּׁלֶג וַיִּפֶן אַהֲרֹן אֶל מִרְיָם וְהִנֵּה מְצֹרָעַת



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 was leprous.

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



וַיֹּאמֶר אַהֲרֹן אֶל מֹשֶׁה בִּי אֲדֹנִי אַל נָא תָשֵׁת עָלֵינוּ חַטָּאת אֲשֶׁר נוֹאַלְנוּ וַאֲשֶׁר חָטָאנוּ



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


אַל נָא תְהִי כַּמֵּת אֲשֶׁר בְּצֵאתוֹ מֵרֶחֶם אִמּוֹ וַיֵּאָכֵל חֲצִי בְשָׂרוֹ




KJ: Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb.

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


וַיִּצְעַק מֹשֶׁה אֶל יְהוָה לֵאמֹר אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ

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



וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְאָבִיהָ יָרֹק יָרַק בְּפָנֶיהָ הֲלֹא תִכָּלֵם שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תִּסָּגֵר שִׁבְעַת יָמִים מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה וְאַחַר תֵּאָסֵף



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


וַתִּסָּגֵר מִרְיָם מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וְהָעָם לֹא נָסַע עַד הֵאָסֵף מִרְיָם



KJ: And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.

BN: And Mir-Yam was quarantined outside the camp for seven days; and the people did not continue their journey until Mir-Yam was brought in again.


12:16 VE ACHAR NAS'U HA AM MEY CHATSEROT VA YACHANU BE MIDBAR PA'RAN


וְאַחַר נָסְעוּ הָעָם מֵחֲצֵרוֹת וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּמִדְבַּר פָּארָן


KJ: And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the wilderness of Pa'ran.

BN: And afterward the people journeyed from Chatserot, and camped in the wilderness of Pa'ran.


PA'RAN:

CHATSEROT: Go back to the definition of this place. Is the story connected aetiologically to that meaning?



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