Numbers 22:2–41


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22:1 VA YIS'U BENEY YISRA-EL VA YACHANU BE AREVOT MO-AV ME EVER LE YARDEN YERECHO


וַיִּסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּעַרְבוֹת מוֹאָב מֵעֵבֶר לְיַרְדֵּן יְרֵחוֹ 

KJ (King James translation): And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.

BN (BibleNet translation): And the Beney Yisra-El set out, and pitched their tents in the plains of Mo-Av, beyond the Yarden at Yerecho.


YERECHO: In the Book of Joshua the town is YERICHO, rather than YERECHO. Ezra 2:34, which belongs to the period when these texts are being written down, also has YERECHO. Modern Ivrit however has YERICHO. Why the difference, and when the difference? Towns change their names with time and the development of language (Oxford was originally Oxenford, Bristol was originally Brigstowe), but in this case we have YERICHO both in the earlier and later periods, YERECHO in the middle.

Verse 1 in fact belongs to the previous Sedra, where I have also included it; Sedra Balak starts at verse 2


samech break



Sedra 7, BALAK

Numbers 22:2 – 25:9


Chapter 22 (cont)


The Tanach brings together an enormous range of writings, from poetry to genealogical tables, from liturgy to folk-tale, from king-lists to shopping lists. What now follows may be a work of serious allegorical literature, or it may be a Beney Yisra-El equivalent of one of Aesop's Fables; the latter is more likely. But even more likely, it is a script for a satirical play,a pantomime, a music-hall comedy; though is is alas impossible (as some scholars have proposed) that the tale was a very late addition to the Tanach, as a response to Apuleius' "The Golden Ass" (properly "The Transformations of Lucius"), a satirical Roman novel in which a man is transformed into an ass and then proceeds to utter ludicrous prophecies; that book belongs to the 2nd century CE, and it may well have owed its origins to this tale (the impossibility is demonstrated by the tale being present in the Qumran versions of the Tanach; an interesting essay for serious students, dealing with those "Dead Sea Scroll" versions of this tale, can be found here).


22:2 VA YAR BALAK BEN TSIPUR ET KOL ASHER ASAH YISRA-EL LA EMORI

וַיַּרְא בָּלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל לָאֱמֹרִי

KJ: And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.

BN: And Balak the son of Tsipur saw all that Yisra-El had done to the Amorites.


BALAK: Names are always the first give-away. BALAK means "empty" or "void" (cf Isaiah 24:1), and may even have been an onomatopaeic word, reflecting the sound that is made when a bottle is drained - in which case maybe we should call him King Glug!

And then BEN TSIPUR. Calling him Ben Zippor, as is done in most English translations, simply avoids the issue, which is to say it isn't just wrong, it's willfully and dogmatically wrong. Tsipur means "bird"... (is this then a tale about a bird-brained world-leader who likes to Tweet?). The bird in question, at least if I was directing the stage version of this, would have to be a carrier pigeon - the reason wll become obvious in the next chapter.


22:3 VA YAGAR MO-AV MI PENEY HA AM ME'OD KI RAV HU VA YAKATS MO-AV MI PENEY BENEY YISRA-EL

וַיָּגָר מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי הָעָם מְאֹד כִּי רַב הוּא וַיָּקָץ מוֹאָב מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

KJ: And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.

BN: And Mo-Av was sore afraid of the people, because they were many; and Mo-Av was overcome with dread because of the Beney Yisra-El.


MIPNEY or MI PENEY?


22:4 VA YOMER MO-AV EL ZIKNEY MIDYAN ATAH YELACHACHU HA KAHAL ET KOL SEVIVOTEYNU KI LECHOCH HA SHOR ET YEREK HA SADEH U VALAK BEN TSIPUR MELECH LE MO-AV BA ET HA HI

וַיֹּאמֶר מוֹאָב אֶל זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן עַתָּה יְלַחֲכוּ הַקָּהָל אֶת כָּל סְבִיבֹתֵינוּ כִּלְחֹךְ הַשּׁוֹר אֵת יֶרֶק הַשָּׂדֶה וּבָלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר מֶלֶךְ לְמוֹאָב בָּעֵת הַהִוא

KJ: And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field. And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time.

BN: And Mo-Av said to the elders of Midyan: Now will this multitude lick up all that is round about us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field. And Balak ben Tsipur was king of Mo-Av at that time.


22:5 VA YISHLACH MAL'ACHIM EL BIL'AM BEN BE'OR PETURAH ASHER AL HA NAHAR ERETS BENEY AMO LIKRO LO LEMOR HINEH AM YATSA MI MITSRAYIM HINEH CHISAH ET EYN HA ARETS VE HU YOSHEV MI MULI

וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אֶל בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעֹר פְּתוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר עַל הַנָּהָר אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹ לִקְרֹא לוֹ לֵאמֹר הִנֵּה עַם יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם הִנֵּה כִסָּה אֶת עֵין הָאָרֶץ וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב מִמֻּלִי

KJ: He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me:

BN: And he sent messengers to Bil'am ben Be'or, to Petor, which is by the river, to the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying: Behold, a people has come out of Mitsrayim; behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they have camped by my border.


BIL'AM BEN BE'OR: Usually rendered as Balaam in English, but at the very least the Yehudit as written is Bil'am; however, "as written" includes the pointing, and without the pointing a very different reading is both possible and actually more likely: Bli-Am, "without a people".

BE'OR: The name takes us back to the imagery in verse 4. BE'AR means "to consume", usually with fire (Exodus 3:3, Psalm 83:15), but also the depasturing of a field (Isaiah 3:14 et al); the former then extends into "destruction" and, the "consuming" of a people through conquest or expulsion (1 Kings 22:47), or the cleaning out of a physical location (Deuteronomy 26:13), or the removal of evil (Deuteronomy 13:6, 17:7). 
   But there is also BA'AR in Psalm 49:11, and its Aramaic equivalent BA'ARA in 1 Chronicles 8:8, which mean "stupid", or at the very least "foolish". I can't help wondering if the whole of this story wasn't originally Biblical-era picaresque or pantomime or satirical comedy, with the very names of the characters the starting-point for a great deal of irreverent mockery. "Balaam the son of Be'or" is all very serious in English, but the name could perfectly validly be translated as "Mr Homeless and Stupid", both of which he will prove to be.

PETOR: Way east, in Mesopotamia officially, though really in Turkey; close by Carchemish on the Euphrates river - click here. Did they not have any soothsayers nearer at hand? Or is this perhaps a story, like Jonah and Job, like Esther, brought back by the exiles as a local tale, and given a Yehudan context - in the way that Chinese Cinderella found herself cleaning the kitchens of western Europe?


22:6 VE ATAH LECHAH NA ARAH LO ET HA AM HA ZEH KI ATSUM HU MIMENI ULAI OCHAL NAKEH BO VA AGARSHENU MIN HA ARETS KI YADATI ET ASHER TEVARECH MEVORACH VE ASHER TA'OR YU'AR

וְעַתָּה לְכָה נָּא אָרָה לִּי אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי עָצוּם הוּא מִמֶּנִּי אוּלַי אוּכַל נַכֶּה בּוֹ וַאֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ מִן הָאָרֶץ כִּי יָדַעְתִּי אֵת אֲשֶׁר תְּבָרֵךְ מְבֹרָךְ וַאֲשֶׁר תָּאֹר יוּאָר

KJ: Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.

BN: Please come and curse this people for me. They are too powerful for me. Perhaps I will be able to defeat them, and even drive them out of the land. I know that he who you bless is blessed, and he who you curse is cursed.


AGARSHENU: I'm not happy with this pronunciation. The root is GARASH and the infinitive LEGARESH. The sheva should surely be a segol - AGARESHENU?


22:7 VA YELCHU ZIKNEY MO-AV VE ZIKNEY MIDYAN U KESAMIM BE YADAM VA YAVO'U EL BIL'AM VA YEDABRU ELAV DIVREY VALAK

וַיֵּלְכוּ זִקְנֵי מוֹאָב וְזִקְנֵי מִדְיָן וּקְסָמִים בְּיָדָם וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל בִּלְעָם וַיְדַבְּרוּ אֵלָיו דִּבְרֵי בָלָק

KJ: And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto Balaam, and spake unto him the words of Balak.

BN: And the elders of Mo-Av and the elders of Midyan departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came to Bil'am, and spoke to him the words of Balak.


KESAMIM: Cash, presumably. Advance payment, or at the very least a retainer.

22:8 VA YOMER ALEYHEM LIYNU PHO HA LAILAH VA HASHIVOTI ET'CHEM DAVAR KA ASHER YEDABER YHVH ELAI VA YESHVU SAREY IM BIL'AM

וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם לִינוּ פֹה הַלַּיְלָה וַהֲשִׁבֹתִי אֶתְכֶם דָּבָר כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֵלָי וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׂרֵי מוֹאָב עִם בִּלְעָם

KJ: And he said unto them, Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the LORD shall speak unto me: and the princes of Moab abode with Balaam.

BN: And he said to them: Lodge here tonight, and I will come back to you with my answer, in whatever words YHVH may speak to me. And the princes of Mo-Av abode with Bil'am.


The tale now begins to become problematic. That Bil'am would speak to his god(s) is entirely reasonable; but that he should speak to YHVH is at best implausible. I suspect that this is a translation of whatever word Bil'am used for his god, rather than the name he used - in the same way that, and it would be an error of translation, someone might publish an edition of the Qur'an in which the deity (al-Lah) was named God throughout; but to one who believed that God was God, and that there is only one God, it would also be logical to do this. Now see the next verse.


22:9 VA YAVO ELOHIM EL BIL'AM VA YOMER MI HA ANASHIM HA ELEH IMACH

וַיָּבֹא אֱלֹהִים אֶל בִּלְעָם וַיֹּאמֶר מִי הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה עִמָּךְ

KJ: And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee?

BN: And Elohim came to Bil'am, and said: Who men are these with you?


What comes to Bil'am that night is not YHVH, but Elohim, which could be the Yisra-Eli Elohim, or simply the word the Beney Yisra-El used for anybody's pantheon of gods. Now look at the next verse, which gives us a third version, but at least this one will be the one we would have expected.


22:10 VA YOMER BIL'AM EL HA ELOHIM BALAK BEN TSIPUR MELECH MO-AV SHALACH ELAI

וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים בָּלָק בֶּן צִפֹּר מֶלֶךְ מוֹאָב שָׁלַח אֵלָי

KJ: And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying,

BN: And Bil'am said to Ha Elohim: Balak ben Tsipur, the king of Mo-Av, has sent to me 


HA ELOHIM: His plurality of gods; from this point on I shall therefore translate YHVH back into HA ELOHIM whenever it occurs, though leaving the Yehudit text unaltered


22:11 HINEH HA AM HA YOTS'E MI MITSRAYIM VA YECHAS ET EYN HA ARETS ATAH LECHA KAVAH LI OTO ULAI UCHAL LEHILACHEM BO VE GERASHTIV

הִנֵּה הָעָם הַיֹּצֵא מִמִּצְרַיִם וַיְכַס אֶת עֵין הָאָרֶץ עַתָּה לְכָה קָבָה לִּי אֹתוֹ אוּלַי אוּכַל לְהִלָּחֶם בּוֹ וְגֵרַשְׁתִּיו

KJ: Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them; peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out.

BN: Behold there is a people that has come out of Mitsrayim, so many they cover the face of the Earth. Now, come curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them, and shall drive them out.


VA YECHAS ET EYN HA ARETS: For the first time, that figure of one and a half million that was calculated in the census appears to have some veracity!

In this verse Bil'am is quoting from verses 5 and 11, more or less exactly




22:12 VA YOMER ELOHIM EL BIL'AM LO TELECH IMAHEM LO TA'OR ET HA AM KI BARUCH HU

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל בִּלְעָם לֹא תֵלֵךְ עִמָּהֶם לֹא תָאֹר אֶת הָעָם כִּי בָרוּךְ הוּא

KJ: And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.

BN: Then Elohim said to Bil'am: You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed.


This makes much more sense if we now reinstate HA before ELOHIM, so that we see his gods fearing the Beney Yisra-Eli god YHVH, as a result of the slaughter of Sichon and Og.


22:13 VA YAKAM BIL'AM BA BOKER VA YOMER EL SAREY VALAK LECHU EL ARTSECHEM KI ME'EN YHVH LETITI LAHALOCH IMACHEM

וַיָּקָם בִּלְעָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל שָׂרֵי בָלָק לְכוּ אֶל אַרְצְכֶם כִּי מֵאֵן יְהוָה לְתִתִּי לַהֲלֹךְ עִמָּכֶם

KJ: And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you.

BN: And Bil'am rose up in the morning, and said to the princes of Balak: Go back to your land; for the gods refuse to give me leave to go with you.


Again the text gives YHVH, and again we have to assume laziness or stupidity on the part of the redactor. Bil'am is not a believer in YHVH and therefore not answerable to him; nor does YHVH talk to what he considers the false prophets of rejected quackeries passing themselves off as genuine religions. 


22:14 VA YAKUMU SAREY MO-AV VA YAVO'U EL BALAK VA YOMRU ME'EN BIL'AM HALOCH IMANU

וַיָּקוּמוּ שָׂרֵי מוֹאָב וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל בָּלָק וַיֹּאמְרוּ מֵאֵן בִּלְעָם הֲלֹךְ עִמָּנוּ

KJ: And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.

BN: And the princes of Mo-Av rose up, and they went to Balak, and said: Bil'am refuses to come with us.


22:15 VA YOSEPH OD BALAK SHELO'ACH SARIM RABIM VE NICHBADIM ME ELEH

וַיֹּסֶף עוֹד בָּלָק שְׁלֹחַ שָׂרִים רַבִּים וְנִכְבָּדִים מֵאֵלֶּה

KJ: And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.

BN: So Balak sent princes yet again, more of them, and of higher rank than they.


NICHBADIM: It isn't for their greater honour but their higher rank that he sends them; honour here is a euphemism


22:16 VA YAVO'U EL BIL'AM VA YOMRU LO KOH AMAR BALAK BEN TSIPUR AL NA TIMANA ME HALOCH ELAI

וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל בִּלְעָם וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ כֹּה אָמַר בָּלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר אַל נָא תִמָּנַע מֵהֲלֹךְ אֵלָי

KJ: And they came to Balaam, and said to him, Thus saith Balak the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me:

BN: And they came to Bil'am, and said to him: Thus says Balak ben Tsipur: Let nothing, I beseech you, hinder you from coming to me


Meaning: we are carrying still more cash. Name your price.


22:17 KI CHAVED ACHABEDECHA ME'OD VE CHOL ASHER TOMAR ELAI E'ESEH U LECHA NA KAVAH LI ET HA AM HA ZEH

כִּי כַבֵּד אֲכַבֶּדְךָ מְאֹד וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר אֵלַי אֶעֱשֶׂה וּלְכָה נָּא קָבָה לִּי אֵת הָעָם הַזֶּה

KJ: For I will promote thee unto very great honour, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me: come therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people.

BN: For I will promote you to very great honour, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come therefore, I beseech you, curse this people for me.


The "I" here being Balak, his words reported by the messenger.


22:18 VA YA'AN BIL'AM VA YOMER EL AVDEY VALAK IM YITEN LI VALAK MELO VEITO KESEPH VE ZAHAV LO UCHAL LA'AVOR ET PI YHVH ELOHAI LA'ASOT KETANAH O GEDOLAH

וַיַּעַן בִּלְעָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל עַבְדֵי בָלָק אִם יִתֶּן לִי בָלָק מְלֹא בֵיתוֹ כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב לֹא אוּכַל לַעֲבֹר אֶת פִּי יְהוָה אֱלֹהָי לַעֲשׂוֹת קְטַנָּה אוֹ גְדוֹלָה

KJ: And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more.

BN: Then Bil'am answered, saying to Balak's servants: If Balak gave give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of my gods, to do anything, small or large


22:19 VE ATAH SHEVU NA VA ZEH GAM ATEM HA LAILAH VE EDAH MAH YOSEPH YHVH DABER IMI

וְעַתָּה שְׁבוּ נָא בָזֶה גַּם אַתֶּםהַלָּיְלָה וְאֵדְעָה מַה יֹּסֵף יְהוָה דַּבֵּר עִמִּי

KJ: Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more.

BN: Now therefore, I beseech you, lodge here tonight as well, so that I may know if the gods may have something more to say to me.


It is precisely verses like this that the sense of the piece as a satirical pantomime; I try to imagine the stage version: the quack prophet from nowhere-land, the head-hunters with their caskets of gold, the need to see just how far this can be pushed, to gain the maximum: and the audience thinking about all the Ponzi schemers, flea-marketeers, mortgage-sellers, scammers and junk-bondsmen of their own experience, script by Mel Brooks, with Gene Hackman as Bilam.


22:20 VA YAVO ELOHIM EL BIL'AM LAILAH VA YOMER LO IM LIKRO LECHA BA'U HA ANASHIM KUM LECH ITAM VE ACH ET HA DAVAR ASHER ADABER ELEYCHA OTO TA'ASEH

וַיָּבֹא אֱלֹהִים אֶל בִּלְעָם לַיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם לִקְרֹא לְךָ בָּאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים קוּם לֵךְ אִתָּם וְאַךְ אֶת הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אֲדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ אֹתוֹ תַעֲשֶׂה

KJ: And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.

BN: And the gods came to Bil'am that night, and said to him: If the men have come to summon you, rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak to you, only that shall you utter.


22:21 VA YAKAM BIL'AM BA BOKER VA YACHAVOSH ET ATONO VA YELECH IM SAREY MO-AV

וַיָּקָם בִּלְעָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיַּחֲבֹשׁ אֶת אֲתֹנוֹ וַיֵּלֶךְ עִם שָׂרֵי מוֹאָב

KJ: And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.

BN: And Bil'am rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Mo-Av.


22:22 VA YICHAR APH ELOHIM KI HOLECH HU VA YITYATSAV MAL'ACH YHVH BA DERECH LE SATAN LO VE HU ROCHEV AL ATONO U SHNEY NE'ARAV IMO

וַיִּחַר אַף אֱלֹהִים כִּי הוֹלֵךְ הוּא וַיִּתְיַצֵּב מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה בַּדֶּרֶךְ לְשָׂטָן לוֹ וְהוּא רֹכֵב עַל אֲתֹנוֹ וּשְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו עִמּוֹ

KJ: And God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.

BN: But the anger of Elohim was kindled because he went; and an angel of YHVH placed himself in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him...


The confusion of his god and the Beney Yisra-Eli god (sometimes here YHVH, sometimes Elohim) now becomes significant. In v 21 Elohim (Ha Elohim) clearly told him to go with the Mo-Avi princes; now Elohim (YHVH) is angry with him for going. And still more complex, it is an angel of YHVH who tries to prevent him. It cannot be the same Elohim, and Elohim is not YHVH. The error of the text obscures a depth of conflict which is clearly in the tale. 


LE SATAN: Yes, Satan, but not the one that Christian theology has taught you to expect, a Hadean devil with fiery tail, horns, and a Zionist bank account. Merely "the adversary" - and significant to find him here, in the Book of Numbers, because this concept of an adversary belongs to Zoroastrianism, and belongs to Persia, starting around the 12th century BCE, but not adopted until the time of the Medes, precisely the epoch of Ezra and the writing of the Bible, starting around the 6th entury BCE. The name of the adversary was Ankareh Minu, usually rendered in English as Angra Mainyu.

ATONO: Ass or donkey? Some etymologists will tell you that they are the same animal, but that ass is the Latin and donkey the Celtic (click here or here). But the Yehudit disagrees with this. Previously we have seen CHAMOR for a donkey (so the translation at Judges 15:16 needs to be reconsidered), but here ATON for an ass - or does Yehudit too have two source-words for the same animal? I think it actually more likely that ATON was the world for the female and CHAMOR for the male, in the way that we have "dog" and "bitch", "ram" and "ewe", "cow" and "bull"...


22:23 VA TER'E HA ATON ET MAL'ACH YHVH NITSAV BA DERECH VE CHARBO SHELUPHAH BE YADO VA TET BA ATON MIN HA DERECH VA TELECH BA SADEH VA YACH BIL'AM ET HA ATON LEHATOTAH HA DERECH

וַתֵּרֶא הָאָתוֹן אֶת מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה נִצָּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלוּפָה בְּיָדוֹ וַתֵּט הָאָתוֹן מִן הַדֶּרֶךְ וַתֵּלֶךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה וַיַּךְ בִּלְעָם אֶת הָאָתוֹן לְהַטֹּתָהּ הַדָּרֶךְ

KJ: And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.

BN: And the ass saw the angel of YHVH standing on the road, with his sword drawn in his hand; and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field; and Bil'am struck the ass, to turn her into the way.


Which angel would this be? Given the sword, Micha-El probably. Click here. Angels, too, entered the world of Yehudah during the Persian epoch.

I try to put myself inside the chamber where the Editorial Committee for the Redaction of the Tanach is having its preliminary get-togethers, to create a provisional list of tales for potential inclusion. Three and a half books into the Torah, with nothing but serious historical legends, universal myths, laws and statutes, accounts of wars and natural disasters, the establishment of a text that will define a nation's identity for all time and assert the supremacy of one particular deity, the superiority of one set of rites and ceremonies, over any other - what (unless mischief or tedium or sheer exhaustion) could possibly have been in their heads that they even thought to set aside three whole chapters for a meaninglessly comical tale about a talking donkey, a belligerent angel, and the reluctant Prophet of another people?


22:24 VA AMOD MAL'ACH YHVH BE MISHOL HA KERAMIM GADER MI ZEH VE GADER MI ZEH

וַיַּעֲמֹד מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה בְּמִשְׁעוֹל הַכְּרָמִים גָּדֵר מִזֶּה וְגָדֵר מִזֶּה

KJ: But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side.

BN: Then the angel of YHVH stood in a hollow between the vineyards, with a fence on this side of him, and a fence on that side.


22:25 VA TER'E HA ATON ET MAL'ACH YHVH VA TILACHETS EL HA KIR VA TILCHATS ET REGEL BIL'AM EL HA KIR VA YOSEPH LEHAKOTAH

וַתֵּרֶא הָאָתוֹן אֶתמַלְאַךְ יְהוָה וַתִּלָּחֵץ אֶל הַקִּיר וַתִּלְחַץ אֶת רֶגֶל בִּלְעָם אֶל הַקִּיר וַיֹּסֶף לְהַכֹּתָהּ

KJ: And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam's foot against the wall: and he smote her again.

BN: And the ass saw the angel of YHVH, and she thrust herself against the wall, and crushed Bil'am's foot against the wall; and he struck her again.


Is this the point at which the children in the audience are encouraged to boo the bad guy and cheer the good one?

22:26 VA YOSEPH MAL'ACH YHVH AVOR VA YA'AMOD BE MAKOM TSAR ASHER EYN DERECH LINTOT YAMIN U SMOL

וַיּוֹסֶף מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה עֲבוֹר וַיַּעֲמֹד בְּמָקוֹם צָר אֲשֶׁר אֵין דֶּרֶךְ לִנְטוֹת יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול

KJ: And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.

BN: And the angel of YHVH went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.


Angels of YHVH tend to be rather serious creatures; this angel comes from a more picaresque tradition, perhaps Pan, perhaps Loge, the playful, joking, interfering creature who twists your hair in the night and leaves your socks in wrong pairs when they come out of the laundry.


22:27 VA TER'E HA ATON ET MAL'ACH YHVH VA TIRBATS TACHAT BIL'AM VA YICHAR APH BIL'AM VA YACH ET HA ATON BA MAKEL

וַתֵּרֶא הָאָתוֹן אֶת מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה וַתִּרְבַּץ תַּחַת בִּלְעָם וַיִּחַר אַף בִּלְעָם וַיַּךְ אֶת הָאָתוֹן בַּמַּקֵּל

KJ: And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam's anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.

BN: And the ass saw the angel of YHVH, and she lay down under Bil'am; and Bil'am's anger was kindled, and he struck the ass with his staff.


Or maybe this is here as an exemplary tale of the evils of animal cruelty

MAKEL: Note that this is MAKEL, not a MATEH, a walking stick or shepherd's crook, and not the rod or sceptre that we have seen with Mosheh and Aharon previously.
22:28 VA YIPHTACH YHVH ET PI HA ATON VA TOMER LE VIL'AM MEH ASIYTI LECHA KI HIKIYTANI ZEH SHELOSH REGALIM

וַיִּפְתַּח יְהוָה אֶת פִּי הָאָתוֹן וַתֹּאמֶר לְבִלְעָם מֶה עָשִׂיתִי לְךָ כִּי הִכִּיתַנִי זֶה שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים

KJ: And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?

BN: Then YHVH opened the ass' mouth, and she said to Bil'am: What have I done to you, that you have struck me like this three times?


In the interests of trying very hard to take this farcically ludicrous children's story seriously, I shall make passing reference to the use of REGALIM here.

REGALIM: a REGEL is a foot, but also a rule. When Rabbi Hillel is accredited with explaining the whole of Torah "be regel echad", he was not actually standing on one leg to do so, but offering a single rule, and that rule was "Love your neighour as yourself", which he took from Leviticus 19:18

What either the rules or the feet have to do with Bil'am's ass is, I regret, beyond my ability to explain - but see also verses 32 and 33.


22:29 VA YOMER BIL'AM LA ATON KI HITALALTA BI LU YESH CHEREV BE YADI KI ATAH HARAGTICHA

וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם לָאָתוֹן כִּי הִתְעַלַּלְתְּ בִּי לוּ יֶשׁ חֶרֶב בְּיָדִי כִּי עַתָּה הֲרַגְתִּיךְ

KJ: And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.

BN: And Bil'am said to the ass: Because you have mocked me; I would there were a sword in my hand, for if there were I would kill you.


22:30 VA TOMER HA ATON EL BIL'AM HA LO ANOCHI ATON'CHA ASHER RACHAVTA ALAI MEY ODECHA AD HA YOM HA ZEH HA HASKEN HISKANTI LA'ASOT LECHA KOH VA YOMER LO

וַתֹּאמֶר הָאָתוֹן אֶל בִּלְעָם הֲלוֹא אָנֹכִי אֲתֹנְךָ אֲשֶׁר רָכַבְתָּ עָלַי מֵעוֹדְךָ עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה הַהַסְכֵּן הִסְכַּנְתִּי לַעֲשׂוֹת לְךָ כֹּה וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא

KJ: And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.

BN: Then the ass said to Bil'am: Am not I your ass, upon which you have ridden all your life long until today? did I ever do anything like this to you? And he said: 'Nay.'


I like the translation here as "Nay"; a splendid piece of (unintentional?) aural world-play. Nay - neigh. The sound an ass or donkey makes. When not going Tweet.



22:31 VA YEGAL YHVH ET EYNEY VIL'AM VA YAR ET MAL'ACH YHVH NITSAV BA DERECH VE CHARBO SHELUPHAH VE YADO VA YIKOD VA YISHTACHU LE APAV

וַיְגַל יְהוָה אֶת עֵינֵי בִלְעָם וַיַּרְא אֶת מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה נִצָּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלֻפָה בְּיָדוֹ וַיִּקֹּד וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ לְאַפָּיו

KJ: Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.

BN: Then YHVH opened the eyes of Bil'am, and he saw the angel of YHVH standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face.


22:32 VA YOMER ELAV MAL'ACH YHVH AL MAH HIKIYTA ET ATON'CHA ZEH SHALOSH REGALIM HINEH ANOCHI YATSATI LE SATAN KI YARAT HA DERECH LE NEGDI

וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה עַל מָה הִכִּיתָ אֶת אֲתֹנְךָ זֶה שָׁלוֹשׁ רְגָלִים הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי יָצָאתִי לְשָׂטָן כִּי יָרַט הַדֶּרֶךְ לְנֶגְדִּי

KJ: And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me:

BN: And the angel of YHVH said to him: Why have you struck your ass these three times? Behold, I have come forth as an adversary, because your way is contrary to me


That word SATAN again. See my note above.


22:33 VA TIRANI HA ATON VA TET LEPHANAI ZEH SHALOSH REGALIM ULAI NETATAH MI PANAI KI ATAH GAM OT'CHAH HARAGTI VE OTAH HECHEYITI

וַתִּרְאַנִי הָאָתוֹן וַתֵּט לְפָנַי זֶה שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים אוּלַי נָטְתָה מִפָּנַי כִּי עַתָּה גַּם אֹתְכָה הָרַגְתִּי וְאוֹתָהּ הֶחֱיֵיתִי

KJ: And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.

BN: And the ass saw me, and turned aside before me these three times; if she had not turned aside from me, surely I would have slain you, and saved her alive.


22:34 VA YOMER BIL'AM EL MAL'ACH YHVH CHATATI KI LO YADATI KI ATAH NITSAV LIKRATI BA DERECH VE ATAH IM RA BE EYNEYCHA ASHUVAH LI

וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם אֶל מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה חָטָאתִי כִּי לֹא יָדַעְתִּי כִּי אַתָּה נִצָּב לִקְרָאתִי בַּדָּרֶךְ וְעַתָּה אִם רַע בְּעֵינֶיךָ אָשׁוּבָה לִּי

KJ: And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.

BN: And Bil'am said to the angel of YHVH: I have sinned; for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me; now therefore, if I have displeased you, I will go back.


ASHUVAH LI: The translation simply does not understand Yisra-Eli/Jewish practice. This is about Teshuvah = repentance, not about turning around physically.


22:35 VA YOMER MAL'ACH YHVH EL BIL'AM LECH HA ANASHIM VE EPHES ET HA DAVAR ASHER ADABER ELEYCHA OTO TEDABER VA YELECH BIL'AM IM SAREY VALAK

וַיֹּאמֶר מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה אֶל בִּלְעָם לֵךְ עִם הָאֲנָשִׁים וְאֶפֶס אֶת הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אֲדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ אֹתוֹ תְדַבֵּר וַיֵּלֶךְ בִּלְעָם עִם שָׂרֵי בָלָק

KJ: And the angel of the LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.

BN: And the angel of YHVH said to Bil'am: Go with the men; but only the word that I shall speak to you, only that shall you speak. So Bil'am went with the princes of Balak.


If we read the tale as given, this just became meaningless, because Bil'am had already agreed only to speak the words that were given to him (verse 20). But if we take my reading, then we now have an Eli-Yahu (Elijah) v the priests of Ba'al equivalent set up, with Bil'am being told by both gods only to speak the words they give him...



22:36 VA YISHMA BALAK KI VA VIL'AM VA YETS'E LIKRATO EL IR MO-AV ASHER AL GEVUL ARNON ASHER BI KETSEH HA GEVUL

וַיִּשְׁמַע בָּלָק כִּי בָא בִלְעָם וַיֵּצֵא לִקְרָאתוֹ אֶל עִיר מוֹאָב אֲשֶׁר עַל גְּבוּל אַרְנֹן אֲשֶׁר בִּקְצֵה הַגְּבוּל

KJ: And when Balak heard that Balaam was come, he went out to meet him unto a city of Moab, which is in the border of Arnon, which is in the utmost coast.

BN: And when Balak heard that Bil'am had arrived, he went out to meet him at Ir Mo-Av, which is on the border of Arnon, which is the furthest point of the border.


22:37 VA YOMER BALAK EL BIL'AM HA LO SHALO'ACH SHALACHTI ELEYCHA LIKRO LACH LAMAH LO HALACHTA ELAI HA UMNAM LO UCHAL KABDECHA

וַיֹּאמֶר בָּלָק אֶל בִּלְעָם הֲלֹא שָׁלֹחַ שָׁלַחְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ לִקְרֹא לָךְ לָמָּה לֹא הָלַכְתָּ אֵלָי הַאֻמְנָם לֹא אוּכַל כַּבְּדֶךָ

KJ: And Balak said unto Balaam, Did I not earnestly send unto thee to call thee? wherefore camest thou not unto me? am I not able indeed to promote thee to honour?

BN: And Balak said to Bil'am: Did I not earnestly send to you, to summon you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not to be allowed to promote you to a position of honour?


Which makes no sense at all, given that here he is.


22:38 VA YOMER BIL'AM EL BALAK HINEH VATI ELEYCHA ATAH HA YACHOL UCHAL DABER ME'UMAH HA DAVAR ASHER YASIM ELOHIM BE PHI OTO ADABER

וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם אֶל בָּלָק הִנֵּה בָאתִי אֵלֶיךָ עַתָּה הֲיָכֹל אוּכַל דַּבֵּר מְאוּמָה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יָשִׂים אֱלֹהִים בְּפִי אֹתוֹ אֲדַבֵּר

KJ: And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say any thing? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.

BN: Then Bil'am said to Balak: But here I am, I have come to you; do I now have any authority to speak anything? The word that Elohim puts in my mouth, that is what I shall speak.


22:39 VA YELECH BIL'AM IM BALAK VA YAVO'U KIRYAT CHUTSOT

וַיֵּלֶךְ בִּלְעָם עִם בָּלָק וַיָּבֹאוּ קִרְיַת חֻצוֹת

KJ: And Balaam went with Balak, and they came unto Kirjathhuzoth.

BN:And Bil'am went with Balak, and they came to Kiryat-Chutsot.


KIRYAT-CHUTSOT:


22:40 VA YIZBACH BALAK BAKAR VE TSON VA YESHALACH LE VIL'AM VE LA SARIM ASHER ITO

וַיִּזְבַּח בָּלָק בָּקָר וָצֹאן וַיְשַׁלַּח לְבִלְעָם וְלַשָּׂרִים אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ

KJ: And Balak offered oxen and sheep, and sent to Balaam, and to the princes that were with him.

BN: And Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent them to Bil'am, and to the princes who were with him.


22:41 VA YEHI VA BOKER VA YIKACH BALAK ET BIL'AM VA YA'ALEYHU BAMOT BA'AL VA YAR MI SHAM KETSEH HA AM

וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר וַיִּקַּח בָּלָק אֶת בִּלְעָם וַיַּעֲלֵהוּ בָּמוֹת בָּעַל וַיַּרְא מִשָּׁם קְצֵה הָעָם

KJ: And it came to pass on the morrow, that Balak took Balaam, and brought him up into the high places of Baal, that thence he might see the utmost part of the people.

BN: And it came to pass in the morning that Balak took Bil'am, and brought him up into Bamot-Ba'al, and he saw from there the utmost part of the people.


BAMOT BA'AL: One more give-away that this was never a Yisra-Eli story, but a Mo-Avi one originally. And now we know, as we had anyway guessed, that Balak's gods (Ha Elohim) are Ba'al and his pantheon - and specifically Ba'al's father El, as we shall see in the next chapter. And if Bil'am is indeed really Bli-Am, then his state of being torn between the deities of the various peoples becomes much more logical and comprehensible.

Either that, or this is a piece of political satire, directed at some preacher or politician of the day whom he will probably never know.




Numbers 1 2 3 4a 4b 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 25b 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36

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