Monday, July 25, 2005

דן ידין עמו

Bereishit 14:14-15
(the Mesopotamian Alliance of Four Kings had just beaten down the Dead Sea Confederacy of Five Kings who rebelled against them, smote a number of other peoples on the way, and taken Lot captive)

וַיִּשְׁמַע אַבְרָם כִּי נִשְׁבָּה אָחִיו
וַיָּרֶק אֶת-חֲנִיכָיו יְלִידֵי בֵיתוֹ
שְׁמֹנָה עָשָׂר וּשְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת
וַיִּרְדֹּף, עַד-דָּן
וַיֵּחָלֵק עֲלֵיהֶם לַיְלָה
הוּא וַעֲבָדָיו, וַיַּכֵּם
וַיִּרְדְּפֵם עַד-חוֹבָה
אֲשֶׁר מִשְּׂמֹאל לְדַמָּשֶׂק

And Avram heard that his kinsman was taken captive,
and he led forth his trainees, born in his house —
three hundred and eighteen men —
and he made chase unto Dan.
And he divided his force against [Lot's captors] by night —
he and his servants — and smote them,
and pursued them unto Hhova,
which is north of Damascus.

Devotees of Biblical Criticism love this story, since it uses the place-name Dan, which didn't exist until hundreds of years after Avraham, as we know from the book of Shofetim, chapter 18. Some of the tribe of Dan weren't happy with their territory by the sea, and so they went looking for new land. They found a quiet and peaceful city named Layish up in the north of The Land, and conquered it, after which (Shofetim 18:29) —

וַיִּקְרְאוּ שֵׁם-הָעִיר דָּן
בְּשֵׁם דָּן אֲבִיהֶם, אֲשֶׁר יוּלַּד לְיִשְׂרָאֵל
וְאוּלָם לַיִשׁ שֵׁם-הָעִיר לָרִאשֹׁנָה

And they named the city "Dan",
after their ancestor Dan, who was born to Yisra’eil —
although the city was originally named Layish.

You can go to the ruins of Dan today, by the way. It's pretty cool.

Anyway, according to Bible critics ("Leviticus gets two thumbs down — where's the action?!"), this proves that this book, narrative, sentence, or at least word, had to have been written some time after the tribe of Dan conquered Layish, and definitely couldn't have been known in Moshe's time.

Now, many people have come up with explanations, interpretations, and apologetics to explain away this textual complication. The one I will now suggest, while not necessarily convincing, is at least a bit unique.

Let's look at the story about Avra(ha)m's war against the Four Kings again. There are three places listed:
1. Dan
2. Hhova
3. Dameseq (=Damascus)

One of these, Dameseq, is a well-known and important city, mentioned many other times in the Tanakh. Dan, assumedly, is post-conquest Layish. But what the heck is Hhova? The name appears nowhere else in the Tanakh &mdash but just happens to be the Hebrew word for "obligation", whose root is used often in post-Biblical literature in the sense of "punishment" or "liability" (hhayav in the sense of 'liable' for a certain punishment).

So, notwithstanding the identification of Hhova as "north of Damascus", could it be not actually a place, but a state of being? Or the location where that state of being was brought into existence? Could ...vayirdof ‘ad Dan ... vayirdefeim ‘ad Hhova... not mean that Avram "...made chase unto Dan ... and pursued them unto Hhova", but instead he "...made chase until he had Judged [them] ... and pursued them until [he exacted upon them] Punishment..."?

Works for me.

5 Comments:

Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Cool. You should see whether anyone has suggested this before you.

(By the way, I don't buy it, but I'm certainly willing to see those meanings in the words. Perhaps in addition to the place-name meanings. Or perhaps a a derash-- which is what we do with any failed peshat. I'm not saying that your peshat is necessarily "failed", but that even if it is, we can use it as a peshat.)

When I actually wake up in the morning (as opposed to now, which is merely ten minutes gekhapt from the middle of a night's sleep), I shall try to remember to jot it into the margin of my מקראות גדולות, so that when I learn שנים מקרא ואחד תרגום for פרשת לֶךְ-ךְךָ, I shall remember your peshat.

שקוייעך!

7/26/2005 3:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Liability is located North of Damascus, remind me not to go there. ;)

7/26/2005 7:04 AM  
Blogger tmeishar said...

That actually sounds very Hirschian...I don't know if he says that, but it sounds like something he would. Well done.

7/26/2005 10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't even successfully court controversy by bringing up Biblical Criticism!!

what's with you???
-big brother

7/26/2005 12:58 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

As far as i can remember, i haven't seen it anywheres else. Next time i'm in contact with one of those really big Hirsch hhumashim i'll see if he's got something similar.

7/26/2005 1:16 PM  

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