Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chumash Shiur: Behaloscha

Over Shabbos, the following Stirah, discussed by all the Meforshim, bothered me very much. In Parshas Bamidbor and Noss0, God tells Moshe to count the Leviim from age thirty to fifty in order to serve in the Mishkan:

נָשֹׂא, אֶת-רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי קְהָת, מִתּוֹךְ, בְּנֵי לֵוִי--לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם.
מִבֶּן שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, וְעַד בֶּן-חֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה--כָּל-בָּא, לַצָּבָא, לַעֲשׂוֹת מְלָאכָה, בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.
'Take the sum of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their families, by their fathers' houses, from thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter upon the service, to do work in the tent of meeting. (Numbers 4:2-3).
נָשֹׂא, אֶת-רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי גֵרְשׁוֹן--גַּם-הֵם: לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם.
מִבֶּן שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, עַד בֶּן-חֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה--תִּפְקֹד אוֹתָם: כָּל-הַבָּא לִצְבֹא צָבָא, לַעֲבֹד עֲבֹדָה בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.
'Take the sum of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers' houses, by their families; from thirty years old and upward until fifty years old shalt thou number them: all that enter in to wait upon the service, to do service in the tent of meeting.(ibid 22-23).
בְּנֵי, מְרָרִי--לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם לְבֵית-אֲבֹתָם, תִּפְקֹד אֹתָם.
מִבֶּן שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, וְעַד בֶּן-חֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה--תִּפְקְדֵם: כָּל-הַבָּא, לַצָּבָא, לַעֲבֹד, אֶת-עֲבֹדַת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.
As for the sons of Merari, thou shalt number them by their families, by their fathers' houses; from thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old shalt thou number them, every one that entereth upon the service, to do the work of the tent of meeting.(ibid 29-30).

While in Parshas Behaloscha it says:
זֹאת, אֲשֶׁר לַלְוִיִּם: מִבֶּן חָמֵשׁ וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, וָמַעְלָה, יָבוֹא לִצְבֹא צָבָא, בַּעֲבֹדַת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.
וּמִבֶּן חֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה, יָשׁוּב מִצְּבָא הָעֲבֹדָה; וְלֹא יַעֲבֹד, עוֹד.
'This is that which pertaineth unto the Levites: from twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to perform the service in the work of the tent of meeting; and from the age of fifty years they shall return from the service of the work, and shall serve no more;(ibid 8:24-25).

The Meforshim have various explanations for this discrepancy. First there is RSH"I who as usual has a somewhat Midrashic explanation (taken from the Gemarah) that the Levi would come to learn his trade at the age ot twenty five for five years, at which point he would be ready to start at the prescribed age of thirty. Nu, enough said.
The Ibn Ezra writes that the Posuk in which the prescribed age is thirty doesn't contradict the latter Posuk because at the age of thirty the Levi would start carrying the Mishkan while at the age of twenty five he only serviced it. To which the RMB"N rightfully replies that it's incorrect because in 4:23 it says כָּל-הַבָּא לִצְבֹא צָבָא, לַעֲבֹד עֲבֹדָה בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד
and in the next Posuk: זֹאת עֲבֹדַת, מִשְׁפְּחֹת הַגֵּרְשֻׁנִּי--לַעֲבֹד, וּלְמַשָּׂא
so this doesn't work obviously.

The RMB"N himself offers the following explanation: Moshe was commanded to count the Leviim only from age thirty, at which point they were to be pressed into service. At age twenty five though, a Levi was able to come forth and serve of his own volition, but could not have an official post as overseer and so on. The reason being that a decadal birthday is known to a man's family and friends, while other birthdays not so much. The thirtieth birthday was thus a convenient age for counting. The RMB"N notes that in another instance, Chronicles i 23:3, the Leviim were also counted at age thirty.
I think this is the best Terutz so far, but I think it's lacking. First, the phraseology is the same in all the Psukim, indicating that the status and terms of service are the same. Second, in the Psukim where they are counted at thirty, it says: כָּל-בָּא, לַצָּבָא, or כָּל-הַבָּא לִצְבֹא צָבָא, which means that those counted included all that were to serve in the Mishkan. Another problem is obviously that the RMB"Ns differentiation between the two ages has nothing to support it from the text, other than the fact that here the Leviim are counted and here not, which may have many reasons other than his.

The usual real Terutz in such cases doesn't work here, because all of these Psukim are attributed to the same source, which all have the unmistakable imprint of P. So what to do? Did the author forget in chapter eight what he wrote in chapter 4. It's not only the age that's different, it seems that in 8, the author seems oblivious to the fact that the Leviim were just counted extensively for this purpose. Is there an obvious real Terutz I didn't grasp. Or maybe, is one of those Farkvetchte Terutzim the real thing? Did the author actually intend to have his words dissected in a semi-code manner?


FriedFalafel said...

Just found your blog via your comment at XGH and I really enjoy what you've done so far.

I think the thing to remember is that though DH can differentiate between general strains (P, JE, D) which is quite remarkable statistically (see LittleFoxling's breakdown), it can't differentiate between substrains within those strains. What were the original sources? How were they edited in each stage? We can't possibly know. Theories abound, and there isn't enough evidence for statistically significant theories to prevail. Clearly though, even the P stories have different (perhaps only slightly different) sources, including the main codes of law sections which obviously contradict each other.

So basically, acknowledge the contradiction. It doesn't help the DH, but it does help ascertain the general theory of man-made authorship. Kvetching is silly. Is it possible there was some kind of kvetch in actuality which the original sources knew about (Whatever reality the description in Torah was referring to)? Maybe, but that's already a slim chance. The chance that any of the commentaries picked up on it reading into the minimal evidence that exists is even more minuscule.

Acher said...

Thanks for stopping by.

I don't disagree with the general premise of the documentary hypothesis. Its general conclusions are as self evident as anything. The Torah is a composite of multiple human authorship. In this case though, we have a contradiction between Psukim whose common authorship is very suggestive. It's hard to say that they were written by different authors. The most one can argue is that they were composed by members of the same school in one project, but then why the obvious contradiction, and more so the Psukim in Behaloscha seem oblivious to the previous countings. As much as I don't like Kvetching, I think it's fair to ask: what's the deal? Maybe Kvetching does have some roots in the original text.

evanstonjew said...

Jacob Milgrom in the JPS volume on Numbers adds a little information:1)The Septugaint reads 25 in 4:23,30. End of problem. 2)Quamran agrees with the rabbis, 25 for training ,30 for service. They read tsava (4:3, 8:24) as army. They held the Levitical ages applied to the entire community. Everyone is drafted at 25, fully enters the military ranks at 30.(1QSa1:12-19;1Qm7:3)

There is a third variant, age 20 which should also be discussed. (1Chronicles23:21,27;Ezra3:8;2Chron.31:17)

Baruch Levine in the Anchor Bible volume has no answers. He says passingly there must have been variants of P.

Acher said...


To finish your thought with the Septuagint, we would have to say that the sons of Kohath were counted from 30, while the rest started at 25, because if I read you correctly, 23,30 doesn't answer 3. So I guess we would have to differentiate between the Kohathim and the rest of the Levies, which isn't problematic, as we find them to have a privileged status otherwise.

As to Qumran, I don't see it as a reflection of an original intention by the author. The Qumran community could invent Drushim and novel interpretations with the best of our Rabbis, and the only thing it does for this Pshat, is make its origins more ancient, but not necessarily original.

The Chroniles i 23:27 is interesting because in the same chapter verse 3, it says they were counted at 30. In 27 it actually says:
כִּי בְדִבְרֵי דָוִיד הָאַחֲרוֹנִים, הֵמָּה מִסְפַּר בְּנֵי-לֵוִי, מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, וּלְמָעְלָה.
possibly implying that in a previous count they were counted at a different age, thereby the author is accounting for the discrepancy with the beginning of the chapter.

As to the possibility of variants of P, it's very possible in general, especially if we keep in mind that it's a priestly document, which probably increases the possibility that it was drafted by a school rather than by a single author. Here I think it's a bit harder because it seems that the verse in chapter 8 seems completely oblivious to the extensive counting done previously. And even if we presume a school authorship of P, it was definitely consolidated into a single book, or series thereof, before it became a widely accepted document, thereby its redactor need not have faced issues with streamlining the text that the final redactor certainly faced.

evanstonjew said...

I was wondering if you had any comments on the following critical thesis, (Levine, Milgrom, many others):

In 1Chronicles5: 29-41 and 6:35-38 the genealogy of Kohath –Amram -Aaron- Eliezer- Pinchas is extended to Zadok.

Numbers account of the Levites is post exilic and is derivative on Ezekiel 44:9-14, where Leviim are given a subsidiary function. Ezekiel 44:9-14 is a post exilic interpolation to justify the Zadokite seizure of power in the Second Temple. Levitical priests from the provinces were already assigned a secondary status as evidenced by 2Kg23:8-9. Ezekiel 44:9-14 and Numbers stratify even the Jerusalem priesthood into kohanim and leviim. Kohanim are from the Tzadok line, other descendants from Levi are demoted to the secondary status of Leviim; (schleppers and singers in Chronicles AND Psalms, but not P).

Much of the point of the P contribution to the JE narrative in Numbers (Korach, the kannos of Pinchas, the endless you sit here, you stand there going on and on with repetitions) is to justify this elimination of all competitors other than bnei Pinchas.The other books of chumash do not endorse this stratification.

Acher said...

An additional source relevant to this is in i Kings 2:26-27 where the story of Abiathar's banishment in favor of Zadok is developed.

I didn't have a chance yet to look into this in depth, but I do see an emerging pattern here in regards to the "who is a Cohen" question. In Leviticus, the answer seems to be that all sons of Aaron are Cohanim. In Numbers the emphasis seems to be like you're saying on Elazar's prodigy, specifically Pinchas. In Deuteronomy all Levis are included, "Hakohanim Haleviim". Which makes me think that the five book separation as we have it, has roots in their authorship. Not necessarily in relation to each other, but as self standing parts. Usually the sources are regarded as having been compiled separately, Deuteronomy, J and E. With the exception of P, which may have been of a few books, added later by the redactor to J and E. From what you're saying, each of these seems to have been of a separate strata of authorship. All P sources may be from the same school, but not of the same period.

Getting back to your point, the premise seems to be that this stratification happened in post-exilic times, hence Ezekiel would have been a participant, and Numbers would be based on him rather than the other way around. Seems logical on a precursory glance. I do remember Friedman dealing with this, and without remembering the details, he was very displeased with having the Pentateuch being a derivative of Ezekiel. Would have to check again.

Hope to get back in more detail.