lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
[personal profile] lethargic_man
Numbers 22:5 במדבר כב ה
[Balak] sent messengers to 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: lo, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me." 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׃

So, where is Balaam from? "The river of the land of the children of his people" doesn't really tell us anything! According to tradition, Balaam came from Mesopotamia, and indeed there is a Pitru in northern Syria, with which Pethor has been identified (TH as an allophone of ת is a phenomenon restricted to the Canaanite languages, hence lacking in Akkadian/Assyrian, and -u is a nominative ending, which had been lost by the time of Biblical Hebrew).

However, the Samaritan Torah, by adding a single letter (ן) completely changes the picture:

[Balak] sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the Ammonites, to call him, saying, "Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt, and lo, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me." וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אֶל־בִּלְעָם בֶּן־בְּעֹר פְּתֹרָה אֲשֶׁר עַל־הַנָּהָר אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי־עַמוֹן לִקְרֹא־לוֹ לֵאמֹר הֵן עַם יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם והִנֵּה כִסָּה אֶת־עֵין הָאָרֶץ וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב מִמּוּלִי׃

This makes more sense: Balak was king of Moab; it's much more likely he'd send to Ammon, the neighbouring kingdom, to find someone to curse the Israelites, than all the way to Pitru, 350 miles away:

[map]
Image source: Wikipedia

Then Judith WinoLJoDW pointed out that there is no river (נהר) in Ammon in the Bible: They're all referred to as נחל (wadi). So perhaps the Masoretic reading is more correct, after all. Though perhaps the Yabbok is actually on the borderline between being a נחל and a נהר: it's not seasonal, and looks fairly substantial from the photographs on Wikipedia. Against that, however, should be pointed out that the Vulgate and Peshitta [Christian targum into Syriac] (though not the Septuagint) also support the Samaritan reading.

Into this fray, however, comes one more fascinating piece of evidence. It turns out that there's extra-Biblical evidence of Balaam: the Deir `Alla inscription, discovered in 1967 in Jordan, and dated to ca. 840–760 BCE:

[photo]

Here's the translation of it on Wikipedia:

(1) [VACAT] The sa]ying[s of Bala]am, [son of Be]or, the man who was a seer of the gods. Lo! Gods came to him in the night [and spoke to] him (2) according to these w[ord]s. Then they said to [Bala]am, son of Beor, thus: "Let someone make a [ ] hereafter, so that [what] you have hea[rd may be se]en!" (3) And Balaam rose in the morning [ ] right hand [ ] and could not [eat] and wept (4) aloud. Then his people came in to him [and said] to Balaam, son of Beor, "Do you fast? [ ] Do you weep?" And he (5) said to them, "Si[t] do]wn! I shall inform you what the Shad[dayin have done]. Now come, see the deeds of the g[o]ds!. The g[o]ds have gathered (6) and the Shaddayin have taken their places in the assembly and said to Sh[ , thus:] 'Sew the skies shut with your thick cloud! There let there be darkness and no (7) perpetual shining and n[o] radiance! For you will put a sea[l upon the thick] cloud of darkness and you will not remove it forever! For the swift has (8) reproached the eagle, the voice of vultures resounds. The st[ork has ] the young of the NHS-bird and ripped up the chicks of the heron. The swallow has belittled (9) the dove, and the sparrow [ ] and [ ] the staff. Instead of ewes the stick is driven along. Hares have eaten (10) [ ]. Freemen [] have drunk wine, and hyenas have listened to instruction. The whelps of the (11) f[ox] laughs at wise men, and the poor woman has mixed myrhh, and the priestess (12) [ ] to the one who wears a girdle of threads. The esteemed esteems and the esteemer is es[teemed. ] and everyone has seen those things that decree offspring and young. (15) [ ] to the leopard. The piglet has chased the young (16) [of] those who are girded and the eye ....'"

Deir `Alla is in Gilead; it's about ten miles away from the Ammon border on the above map (and over three hundred from Pitru). One more piece of evidence in favour of Balaam coming from Ammon, not from northern Mesopotamia.

Back to the text. Num. 22:20 reads:

God came unto Balaam at night, and said to him, "If the men come to call you, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto you, that shall you do." וַיָּבֹא אֱלֹהִים אֶל־בִּלְעָם לַיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם־לִקְרֹא לְךָ בָּאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים קוּם לֵךְ אִתָּם וְאַךְ אֶת־הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר־אֲדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ אֹתוֹ תַעֲשֶׂה׃
In the Samaritan text, however, Balaam does not merit being addressed by God directly:
An angel of God came unto Balaam at night, and said to him, "If the men come to call you, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto you, that shall you do." וַיָּבֹא מַלְאָךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶל־בִּלְעָם לַיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם־לִקְרֹא לְךָ בָּאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים קוּם לֵךְ אִתָּם וְאַךְ אֶת־הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר־אֲדַבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ אֹתוֹ תַעֲשֶׂה׃

In other places in the story, sometimes God addresses Balaam directly, sometimes again the Samaritan text introduces an intermediary angel.

In the Masoretic text, Balaam claims to be able to meet God:
Numbers 23:15 במדבר כג טו
He said to Balak, "Stand here by your burnt offering, while I will be met here." וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל־בָּלָק הִתְיַצֵּב כֹּה עַל־עֹלָתֶךָ וְאָנֹכִי אִקָּרֶה כֹּה׃
In the Samaritan text, a one-letter change makes his claim more modest:
Numbers 23:15 במדבר כג טו
He said to Balak, "Stand by your burnt offerings, while I call here." וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל־בָּלָק הִתְיַצֵּב עַל־עֹלָתֶיךָ וְאָנֹכִי אֶקְרָא כֹּה׃
There are a couple of interesting changes in Balaam's famous "How goodly are your tents" blessing:
Numbers 24:7-8 במדבר כד ז-ח
He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters; his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brought him forth out of Egypt; he has the strength of a wild ox: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. יִזַּל־מַיִם מִדָּלְיָו וְזַרְעוֹ בְּמַיִם רַבִּים וְיָרֹם מֵאֲגַג מַלְכּוֹ וְתִנַּשֵּׂא מַלְכֻתוֹ׃ אֵל מוֹצִיאוֹ מִמִּצְרַיִם כְּתוֹעֲפֹת רְאֵם לוֹ יֹאכַל גּוֹיִם צָרָיו וְעַצְמֹתֵיהֶם יְגָרֵם וְחִצָּיו יִמְחָץ׃
In the Samaritan text:
He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters; his king shall be higher than Gog, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God rested him from Egypt; he has the strength of a wild ox: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. יִזַּל־מַיִם מִדָּלְיָו וְזַרְעוֹ בְּמַיִם רַבִּים וְיָרוֹם מִגּוֹג מַלְכּוֹ וְתִתנַשֵּׂא מַלְכוּתוֹ׃ אֵל נַחֵהוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם כְּתוֹעֲפֹת רְאֵם לוֹ יֹאכַל גּוֹיִם צָרָיו וְעַצְמֹתֵיהֶם יְגָרֵם וְחִצָּיו יִמְחָץ׃

Gog is referred to in Ezekiel; this looks like an anachronism when found in the Torah.

At Shittim the people went a-whoring, as the text puts it, with Moabite women, which angers God. Numbers 25:4-5:
The Lord said to Moses, "Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel." Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Slay you every one his men that were joined unto Ba`al Pe`or." וַיֹּאמֶר ה׳ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה קַח אֶת־כָּל־רָאשֵׁי הָעָם וְהוֹקַע אוֹתָם לַה׳ נֶגֶד הַשָּׁמֶשׁ וְיָשֹׁב חֲרוֹן אַף־ה׳ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל׃ וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־שֹׁפְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הִרְגוּ אִישׁ אֲנָשָׁיו הַנִּצְמָדִים לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר׃
In the Masoretic Text, God's instruction is somewhat ambiguous; it's Moses who interprets this to mean killing people. Not so in the Samaritan text:
The Lord said to Moses, "Say: they shall kill the people that were joined unto Ba`al Pe`or, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel." Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Slay you every one his men that were joined unto Ba`al Pe`or." וַיֹּאמֶר ה׳ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה אֲמֹר וַיִהְרְגוּ אֶת־הָאֲנָשָׁיו הַנִּצְמָדִים לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר וְיָשׁוֹב חֲרוֹן אַף־ה׳ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל׃ וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־שֹׁפְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הִרְגוּ אִישׁ אֶת־הָאֲנָשָׁיו הַנִּצְמָדִים לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר׃

[Samaritan Torah] Samaritan Torah notes         Jewish learning notes index


Date: 2013-06-17 09:22 am (UTC)
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
From: [personal profile] liv
Very nice piece of detective work here! It does indeed seem more plausible that Balaam comes from Ammon rather than Mesopotamia.

Profile

lethargic_man: (Default)
Lethargic Man (anag.)

August 2017

S M T W T F S
  12345
6789101112
13141516 171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Most Popular Tags

Page Summary

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Monday, August 21st, 2017 11:55 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios