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:( View map )
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:
Here's the translation of it on Wikipedia:
( Read more... )
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.( Other things in פַּרְשַׁת בָּלָק )
Every year for the past little while, as I already summarised on this blog, my conception of Chanukah has been completely overturned. First it was livredor (see above link). Then along came Rachel Elior at Limmud '05, then other people (whose identity I have forgotten, but whose teachings are summarised at the above link), and then Stephen Rosenberg at Limmud '07.
By this point I'm thinking I must have plumbed the story of Chanukah to its depths, but then along comes Rabbi Shoshanna Boyd-Gelfand and revolutionises my understanding all over again:( Read more... )
Every year for the past little while, my conception of Chanukah has been completely overturned. First it was livredor, telling me the Hasmoneans weren't the good guys overthrowing the religious oppression of the Seleucids, but, really, a bunch of religious fundamentalists—the delivering the wicked into the hands of the good, etc, stuff in על הניסים is actually about the Hasmoneans slaughtering the Hellenised Jews—acculturated Jews like myself. (Undaunted, I did not let this put me off celebrating Chanukah, but took great pleasure in the knowledge we today subvert the fundamentalists' victory commemoration by turning it into a celebration of the overthrow of religious oppression.
Then came along Rachel Elior, with a radical new interpretation of what the Hasmoneans, Pharisees, Saducees and Essenes stood for.
At some point further along the way I then learned that the Talmud talks about the miracle of Chanukah being that of the jar of oil, which is not attested anywhere in the contemporary accounts, rather than the military victory of the Hasmoneans, because the rabbis of the Talmud disapproved of the Hasmoneans for taking on the High Priesthood, to which they were not entitled (see also my notes from Prof. Elior's talk), and the kingship, to which they were not entitled not only not being of the House of David, but being of the wrong tribe altogether; also, or so it was implied by the people who told me of this, because they did not altogether approve of religious fundamentalism.
I also learned that far from needing us moderns to subvert what the Hasmoneans stood for; their own descendants did it themselves: After the first generation of Hasmoneans had died, the next generation acknowledged that it was impossible to wall themselves off from the surrounding Greek world, and this realpolitik is reflected in their names, which combined Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek names, e.g. Alexander Yannai.
And then along came this talk, which... well, I'll let it speak for itsef.( Read more... )