Torah Study Notes 1-7-12

NOTICE TO READERS OF THESE TORAH STUDYPOSTS: The text submitted here is unedited. Corrections and comments are welcome. Generally, the initials shown are an attempt to credit the individual who made a particular point or responded to it. “PG” is Rabbi Paul Golomb. Page references are to Plaut. It is assumed that the reader is familiar with the text but these notes will be more inteligible if read in conjunction with the cited passages

January 7, 2012

p. 313

49:28  Jacob’s final testament in Egypt. Why does the aliyah begin at 26? Because each one always begins with a blessing. Is this an assertion of title to the land? PG: This is a unique circumstance because the land is purchased. Joshua and the Israelites appropriate the land. Compare to the purchase of Manhattan. Both sides thought they got a good deal: the dutch felt the price was very low while the Indians were selling something they didn’t own.  Here Abraham purchases the lot from Ephron the Hittite. How did Ephron get the land. It is not explained or questioned but they may have taken it by force. LL: I think we have to assume that there was some system of land registration and title. Here the family is in Egypt on Pharoah’s land. Recall that Rachael is buried where she died – with the site marked by a pillar. VT historical note – Irv Millerhas a diagram of the Pershing Ave cemeteryshowing the location of each burial.

50:1 The reference to embalming is likely from an Egyptian practice, and even the writers of this text would  have recognized that this was not a Jewish practice.

50:4  Pharaoh gives Joseph leave to go to Canaan to bury his father. Note that only Joseph’s bones are subsequently returned to Israel – he is not embalmed or mummified even though he is a high-ranking Egyptian official.

50:7  A large procession including officials. The surety for their return is the retention of the kids and flocks. The route along the King’s Highway is just east of the Mediterranean coast – it might have taken about a week by caravan. There was a ten year archeological project split between Israel and Egypt which surveyed this highway – looking for development.  It was discovered to be a virtually unbroken line of caravansary’s and shops.

50:10  A great and solemn lamentation. This is a mixed up and confusing paragraph because it refers to the east side of the Jordan – where they didn’t need to go to get where they were going – as well as much further north then Hebron. This presages the crossing of the Israelites during their later sojourn. This entire tale is an artificial construction – it is intended to be instructional – a teaching fiction with some verisimilitude. The Canaanites would have viewed this all as an Egyptian ceremony. Jacob’s family had been in Egypt for twenty years. This is a significant ending to the Book of Genesis.

Note that the language of ancient Babylonia was Aramaic – the lingua franca of the ancient near east. After the Babylonia captivity the written language of the Israelites was Aramaic  and may have been the spoken language as well. This Torah was written somewhere about 550 BCE. It is important to keep this in mind in terms of understanding the purpose of the text as a discussion of  the identity of a people. Hebrew was the language of the scholars and was undoubtedly how the Torah was written. Note that Nebuchanezzer divided the Israelite’s into three groups – those who remained under Babylonian rule in Israel, those taken to B and those who fled into Egypt and formed a community there. The latter do not enter the narrative until a few hundred years later. It was under the aegis of Alexander that the Torah was translated into Greek. See the work of David Aaron on this subject. LL: Read “Jerusalem” by Simon Sebag Montefiore for a good summary of all of this.


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