Torah Study Notes 12-15-12



December 15, 2012

p. 284

The prophetic reading for Chanukah is at the back of the book. We are not doing that today. Because of the vagaries of the Jewish calendar this Haftarah portion today does not usually come during the holiday.  The Torah portion deals with the dreams of Joseph.

3:15 “…it was a dream” the content of the dream appears in the Book of Kings. But this is also the connection to the Torah portion. The dream of Solomon was God’s appearance before him and the promise that he would be the wisest of kings and build a temple. This is almost a Freudian analysis of dreams – an effort to connect them to reality. Leaving out the magical element of pharaohs’ dreams – it makes sense that he would be anxious about the possibility of bad times – famine, pestilence etc.

3:16  Two prostitutes present themselves.  Note that by virtue of being prostitutes this accounts for the absence of men or other family in the household.

3:22  LL: This story is very polished and complete. Does it have antecedents? PG: It is polished but they had plenty of time to polish it. There were likely a body of David and Solomon stories – folk literature – to pick from.

3:26 Note the connection of the “churning with compassion” language with the Torah portion of Joseph encountering Benjamin. RR: Note also the legal framework for the story – appearance before a judge, the giving of testimony, a test by ordeal, a decision, etc. CL: In Chinese history there is a shift during the Zhou dynasty from the telling of myths to the telling of tales featuring legendary super-heroes – and then to a more naturalistic history – flawed humans – in the Han dynasty. PG: There are analogies to this shift from super-hero to humanistic history in the ancient middle east as well. Scripture is a form of anthropology in miniature.  We see that in the differences in recounting ages as we move through the Torah. We move from Abraham – who does extraordinary things – to the more realistic, moderate tales of Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. There are constant dyads: Solomon as compared to David, Jacob and Esau,  Elisha as compared to the other prophets, etc. We see a legendary past moving into a natural present. See Gary Rendsburgh’s work on the Bible as literature.

PG:  Allegorical antecedents are often created in order to stem perceived cultural disintegration – an effort to restore founding principles, at least as seen by the constructor of the tale. The creation of the Abraham, Isaac and Jacob literature – as well as Joseph – is created after the unification of the north and south of Israel. It shows  a commonality – the people to be one people. This was around the year circa 900 BCE. Consider the battle over the past sixty years about the efficacy of the New Deal. Should we follow a Keynesian model or Reaganomics. The argument for today is centered around how you frame the 1930s.  Note also the Jewish references in Cat Ballou or Mel Brooks Blazing Saddles where an Indian meeting a wagon train speaks Yiddish.

Mishnaic texts also have a story of two people holding onto a shawl who appear before a court claiming they each found it. The court declares that the shawl should be cut in half. Or that one pay the value of half to the other in order to keep it. LL: This is like a law school problem. Change one fact and see how that happens to impact the outcome. Here the baby becomes a shawl. And a different solution is acceptable.

Solomon is shown to be worthy of being King because of his wisdom. David was king because of his military prowess. Again, we see a social evolution – perhaps a movement to law and order and what we might term civilization.



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