Monday, September 10, 2007

A coincidental mistake

A curious mistake appears in both the Septuagint and the Deuteronomy scroll found at Qumran, a mistake which sheds some thematic light on the first verse in last week's parsha. The Masoretic text reads:

וַיֵּלֶךְ, מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל.
And Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Israel.

All of the major commenters attempt to explain where Moshe went, and their suggestions vary widely. The Septuagint and the Deuteronomy scroll, however, have a different reading, one that obviates the difficulty: "And Moshe finished speaking these words to all of Israel."

What happened seems clear: The Greek scribe, and the Qumran scribe coincidentally both made the exact same identical error, and reversed the order of the last two letters of the verb vayelehk (he went) producing vayekhal (he finished) instead.

I call the mistake curious, because aside from the remarkable coincidence of two scribes working in two different places making the same error, and aside from solving the problem of where Moshe went, the scribal error makes much thematic sense. The final chapters of Deuteronomy form an epilouge to the book, and the mistake makes this verse into what Robert Alter calls "a proper introduction to the epilogue." Moshe has finished his valedictory sermon. Beginning here, with this verse, the final chapters of the book are concerned with wrapping up the loose ends: The transfer of authority to Yehoshua, Moshe's song, and the blessing of the 12 tribes.

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