Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How did the Sorcerers make the Golden Calf?

How did the Sorcerers make the Golden Calf?

As we have seen [See: How did Aaron make the Golden Calf?] Rashi reads the text about Aaron's role in the creation of the golden calf in two very different ways. .

The text tells us the Aaron asked for gold, and that after the people donated their jewelry, he did... something. As Rashi reads it, Aaron either tied the gold up in a cloth, or, after melting down the gold, he cut the cooled material and engraved it with a goldsmith's tool. According to Rashi's second interpretation, Aaron's work would have yielded something like this (I tried, but couldn't find one showing a bovine animal. You get the idea.)  But if we follow the first interpretation, what happened after the raw material was tied up?

Here's more from Rashi:
As soon as they had cast it into the fire of the crucible, the sorcerers of the mixed multitude who had gone up with them from Egypt came and made it with sorcery. [See commentary on Exod. 12:38.] Others say that Micah was there, who had emerged from the layer of the building where he had been crushed in Egypt. (Sanh. 101b). In his hand was a plate upon which Moses had inscribed “Ascend, O ox; ascend, O ox,” to [miraculously] bring up Joseph’s coffin from the Nile. (Joseph being identified with the ox) They cast it [the plate] into the crucible, and the calf emerged.

Aside from the reliance on magic, which is groundless, something else about this comment troubles me. I don't see what in the text forces Rashi to reach back to a midrash about Micha. Rashi, as I've said before, is not an anthology of midrashim. He chooses them carefully and uses them deliberately. His objective, as he tells us in his comment to Genesis 3:8, is to "... to teach the plain meaning of the passage and such Aggadah which explains the words of the Bible."  In other words, he uses midrashim to solve textual problems. But here I don't see what problem is being solved with the fanciful story about Micha..

More interesting things about the sorcerers
Though Rashi names only Micha, his source, the Tanchuma, names two other magicians: Jannes and Jambres. These two men are identified as sorcerers in Pharaoh's court in a variety of texts, including:

:: Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (where they are called  יניס וימברס and identified as the two who told Pharaoh to throw Jewish boy-babies into the river)
:: Acts of Pilate (where they are called Iannēs and Iambrēs where they are named as Pharaoh's magicians)
:: Testament of Solomon (Pharoh's magicians)
:: Gospel of Timothy:  (Iannēs and Iambrēs and called "two who withstood Moses")
:: BT Menchoth 85a (where they are called Yochana and Mamre and identified as Pharaoh's advisors)
:: Tanchuma: (Pharaoh's magicians and called  יונו"ס ויומברו"ס)

Other things I'd like to do, but its late and I'm hungry:

(1) Provide the dating for the sources. I know Tanchuma is last, and BT Menachoth is second to last, but I forget when TPJ and Timothy fall. I think Testament of Solomon in probably first.
(2) Look up the source that says Jannes and Jambres were Ballam's sons. I think it was the Targum Yerushalmi, but I forget.
(3) Attempt to explain how two different traditions emerged about Jannes and Jambres emerged. Why does one source say they were Ballam's sons, when so many others say they were Pharaoh's advisors?
(4) Say a few words about the better known tradition that it was actually Balaam, Job and Jethro who were Pharaoh's advisors. Though this is more famous tradition, its actually later. I'd like to explain why its more famous tradition and to tell you where I think it came from.
(5) Share with your a theory about Janes and Jambre which suggests that they were created for polemical reasons. Jannes, the theory goes, is a disguised attack on Alexander Yannai and/or Yochanan Hyrkanes. I think this is quite plausible (I forget who Jambre is supposed to be)

Sorry for the partially finished post...


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