Wednesday, December 01, 2010

How did CHZL learn to read 2 Samuel 12:30?

Those of you who are in the business of collecting evidence that the Sages of the Talmud disagreed with the Rishonim about the plain meaning of words that appear in Tanach can add this one to your notebooks.

This is Ammon Shea.
He has nothing to do with the
 ancient Ammonites
On BT ‘Abodah Zarah 43b, a verse that talks about King David's defeat of the Ammonites is discussed:

וַיִּקַּ֣ח אֶת־ עֲטֶֽרֶת־ מַלְכָּם֩ מֵעַ֨ל רֹאשֹׁ֜ו וּמִשְׁקָלָ֨הּ כִּכַּ֤ר זָהָב֙ וְאֶ֣בֶן יְקָרָ֔ה וַתְּהִ֖י עַל־ רֹ֣אשׁ דָּוִ֑ד וּשְׁלַ֥ל הָעִ֛יר הֹוצִ֖יא הַרְבֵּ֥ה מְאֹֽד׃
--- 2 Samuel 12:30

Every English translation follows Radak and translates the fourth word in the sentence as "their king" and indeed this is how the word is vowalized -- Malkum. [Rashi disagrees with Radak, and reads it like the Sages, as described below.]

Thus, the verse, as a whole, would seem to mean something like this: [David] took the crown from the head of their king--its weight was a talent of gold, and it was set with precious stones--and it was placed on David's head. He took a great quantity of plunder from the city [NIV]

The Sages of the Talmud, however, seem to have had a different reading.

>> Read the rest of this post
Based on the fact that they cite this verse as part of a discussion about the benefits one is allowed to take from something that had previously been used for idol worship, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Sages of the Talmud read the fourth word not as mAlkum, but as mIlcom*.  In 1 Kings 11:33 Milcom is identified as the national god of the Ammonites:

יַ֣עַן אֲשֶׁ֣ר עֲזָב֗וּנִי וַיִּֽשְׁתַּחֲווּ֮ לְעַשְׁתֹּרֶת֮ אֱלֹהֵ֣י צִֽדֹנִין֒ לִכְמֹושׁ֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י מֹואָ֔ב וּלְמִלְכֹּ֖ם אֱלֹהֵ֣י בְנֵֽי־ עַמֹּ֑ון וְלֹֽא־ הָלְכ֣וּ בִדְרָכַ֗י לַעֲשֹׂ֨ות הַיָּשָׁ֧ר בְּעֵינַ֛י וְחֻקֹּתַ֥י וּמִשְׁפָּטַ֖י כְּדָוִ֥ד אָבִֽיו׃

because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did.

The plot slightly thickens when you realize this: The Septuagint has Μελχο, which is both vowalized as mIlcom and capitalized as a proper noun. Moreover, the context supports the Septuaginit. A talent of gold is about 50 pounds. Though David may have briefly put on it for symbolic reasons, could the Ammonite king have worn such a thing on his head? Also, would the vanquished Ammonite King have been standing around with a 60 pound crown on his head, waiting for David to come take it away?

So, when the Sages went to cheder what did their rebbes teach them? Malkom, or Milcom?

* Both ArtScroll and Soncino confirm that the Sages read the verse this way, without discussing any of the implications.

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