Friday, August 26, 2011

Artscroll puts a rank anachronism in Rashi's mouth

In 2010, the great Josh ParshaBlog posted about the anachronism in this week's sedra and determined that it wasn't necessarily an anachronism. I thought his explanation was a bit of a kvetch, but as certain commenters are fond of reminding me, I'm no one special so my views, no matter how well-argued, are irrelevant.

The same can't be said about Rashi and surprise, surprise, Rashi seems to agree that there is an anachronism here -- at least according to how ArtScroll interprets his comment.

The problem starts at Duet 11:26 when Moshe announces a blessing and a curse. The blessing is to be delivered on Har Grizim while the curse will be said on Har Ebel. And where are these mountains found? From his words, Moshe seems surprised you asked:
Are they not across the Jordan, far beyond it [=acahrei], in the direction of the sunset, in the land of the Canaanite, in the Arabah, opposite [=mul] Gilgal near Elonei Moreh?
The word I've translated here as "opposite" is mul but Rashi reads it as "far from." Here's ArtScroll (Sapirstein Edition) explaining why Rashi feels compelled to translate the word mul this way:
Mul generally connotes proximity, but here it can not have that meaning. For Rashi has already explained that Acharei means far from and Gilgal was near the Jordan. See Joshua 4:19
Only one problem. The Gilgal of Joshua 4:19, which is undoubtedly alongside the Jordan,  received its name during the time of Joshua, as explained in Joshua 5:9, "Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day." [Gilgal sounds like the Hebrew for rolled.]

So at the time Moshe spoke to the people, and used Gilgal as a reference point, the place hadn't yet been named.

Josh's solution is that Moshe's Gilgal is a different Gilgal, which is plausible, or that Moshe spoke through prophecy, which is problematic as it means his audience could not understand the meaning of his words. According to ArtScroll, however, Rashi and Josh disagree. Rashi, as per ArtScroll, seems to think Joshua and Moshe knew the same Gilgal, and accepts the anachronism, while seeming to remain oblivious to the difficulty it creates. **Lisa suggests a different solution in the comments.

Fun fact to know and tell: Why were Har Ebal and Har Grizim chosen, respectivly,  as the site of the curse and the blessing? Two reasons: Ebal is desolate, while Grizim is lush, and if your orientation is east, Ebal is on the suspect left while Grizim is on the lucky right.

Additional fun fact: The "reproach" being rolled back is the lack of circumcision. Apparently, the Egyptians Joshua knew were circumcised, and were deeply critical of those who were not. This suggestion that Egyptians practiced circumcision fits with just about everything we know about the ANE, and with Jeremiah 9:26. It also explains why (Judges 14:3 and elsewhere) Philistines, and no other group, are expressly denounced as uncircumcised. The idea that Israelites alone were circumcised seems to be a later invention.

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