Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is Moses' mention of 'Lebanon' anachronistic?

At the end of his life, Moses makes a last request:

Deuteronomy 3:25:
Let me go over, I pray, and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that goodly hill country, and Lebanon.

Lebanon? What possible interest could Moshe have in Lebanon?

In the biblical period, 'Lebanon' was a range of coastal mountains. The name means 'white' and perhaps referred to snow-capped peaks. Why would Moshe wish to see this?

Answers after the jump.

Possible answers:

1: These mountains formed the northern border of Israel. When Moshe asks to see 'Lebanon" perhaps he means he wishes to see the whole country the Israelites are to take. Problem: Moshe does not ask to see any other borders. Instead of answering the question, this solution leaves us with others, namely what was so special about the northern border that it deserved its own mention?

2: "Lebanon" is a metonym for the Temple. This is the explanation given by Rashi, Chizkuni, and others. Rashi, somewhat fancifully, suggests that the semantic shift resulted from a pun (The Temple was the place that makes souls white); whereas Chizkuni, basing himself on the Talmud, gives a more likely explanation: The Temple was built with Lebanese wood and, over time, Lebanon became the name for the Temple, just as 'White House' became a stand-in for the president, his staff and advisers.   And there actually is some evidence that the word Lebanon was used this way when the Temple stood. Problem: It seems impossible to suggest that Moshe might use the word in this sense. Here's why:

a - Moshe lived before the semantic shift occurred. How would he have known that one day, in he far off future, people would refer to the Temple as 'Lebanon'?  -- Unless he spoke through prophecy, in which case:
b - Why would Moshe use a phrase that no one understood? No one living in Moshe's time knew that Solomon would one day trade Israeli cities, not for peace, but for Lebanese timber, and that as a result of that trade a semantic shift would occur, giving 'Lebanon' the sense of  'Temple'. Anyone living in Moshe's time, and for the next 400-odd years, would have thought 'Lebanon' meant the mountain range. They would have all completely misunderstood Moshe's meaning.  If Moshe's purpose was to communicate something to the people he would not have used a term no one understood.

So, what's the explanation? I admit I'm stumped. If we found the words 'White House' in Shakespeare, we'd never assume he meant the US government; suggesting that Moshe's use of  'Lebanon' connotes the Temple seems to present the same problem.  That leave us with solution #1, which is also imperfect.

Search for more information about anachronisms at
Buy one of the books that changed the way I think by clicking here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

generic propecia what does generic propecia look like - propecia online in australia