Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Different Look at Parshat T’rumah

A Guest Post by David A.

First, to explain the problem.

As all Talmudic students, my intense Gemorrah studies inculcated me with the Gemorrah’s view that the Torah (i.e. the 5 books of Moses), is a very precise document and therefore has no superfluous text and that every word is meant to convey or teach something novel. So, of course, every year the reading of this week’s Torah portion and the several following weeks’ always troubled me greatly, as there is no greater apparent set of redundant verses than the hundreds dedicated to describing the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its various components.

The Mishkan’s components are listed seven times. Of these, three are just simple lists (Ex. 30:26ff, 35:11ff, & 39:33ff). Two of the seven can be considered as the main lists, whereby one of the two (Ex. 25:1-29:43) records Hashem instructing Moishe to build the items, accompanied by some descriptive verses about that item. The second of the two (Ex.35:4-39:32), repeats, almost verbatim the first set of instructions, but written in a “fait accompli” manner, reporting that the artisans built the components in the prescribed manner.

A second issue in all of this, but less problematic, is the noted glaring oddity, in that the instructions for the Golden Altar (aka Incense Altar), the “Ki-yor” (a kind of sink) and its stand, the Anointing Oil, and the Incense are missing from the initial list and their existence and instructions are recorded separately. (Ex. 30:1+ff). The question is why?

OK, that’s the problem, now a suggested solution.

First, some background.

Nearly all biblical scholars (aside from those constraint by religious beliefs) recognize the Torah as a composite document assembled from various source documents. Some also see the development as more than just some editor(s) combining source documents, but a progressive development of textual material. Certainly, to maintain intact copies of the sacred documents, the documents were copied from time to time and again and again. During this process, the theory goes, the scribes or copyists were permitted to add new text. Exactly under what conditions is far from clear, but it appears that what must have occurred is that only addition were allowed but any errors uncovered, were never deleted. That is, once text was “accepted”, it achieved the status of sacredness and thereby forbidden to be removed. It seems also, that when new text was added, it was done under certain prescribed rules. Based on textual patterns, the most prominent of these rules was that added text had to flagged as such. Maybe each scribe had a known “signature”. It appears that sometimes the new text was appended at the end of a given pericope and it was either written in a style that resembled the paragraphs of the section (eg. Ex. 30:1ff) or it was flagged by having some standardized rubric (the most common being “Hashem spoke to Moses saying”. Or, if the added text was inserted into an existing paragraph or passage, it was by a method we call an “inclusio”. This method was to repeat a verse or portion of a verse, acting as a form of bracketing the inserted text.

Some excellent examples of inclusios are
(a) the chapter on “forbidden animals” (Lev. 11ff) and the addition of many laws in Vayikra that do NOT appear in the parallel pericope of “forbidden animals” as found in Deut. 14:3-20.
(b) The laws of the “day of atonement” (Lev.16:1ff) . Two additional sections are added; (i) the lottery for the goat to go to “azazel” (Lev. 16:7-11) and (ii) fixing the “day of atonement” annually as the 10th of the seventh month (Lev.16:29-33).
(c) Inserting the genealogy of Moishe in Ex. 6:14-28). See Rashi on Ex.6:29
(d) Correcting the scribal error of misspelling Joshua name. (Num 13:16)

Ok, back to our topic.

The reason we have several lists of the Mishkan’s components is now obvious. There were many traditions of what exactly comprised the Ohel Mo-ed that accompanied the B’Y in the desert. And these were documented over time.

The most minimalist view is that the Ohel Mo-ed was simply a tent that contained a plain wooden box (Deut. 9:3ff) housing the Tablets, an altar and some vessels needed for the rituals. This view is supported by the fact that neither in Devarim or in any of the books of Prophets is there any mention of any of the many famed components other than the Ark (and its Tablets). However, this view is irrelevant to our discussion here.

The accepted opinion is that Moishe had his artisans build an elaborate Tabernacle with all these ornate components. This view itself comes with slightly differing versions.

The version (probably the first documented) was as given in the first listing (Ex. 25ff ). It differed from the others in that it did not have the tradition of the Golden Altar, or the Ki-yor or the Cover on the Ark (aka “kapporet”). This then clearly explains why this listing does not contain the Golden Altar and the Ki-yor. And as I shall show, the verses describing the “kapporet” were an insertion. A later editor or editors, having a different version of the components, added them the end of the chapter and someone inserted the “kapporet”

Some clues as to the validity of these assertions.

Assertion 1. That there was a tradition of no Golden Altar in the desert.

(a) The instructions appear separately
(b) The author of the first list, in the instructions to build an altar (Ex. 27:1), refers to it as “the Altar”, with no qualifying adjective. If there was going to be two altars in the Tabernacle, the instructions needed to qualify which one this was referring to and thus it is not unreasonable to infer that the author knew of only a single altar.
(c) The instructions for the Table (Ex. 26:35) include directions for it placement, refer referencing the Candelabra and the Partition, but not mentioning the Golden Altar as a reference point. Possibly because there wasn’t one
(d) Solomon builds a Golden Altar. (I Kings 8) Why? What was wrong with using Moishe’s? Again, possibly because there wasn’t one.

Assertion 2. That there was a tradition that there never was a “Kapporet”.
(a) The list whereby Hashem instructs Moishe to install the Tabernacle and its components is missing the “Kapporet”. (Ex. 40ff, especially verse 40:3).
(b) Devarim records a plain ark, with no Cherubim.
(c) Solomon builds two giant Cherubim (I Kings 8) There is no mention of any existing ones on top of the ark or that there is a problem of space. Again, possibly because there weren’t any Cherubim on the ark.
(d) The text instructing Moishe to build a “Kapporet”(Ex. 25:17-222) has an obvious inclusio (25:16 and 25:21, hinting at the fact that these verses may have been inserted later. It is very instructive to read Rashi on verse 25:21.

Assertion 3. that the was a tradition that the Mishkan had no Ki-yor.
(a) Only that they are absent from the first list.
(b) Also, absent in I Kings. (but this fact is not all that meaningful)

And finally we can suggest the reason that there is a second descriptive list ((Ex.35:4-39:32). This apparently redundant list was inserted by a later editor who likely didn't like that fact that the first set of instructions were not presented or recorded in an orderly manner. Interestingly, this pericope is enclosed in 2 sets of verses that are repetitive, possibly being used as an elaborate inclusio.


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