Thursday, July 09, 2009

Some of Billam, some of Pinchas

A people the dwells apart / כי מראש צרים אראנו ומגבעות אשורנו הן עם לבדד ישכן ובגוים לא יתחשב׃

This is Billam's grand declaration about the Jewish people, and indeed, in the Billam story we are presented as God's own people, separated from all other nations, and divinely protected from curses, enchantments and foreign influences. The very next story, however, tells a different tale. Suddenly, we are intertwined with the neighboring tribes, and sharing both women and rituals.

What's the link?

Why did the editor/author (ie: God) choose to put these two stories side by side? Why are given a thesis (Israel dwells alone) followed by a contradictory antithesis (Israel intermingles with other nations)? Unless the point is the punishment?

Baal Peor / בעל פעור

Per the Talmud, the name Peor puns on a Hebrew verb that means "to gape open." A connection between the name and the mode of worship is suggested by the sexual acts described in this chapter, but the Talmud additionally links the worship of Peor to defecation.

Was Peor actualy worshipped with both sex and filth, or was the latter added by Rabbis seeking to further denigrate the idolatry. Anyone know? I tweeted this question the other day, but no one replied.

And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly / ויבא אחר איש ישראל אל הקבה וידקר את שניהם--את איש ישראל ואת האשה אל קבתה

The translation I've given here follows the KJV, which is tricky because no one really knows what is meant by the word קבה. It appears here alone, and is translated variously as tent, pavillion or Tabernacle.

Jewish tradition tells us the word means "Tabernacle" but this is hard because nowhere else is the Mishkan called a qubah.

Robert Alter links it to the Arabic qubbe, a red tent used for conjugal and cultic purposes and adds that our word "alcove" (ie: a recessed space) is derived from al-qubbe.

The second use of word (everyone knows) is a euphamism for the female sexual part, but it puns on the hebrew for "belly" and works as a euphamism only because קבה and קבתה might be the same word, both referring to a space of some kind used for sexual purposes.

[Source: Robert Alter; Five Books of Moses]

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