Monday, April 23, 2012

Are There Really No Redundant Words in the Torah?

A guest post by David A.

As any student of Talmud learns fairly quickly, a fundamental axiom as relates to the study of the Torah is that the Torah is considered perfect and precise so that no text is ever to be thought of as redundant or extraneous. That is, every single word (maybe even every single letter) is meant to teach or convey something, even though we may not always know what is being taught.

Well, and said with the most respect, any reading of the Torah quickly demonstrates that this simply does not seem to be quite true. One finds hundreds of repetitions of phrases and verses apparently serving no function.

Herein is some speculation as to what might have been the purpose of at least some of these repetitive phrases.

As is well known, that aside from Orthodox Jews and some fundamentalist Christians, Bible scholars generally accept that the Torah, as we have it, is a redacted compilation of several source documents. Many of these scholars are also of the opinion that the source documents developed and built up over time. That is, as scribes, when copying and recopying older scrolls, were permitted under some circumstances to add new text, probably under the guidance of some oversight committee that wanted to alter or augment laws or simply when errors in the text were discovered and needed adjustment.

It’s not unreasonable to suppose that the copying was governed by some specific rules.

One such rule might have been that once a certain text was recorded, accepted and deposited in the Temple it became sacred and permanent, never to been deleted from the accepted canon. However, though it seems that while deletion was forbidden, text could be augmented. It has been suggested that when these insertions or additions were done, the new text had to be marked or flagged in some fashion, and one way this was accomplished was by repeating phrases or even entire verses. These literary devices are termed inclusios or repetitive resumptions.

At lease three patterns can be noted that may be applicable.

1) To amend an error or a missing detail from a periscope, a phrase was repeated from the paragraph being amended and the new phrase simply appended to the repeated phrase.

Example: See Num 13:16. This concept clearly explains the repetition of the verse “These are the names …".
Example: See Exod. 25:21b Concerning the contents of the ark. Also, see Rashi who makes a remarkable admission. This idea answers Rashi’s problem.

2) Laws that were added to an existing pericope by appending them to the end of the passage and then closing off this additional piece by repeating the closing phrase of the preceding pericope.

Example: Lev. 16:29-34 The Atonement Ritual, possibly originally done on any day of the year, then designated to be only on the 10th of Tishrei as stated in Lev. 16:29b

3) Laws that were added to an existing set of laws, but here the additions are enclosed in brackets created by placing the relevant law between similar or repeated phrases.

Example: The laws relating to forbidden animal-life. To fully appreciate the concept in this context, one must first read the parallel text in Deut 14:4-20 and carefully compare the 2 pericopes. We find additional laws to those specified in Deut’s version: at verses Lev. 11:10 to 11:13, Then, 11:20 to 11:23, then 11:24 40; then another insertion at 11:41 to 42. ALL enclosed in repeated phrases.

To me it makes some sense and explains many oddities in the text, or then again maybe its all a figment of my imagination.

by David A.

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