Monday, October 31, 2005

Ibn Ezra on Torah Authorship

There has been at least one request for me to provide more comprehensive information regarding my claim that the Ibn Ezra says various Pentateuchal verses were not written by Moses (as dictated by God). Here you go:

As I quote in "Rabbinic vs. Modern Academic Beliefs", Ibn Ezra says the following in his comment on Deuteronomy 34:1, the twelfth-last verse of Deuteronomy:

ויעל משה. לפי דעתי, כי מזה הפסוק כתב יהושע, כי אחר שעלה משה לא כתב. ובדרך נבואה כתבו; והעד, ויראהו ה', גם ויאמר ה' אליו, גם ויקבור׃

"'And Moses ascended.' My view is that Joshua wrote [the final verses of Deuteronomy] beginning with this verse, for Moses did not write after he ascended. He [Joshua] wrote it prophetically, as indicated by [statements of facts he could not otherwise have known, such as] 'God showed him...', 'God said to him...', '[God] buried...'."

The Talmud (Bava Batra 15a) records a dispute regarding the final eight verses of Deuteronomy.

תניא, "וימת שם משה עבד ה'." אפשר משה מת [/חי] וכתב "וימת שם משה?" אלא עד כאן כתב משה; מכאן ואילך כתב יהושע -- דברי רבי יהודה, ואמרי לה רבי נחמיה. אמר לו רבי שמעון, אפשר ספר תורה חסר אות אחת וכתיב "לקוח את ספר התורה הזה?" אלא עד כאן הקדוש ברוך הוא אומר ומשה אומר וכותב; מכאן ואילך הקדוש ברוך הוא אומר ומשה כותב בדמע׃

It was taught in a baraita: "'Moses, the servant of God, died there.' Is it possible that Moses was dead [alt.: was alive] and wrote 'Moses died there?' Rather, Moses wrote until this point [in Deuteronomy]; Joshua wrote from this point onward" -- the words of Rabbi Yehudah, or, according to some, Rabbi Nehemiah. Rabbi Shimon said to him, "Is it possible that the book of the law [the Pentateuch] was missing even one letter and yet it was written [that God said to Moses], 'Take this book of the law?' Rather, until this point God dictated and Moses repeated orally and wrote down; from this point onward God dictated and Moses wrote down with tears."
[Note: There is more than one opinion regarding the meaning of the word בדמע in this passage. I have selected a common interpretation, "with tears." I do not believe that the differences in interpretation are relevant to this discussion.]

Ibn Ezra's view, cited above, that the last 12 verses of Deuteronomy were written by Joshua clearly contradicts both of these tannaic opinions. The first opinion, that of Rabbi Yehudah or Rabbi Nehemiah, states specifically that "Moses wrote until this point" [the eighth-last verse of Deuteronomy]; the second, that of Rabbi Shimon, insists that every letter of the Torah was written by Moses.

In the middle of his comment (s.v. "מחרב") on Deuteronomy 1:2, Ibn Ezra makes the following enigmatic statement:

ואם תבין סוד השנים עשר, גם "ויכתוב משה," "והכנעני אז בארץ," "בהר ה' יראה," גם "הנה ערשו ערש ברזל," תכיר האמת׃
And if you understand the secret of the twelve, also "Moses wrote" (Deuteronomy 31:22), "and the Canaanite[s] were then in the land" (Genesis 12:6), "on God's mountain, he will be seen" (Genesis 22:14), also "Behold, his bed was made of iron" (Deuteronomy 3:11), you will recognize the truth.

I believe that "the twelve" are the final twelve verses of the Pentateuch, which, as we have seen, Ibn Ezra explicitly states were not written by Moses. The "secret of the twelve" is a reference to non-Mosaic authorship. In this most recently quoted passage, Ibn Ezra claims that the introduction to the book of Deuteronomy, as well as the other verses or verse segments he lists, were not written by Moses. (Whether they were written by Joshua, or by someone else, he does not say.)

I find it fairly easy to understand why Ibn Ezra would make such claims about the specific verses he cites, with the sole exception of (ironically) the first verses of Deuteronomy. I will now proceed to quote each verse, explain what might have motivated Ibn Ezra to question Moses's authorship of it, cite any comments Ibn Ezra makes on each verse ad locum, and compare those comments to his statement at Deuteronomy 1:2.

Deuteronomy 31:22 reads,

ויכתב משה את השירה הזאת ביום ההוא וילמדה את בני ישראל׃

Moses wrote this song on that day, and he taught it to the children of Israel.

Now, Moses died very shortly thereafter. If he wrote this verse, it would have sounded very peculiar, because "on that day" (ביום ההוא) generally carries the connotation of more than a short time before. It would have been far better phraseology if employed significantly after the event, and therefore after Moses's death.

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 31:22 itself says,

ביום ההוא. שלא איחר הדבר. ויתכן שהיה יום מותו אחר מכתב דברי התורה, כי השירה כתב משה עמה׃

"On that day." [Meaning] that he did not delay the matter. And it could be that the day of his death was after the writing of the words of the Torah, for the song itself Moses wrote with it.

Ibn Ezra states that "on that day" signifies that Moses did not delay in performing the task he had been assigned. If that is what it means, then there is no peculiarity in the phrase to justify the argument I presented in the previous paragraph. Note in the following paragraphs (see, for example, the bracketed discussion of Ibn Ezra's commentary to Genesis 12:6), however, that Ibn Ezra does not always seem absolute in his conviction that the verses he listed at Deuteronomy 1:2 actually carry the "secret" to which he refers several times, and that he sometimes advances other possible interpretations of the verses, according to which their Mosaic authorship is more plausible. Thus at 1:2 he may be presenting the option that the awkward wording of 31:22 suggests non-Mosaic authorship, whereas at 31:22 itself, he proposes another interpretation of the wording, one that is compatible with Moses having written it.

It is worth pointing out that Ibn Ezra clearly felt that there was something fishy about the "on that day" of 31:22; otherwise he need not have commented on it.

Genesis 12:6 reads,

ויעבר אברם בארץ עד מקום שכם עד אלון מורה והכנעני אז בארץ׃

Abram passed through the land until the place of Shechem, until the plain of Moreh; and the Canaanite[s] were then in the land.

It is difficult to understand why Moses would have written "the Canaanites were then in the land," implying that by Moses's time they were not, when in fact they continued to be there until years after his death. Again, such a statement would more logically come from a later author, one living after the Israelite conquest of Canaan, during which the Canaanite population of the land, if not eliminated, was certainly sharply reduced, both in number and in power.

Ibn Ezra on Genesis 12:6, s.v. והכנעני אז בארץ, says,

יתכן שארץ כנען תפשה כנען מיד אחר. ואם איננו כן יש לו סוד, והמשכיל ידום׃

It could be that Canaan took the land of Canaan immediately after [the preceding events in the verse]. If it is not so, then [the verse] has a secret, and he who is intelligent shall be silent.

So here, as mentioned earlier, Ibn Ezra appears to be allowing for two possibilities: one that reconciles the problematic last three words with Mosaic authorship, and one that concedes that the verse (at least the end of it) was written later and by someone else.

Genesis 22:14 states,

ויקרא אברהם שם המקום ההוא ה' יראה אשר יאמר היום בהר ה' יראה׃

Abraham called the name of that place "God will see;" today, it is therefore said, "On God's mountain, he will be seen" (translation after the semi-colon from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's The Living Torah).

Neither Moses nor, likely, almost any Israelite for at least two centuries prior to Moses's death had even seen this mountain, and it is unlikely that Moses could have truthfully stated, "Today, it is therefore said, 'On God's mountain, he will be seen.'" More likely almost nothing was ever said about it. Again, it would be a much more sensible thing to say for a person who lived in the land of Israel after the Israelite conquest and settlement, something Moses did not do.

Ibn Ezra's comment on Genesis 22:14 is a pithy

וטעם "בהר ה' יראה" ב"אלה הדברים"׃

The explanation of "on God's mountain, he will be seen" is in "These are the words" [i.e., his commentary on the first verses of Deuteronomy].

Here, Ibn Ezra simply refers the reader to his comments at the beginning of Deuteronomy, cited above.

Deuteronomy 3:11 reads,

כי רק עוג מלך הבשן נשאר מיתר הרפאים הנה ערשו ערש ברזל הלה הוא ברבת בני עמון תשע אמות ארכה וארבע אמות רחבה באמת איש׃

For only Og, King of Bashan, remained from the last of the Rephaim. His bed was made of iron, and is in the Ammonite city of Rabbah: its length is nine cubits, and its width is four cubits, the cubit being that of a normal man (translation adapted from Kaplan).

Why would Moses need to tell the people about Og's bed? They had fought him within the year! They had either seen him themselves, or heard about him from others. It would appear to have been totally superfluous for Moses to make such a statement. However, someone living in a later generation, one that had never seen Og for themselves, might be quite impressed indeed if told that they could personally view Og's massive bed, which survived until that day, made as it was of iron, in the city of Rabbah.

Ibn Ezra makes no comment ad locum on the verse.

There is one more comment of Ibn Ezra I'd like to cite, although its content is slightly further afield. At Deuteronomy 34:6, he writes:

עד היום הזה. דברי יהושע. ויתכן שכתב זה באחרית ימיו׃

"[No man] until this day [knows the site of Moses's burial]". [These are] the words of Joshua. And it is plausible that he wrote this at the end of his life.

I hope I've explained things clearly. If anyone can advance an alternative set of explanations of the various passages that I have quoted from Ibn Ezra's commentary, feel free to publish it (in the comments, or a separate post, etc). I'm not wedded to the idea that Ibn Ezra believed in, or at least considered possible, the non-Mosaic authorship of some parts of the Torah, but at this point, I don't know how else to understand what he wrote.

Once again, I'd like to thank Dr. Moshe Bernstein of Yeshiva University for much of the information I've provided here.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Chidah in shem hagedolim says (as far as I can remember) that a lot of the text of ibn ezra was interfered with and added by others.

this apikorsus is obviously not written by Ibn Ezra

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Does the Chida provide any evidence supporting his claim? (I don't have access to the book myself.)

Anonymous said...

Here is my rough translation of the relevant passage. [] indicates my addition. ()is transliteration where I am not sure of a precise translation. Other words have obviously also been transliterated

Rabbi Binyomin Ispinoza zal made a Biur on Ibn Ezra for the Neviim and Kesuvim and in his introduction brings what Rabbi Refoel Ashkenzi and the Italian rabbis in Kesav yad that was made clear (nisbarrer) to them that the pupils of Ibn Ezra interfered with his explanation (sholchu yad beferushoi) and added on from their knowledge things that are not so. And every term (loshoin) that you find in the Chumash and Neviim that is against our Rabbis zal is not from the Ibn Ezra himself [but] only his pupils without his knowledge after his death sholchu yad and Ibn Ezra and his chair is clean (Noki). This is Toiref Divreihem and if the words are correct tonuach Da'ateinu.

But what can we answer, sometimes the Ramban writes upon him with Toikef eg what he says in Parshas Shemois that gold should be poured [down his throat]. [1]

The Ramban was near to the time of Ibn Ezra and is nisameis etzloi that this is the Perush of Ibn Ezra himself. But look at it from another point of view (zil leidoch gisa). If all these strange expressions against the Law and Rezal are from Ibn Ezra why did not the Ramban testify on them. [disagree]

But it is obvious that there are some of them that are not from Ibn Ezra and strangers Sholtu Yod to write that which never entered his imagination.

[1]
[a reference I think to the age of when Yoicheved had a child where Ibn Ezra disagrees with the Gemarah]

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Interesting. I don't know anything about Ibn Ezra manuscripts. It is certainly my understanding that manuscripts were sometimes corrupted with later additions. It would be nice to know what an expert on the extant Ibn Ezra manuscripts says about the authenticity of certain relevant passages. I'll try to ask someone who may know. It is undeniable, however - as the Chida points out - that Ramban believed Ibn Ezra sometimes contradicted Chazal. The Chida's implicit suggestion - that if such a contradiction in the Ibn Ezra goes unchallenged by Ramban, it is not authentic - seems a bit contrived; perhaps Ramban just didn't feel it necessary to protest in every single instance. It would be useful to see a list of all of the contradictions of Chazal in the Ibn Ezra commentary, and a list of those which Ramban disputes.

I will probably be moving this post to a different blog in the near future. I will copy and paste the comments too, and I will make it clear on this blog how to access the new one.

Anonymous said...

Your point of "perhaps Ramban just didn't feel it necessary to protest in every single instance"
would not apply to this particular Ibn Ezra. If the Ramban protested against Ibn Ezra disgreeing with the Gemarah. He would certainly have far more grounds to protest if he felt that Ibn Ezra was in effect denying one of the 13 Ikrim ie Torah Min Hashomayim, which is far more serious.

The Ramban's silence in this case speaks volumes.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

I don't think the Ramban's silence proves anything. Ramban himself sometimes argues with the Gemara (see, for example, my quotations of him in III-B-1). The Ramban might not protest because he thinks the Ibn Ezra is right.

Also, it's not at all clear to me that the Ramban would have felt it so important to believe that the verses mentioned by Ibn Ezra were, indeed, written by Moshe. Maybe he didn't think it mattered all that much whether it was written by Moshe or by Joshua.

Anonymous said...

You say The Ramban might not protest because he thinks the Ibn Ezra is right.
If the Ramban gives in effect a Kelallah to Ibn Ezrah for disagreeing with the gemarah over Yocheved's age, why should he suddenly feel that Ibn Ezrah is right to disagree with the Gemarah in Sanhedrin over the principle of Mosaic Authorship of the whole Torah. ?

(As for your view that the Ramban sometimes argues with the Gemarah, If you mean the Ramban in Tazriah. 111-A-2. You may believe you have a contradiction in Ramban but it is simpler to say that the Ramban makes a difference between believing a statement of the Gemarah was based on Greek science, leaving the Ramban an opening to possibly disagree, and where the Gemarah is discussing inyonim of Torah where one cannot.)

As for the importance of the matter. The Ramban in perush Mishnayis in chelek when listing the 13 Ikrim says that anybody who attributes non Mosaic authorship to even one verse or one Dikduk is a heretic, (With I assume the exception of the last verses of the Torah). The Rambam does not count disagreeing with the Gemarah (which although not allowed on Torah matters) as heresy.

So the supposed Ibn Ezra comments on Genesis 12:6 for example, would be heresy according to the Rambam. (The Ibn Ezrah on this verse starts talking about keeping secrets quiet which he never does when talking about the age of Yocheved, a sign that the author has realised he is moving up a stage in contraversiality.)

So again if the Ramban protests the Ibn Ezrah for disagreeing with the Gemarah on Torah matters, which is not one of the 13 Ikrim, he would have far more reason to protest against the supposed Ibn Ezra comments on Genesis 12:6 which is one of the 13 Ikrim.

Yet he does not. Using the Chida's reasoning the answer is obvious. He never wrote it.

I think that the Rambam in a letter to his son Rabeinu Avraham (Iggros Mussar) highly recommends Ibn Ezra to him, even going as far to compare him to Avraham Ovinu.

Since the Rambam viewed the non Mosaic authorship of verses throughout the Torah as heresy, how do you explain his reccomendation of Ibn Ezra.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Could you please tell me exactly where Ramban says that thing about pouring gold down Ibn Ezra's throat? I'm having trouble finding it.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

If the Ramban gives in effect a Kelallah to Ibn Ezrah for disagreeing with the gemarah over Yocheved's age, why should he suddenly feel that Ibn Ezrah is right to disagree with the Gemarah in Sanhedrin over the principle of Mosaic Authorship of the whole Torah. ?

Ramban may not object in principle to arguing with the Gemara (after all, he does it himself, as noted above). He might understandably object, however, to Ibn Ezra's gratuitously disagreeing with the Gemara - i.e., his doing so without sufficient justification. So, for example, at Genesis 46:15, where Ramban chastises Ibn Ezra about the Yocheved business, he does not merely criticise Ibn Ezra for arguing with a Gemara. He demonstrates that Ibn Ezra's own explanation is as fraught with difficulties as the Gemara's. Ibn Ezra therefore gains nothing by arguing with the Gemara, and therefore can rightfully be criticised for rejecting the Gemara's statement without cause.

If, however, Ibn Ezra has a good reason to disagree with the Gemara - as Ramban may feel he does regarding the authorship of the verses in question - Ramban may not feel entitled to criticise him, even if he personally disagrees with him.

As for your view that the Ramban sometimes argues with the Gemarah, If you mean the Ramban in Tazriah. 111-A-2. You may believe you have a contradiction in Ramban but it is simpler to say that the Ramban makes a difference between believing a statement of the Gemarah was based on Greek science, leaving the Ramban an opening to possibly disagree, and where the Gemarah is discussing inyonim of Torah where one cannot.

That sounds reasonable. But just as the Talmud accepted much Greek science, which Ramban did not feel obliged to accept, the Talmud may also have accepted some historical assertions - such as the Mosaic authorship of certain verses - which Ramban did not feel obliged to accept. The question of Biblical authorship is a question of history, not primarily one of Torah (though it may or may not have halachic ramifications, just like science). Moses either wrote Deuteronomy 34:1, or he didn't. The principle of "Lo bashamayim hi" does not apply. Ramban may well feel that post-Talmudic scholars have the right to express their belief that the Talmud was misinformed or otherwise mistaken about a historical fact.

The supposed Ibn Ezra comments on Genesis 12:6 for example, would be heresy according to the Rambam. ... So again if the Ramban protests the Ibn Ezrah for disagreeing with the Gemarah on Torah matters, which is not one of the 13 Ikrim, he would have far more reason to protest against the supposed Ibn Ezra comments on Genesis 12:6 which is one of the 13 Ikrim.

1. See above: It is not clear that Ramban opposes disagreeing with the Gemara on Torah matters. He may only oppose doing so without cause.

2. Can you provide any evidence that Ramban accepted the 13 Ikkarim? Many Rishonim did not. Not only were they not a standard part of Jewish doctrine in Ramban's day; many Rishonim in his day were accusing Rambam of writing heresy!

3. Either Rambam's statement about Mosaic authorship is not as all-encompassing as it sounds, or he considered heretical the Tannaic opinion that the last 8 verses of the Torah were not written by Moses. While the latter approach is possible, I would consider it equally plausible to understand Rambam as ascribing Mosaic authorship to all of the Chumash except where it doesn't make sense. His words would then label as heresy neither the view of Rabbi Yehudah (or Nechemiah) on Bava Batra 15a, nor that of the Ibn Ezra - with whom he might still have disagreed (if he even knew what he had written).

I think that the Rambam in a letter to his son Rabeinu Avraham (Iggros Mussar) highly recommends Ibn Ezra to him, even going as far to compare him to Avraham Ovinu.

Since the Rambam viewed the non Mosaic authorship of verses throughout the Torah as heresy, how do you explain his reccomendation of Ibn Ezra.


See above.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Regarding manuscripts: I sent the following to an expert on these matters:

Regarding the Ibn Ezra: the commenter is apparently quoting the Chida who was in turn quoting someone who believed he had evidence that parts of the Ibn Ezra text were later additions. Any idea what that purported evidence was? Is there any such evidence known today? Is there any evidence to the contrary (i.e., any positive indication that the comments were indeed written by Ibn Ezra - aside from the obvious fact that they appear in the middle of his commentary? Perhaps a stylistic correspondance, or textual consistency across manuscripts from different parts of the world, etc. etc)?

I received the following answer:

i don't think that there is any evidence of this assertion. in fact, whatever tampering would have occurred would have had to occur before the Tzafenat Pa'aneax wrote his commentary in the 14th century (and the same comments are made in a commentary on IE attributed to R. Yosef Caspi). so they are from the period of the rishonim for sure. the editions of ibn ezra with which i am familiar - mexoqeqei yehudah, torat hayyim - do not indicate that these passages do not appear in the MSS. [manuscripts]

i found that xerox of a page of a journal Tzefunot (vol. 3, p.86 - i only copied the last page, but the whole article deals with this question) the xaredi author accepts R. Kasher's view of interpolations in IE, and then summarizes as follows the ways that the odd views in IE and those opposed to Hazal can be explained:
1. in derash one can explain against hazal (havvot ya'ir, yafeh lalev, iggerot moshe, qol mevasser)
2. some kvetched everything he said to agree with hazal (tumim, divrei shaul, shu"t tzelax beshem yad elazar, she'erit ya'akov, xakmei verabbanei italia)
3. some say these things are from talmid to'eh (hakmei italia beshem r'h qazis [unknown to me], chida, yafeh lalev)
he says that all three are correct, because even if you use the first two, there remain some that are completely against torah shebeal peh.
so this is an old story, but the fact is that IE wrote what he wrote.

Alejandro said...

On principal, I do not correspond with people who transliterate the letter ches/chet/het/heth/ח as x.

That aside, I'm surprised at category 1. IE is far from the only rishon to say that; I think it is even found in the geonim.