Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lent 1: Deuteronomy 26



I received a fascinating question on my post on Deuteronomy 26 (click here), which is the OT reading coming up this Sunday (Lent 1). The question is about a traditional Jewish rendering of v. 5, which reads, "an Aramean sought to destroy my ancestor." Most English versions read something along the lines of "my ancestor [Jacob] was a wandering Aramean."

My reply runs as follows: The Hebrew term here for "wander" generally means "to perish" or the like (cf. KJV "a Syrian ready to perish"; also cf. R. E. Friedman's translation), but a meaning for this Hebrew term along the lines of "go astray" or "be lost" is also attested. B. Levinson in the Jewish Study Bible notes that the reading that you have found in the Chabad translation, "an Aramean sought to destroy my ancestor," departs from the Hebrew grammar of the verse, yet this reading was deployed in the Passover Haggadah as a midrashic reworking of the original. He thinks this early reworking of Deut 26:5 reflects the politics of the Second Temple period, when the Seleucid rulers of Israel were referred to obliquely as Laban, the Aramean. Just like Laban, they persecuted "Jacob" and eventually triggered the Jewish Hasmonean revolt.

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