It is well known that the Torah contains appearances of anachronisms. I chose the word appearances specifically, because not every one so designated is really problematic (from the Mosaic versus mosaic standpoint). For example, the references to Pelishtim in Bereishis. It is now known that the Pelishtim of Tanakh were Aegean “Sea Peoples” who migrated to Canaan after the Patriarchal period making it quite unclear how the Avos interacted with Pelishtim.
However, it has rightly been observed by Shalom Carmy and others that carefully reading Tanakh shows that the Pelishtim in Bereishis live in a completely different coastal region of Canaan from the Pelsishtim of David’s time. Furthermore, while the leaders of the Pelishtim in David’s time are called “serannos”, thought to be a variation of the Greek tyrannos, in Bereishis the leader is a melekh, which is what the Semitic word would be. Also, these leaders had Hellenic type name and elsehwere in Tanakh the origin of the Pelishtim is given as Caphtor (Crete) which would indicate an awareness of their origin among the Israelites.
That means that there is good reason to regard the Pelishtim of Bereishis as a different, earlier people entirely. It would be not unlike modern British people who are mostly descended from Angles and Saxons rather than aboriginal Britons. Same name, different people. As far as I am concerned this is unconvincing as an anachronism.
An anachronism such “And the Canaanites were then in the land” (Gen. 12:6) is more problematic. It seems like it can only be explained away by disputing that translation, or speculating as Ibn Ezra did, that the Canaanites of that time were actually invaders who displaced earlier inhabitants. It seems to me that this one is more difficult than the one about the Pelishtim. Whether there is a satisfactory explanation for this one is in the eye of the beholder. But the anachronisms become more difficult.
There is the mentioned of the place called Dan in Gen. 14:14, despite that the place is renamed that by Israelites in the book of Joshua and ostensibly called so after Shevet Dan. Not so easy to explain that one. The usual explanations for these more difficult anachronisms is that they were prophetically written. That may be, but that is forced by the question and not the plain meaning. Why isn’t Salem then called Jerusalem in Genesis? There are any number of verses that could have been written anachronistically but prophetically. In short, this answer seems to be applied with out any rule or method.
Even more difficult, perhaps, is the one in Gen 36:32 “Now these were the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the children of Israel”. The meforshim say that Moshe could have been considered the king of Israel. Well yes, but….you know. The kashya is better than the teyrutz.
Anyway, I plan to treat the issue of so-called anachronisms and Moshaic authorship in a better post at a later date. For now I thought it would be interesting to simply compare the treatment of these three—Gen. 12:6, 14:14 and 36:32—in three popular Orthodox chumashim in English. Just a sampler.
Initially I had planned to include everything in this one post, but it really is too long for a blog post. To read the full treatment in the Aryeh Kaplan, Hertz and Artscroll chumashim you can click here. Here are summaries:
The one about the Canaanim:
- Kaplan - nothing
- Hertz - takes issue with the one way of translating the verse, but points out that even if you translate it the usual way, the Canaanites were not really displaced from the land in the days of Tanakh anyway
- Artscroll - nothing
The one about Dan:
- Kaplan - lots of geographical info, quotes speculation by Radak that an ancient place called Dan may have been their anyway, more geography
- Hertz - name of Dan was given by 'anticipation' (?), cites places in Tanakh in which the original name(s) for the region is given
- Artscroll - Avraham saw prophetically that his descendents would succumb to idolatry in that place, which would be called Dan, and that this was "an insufficiency" in Avraham
And the kings:
- Kaplan - quotes the meforshim who say that the king of Israel here referred is Moshe, but rejects this answer because b) there were Edomite kings contemporary with Moshe and b) Moshe was not in fact considered a king, gets onto a tangent
- Hertz - quotes Ibn Ezra that Moshe was the king, but gives a 'more satisfactory' explanation that this is a reference to a promise God gave to Ya'akov in the chapter before that his descendents would be kings, therefore the Benei Yisrael had hope that they would one day have a king and kingdom; this verse was an assurance to them that it would come to pass, also retranslates the verse to read 'whilst as yet the children of Israel have no king’ saying that this is a legitimate reading
- Artscroll - prophecy, of course, in this case cites Rashi that this refers to the prophecy given to Rebecca about the see-saw relationship between Edom and Israel, goes off on a tangent about 2000 years of galus
As you can see, these are treated differently in the different chumashim. Sometimes tackling the problem head on, sometimes ignoring it entirely, sometimes raising the problem but getting wordy and adding interesting peripheral tidbits of information without addressing it.