Thursday, November 02, 2006

Shadal's most famous biblical emendation

One of the cornerstones of our daily prayer is the קדושה. While familiar, it is worth showing one version of it (from

Our piece here concerns the sixth line (in that image). It is a quote from Ezekiel 3:12; the red is in the qedusha, the rest is to include the whole verse:

וַתִּשָּׂאֵנִי רוּחַ--וָאֶשְׁמַע אַחֲרַי, קוֹל רַעַשׁ גָּדוֹל: בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד יְה' מִמְּקוֹמוֹ

Then a spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great rushing: 'Blessed be the glory of the LORD from His place'

Now, if we are used to thinking of the Bible as full of strange things we can chalk it up to yet another. As the spirit lifted the prophet up, he heard a great noise (angels, as it turns out) and the noise was them saying "Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His place." (Artscroll adds the explanatory word "saying" in brackets; that is to say, the noise was the saying of the blessing) The passage then contains to describe more great noise, the wing movements of the hayot and the noise of the ofanim. Okay, if that's what it says.

But exegetes are sensitive to strangeness, and R. Samuel David Luzzatto, Shadal, conjectured that בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד יְה' מִמְּקוֹמוֹ contains a scribal error. According to him the verse originally read בְּרוּם כְּבוֹד יְה' מִמְּקוֹמוֹ, and so it read "Then a spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great rushing when the glory of the Lord rose from His place," rather than "Then a spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great rushing: 'Blessed be the glory of the LORD from His place."

The error is a plausible scribal error, as the כ and מ looked very similar in the paleo-Hebrew script. Below is an illustration of what ברוך כבוד looked like in paleo-Hebrew (using a font modeled on the script of the Siloam inscription); directly below it is ברום כבוד.

In July Codex noted that the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates Ezekiel 3:12 as per this emendation, "As the glory of YHWH arose from its place."

It must now be noted that

- Shadal is supposedly the first Jew to suggest emendations to the Bible (although he never countenances making them in the text, it must be noted--the above did not lead him to suggest 'correcting' Ezekiel or the Qedusha).

- In addition he vehemently--and irrationally--was opposed to any conjectural emendation of the Torah, but not Nakh.

- Paranthetically, he really felt that almost no one was technically qualified to suggest emendations.

- On that note, it is said that he came to regret making (or perhaps making known his) emendations because it unwittingly undermined that which he upheld with every fiber of his being; the authority and integrity of the Bible and tradition. (sources: Graetz 'History of the Jews,' Shalom Spiegel 'Hebrew Reborn')

- Along those lines, however, it should also be noted that he 'sat' on his Sefer Vikuah al Hokhmat ha-Kabbalah for 25 years because even though he was completely convinced he was right (that the Kabbalah was antithetical to Judaism and that the Zohar was pseudepigrephal), he didn't want to undermine the simple faith of those Jews who were mystically inclined ("It was characteristic of Shadal that he held back the publication of this work because he felt that it might do harm to the strong religious feelings of Polish Jewry, for whom the Kabbalah was a great source of solace").

However--he did publish it, in 1851. "As a result of a conversation he had with a pupil of his, who had returned from a visit to Poland, Luzzatto was persuaded that the evils of the Kabbalah's mystic cult outweighed its benefits as a bulwark of piety." (source: Margolies "Traditionalist Scholar")

EDIT: A reader says "I imagine that if the [Masoretic Text] had read ברום, some clever fellow would have come along suggesting that it be emended to ברוך. And how would we know whether he was right or wrong?

To this I say ברום reads well and wouldn't have raised a question.

In any case, he is right. All sorts of unqualified persons engaged (and to a much lesser extent engage) in conjectural emendations. Note the past tense, because today the uncontrolled excesses of the past has been checked. In fact, as I noted in my post, Shadal apparently was uncomfortable if he was to be used as a vehicle through which the masoretic text would be attacked.

But it needs to be realized that *he* was not unqualified. He was a living concordance of Tanakh and possibly the world's greatest expert on Hebrew of his day. He still holds up well. In addition, his exegesis was very rigorous. He didn't make such suggestions lightly. In fact, he was fully cognizant of an important rule in textual criticism lectio difficilior potior, "the more difficult reading is the stronger," a rule which was widely disregarded for a very long time, but as I said, is more adhered to now. The intent of that rule is to highlight the fact that in copying texts the tendency is to smooth over errors and therefore if an APPARENT error remains in the text there is a good chance that it isn't an error at all, but it only remains to be shown why the difficult spelling or reading is actually the original.

Shadal was mindful of this. If he came across a difficult reading he exhausted his mental resources AND the large manuscript and witness evidence available to him first and only then did he put forth a conjectural emendation. He spent decades on his perushim, refusing to publish them until they were worked over and over again.

In short, he wasn't full of it. It can't be proven if this truly was the original reading, but without a doubt he could not resolve the difficulty with any satisfaction any other way.

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