Posts Tagged ‘Radak’

I have rendered Jeremiah Chapter 1 into a flowing English narrative incorporating selections of classic commentaries, primarily Rashi, also drawing from Targum and Radak. I would love for this to be a springboard for discussion.

Jeremiah, Chapter 1

Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, a Kohen (priest) from Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, was descended from Rahab the harlot. Despite his humble lineage, he was more righteous than those in his generation who were of prestigious lineage, and therefore was chosen by God to rebuke his generation. Jeremiah began prophesying in the 13th year of King Josiah son of Amon, when the Divine Presence (Shechinah) began to dwell upon him. He prophesied throughout the rest of Josiah’s reign, and throughout the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, and the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah, until the 11th year of Zedekiah, in the 5th month, when Jerusalem was exiled.

God said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. I had already revealed to Adam, from the beginning of time, who the prophets of each generation would be for all time, including you. Before you emerged from the womb, I prepared you for this purpose. I already told Moses, ‘I will raise up a prophet for them… like you’ (Deuteronomy 18:18). This prophecy refers to you, Jeremiah. You are a prophet like Moses, for just as Moses rebuked Israel, so shall you rebuke Israel. Just as Moses prophesied for forty years, so shall you prophesy for forty years. I have made you a prophet who will prophesy to Israel, a nation that behaves as though it is the same as the other nations of the world, not fulfilling the unique mission that I have commanded them. You will also prophesy regarding the calamities that will befall the nations of the world because of their wickedness.”

Jeremiah said to God: “But Lord, behold, I am unable to rebuke the people, for I am yet a lad. Moses rebuked the people close to his death. By that time, Israel already regarded Moses highly because of all the miracles he had performed for their benefit throughout many years. He took them out of Egypt and split the sea for them. He brought down the manna and swarms of quail for them to eat. He gave them the Torah and drew water from the rock. Therefore he could also rebuke them and they would listen. But you ask me to rebuke them at the very beginning of my career!”

God said to Jeremiah: “Do not say, ‘I am a lad,’ for you shall go to the nations of the world if I send you to them, and you shall speak to the people of Israel the words I tell you. Do not fear them, for I am with you, to save you.”

God sent His prophetic words and arranged them in Jeremiah’s mouth. God said to Jeremiah: “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms to uproot and to smash and to annihilate and to destroy, for as you prophesy regarding them, so shall befall them. But as for Israel, you are appointed to build and to plant, if they listen and repent.”

God spoke to Jeremiah, saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”

Jeremiah said, “I see an almond branch, representing a king who is quick to do evil, as the almond tree is quicker to blossom than other trees.” 

God said to Jeremiah, “You have seen well. Just as this almond blossoms more quickly than other trees, so am I quick to carry out my word. It takes twenty-one days for the almond to ripen, just as there shall be twenty-one days from the 17th of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem will be breached, until the 9th of Av, when the Temple will be destroyed.”

God spoke to Jeremiah again, saying, “What do you see?”

Jeremiah said, “I see a boiling pot, bubbling up on the north side.”

God said to Jeremiah, “From Babylonia, which is in the north, shall the evil come forth upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling to all the families of the kingdoms of the north, and each man shall set his seat at the opening of the gates of Jerusalem, and upon all its walls around, and upon all the cities of Judah. And I shall pronounce judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem for all their evil, for abandoning me and burning incense to other gods, and bowing to the works of their hands. And you, Jeremiah, brace yourself, and rise up, and speak to them all that I shall command you. Do not fear them, lest I break you before them. Behold, today I have made you strong as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as copper walls to pronounce retribution against all the inhabitants of the land: the kings of Judah, its officers, its priests and the common people. They will judge you and strive against you to suppress your prophetic words, but they will not succeed against you, for I am with you, to save you.”

In the book of Melachim (Kings), we are told the sad story of the descent of the Kingdom of David, from its original grandeur under righteous kings such as David and his son Shelomoh (Solomon), to the split during the reign of Shelomoh’s son Rechavam, when ten tribes of Israel seceded to form a new kingdom under the rule of the once righteous, turned wicked king Yeravam ben Nevat. Yeravam leads the Kingdom of Israel into idolatry, as do the subsequent kings of Judah, until the rule of Asa. We are told:

“Asa did what was upright in the eyes of Ha-Shem (the Almighty), like David his father (i.e. forefather). He caused the harlots to pass from the land and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. Even Maachah his mother, who made an abominable image (‘miphletzeth’ — מפלצת) for an asherah, he removed from her position of power. Asa cut down her abominable image and burned it [and cast its ashes] into the brook of Kidron.” (I Kings 15:11-13)

An asherah is a tree that was worshipped by idolatrous cults in ancient times. Maachah, Asa’s mother seems to have gone one step further, making a “miphletzeth” for her asherah. What is a miphletzeth? The translation here, “abominable image,” I took from the JPS Tanakh and appears to be the understanding of Radak. But miphletzeth is an extremely rare term in Tanach and its meaning is mysterious. In modern Hebrew, the word is used to mean “monster.”

Rashi, to explain the word miphletzeth, quotes the Talmud in Avodah Zarah (44A). The Talmudic sages viewed the word miphletzeth as a compound word based two Hebrew roots: פ-ל-א (P-L-A), meaning “wondrous,” and ל-צ (L-Tz), meaning “scoffing.” As such, they explained the above verse to mean that Maachah acted “exceedingly scoffingly” (מפליא ליצנותא) with her asherah. How so? The Talmud goes on to say that she fashioned (presumably carved) for her asherah a male genital appendage and would have relations with the idol daily.

How did the Talmudic sages know that this bizaare behavior is what is intended here? Was this purely an oral tradition or is there a more clear textual clue?

I wonder if this understanding is based on a perceived linguistic linkage between the פ-ל-צ root of ‘miphletzeth’ and the Latin “phallus” or Greek “phallos” (meaning the same); indeed in some traditions the letter tzadi (צ) is pronounced ‘s’ (‘sadi’) rather than ‘tz’ as in the Ashkenazic tradition. Some research (i.e. “googling”) has yielded that indeed wooden carvings of the phallus were used in cultic worship of deities such as Dionysus. This type of worship, known to the Talmudic sages, may have been a clue regarding the nature of Maachah’s worship here.