Friday, August 7, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Numbers 35:9-30

Your assignment for this week was to read Numbers 35:9-30.
The question is that since Qain killed, he should be killed.  Right?
Now we get into the language issue again.  The Hebrew never calls Qain a ratschan, a murderer.  It always uses horeg, harag, which means killer but not murderer.
And that’s the third urban legend.  Centuries of commentators have claimed that we are descended from a murderer.  But since Qain was not a murderer, this claim is false.  (It’s also false for another reason but I’ll discuss that later.)
Remember, the rules for murder include motive and that goes back to the concept of “hunt him down,” and “yesterday and the day before” and the requirement that there be more than one attack to prove intent.  Nothing in Torah says that Qain hunted Hevel down or attacked him more than once.  It says “they were in the field,” but it doesn’t say this was the third strike for Qain.
Qain wasn’t mad at Hevel, he was mad at Gd.  He had no motive for Hevel’s murder.
We don’t even need to look at means.  Gd can’t convict Qain of murder and condemn him to death.
The next couple of verses go with a subject I didn’t discuss much.  Numbers 35:9-30 discusses the different outcomes for a murderer and a killer.  The killer (after being acquitted of murder by the court) has to live in a city of refuge.
But there are no cities of refuge yet, they were set up only after the entry into the Holy Land.
In fact, a few verses after Hevel’s death, Torah implies that Qain founded the very first city.
So there’s nowhere for Qain to go to escape the goel ha-dam who has the right to take revenge on a killer who leaves the city of refuge.  What’s worse, if there were no goel, a near relative, then “anybody who finds” a killer outside a city of refuge can kill him.
That’s what Qain is afraid of.  He says so.
So Gd sets “the mark of Qain” and this is urban legend number four.  The “mark of Qain” isn’t intended to make people hate Qain.  It’s intended to protect Qain against somebody who would take revenge for Hevel’s death.
In that verse there is an odd phrase sometimes translated as “sevenfold,” but again, there’s a language problem.  “Sevenfold” is used to translate shivataim.  The –aim ending in Hebrew is a dual number indicator.  Classical Greek and Sanskrit, Akkadian and Ugaritic, all had full-up dual number forms for nouns (and adjectives) and verbs.  The feature also appears in Chilean Mapuche, but as far as I can tell there doesn’t seem to be a dual number in ancient Egyptian or in Swahili.  There’s no dual number in either Chinese (which doesn’t decline nouns) or Japanese. 
In Hebrew, the dual number remains mostly for things that naturally come in twos: feet, eyes, ears, but also time periods, shnataim, shvuaim, yomaim.  Also shamaim and maim, heaven and water, look like dual numbers.
Next week we’re going to look at this story one last time and destroy one last urban legend about Qain.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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