June 24, 2008

Rabbi Joseph ben Isaac

Frumheretic has an interesting post, comparing the two accounts of the Israelites complaining to God regarding their food situation. In one case in Exodus they complain and are given Manna and in Numbers they complain and God gives them meat. To tell you the truth, I never thought about this incident so hard, but apparently Frumheretic believes this is an obvious case of two separate traditions. You can find a nice little graph on his site.

The most interesting part of that post is at the end. When doing some online sloothing, he not only found that his observation has been talked about before, but that it was brought up all the way back in the 12th century by a commentator by the name of Joseph ben Isaac, known as the Bekhor Shor, a student of Rabbenu Tam. A bit of googling led me to this file discussing biblical criticism and has a section titled "Classical rabbinical views that suggest multiple origins." This is what was said about Rabbi Joseph ben Isaac.
In the twelfth century, the commentator R. Joseph ben Isaac, known as the Bekhor Shor, noted that a number of wilderness narratives in Exodus and Numbers are very similar, in particular, the incidents of water from the rock, and the stories about manna and the quail. He theorized that both of these incidents actually happened once, but that parallel traditions about these events eventually developed, both of which made their way into the Torah.
If true, I am a bit confused as to what to make of this. Did he believe in post-Mosaic additions to the Torah? Did he simply believe that God took one incident and repeated it in the Torah for whatever reason? Did he really believe in two separate traditions regarding this part of the text? This is something I am terribly ignorant on and would like some help.

Who was this rabbi? What did he believe? Are the critics simply taking a comment of his out of context?