Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Parashat Devarim 5763/ August 2, 2003
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Parashat Devarim 5763/ August 2, 2003
The Peoples of Transjordan
Menahem Ben- Yashar
Dept. of Bible
The book of Deuteronomy, its name meaning a second statement
of the Teaching, contains a review of subjects found in Exodus and Numbers,
sometimes with further elaboration and explanation of various ideas. This is
especially true of the first few readings in Deuteronomy: Devarim, Va-Ethanan,
and Ekev. For example, in the story of appointment of judges, in Exodus
(18:13-27) we are provided a description of the advice given Moses in this
regard and an account of its implementation; at the beginning of Deuteronomy
(1:9-17), along with the brief review of the actual appointment of the judges,
various points are added: a blessing that the Israelites increase (vv. 10-11);
reproach of the Israelites for being troublesome and complaining (vv. 9, 12),
and moral admonishment to the judges to rule justly (vv. 16, 17).
The same goes for the conquests of the Israelites in the
Transjordan. The account in Parashat Hukkat, in the book of Numbers, says that
they did not conquer Edom, in the southern Transjordan, rather they went around
it (Num. 20:14-21). But this is surprising, since the same Edom of whom it was
said in the Song on the Sea, "Now are the clans of Edom dismayed"
(Ex. 15:15), in Numbers caused the Israelites dismay by their threats and their
refusal to let them pass! The continuation of the description of the Israelites
travels (Num. 21:10-13) indicates that they went around Moab as well, taking a
route through the wilderness.
(21:21-35) the text describes the conquest of the land of the Emorites and the
Bashan, in central and northern Transjordan. A detail is added to the account
in Numbers, which establishes a point of principle: it is told that the land of
the Emorites that was conquered by Israel had belonged to Moab before the
Emorites took it from them. This detail is even documented in a victory song
recited by bards (Num. 21:26-30). Numbers does not reveal why this detail was
so important that it had to be documented in song, but Moses' words in
Deuteronomy clarify why Israel retreated before Edom, and why they circumvented
the land of Moab, taking a difficult route through the wilderness instead.
Verses 2-5 of chapter 2 state that G-d forbade Israel to attack Edom, or provoke
them to fight: "For I will not give you of their land so much as a foot
can tread on; I have given the hill country of Seir as a possession to
Esau" (v. 5).
Likewise, G-d says later (Deut. 2:9-10), regarding Moab, that
they are not to be provoked to war, "For I will not give you any of their
land as a possession; I have assigned it to the descendants of Lot." The
nations descended of Lot included the Moabites and the Ammonites, therefore
further on in Deuteronomy (2:17-19), the same is said of Ammon. But regarding
the Ammonites a new element is introduced, insofar as Numbers did not mention
the possibility of a confrontation between the Israelites and Ammonites at all.
Such a confrontation was not expected because the land of Ammon, situated in the
heart of the Transjordan, did not lie on the route that Israel had to take to
pass from the eastern side to the borders of Canaan, opposite Jericho on the
Jordan River. Nevertheless, Deuteronomy warns the Israelites not to attack
Ammon, lest Israel, in the course of the conquests necessary for them to
traverse the Transjordan, also expand into that territory, the way families in
the tribe of Manasseh conquered and took possession of land there (Num.
Now it becomes clear why the Torah stressed (Num. 21) that the
region of the Transjordan across from Jericho, which the Israelites captured
from the Emorites, originally belonged to Moab. Had the region remained in the
hands of Moab, the Israelites would not have been permitted to conquer it. But
the Emorites came and took it, and as we read in the Babylonian Talmud,
Hullin 60b, "The Holy One, blessed be He, said: Sihon will arise
and take it from Moab; Israel will come and take it from Sihon. That is as Rav
Pappa said: Ammon and Moab were cleansed by Sihon." It turns out that
Sihon the Emorite also conquered the western part of the land of Ammon, and this
territory was included in the Israelite conquest from the Emorites, for the
inheritance of the tribe of Gad in Transjordan included "part of the
country of the Ammonites" (Josh. 13:25). In general it seems that the
boundary between the two brother nations, Ammon and Moab, was not clear or
definite from the outset, for in the days of the Judges (Judges, chapter 11),
the king of Ammon demanded of the Israelites the land of Moab which they had
conquered. Jephthah, judge of the Israelites, answered the king of Ammon in
line with our discussion here: "Israel did not seize the land of Moab or
the land of Ammonites" from them, but from the Emorites (Judges
G-d gave parts of the Transjordan as an inheritance to the
sons of Lot and Edom, i.e., to Abraham's non-Israelite heirs (except for
the sons of Ishmael and the sons of Keturah, who were sent off by Abraham; see
Gen. 25:6). From this we learn that the land of Canaan, west of the Jordan
River, where the principle holiness of the land pertains, was chosen as the
exclusive inheritance of the Israelites. The rest of Abraham's heirs were
apportioned land on the eastern side of the Jordan, where the sanctity of the
land is lesser (see Josh. 22:19; Sifre Zuta on Naso, 5.2, p. 229; cf.
Numbers Rabbah 7.8).
Another surprising point becomes clear from the attitude taken
by this week's parasha to Abraham and his heirs. The
parasha lists the ancient peoples from whom Edom, Moab and Ammon
conquered their territory in the Transjordan: Emim in Moab (Deut. 2:10-11) and
Zamzummim in Ammon (Deut. 2:20-21) - two nations from the race of the
Rephaim, who were Anakites; the Rephaim (without further specification, Deut.
3:13) in the Bashan; and the Horim (Deut. 2:12) in Seir, which is Edom. Why, we
might ask as we read this passage, need we know these details? Was the Torah
truly interested in telling us about ancient tribes and the ethnography of the
The answer, indeed, lies in the Abraham narrative. Chapter 14
of Genesis tells of an expedition sent by four imperialist kings from
Mesopotamia, that conquered the Transjordan and the Negev, and on their return
route to the northeast probably also conquered parts of the land of Canaan. In
order to rescue his relative Lot from them, Abraham pursued them with his men
and allies, and in a surprise nighttime attack sent the invading forces into
retreat. Abraham returned from this action the victor (Gen. 14:17-24), which
meant that formally speaking Abraham took over from the conquerors and became
lord of the land. Ostensibly, the Lord's promise to give him the land of
Canaan had been fulfilled. But only ostensibly, since the question immediately
arises: how was he to inherit a land populated with many people? Abraham did
not yet have any offspring, and even when he was promised progeny of his own
(Gen. 15:4), the question remains: how were they to multiply in the land of
Canaan without assimilating into the nations living there? The answer to this
is provided in the Covenant of the Pieces: "Your offspring shall be
strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four
hundred years" (Gen. 15:13). Abraham's seed would multiply in a
land not their own, under conditions of bondage and humiliation, which would not
make it possible to assimilate; and afterwards they would return to Canaan to
inherit the land.
All this was told to Abraham in the formal setting of a
covenant (Gen. 15:18) promising that his offspring would inherit the land. Now
the peoples that the four imperialist kings defeated and conquered in the
Transjordan were: Rephaim, Zuzim, Emim and Horites (Gen. 14:5-6). The same
peoples that Abraham was given when he defeated the kings, were now given to the
non-Israelite heirs of Abraham: the Moabites were given the land of the Emim,
the Ammonites were give the land of the Zamzumim, who are the Zuzim, and the
sons of Esau were given the land of the Horites. The Torah also stresses in
Deuteronomy that the Zuzim and Emim belonged to the race of Rephaim - the
same Rephaim whose land was promised to Abraham in the Covenant of the Pieces
(Gen. 15:20). The Rephaim themselves were not taken over by Abraham's
heirs until the time of the exodus from Egypt, therefore the Israelites were
able to take them over from Og, king of the Bashan, who survived from the race
of Rephaim (3:11 sic). Thus we see that the historical and ethnographic details
are essential in order to tell us what land was inherited by Abraham's
non-Israelite descendants, and how their inherited it; and how Israel was given
what the former had lost in their war with the Emorites, as well as which
territories in the Transjordan were not inherited by Abraham's other heirs
and hence could be conquered by Israel from the Emorites, who were ruled by a
line of kings descended from the Rephaim.
At what point were the Israelites also permitted to conquer
territories that remained in the hands of Ammon and Moab? Perhaps from the time
that these peoples began hostilities against the Israelite tribes in the
Transjordan and even went on to attack those west of the Jordan: the Moabites,
in the days of the judge Ehud son of Gera (Judges ch. 3); and the Ammonites in
the days of Jephthah (Judges, chs. 10-11). So on what grounds was David allowed
to conquer Edom? According to the midrash (Shoher Tov, printed edition,
9), one could say: "When David saw how Esau was enslaving Jacob, he said
to the Holy One, blessed be He: 'You blast the nations; You destroy the
wicked' (Ps. 9:6)." Recall that the border separating Edom in
general from the land of his descendant Amalek is somewhat blurred in Scriptures
(see I Chron. 4:42-43), and very much so in the writings of the Sages (cf.
Lamentations Rabbah 5.1; Deuteronomy Rabbah 2.20).
According to Rashi's commentary on Deuteronomy 2:23, the
reference to the Abbim and Caphtorim (from Crete) originates in deeds of the
patriarchs. Slightly modifying Rashi's interpretation, we could say point
out that Abraham made a peace treaty with the Philistines in Gerar, in the Negev
(Gen. 21:22-23), and ask whether that meant that in the time of Joshua the
Israelites were forbidden to conquer the region of Gaza, which belonged to the
The answer given by Scriptures
is that these were not the same Philistines; those on the Gaza coast were recent
arrivals from the islands of Crete, not the ancient Philistines from the time of
the patriarchs, as has been established by the research of Prof.
Moreoever, since they came from
Crete, they were descendants of Ham (Gen. 10:13-14); that made them related to
the Canaanites and hence permissible for Israel to conquer.
The reference from Sefer
," loc. sit.
, 21.14-21, is apparently a
parenthetical remark describing a different event.
This is assuming that the
words, "with me or with my kith and kin" (lit.: with me or with my
great grandchild or grandchild), spoken by Abimelech (Gen. 21:23) is a
metaphorical expression meaning many generations. If we take it literally as
including only three generations, then the oath was not binding on the
"fourth generation" whom G-d promised "shall return
here" (Gen. 15:16). This also answers Rashbam's argument against
Abraham, in his commentary on Gen. 21:1.
Cf. Y. M. Grintz,
," in Motza'ei
, Tel Aviv 1969, pp. 99-129.