Thursday, January 2, 2014

Use Words! Don't Strike! Even When Talking to a Rock...; A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Use Words! Don't Strike! Even When Talking to a Rock...
A Short Note (Draft 1)
By Payman Akhlaghi

(*) First published at on September 2nd, 2013, under:
Use Words! Don't Strike! Even When Talking to a Rock...

In a most symbolic passage from the Jewish Bible (Numbers, 20), Moses is scolded by God for striking a rock for water, instead of only asking for it in words. This stands in contrast, however, to an earlier similar account -- also in the Pentateuch (Exodus, 17), clearly penned by a different author -- in which Moses strikes the rock as he has been instructed. Given the context and notwithstanding the differences, we might as well allow for the possibility that the two accounts might have been two variants of a single inherited story, remembered and recorded by their respective authors at two contrasting times and locations.

The account in Numbers reflects a refinement of culture, and language, at the time when it was written down. It signifies a culture that has come to prefer negotiation with words over negotiation by force. It suggests a more mature and subtle culture of communication -- by extension, a culture of diplomacy -- which could have shown its ramifications in matters of education and daily interactions, as much as in the affairs of the state. This seems to be consistent with the episode that follows immediately, during which the Israelites offer a persuasive case before another nation to allow them passage through their land; but the offer is rejected; so they travel around the land, without a war.

In contrast, the account in Exodus is followed by a highly descriptive narrative of a bloody war, albeit imposed on the Israelite, and which ends in their victory. From striking a rock to communicating with swords, the respective author must have breathed in a very different Zeitgeist than his seemingly later colleague, signifying an ongoing evolution in the Judaical thought even as the early periods, amid what the various stages of codification might imply.

But the inclusion of both narratives within the final edited version of the Pentateuch partly suggests an outstanding dichotomy that would continue to run through history, not only that of Jews, but also that of civilization: the question of Words vs. Force in times of conflict and the need for a resolution; even though the right choice has often been more than clear to the civil mind.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights resereved.

Sources Consulted:
(*) Exodus, 17:
(*) Numbers, 20:
(*) A guiding compilation of the two relevant sections:
(*) Recollections of lectures by Chacham Davidi, chief rabbi of Iran, 1980's.

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