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In a recent exchange, Peter Enns responded to a review of his recent book, defending what he sees as a a contradiction between Exodus 12:8-9 and (from what I can gather) Deuteronomy 16:5-7. He seems to argue that while the former prohibits Israel from boiling the Passover meal, the latter commands it. Exodus says "don't bashal in water the meat" and Deuteronomy says, "bashal the meat."

I could only find one translation that agrees with Enns on the Deuteronomy passage. I examined the NIV, ESV, NET, HCSB, NRSV, NASB and KJV and all of them translate the command simply as "You shall cook and eat [the sacrifice]." The RSV (though not the NRSV) has, "And you shall boil it and eat it."

Who is correct here? Should the word there be translated as "boil" or "cook"?

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  • Peter Leithart's solution: "There’s no contradiction between Exodus 12 and Deuteronomy 16 about the Passover; the first describes the initial Passover, which was a unique event, while the latter describes the form of the annual commemoration." FWIW! – Dɑvïd Nov 1 '14 at 20:02
  • @Davïd thanks for sharing, I'm tempted to add that as an option 3 (but I'll hold off to bait you into offering a better answer than mine) :P - but I'm also glad for the link, because I decided to start reading that book as a result of this post - and I've been enjoying it. The Leithart review seems to be a fair critique from what I've seen thus far. – Dan Nov 1 '14 at 22:02
  • And I won't lie, my motivation for answering this was threefold: 1) personal interest in the topic/debate, 2) a desire to test new features in my freshly-updated Logos Bible v6 software, and 3) the book referenced in the question intrigued me (I bought it on Kindle within minutes of reading this post). – Dan Nov 1 '14 at 22:06
  • @Davïd do you see the Chronicler as attempting to harmonize these passages? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this :) – Dan Nov 1 '14 at 22:12
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    @majnemɪzdæn What I find a bit sad and disappointing is the number of bloggers (some who ought to know enough to be more circumspect) who have suddenly become experts and ancient Hebrew semantics and the culture of Iron Age (etc.) Israel. OTOH, it is the internet, I suppose. My sense is that this is a more complex problem than most realize; see e.g. Ben Zvi, "Revisiting 'Boiling in Fire'..." in Biblical Interpretation in Judaism and Christianity, ed. by Kalimi & Haas (Bloomsbury, 2006) pp. 238-250. FWIW! (again!) – Dɑvïd Nov 2 '14 at 18:39
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Exodus 12:9 and Deut 16:7 appear in contradiction, because the former indicates there shall not be any boiling of the Passover (but only the roasting), and the latter passage states the opposite, which is the boiling (since the Hebrew verb בָּשַׁל means to boil, or to cook).

In the Pentateuch, the Hebrew verb בָּשַׁל in the Piel stem also occurs in the context of the preparation of the manna from heaven.

Numbers 11:7-9 (NASB)
7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. 8The people would go about and gather it and grind it between two millstones or beat it in the mortar, and boil it in the pot and make cakes with it; and its taste was as the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9When the dew fell on the camp at night, the manna would fall with it.

According to Ex 16:21, the manna would melt when exposed to the direct heat of the sun, but we read (in the passage, above) that the Israelites would "בָּשַׁל" the manna in pots in order to make bread. In other words, if manna was so unstable that it would melt in direct sunlight like butter, and the Israelites were having to boil this manna in high temperatures (boiling water), then how would cakes or bread have been the outcome?

The conclusion is that within the Pentateuch, the Hebrew verb בָּשַׁל can mean to boil --or-- to cook. Thus the manna was cooked in pans to make cakes, not boiled. If we understand the Hebrew verb בָּשַׁל to mean to boil --or-- to cook then there is no contradiction between Exodus 12:9 and Deut 16:7 regarding the preparation of the Passover, which was prepared not with water (boiling), but with fire (cooking).

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    I believe this to be the best answer, as it doesn't attempt to 'rationalize' an absurdity, but give "plain meaning" to an obscure phrase. +1 – Tau Nov 2 '14 at 8:18
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Exodus 12:8-9 mandates that the passover sacrifice be roasted with fire (צְלִי־אֵ֔שׁ), and prohibits its consumption when raw or when boiled in water (נָ֔א וּבָשֵׁ֥ל מְבֻשָּׁ֖ל בַּמָּ֑יִם). In contrast, Deuteronomy 16:7 uses the same verb (בֹשׁל) to describe the mandated preparation method.

The definitions given in HALOT for בֹשׁל (also בָּשֵׁל) for each stem are:

  • qal: grow ripe, boil
  • piel: boil, cook, fry
  • pual: be boiled, be cooked
  • hifil: ripen1

The translations listed in the question (NIV, ESV, NET, HCSB, NRSV, NASB and KJV) are compared with all morphological inflection ignored for ease of comparison (the English lemma is given), and the Hebrew stem is listed in the first column (pardon an image file, Markdown is horrible with tabular data):

Comparison of translations

(view larger image)

Below is a visual representation of the senses of the verb as generally translated into English. Note that 'roast' only appears once (in 2 Chronicles 35:13, which will be addressed shortly).

verb senses

The Septuagint is also notable for Deuteronomy 16:7, where it resolves contradiction by saying, "and you shall boil and roast and eat..." (καὶ ἑψήσεις καὶ ὀπτήσεις καὶ φάγῃ).

Option 1: Different senses of the same word (no contradiction)

These definitions certainly allow for some ambiguity. As pointed out by Joseph, in Numbers 11:8 — it makes more sense to 'bake' a cake than to 'boil' it. Even aside from this example, 'cook' and 'boil' are relatively ambiguous in other places as well (especially since the idea of 'boiling the flesh' over fire appears in a few passages as well, see chart).

Option 2: Rabbinical attempt to harmonize apparent conflict (contradiction)

Regardless of whether 'cook' or 'boil' is a better English translation of this term in various contexts, the question at hand is whether the original readers would have seen Deuteronomy 16:7 in conflict with Exodus 12:9. I believe the answer is yes, and 2 Chronicles 35:13 is likely an early rabbinic attempt ('the Chronicler') to resolve this contradiction by harmonizing these two passages:

וַֽיְבַשְּׁל֥וּ הַפֶּ֛סַח בָּאֵ֖שׁ כַּמִּשְׁפָּ֑ט וְהַקֳּדָשִׁ֣ים בִּשְּׁל֗וּ בַּסִּירֹ֤ות וּבַדְּוָדִים֙ וּבַצֵּ֣לָחֹ֔ות‮‬ וַיָּרִ֖יצוּ לְכָל־בְּנֵ֥י הָעָֽם׃2

Literally, this passage says:

And they boiled the passover sacrifice on the fire according to the tradition and they boiled the holy offerings using pots....

It's interesting is that most English translators use 'roast' for the same verb in the first sense and 'boil' in the second. This resolves what appears to be a tautology. But what if the redundancy is an intentional attempt to harmonize Deuteronomy 16:7 with Exodus 12:9? This would only be necessary if it were perceived as a contradiction.

A source-critical approach would argue that these differences are not surprising because they simply reflect the different practices of people at different times, and a later Rabbi or scribe observed this contradiction and attempted to harmonize it with the awkward construction of boiling it with fire (effectively redefining the word). The attempt to resolve the conflict is the best evidence that an actual contradiction exists.

This instance is a well-cited example of such a harmonization.3 The presence of 'according to the tradition' (כַּמִּשְׁפָּ֑ט) is often associated with such halachic harmonizations in Chronicles. This is cited as an example of contradiction and harmonization in many introductory texts and critical commentaries (e.g. most anything published by Oxford, Cambridge, etc.).

Conclusion

To fully answer the question, 'בֹשׁל' should be translated consistently with Exodus 12:8-9. I recommend translating it as as 'boil' in Deuteronomy 16:7, knowing that this will place it in conflict with Exodus 12:8-9. It's the same Hebrew word.

The biggest issue for me isn't whether to use 'boil' or 'cook', but rather translating the word consistently in these passages so that the contradiction isn't hidden from the reader (when it would not have been to those reading it in its original language).


Footnotes

1 Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), 164.

2 Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: SESB Version, electronic ed. (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 2003), 2 Ch 35:13.

3 cf. Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1985), 135-6.

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    I have a couple thoughts, neither of which were addressed. 1) regarding contradictions, God's instruction to Israel just after the Exodus in regard to Sabbath was that they were not to leave their house. Later they were to gather together on the Sabbath (which would require they leave their houses); thus, we see, God can give different instructions at different times (like a mom saying don't go out with out a jacket in winter but do in summer). 2) Since the word can mean boil or cook, would not Israel have simply understood the later instruction in light of the former? – user2027 Oct 31 '14 at 11:57
  • @Sarah you seem to be trying to reconcile the presence of such conflicting instructions with a theological idea about 'Scripture' and God, perhaps a belief in biblical inerrancy (which you're welcome to do). Whether or not the contradiction is of any substance is an issue for practicing faith communities in specific contexts to decide. My point here is merely to present the facts, devoid of such theological analysis (sticking solely to the text), and it appears that at least one Rabbi/scribe saw a need to harmonize these passages (for whatever reason). – Dan Oct 31 '14 at 19:51
  • Could you include notation as to which English translation your logos circle graph represents? Unless it's some sort of a composite ("generally translated")? – Susan Nov 1 '14 at 12:45
  • @Susan that is a sense graph, not a standard word study one tied to a translation. It's a new feature in Logos v6. I can also tie it to a specific translation, but this is meant to be a composite/aggregate (it groups specific words from many translations into semantic domains as well). Normally I wouldn't rely solely on that, but since I actually went through every instance and created my own chart (and showed this chart in my answer), I feel confident in its results. – Dan Nov 1 '14 at 21:53
  • @Susan I upgraded to Logos v6 immediately because they've had linguists semantically tag the Bible and have developed new features to visualize this data, which is quite impressive. Up until now we've had good morphological and syntactical tags (with semi-semantic-tagging keyed to Wallace, incorrectly labeled as 'exegetical syntax'), but v6 has introduced actual semantic tagging. Of course this makes the tools more subjective (often following Wallace in the NT), but in most cases there is little ambiguity. – Dan Nov 1 '14 at 21:58
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The "Passover offering" (פֶּסַח) of Deu. 16:2 is commonly understood in Jewish commentaries as the Passover chagiga (חגיגה) offering rather than the unique Passover offering that occurred on the evening of Nisan 14.(1)

Notice the differences.

In Exo. 12:3, the Israelites were commanded to take a שֶׂה for the Passover offering. A שֶׂה is a flock animal, particularly "of the lambs or of the goats" (Exo: 12:5: מִן הַכְּבָשִׂים וּמִן הָעִזִּים). It is essentially synonymous with צֹאן (cp. Exo. 12:21). While we rarely hear of goats being used for the Passover offering proper, they were permitted.

However, in Deu. 16:2, notice that the Israelites were permitted not only to sacrifice a צֹאן (again, this is a flock animal, either a lamb or goat), but also a בָקָר ("צֹאן וּבָקָר"). A בָקָר is a herd animal, like cattle or oxen.

Furthermore, in. Deu. 16:3, the Israelites are commanded to eat unleavened bread with it seven days" --- the phrase "with it" refers to the Passover offering. However, note that there is no possible way the Israelites would have eaten unleavened bread with the Passover offering "proper" which occurred on the evening of Nisan 14, as it was only offered that singular day. Hence, "with it" must refer to the Passover chagiga offerings.

I suppose, then, that the Passover chagigas could be boiled, whereas the Passover offering proper could not be, as roasting by fire signified a more hastier cooking method which the Israelites would have used during their hasty exodus from Egypt.

Footnotes

(1) Rashi, in his commentary on Deu. 16:2, regarding the word ובקר (uvakar), states, תזבח לחגיגה (tizbach lechagiga), that is, "You shall offer [it] for the chagiga offering." Ibn Ezra in his commentary on Deu. 16:2, regarding the same word, states, לשלמים (leshelamim), that is, "For the peace offerings" --- the peace offerings being another name for the chagiga offering. Ibn Ezra cites 2 Chr. 35:7 as another proof of the chagiga, for it says that King Josiah gave the people, "for the Passover offerings" (לַפְּסָחִים), thirty-thousand (30,000) lambs and kids of the flock, as well as "three-thousands bullocks/oxen" (וּבָקָר שְׁלֹשֶׁת אֲלָפִים). Remember, bullocks/oxen of the herd were not permitted for the Passover offering proper, which could only be a lamb or goat of the flock.

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