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mabgolis : Wis hasideka, deut. 33 : 8 35 


Max L. Margolis 
Dropsie College 

All commentators agree in pronouncing the construction harsh 
and obscure. The Gordian knot is cut by the emendation Wis 
hasdeka or hasadeka (Ball, Bertholet, Hummelauer, Ehrlich, 
Marti, Smend). As the text stands (the variants "pTDIl > 
*]HDH Kennicott are orthographic), the majority of exegetes, 
among them Driver and Steuernagel, take the second noun as 
an appositive to the first, while a minority, as Castalio, Stade, 
Dillmann, Konig, E. Meyer 1 regard hasideka as a genitive after 
'is in the construct state. Exception is taken to the former 
view on the ground that the first noun should have the article 
(la'is) ; so Dillmann. Flier answers by recourse to the sparing 
use of the article in poetry. Konig knows better: the deter- 
mination is not effected by the possessive pronoun affixed to the 
attribute. We find bSno ha-bekor, 'his eldest son,' or beni 
bekori, 'my .eldest son,' 'et binka bekoreka, 'et binka 'et iehi- 
deka; nowhere ha-ben bekoro, etc. If the construction were that 
of apposition, we should expect le'iska {la) hasideka. 'is with 
the masculine possessive suffix is found in the Bible only, 1 Kings 
20 : 20 in the phrase 'is 'iso; in the Mishnah we encounter 'isi 
kohen gadol, Ioma 1:7; Tamid 6 : 3. But 'is (ha-) 'elohim is 
frequent enough ; Moses is so designated repeatedly, as in the 
first verse of this chapter, which of course is editorial. One 
might think that in addressing God Moses could be spoken of 
as 'iska. I doubt it. For, though the phrase clearly signifies 
originally one possessed by 'elohim, specifically by ruh 'elohim 
(so Hblscher) , yet the genitive is not what we call possessive ; the 
phrase is rather tantamount to 'is 'aser (ruh) 'elohim bo. 
Hence 'iska would seem intolerable. 

According to the second view, hasideka is interpreted as the 
genitive of possession, 'belonging to thy hasid.' We may imme- 

1 "Wellhausen : ' dem Manne deiner Freundschaf t. ' It is not clear whether 
an emendation is implied. 



diately dispose of the altogether untenable notion that hasid, 
' clemens,' 'Getreuer,' is an appellation of the Deity (Castalio, 
Stade) ; in the first place God himself is addressed (Rashi), and 
then hasid, though used predicatively (Jer. 3:12; Ps. 145:17; 
hence included among the seventy 'Names' of the Deity in 
Agadath Shir llashirim, ed. Schechter, JQB., VI, 678), cannot 
be said to be an appellation of the Deity. Dillmann, Konig, and 
B. Meyer take 'is collectively: 'Mannen,' the body of the Levites 
who are said to 'belong to,' 'be descended from (fictitiously),' 
God's godly one, Moses (or Aaron; so Konig; then the descent 
need not be fictitious). The collective interpretation of 'is is 
shared by many commentators who support the first view men- 
tioned above. The proof that 'is may be used as a collective is 
derived from Isai. 21 : 9, where, however, the collective force 
inheres in the antecedent noun rekeb and is then transferred to 
the governing noun 'is; but in particular from the well-known 
combinations 'is Israel, 'is Judah, 'is Ephraim, 'is Tob, Is-sachar, 
'is Gad, the latter occurring on the Mesha Stone. I cannot 
understand how the phrase 'is hasid Jahveh can at all be placed 
on the same footing with 'is Israel, etc. In the latter combina- 
tion the genitive is not of possession, 'the men belonging to the 
body of Israel,' but rather of explication (baian of the Arab 
grammarians) . In other words, 'is Gad means 'the body of men 
constituting Gad,' not 'the body of men belonging to, or 
descended from, Gad.' Accordingly, the noun serving as expli- 
cative must be a collective likewise, a tribe-name; only thus is 
the collective force imparted to the antecedent 'is. 

Whether hasideka be an appositive in the same case as 'is or 
an explicative genitive taking the place of an apposition, 'is 
must, grammatically speaking, denote an individual. Of course, 
'is is in the construct state, is hasid Jahveh has its analogues in 
'elohe suri, 2 Sam. 22 : 3, for which we find 'eli suri in the par- 
allel passage, Ps. 18:3; halle resa'im, Bzek. 21:34; 'anse ha- 
tarim, 1 Kings 10:15; betulat bat Zion, 2 Kings 19:21; bene 
f arise 'ameka, Dan. 11 : 14 ; 'anse bene beliia'al, Jud. 10 : 22, con- 
trast 'anasim bene beliia'al, Deut. 13: 14; hence, despite 'anasim 
gibore hail, 1 Ch. 5 : 24, it is permissible to view 'is in 'is gibor 
hail, Ruth 2:1 as in the construct state. Note gebar tamim Ps. 
18 : 28. In our case, because of le-, this view is the only possible 

maegolis: Wis hdsideka, deitt. 33:8 37 

I said that 'is denotes here grammatically an individual. We 
know the Hebrew idiom 'is sar ue-sofet, 'anasim ahim, 'isa(h) 
'almana(h), and the like, where normally the expletive is best 
left untranslated (comp. AV. Gen. 13 : 8 and contrast 2 Sam. 
14 : 5) . Nevertheless, the poet indulged in the pleonasm, because 
'is 'elohim was in his mind. It is true, Aaron, as the interpreter 
of his brother, might be spoken of as his nabi('), and Moses, as 
his inspirer, as 'elohim; but 'is 'elohim could scarcely be made 
to refer to Aaron. Hence the poet has Moses in mind. He 
thinks of him as the Levite par excellence, the one who was the 
originator of the Levitical functions. By his side and after him 
the whole tribe acts as he does; hence the transition from the 
singular to the plural in the sequel, to be resumed by the singular 
at the end; the commentators should not have troubled them- 
selves at all about this supposed difficulty, 'is hasid Jahveh is 
Moses, primarily for himself, then also as the leader of a like- 
minded body of men. 

Had the poet seen fit to consult one of us, we might have sug- 
gested to him: Wis sodeka, which is the only exact Hebrew 
rendering of Wellhausen's 'dem Manne deiner Freundschaf t, ' 
to the man 'aser 'ama-d besod Jahveh, who was ne'eman bekol 
~beto. But he chose to coin his own phrase. The hasidut of 
Moses is apparently exemplified by the relative clauses following. 
Both verbs (nisa(h), rib) must be taken in bonam partem, in 
terms of commendation. So the Targum and Sifre by true 
instinct ; so also the Peshita and probably Symmachus. If there 
be any difficulty about the second verb, there is certainly none 
about the first, Isai. 51 : 22 will serve as an example. It still 
implies that Moses had a rib with a third party and that he was 
vindicated by the Deity. That squares with the account in Num- 
bers, though not in every detail ; it simply shows that ' the sin 
of Moses' is an afterthought. The Hebrew construction will 
hardly support B. Meyer's reconstructed myth, according to 
which Moses wrestled with the Deity like a second Jacob and 
won the divine oracle, the Urim and Thummim. The Midrash 
speaks of Moses wrestling with the angels, when he stormed 
heaven and snatched the Torah. So the myth is plausible 
enough ; only it is not borne out by the Hebrew. 

We must fall back principally upon nisa(h) as pointing to the 
manner in which Msidut manifests itself. Just as Israel tests 


the Lord to find out whether the Lord is among them or not (Ex. 
17: 7), so the Lord tests Israel to know whether he will walk in 
his law or not (16: 4), whether he will keep his commandments 
or'not (Deut. 8:2; see also Jud. 2 : 22 ; 3:4), whether they love 
the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul 
(Deut. 13:4). The purpose is most comprehensively stated 
Deut. 8:2: lada'at 'et 'User bilbabka, comp. 2 Ch. 32 : 31 : lada'at 
kol bilbabo. The Psalmist prays that the Lord may put him to 
the test (bahan, see Targum and Syriac in our passage ; nisa(h)), 
assay (saraf) his reins and heart (Ps, 26:2). His heart will 
be found pure (51: 12) as gold (zahab tahor frequently). Just 
as he is certain of his justification (mispat) because he conducts 
himself with straightforwardness (holek betumo), with a heart 
straight (iasar, 2 Kings 10: 15, with no ups and downs, such as 
characterize leb 'akob, Jer. 17: 9 LXX; the opposite of 'akob is: 
misor, Isai. 40:4), free from turns and twists ('ikesut, ' akmo- 
met, Berak. 59a, requiring straightening out, pasat, ib.), wholly 
devoted, loyal (salem frequently ; free from duplicity, leb ualeb, 
Ps. 12:3, the opposite of kol lebab), faithful (ne'eman, of 
Abraham, summing up the result of all the tests to which he was 
put, comp. ubekularn nimsa(') salem, Abot derabbi Nathan, c. 
33), so he invites the divine test because he has had before his 
eyes, was constantly guided by, the Lord's hesed and walked 
in his 'emet. The two are repeatedly collocated. It is needless 
to go through the ramifications of meaning of the word hesed or 
to speak of the difficulty which translators have with it. 'The 
virtue that knits together society' (Robertson Smith), whether 
we call it kindliness, or mercy, or grace, shows itself in devotion 
born of affection or implicit trust (Jer. 2:2). It reveals the 
superficiality of our grammarians and lexicographers when they 
waver between the active and passive signification of hasid, now 
comparing kasir ('reaper,' Isai. 17 : 5) and pakid, now sakir and 
'asir. The adjective is clearly denominative, hasid is 'is hesed 
(comp. 'anse hesed, Isai. 57:1), just as safir, 'hairy,' is the 
same as ba'al se'ar Nedarim 30b (in 2 Kings 1: 8 the phrase is 
tantamount to ba'al 'aderet se'ar). Micah 7:2; Isai. 57:1; 
Ps. 12 : 2 are the three passages in which lament is made for the 
disappearance of that class of men, the 'arise hesed, the hasid. 
In each case a different synonym is used in the parallel clause : 
sadik, iasar, 'emunim ('faithful ones,' not 'faithfulness'; comp. 

margolis : Wis hasideka, deut. 33 : 8 39 

2 Sam. 20 : 19 : selume 'emune Israel, of the good old time, ' schlect 
und recht.') The qualities of the hasid manifest themselves in 
justice, uprightness, faithfulness. The goi lo(') hasid is par- 
alleled by 'is mirma(h) ue'aula{h) (Ps. 43:1). The plural, 
hasidim, which occurs only in the Psalter (also in the Psalm of 
Hannah, 1 Sam. 2: 9 kere; also Prov. 2:8) 'and chiefly, if not 
entirely, in late Psalms, ' are, to judge from parallel expressions, 
the faithful ones, those that love the Lord, that turn unto him 
with their heart (85:9 LXX), that make a covenant with him 
over sacrificial feasts, and the hasid is the trusting servant of the 
Lord. Priests and hasidim are juxtaposed Ps. 132: 9, 16. 
Here, in Deuteronomy, the term is applied to the first priest, 
Moses, and through him to the priestly tribe Levi. Where 
others lacked faith, their devotion faltered not. 

Were I of those who are ready with ' Maccabeanizing ' all 
sorts of portions of the Old Testament, in the Psalter, in the 
Prophets, and elsewhere, I might be tempted to pronounce the 
whole Levi blessing in Deut. 33 a Maccabean interpolation. The 
'Blessing of Moses' is placed by the majority of critics in the 
times and surroundings of Jeroboam II. Now, according to 
1 Kings 12 : 31 ; 13 : 33, Jeroboam I, after the separation, 
appointed priests from among the mass of the people, 'such as 
were not of the children of Levi,' at the high places, and as it 
would seem from 12 : 32, also at Bethel. The account, of course, 
is post-Deuteronomic, post-Josianic (see ch. 13) ; the Deuteron- 
omic point of view manifests itself in viewing as a sinful contra- 
vention of the law what was regarded as perfectly lawful in the 
times antecedent to the reformation of Josiah. The critics 
accept the fact of the non-Levitical priesthood in northern sanc- 
tuaries; though, to effect a compromise with the narrative of 
the institution of the Levitical priesthood at Dan in the person 
of a descendant of Moses, Jud. 18 (according to verse 30 it 
remained in the family until the captivity of Israel), it is said 
that the non-Levites were employed by the side of the Levites. 
Kittel finds in 2 Ch. 11 : 13 ff. so much truth that certain Levitical 
families, refusing to fall in with Jeroboam's policies, emigrated 
to Judah. How then, we ask, could an Israelitish writer, as the 
author of Deut. 33 : 8 ff. does, vest priestly functions, such as 
manipulating the sacred oracle, judging and teaching, and min- 
istering at the altar, in the tribe of Levi? One more point. 


Verse 9 unmistakably refers to the golden calf incident and to 
the part taken by the tribe of Levi at the command of Moses in 
exterminating the idolaters as narrated in Exodus 32 (com- 
pare also Deut. 10 : 8 'at that time' ; the verse obviously connects 
with v. 5). The golden calf story is evidently a persiflage on 
the northern worship so ruthlessly attacked by Hosea; if then 
the narrative makes it a point to connect the institution of Levi 
as a priestly tribe with the extermination of the golden calf wor- 
shippers, it would follow that in the North, at the royal sanctu- 
ary at Bethel for instance, the priesthood was not recruited from 
the tribe of Levi. The poet who penned the 'Blessing of Moses', 
to judge from v. 17, has no scruples about picturing Bphraim 
as a young bullock, possessing horns of immense size, with which 
it butts the remotest nations. Hence, it is conceivable that he 
might not be among the iconoclasts objecting to the use of that 
very symbol in Joseph's sanctuary. Now read verse 11. 'Bless, 
Jahveh, his hail, and accept the work of his hands ; smite through 
the loins of them that rise up against him, and of them that 
hate him, that they rise not again.' hail cannot possibly mean 
here 'substance, wealth' (so Sifre) ; it may mean 'force, army' 
or simply 'might' in the sense of 'ability, efficiency.' The 
priests are spoken of as gibore hail mele(')ket 'abodat bet 
ha-'elohim, 1 Ch. 9:13; comp. similarly of the Levites 26:8. 
Following out Wellhausen's observation with regard to saba('), 
how it originally denotes 'military service' and is then reduced 
in P to the meaning of 'Levitical service,' we might see in the 
use of hail here to indicate not strength for battle, but efficiency 
for Levitical service, an indication of late times, of the period of 
P and the Chronicler. The second half of the verse which 
speaks of enemies does not look as if it had in mind ordinary 
opponents who disputed the spiritual rights of the Levitical 
priests. At what time, then, were the descendants of Levi beset 
by warring enemies if not at the period of the Maccabees ? The 
Maccabees, moreover, belonged to the division of Jehoiarib, 
which means 'Jahveh contendeth. ' It might be assumed that 
the poet in verse 9b plays on that name: teribehu. Into the 
Maccabean situation fits the appellation liasid which became the 
party name of those who resisted Hellenization. Pseudo-Jona- 
than understands by the enemies Ahab and the false prophets 
who opposed Phineas-Elijah ; but also the adversaries of John 

margolis: Wis Msideka, deut. 33:8 41 

the highpriest (see Rashi and the midrashic sources adduced by 

The plea for a Maccabean interpolation would be seductive 
enough. But Jud. 18 with its Levitical priesthood at Dan 
remains unimpeachable. The iconoclast Hosea disparagingly 
alludes to the priests ministering to the calves of Bethel as 
kemarim (see Zeph. 1:4; 2 Kings 23:5; Elephantine papyrus 
No. I). But in chapter 4 (the emendation at the end of verse 
4 is ingenious but nevertheless unconvincing) the prophet, 
in upbraiding the venal and unworthy priesthood of his day 
(Micah and others do the same for Judea), shows unmistakable 
knowledge that the priestly order rests upon divine institution. 
'Because thou hast rejected the knowledge (of God), I will 
reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me.' Rejection 
(ma'as) is the counterpart to baliar; comp. Jer. 33 : 24. 
Accordingly, the ancestors of Hosea 's contemporaries in the 
priesthood were once elected to be priests (lekahen) . Of course, 
that does not say that they were Levites. Yet, in the sense given 
the term by Wellhausen they were Levites. And that squares 
with the ancient accounts in Deuteronomy and the pre-Deuter- 
onomic sources. Hosea shows himself well-versed in the ancient 
sagas. He puns on the name Israel (12:4) and, it seems, pur- 
posely makes use of rib (verse 3). May not the use of the verb 
rib in 4 : 4 likewise be a play upon some such narrative as under- 
lies Deut. 33 : 9 1 And may not the conjecture be advanced that 
the priesthood at Bethel went by the name of Jehoiarib and that 
the Maccabean family, which lived in obscurity far from the capi- 
tal, had recruited itself from the scattered elements of the older 
Israelitish branches? We know that Zadok supplanted Ebi- 
athar who belonged to the Elide family at Shiloh, and that in 
the passage 1 Sam. 2:27 ff., though the abiding priesthood is 
promised to Zadok, the election ibahar . . lekohen) to the priest- 
hood is vested in the bet 'ab from which Eli was sprung. "We 
may therefore rest content with the Israelitish origin of the Levi 
pericope. The priesthood was apparently beset by opponents. 
If it had opposition, it must itself have provoked it by placing 
itself athwart certain other movements or institutions. The 
hierarchical tendencies of the priesthood, which developed their 
full strength between Ezra and the rise of the Maccabees, that 
is when the country was politically under foreign dominion and 


its autonomy was of the spiritual or cultural kind, the tenden- 
cies in the direction of centralizing the guidance of the people 
must have been asserted against the politically autonomous state 
at a very early period. So soon as a state was created, as under 
the Maccabeans, the secular power absorbed the priestly, domi- 
nated it; and under Herod and the Herodians the highpriest 
was a mere puppet in the hands of the ethnarch. Apparently in 
Israel a similar process took place. Ahab and the Omrides were 
intent upon building up a secular state; the prophets appeared 
as the troublers of Israel ; it is they who undermined the state ; 
and the priests, as Wellhausen puts it, always profit by the 
legacy of the reforming prophets. The arm of the state, of 
the king, was heavy upon them. Religion as represented by the 
Levitical priesthood made opposition to the secular tendencies 
of the state which would hold it in check. (These movements 
and counter-movements have not ceased yet.) Hosea may have 
had reasons enough to find fault with the priests as he knew 
them; but he never disputed their right to ascendency based 
upon divine election. The kingship was to him and to the 
prophets in general a heathen institution, given in divine anger. 
The poet of Deut. 33 is nationalist enough to rejoice in Israel's 
victorious position ; but the spiritual leadership in that state he 
would accord to Levi. He would have it as in the days of Moses 
when Jahveh was King and the prophet-priest his hasid, his 
devoted servant.