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SBL e-journal

Emanuel Tov

(

2023

)

.

The Curse of Simeon and Levi—Genesis 49:5

.

TheTorah.com

.

https://thetorah.com/article/the-curse-of-simeon-and-levi-genesis-49-5

APA e-journal

Emanuel Tov

,

,

,

"

The Curse of Simeon and Levi—Genesis 49:5

"

TheTorah.com

(

2023

)

.

https://thetorah.com/article/the-curse-of-simeon-and-levi-genesis-49-5

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Series

Textual Criticism of the Torah: Ten Short Case Studies

The Curse of Simeon and Levi—Genesis 49:5

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The Curse of Simeon and Levi—Genesis 49:5

At the end of his life, Jacob calls his twelve sons before him to offer his final words. Jacob groups Simeon and Levi together, and his message is more of a curse than a blessing. He begins by describing them (Genesis 49:5):

MT

SP

LXX

בראשית מט:ה שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי אַחִים כְּלֵי חָמָס מְכֵרֹתֵיהֶם.

בראשית מט:ה שמעון ולוי אחים כלו חמס מכרתיהם׃

Genesis 49:5 Συμεων καὶ Λευι ἀδελφοί· συνετέλεσαν ἀδικίαν ἐξ αἱρέσεως αὐτῶν

Genesis 49:5 Simeon and Levi are brothers; their weapons (or “origins” or “plans”) are tools of lawlessness.

Genesis 49:5 Simeon and Levi are brothers; they put an end to the lawlessness of their covenants (?).[1]

Genesis 49:5 Simeon and Levi are brothers; they put an end to lawlessness from their midst/fraction/ choice.

We see here two textual differences:

  1. The LXX and SP read כִּלּוּ, a verb meaning “they put an end to.” MT reads כְּלֵי, a plural noun in construct form, meaning “tools of.”
  2. The final word, מכרתיהם is a hapax legomenon (a word that appears only once in the Bible). While it is identical consonantally in the three traditions, each appears to be vocalizing it differently. Notably, in MT the mem is part of the noun, while SP and LXX understand it as the preposition “from.”

It is virtually impossible to determine the correct reading of the consonantal מכרתיהם, but wider context provides us firmer ground for evaluating כלו vs. כלי. Jacob’s statement is clearly meant to be negative, as he continues by saying that he will not be a part of their group because of their murderous ways, ostensibly a reference to the story in Genesis 34, in which they slaughtered the Shechemites and Jacob rebuked them.

If so, we would expect this verse to be negative since it functions as a lead-up to the following two verses. Thus, it is inappropriate to say that “they put an end to lawlessness” as SP and LXX do, since this would be a positive statement, and directly contradicts what Jacob is about to say, that they are violent and lawless themselves. Thus, כלי of MT is preferable.

The variant reading in SP and LXX was not created through an intentional change, but a textual mishap. The letters vav and yod look very similar, and such accidental interchanges occur hundreds of times in ancient and medieval manuscripts.

Published

August 24, 2023

|

Last Updated

April 15, 2024

Footnotes

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Prof. Emanuel Tov is J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible (emeritus) in the Dept. of Bible at the Hebrew University, where he received his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies. He was the editor of 33 volumes of Discoveries in the Judean Desert. Among his many publications are, Scribal Practices and Approaches Reflected in the Texts Found in the Judean Desert, Textual Criticism of the Bible: An Introduction, The Biblical Encyclopaedia Library 31 and The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research.