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June 4th, 2009


04:38 pm - More on Complexity
Just doing a little more thought on K-complexity, thought it might be worth mentioning, though I know most of you are thinking “cut it out and get back to Samaritan Pentateuch already.”

Anyway, so if nothing can produce anything more complex than itself, that implies that all the complexity of the universe was contained in the initial conditions of the Big Bang (actually it doesn't imply that, as we will see).  Or at the very least that you could probably isolate some big cloud of early universe and say that it contains all the complexity of human society and everything that they ever produced.  After all, this is what produced it, all you have to do is simulate it carefully enough and it will follow the same path.

Well, no, not really.  I did gloss over something slightly enormous earlier, in modelling minds as Turing Machines.  At least all the conscious human minds we know of are running on hardware (brains) that exist in this universe and therefore are subject to quantum uncertainty.  Now, quantum uncertainty may not affect much on a macroscopic scale in an obvious way—but don't be too sure about that.  And anyway, brains operate on a much smaller scale.  Yeah, even our synapses are pretty big in quantum-mechanical terms, but not so much when you consider whether and how a molecule of neurotransmitter binds to its receptor.

I'm not going to go into the ineffable funkiness that is quantum mechanics; I would never do it justice.  But we can say that at a macroscopic level, quantum effects are not less complicated than a random-number generator.  Once it comes time to make a measurement, all you can say about a quantum state is that it has x% probability of turning out one way and y% probability of turning out another and z% probability for a third and so on.  Once again, this doesn't do justice to what happens with quantum states; when they interact with each other it isn't probabilities they're altering, but “amplitudes,” which are complex numbers and thus can cancel out in ways regular randomness could never hope for.  Still, if we treat every quantum observation as some sort of (possibly weighted) coin-flip then we certainly won't wind up with anything less complicated than the real thing.

In that case, all I've gone and done is changed the mind-model from Turing Machine to Non-Deterministic Turing Machine, and everyone knows (well, some people anyway) that a deterministic TM can do anything a non-deterministic TM can do, though perhaps not as fast (and even the added speed is not proven).  Yeah, but I'm not talking ability, I'm talking complexity.  Even though non-determinism doesn't add any real power in the sense of being able to do something formerly impossible, is a non-deterministic TM more complex than the deterministic one?  Yes, it is, or can be.  A non-deterministic TM can be modelled as a regular TM with an “oracle,” some source of random bits that determines which way the machine jumps at any non-deterministic choice, or alternatively an extra tape of input with the random bits on it.  Wait, input?  Input counts toward complexity!  So a non-deterministic TM adds complexity on top of its deterministic counterpart, equal to the number of non-deterministic choices it had to make, or the amount of information it used from the oracle (approximately).  In that case, quantum mechanics can add a huge amount of potential extra information and complexity.  Just running the universe again from the exact same initial conditions wouldn't give you the same result, because quantum collapses would not necessarily happen the same way.

Now, I doubt that it has ever been shown that quantum randomness has a visible effect on our neurons, but I would have to admit it is possible.  And generally, a lot of things we say are random, how many of them depend on quantum randomness if you look far enough? What is really still random if we discount quantum randomness?  Brownian motion?  Well, if you knew the precise positions and velocities of all the molecules in the area, and they all acted like classical Newtonian billiard balls, you could just plot their trajectories and collisions and figure it all out deterministically.  Throwing a die?  Well, if you knew the locations and velocities of everything precisely enough, you could model each bump and roll, each puff of minuscule air current and tiny angle, and find just where it gets tipped irrevocably into its final state.  But you can't know the locations and velocities of every particle precisely enough.  That's exactly quantum uncertainty.  Brownian motion has to owe its randomness to quantum effects.  I don't know if the same can be said of throwing a die; maybe that's just really hard Newtonian mechanics.  But I wouldn't be surprised if it wound up being a quantum choice somewhere deep down far enough.  I remember hearing once that even billiard balls don't act like billiard balls: a seven-ball combination is said to be impossible no matter how precise the equipment, due to quantum effects.  There's so much going on there that quantum effects would be magnified enough.  I don't know if that's true; I have to source for it.

People have speculated before that perhaps what gives consciousness its uniqueness, what makes it different from mechanical thinking (if indeed it is) and so hard to emulate in a computer, is quantum effects in our neurons.  I certainly would not claim to know if that's true (maybe our minds really are just very complicated deterministic Turing Machines), but it seems to me that it's an idea that's worth considering.

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May 22nd, 2009


03:56 pm - Shabbat Beshalach
This portion has the classic “Shirat Hayam,” the Song of the Sea, a rare (for the Pentateuch) snippet of some Old Hebrew poetry, and a prime spot for some intriguing differences.

Poetry can be complicated stuff even on a good day, so it's hardly surprising there are differences.  Right near the top, the Masoretic text has כי גאה גאה, “for he is greatly exalted,” using the reduplicated-stem idiom found in many other places (I read somewhere that this usage does not exist in Samaritan Hebrew, but certainly the text reads the same in many places where it is.  I don't know how it is understood if in fact the Samaritans don't use this “infinitive absolute” or use it differently).  The Samaritan text has כי גוי גאה, “for a nation is exalted.”  Earlier in that verse, where the Masoretic has the somewhat poetic אשירה as a first-person singular future tense (“I will sing”), the Samaritan has אשירו, which is taken to be second-person plural (“you will sing”), though I am not sure how the א־ prefix is explained.

The next verse brings up something I wish I could find out more about.  The short-form of the Tetragrammaton, יה, is quite common in Psalms, but is really pretty rare in the Pentateuch.  It occurs only here and in Exodus 17:16 (in this same portion), near as I can tell.  I've seen several different variants for this verse in Samaritan texts; maybe a few of them retain the word, but I've also seen זמרתיה and so on, and I think it's even marked as having special interpretations attached to it (the Samaritans have a symbol for that, maybe in some ways like the little circle the Masoretes used, except it doesn't refer to notes on the same page).  Exodus 17:16 also (as we will see) does not have the name יה in the Samaritan.  I find myself concluding that the Samaritans probably don't have that term, don't use יה as a name for God.

The next verse has one of my examples of a more general difference between the texts.  The Masoretic text says ה׳ איש מלחמה, “YHWH is a warrior,” but that's an idiomatic translation.  The literal word-for-word meaning is “YHWH is a man of war.”  Saying that God is a man is probably a little strong.  The Jews have also been very cautious over the centuries to distance themselves from overly anthropomorphic conceptions of God, though apparently they accepted this verse.  But this version probably would have rubbed the Samaritan scholars the wrong way.  The Samaritan text reads ה׳ גיבור בלחמה, “YHWH is a hero in war,” or “YHWH is mighty in war.”

I expect there are a lot of important differences in reading that are not reflected in the consonants, or are not reflected well.  Verse 10 reads נשפת in the Masoretic and  נשבת in the Samaritan, which would sound very much the same in Masoretic (but not Samaritan) pronunciation and means about the same thing too.  Both N.Sh.B. and N.Sh.P. have meanings related to “blow” and “breathe.”

The Masoretic text has אימתה for “terror” in v.16, which seems to be strangely extended somehow; the Samaritan has the more normal-looking אימה.  Hmm... Now I'm finding myself pondering a relationship between the Masoretic אימתה and an Aramaic form; in Aramaic, adding the definite article to אימה would result in אימתא, which could be spelled אימתה in other traditions of Aramaic orthography (including the Samaritan.  It's one of the easier things to tell: the definite article is aleph in Jewish Aramaic, but heh in Samaritan.  It's pronounced the same).

Here's another word that doesn't exist in the Samaritan text, so far as I know: the demonstrative זו, which occurs in the Masoretic Pentateuch only in this chapter, in verses 13 and 16.  The Samaritan has the more common זה.

Verse 17 has the Tetragrammaton in the Samaritan where the Masoretic has the epithet Adonay; there are a few cases of that scattered about.  But more interesting is the expression ה׳ ימלך לעלם ועד, in the Masoretic, “YHWH will reign forever,” using the word עולם, literally “world,” to mean “eternity,” and then ועד is some sort of hard-to-place intensifier.  The Samaritan text I have reads ה׳ ימלך עולם ועוד, which to me would mean “YHWH rules/will rule the world and more”(!).  But I've seen it translated according to Samaritan tradition as “YHWH reigns and the world is witness,” which I would expect to be written more like ה׳ ימלך ועולם עד, I guess.  Also a fascinating perspective.

OK, now that we've looked at the song, which was clamoring for our attention, we can look at the rest of the section.  A few mildly interesting differences early on, but here's one I just realized is particularly good.  In 14:10 the Israelites raised their eyes (and here the Samaritan adds “and saw”) and behold Egypt was travelling after them.  Note the singular of the verb, so the subject of that verb is vocalized as Egypt.  The Samaritan has the verb in plural, and so understand the subject to be “Egyptians.”  The words for “Egypt” and for “Egyptians” are spelled the same consonantally, and in the Samaritan may possibly also be vocalized the same.  The same thing happens down in 14:25, where Egypt/Egyptian(s) speak.  However, it occurs to me that if the subject is Egypt in singular... well, at least as a land, it would be feminine (and the verb is masculine).  I guess there's room to argue that referring to the nation of Egypt is a different matter.

The same verse, 14:10, sees a division between portions in the Samaritan tradition after the first two words, ופרעה הקריב.  The Masoretic reading takes this to mean “And Pharaoh drew near... [and the Israelites raised their eyes, etc.]”  The verb is the same in the Samaritan: same root, pretty much analogous grammatical formation, but is understood to mean “worshipped,” that Pharaoh was praying to Baal Tzephon, mentioned a few verses earlier, for success.  It's the same word used a lot in the Bible to mean “sacrificed”; sacrificing involves bringing something close, close to God presumably.  Verses 24-25 are tough enough by themselves: a few rare words and poetic forms.  Where the Masoretic has ויהם, the Samaritan has ויחם (that's Chet/He alternation again).  That's usually translated as something like “he stirred up” or “he stunned” or “discomfited [the Egyptian camp]”, apparently in both traditions, though the Samaritan ויחם also shows a relationship with the root for “heat,” maybe it carries a connotation there too.  The Masoretic text says that God (presumably) removed the wheel from Pharaoh's chariot: ויסר.  The Samaritan has ויאסר, that he detained (literally, tied up) the wheel or maybe the front of the chariot, and another ה͏/ח in the verb for how God made him travel: וינהגהו in Masoretic (from N.H.G. here meaning "drive"); וינחגהו in Samaritan (I don't know that root).  Oh yeah, the interesting part is when Egypt/Egyptians say(s) “Let me flee before Israel,” in both texts אנוסה מפני ישראל, apparently the Samaritan reading does not take the word אנוסה as a poetically-extended first-person singular, “I will flee,” but reads it as the name of an angel: Anusa the angel is with the Israelites, for God (who) is fighting for them against Egypt. (the “who” is actually present in the Samaritan, at least by the article on the verb.  It isn't there in the Masoretic).

Ooh, a gender tweak in 16:21.  “[When] the sun grew hot.”  The verb is masculine in the Masoretic, but feminine in the Samaritan.  As it happens, at least in Jewish Hebrew tradition, the word for “sun” is one of the comparatively few words that can be considered of either gender.

Just to finish up what was mentioned earlier: verse 17:16.  The Masoretic has כי יד על כס יה, which is translated as “for [it is] a hand on the throne of YH.”  But that's odd, because the word for chair or throne is כסא, why is it missing its last letter?  At least the text I have for the Samaritan reads כי יד על כסא, without the word יה (the name of God I'm guessing the Samaritans do not use), and restoring the word for throne to its fullness.  It joins that with the following words to get the meaning “for [it is] a hand on the throne of war, which is YHWH's, against Amalek....”

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May 19th, 2009


12:01 pm - “Normal” Blog Entry
In an unusual move for me (at least lately), here's a quick entry more in line with the standard stream-of-consciousness story-of-my-life style of blogging.

So, at the beginning of the month I went to Penguicon 7.0, mainly to meet and otherwise hobnob with my fellow Lojbanists.  There are plenty of reports about that event, so I won't talk much about it (even though the other reports are nothing like my own experiences).  Suffice to say, I had an awesome time, just being in the company of fellow geeks for a while and basking in the intelligence and the interest there; interest in things otherwise considered unimportant or boring.  Met some interesting folks, including some great conversations with Eliezer Yudkowsky and hanging out with Windell Oskay, there representing the Candyfab project.  Rapid-prototyping in melted sugar?  Count me in (too bad the machine didn't survive the trip.  I did get a piece of souvenir toast though).

Also, my friend Arika Okrent's book has been published, purporting to bring to light the mysterious underground culture of us constructed-language fanatics.  I haven't read through it yet (Sorry, Arika!  Been a busy month), but due to my accompanying Arika to a KLI convention and generally being involved in several of the languages she is dealing with, the book is contributing a little to my cherished 15 minutes of fame, mentioning me several times.  Way to go.

Somewhere in there, I managed to squeeze in turning 41 (or the second anniversary of my 39th birthday).

OK, back to work...

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May 18th, 2009


03:58 pm - Whence Cometh Complexity?
I saw a web page not long ago about some protocol or another for use by artificially intelligent programs (I actually didn't finish reading the page, and I don't even have the URL offhand).  The page somewhat casually dismissed the possibility of a self-improving AI bringing about a singularity in human history, because the author had shown elsewhere that a self-improving AI can grow in complexity no faster than a leisurely O(log n), where n is the number of iterations of improvement.  The proof itself was a little more confusing (and perhaps less technically correct) than it needed to be, but it wasn't hard to see the real gist of it, and that led me to thinking.

In information theory, “complexity” has a specific meaning, usually (as here, but not necessarily always) shorthand for “Kolmogorov Complexity,” as the concept was introduced by Andrey Kolmogorov (and at about the same time by Gregory Chaitin, and actually rather earlier by Ray Solomonoff).  It boils down, more or less, to defining the complexity of a string of data as the length of the shortest program, plus its input, that could produce the string.  So if I wanted to send the string to someone, the way to do it with the smallest amount of data would be to send the program and input, and the other side could reproduce it themselves.  A number like π might have infinitely many digits, and show no pattern when you look at the digits, but it can be defined and specified fairly concisely with various mathematical formulæ, so its complexity is not all that huge.  For that matter, all the numbers we deal with have pretty limited complexity, because otherwise we couldn't talk about them!  If you have an extremely long decimal expansion with maximal complexity, pretty much the only way you can specify the number is by listing all its digits.  It takes some thinking to get comfortable with the concept of Kolmogorov complexity, and I was pretty broad-strokes here, so take your time and ponder.

So, applying this to a self-improving AI, we come up with a pretty obvious issue: if the complexity is the smallest program that can generate something, then no program can generate anything more complex than itself (assuming for now that there is no input, or some finite amount of it.  Just a program staring at its own source code and tweaking it).  Think about it: the smallest program that generates the data can't be any bigger than the one that just did.  If this program could generate the data, then the data can obviously be generated by a program no longer than this one—by example!  (The O(log n) growth that the proof deals with involves having to specify the number of times to iterate the improvement, which can be specified in O(log n) bits).  Let's repeat this one more time: a program cannot generate anything more complex than itself.  That's a pretty strong-sounding statement, and one that, on the surface, would be very disturbing to people working to make recursively self-improving AI a reality.  And yet it is true (you have to make it “...than itself plus its input” to be precise.)

But the statement is stronger than that, and moreover seems to have counterexamples, even though the proof is (as far as I can tell) beyond reproach.  Look at the complex structures seemingly simple creatures as bacteria can form.  Can we really say that it's all encoded in their genome?  Can we really claim that all the great works of literature could be reproduced by getting a “copy” of the author's brain?  Actually, in itself that isn't such a difficult thing to believe.  But all of literature...?  Are humans' brains so different from one another that we couldn't factor out some of the complexity?  Um, ok, that argument isn't going to get very far.  Even so.  Simply the argument of recursive self-improvement is hard to ignore, even though the proof denies it.  Why shouldn't an AI be able to improve itself, and make itself better?  Just because I can get the updated version with only the information coded in v1.0, does that make the improvement less important?

And generally, if no machine can create complexity, whence cometh complexity?  (for the sake of simplicity and keeping the argument something that I can talk about without resorting to the unknown, I will assume that human intelligence is not qualitatively different from ordinary Turing-machine computation.  If you prefer, you can take all this as an argument that it is, but then you'd have to stop here.)  Looking at what people wind up compressing and storing on their computers these days, it seems that much of it is either observational data about the universe, or human output, or something of both (a recording of a song probably has both aspects: it's human output, but it couldn't be reproduced precisely just by recreating the authors and performers, since the performance also owes something to the physical act of playing the instruments and singing).  And I guess that's almost besides the point; it isn't a matter of what things are complex, but where a lot of the complexity is from.

The one thing we ignored above is the input to the program.  Ignoring it isn't that unreasonable a thing to do, though.  After all, there is only so much information seemingly out there; once you've read through all of the Internet, you would think you've probably covered most of it, so we might as well just consider that part of the first program.  But it isn't that simple.  For one thing, even that is an awful lot of complexity.  And while future iterations might not add to that complexity, the complexity could be shifted into a more useful place, in the code of the improved program (instead of just abstract information).  In a way, the program+input wouldn't get more complex, but the balance might shift so more of the complexity is in the program (the redundant information in the input then would no longer count). 

Also, the complexity of multiple interacting minds/machines isn't strictly additive (nor is it necessarily exponential or something exciting like that).  It isn't enough to know that two minds interacted, but in order to recreate the effects of that interaction you also need to know exactly when it happened, in what state each of them were, what the order of other interactions were... How and when we interact with things is important input as well, not just with what.

And complexity isn't all it's cracked up to be.  Consider mathematical properties and proofs.  Technically, all the complexity of mathematics is implicit in the axioms and rules that define it.  If you tinker with the basic rules you can derive all kinds of facts and concepts, as indeed people have, and they still are.  But it is hard to argue that higher mathematics isn't in some sense more “complex”, using the word informally, than the handful of inscrutable axioms from which they spring.

I'm not trying to sound like a singularity fanboi here; it doesn't do to decide on your conclusions and only then analyze the evidence.  The complexity argument is a significant point, and does put a sort of limit on the kind and speed of growth one could expect.  But I think it's even more informative to look at how limiting the lens of K-complexity is, and how much you miss by only looking through it.

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May 14th, 2009


09:01 am - The things breeders can do these days...
Yeah, I know, I need to post more. Probably even have something to say.

But for now, just something I saw in the store the other day:



Now let's think about this. One-third plum, two-thirds apricot. Um... How do you cross-breed something to get thirds‽ You'd need an infinite amount of crossing, since ⅓ does not have a terminating representation in binary (really, that's a sensible way to put it). I suppose there is some precedent: I recall hearing from somewhere that the Babylonian deity Marduk was supposed to be one-third mortal and two-thirds divine (though this is not mentioned in the Wikipedia page at this time of writing; maybe I am misremembering).

What will they think of next?

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March 9th, 2009


11:30 am - Shabbat Bo
Many of the differences in this portion are of the same type mentioned for the last one: aligning the narrative for plagues so that we always see God telling the warning to Moses, then Moses relaying the warning to Pharaoh, then the plague.

Here's a small but significant difference.  In 10:5, Pharaoh is warned that the locusts will eat up all the trees growing in the fields.  But I suppose the real threat is not so much eating trees but eating the fruits of the trees, and the grain.  The Samaritan version says that the locusts will eat “all the grass of the earth and all the fruit of any tree growing for you in the fields.”  Just a few more words to shift the emphasis a little.

In 10:11, where the Masoretic text has לא כן, “not so,” the Samaritan has לכן, “therefore.”  The two constructions are related, as you can see, and even sound alike.

Note in 10:13 that Moses stretched out his staff, although in 10:12 God had told him to stretch out his hand.  The Samaritan version, as you might expect, has Moses using his hand, as he had been commanded.

Zipping rather far ahead, now, there are a few interesting bits that happen as the Israelites leave Egypt.  I particularly like one in 12:39, where the Masoretic text says כי גרשו ממצרים “for they were expelled from Egypt.”  The verb is vocallized in a passive voice, and the word for Egypt is governed by the prepositional particle “from.”  The Samaritan text uses exactly the same consonants, but the word-break is different: כי גרשום מצרים, “for [the] Egyptians expelled them.”  The מ changes from the beginning of one word, where it means “from”, to the end of the word before (note that ם is the final form of מ), where it becomes an inflection, or a suffixed pronoun if you will, meaning “them.”

Somewhere I recall seeing a list in the Talmud of changes supposedly made in the LXX from the original text for various political and philosophical reasons.  I also recall that many of them are not actually found in the LXX.  But here's one that is (and indeed there are many cases wherein the LXX accords with the Samaritan text and not the Masoretic text).  In 12:40, the Masoretic text reads that the children of Israel resided in Egypt for 430 years, which doesn't really match the chronology if you work things out.  The Samaritan text says that the children of Israel and their ancestors resided in Egypt and in the land of Canaan for 430 years.

Another example of meaning-change by shifting boundaries (like with saw with גרשום מצרים) is to be found in 13:3-4.  The Masoretic text at the end of v.3 repeats the prohibition against eating leaven, and then v.4 starts with “Today you are leaving, in the springtime month.”  The Samaritan text that I used split the verses differently (there are other cases of this, some more interesting than this one), so v.3 ends with “leaven shall not be eaten today” and then the next verse just says “you are leaving in the springtime month.”  Do not think that the Samaritans don't have the full seven-day prohibition against eating leaven.  They have.  That isn't what this verse is saying.  In fact, two verses later, in 13:6, where the Masoretic text says “you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days,” the Samaritan text says “you shall eat unleavened bread for six days,” which makes sense with the next phrase: “... and then on the seventh day is a holiday to God.”  The verses then discuss signs and reminders on the hand and between the eyes.  To (Rabbanite) Jews, these are part of the commandment of תפילין, phylacteries which Jews wear on their arms and foreheads during prayer.  Hey, it says “bind these words on your hand...” so we bind them on our hand!  The Samaritans, however, and also the mediæval Karaites, understood these terms metaphorically, that the memory should always be before our eyes and present to us every day, etc., thus they do not wear physical phylacteries.  And people say that the Karaites and Samaritans do not have an oral tradition, but rather take the Bible literally!  Who's the one being literal here?  Of course they have an oral tradition; it just isn't the same one.


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March 1st, 2009


01:45 pm - Shabbat VaEirah
Now we start getting into the story of the Exodus, and we start to see some of the consistency that makes the Samaritan Pentateuch distinctive. Throughout the story of the Ten Plagues, the Masoretic text, if you read it carefully, seems to be skipping parts. Often, God tells Moses to go warn Pharaoh about the upcoming plague, but then the plague is inflicted without the text telling us that Moses passed on the warning (e.g., the plague of Blood, 7:16-23; the plague of Frogs, 7:26-8:3, etc). Occasionally, Moses goes and warns Pharaoh, but the text never recounted that God told him to do so (e.g., the plague of Locusts, 10:3-6, in the next portion). The Samaritan text has no such inconsistency. Every time, the format is the same: (1) God tells Moses to go warn Pharaoh, (2) Moses relays the warning to Pharaoh, usually verbatim, (3) God and Moses and/or Aaron bring about the plague. The Samaritan Exodus is thus probably a bit longer than the Masoretic version, though this particular lengthening does not bring in any actually new material.

The consistency shows up in a few other cases as well. Farther down the line, in Exodus 14:12, the Israelites complain to Moses, “Isn't this what we told you in Egypt, ‘leave us alone so we can serve Egypt, since it's better for us to serve Egypt than to die in the desert’?” But a careful reading of the story up till then (in the Masoretic text, anyway) does not show that anyone said anything of the kind. Reading the Samaritan text, however, rather than being forced to assume that there was something said that wasn't recorded, we see plainly in Exodus 6:9 that they did in fact say those very words to Moses while they were in Egypt.

Even in a case where it isn't the same thing being told from two perspectives, we see some of this. In 6:12 and also in 6:30, Moses asks God, “How will Pharaoh listen to me?” In the Masoretic text, slightly different grammatical constructions are used (ישמעני in 6:12 vs ישמע אלי in 6:30). The Samaritan text uses the same construction (ישמעני) both places, though it does not also copy over the extra phrase in 6:12 (“...and I am of uncircumcised lips.” This is found in both texts only in 6:12).

There are a few differences here and there in the genealogies given in 6:14-28, as we would expect given our experiences with other family trees, and occasional differences in unusual/rare words, again as we would expect.

Here's one that might be interesting. In 9:30, God is referred to, in the Masoretic text, as “the LORD God”, יהוה אלהים, which is a pretty common epithet in the Pentateuch. But the Samaritan text reads אדני יהוה, which I don't even know how to translate rightly (אדני means “Lord” and that is also how the Tetragrammaton is translated). It does occur in the Masoretic text, but the translators of the LXX apparently had some trouble with this too; I remember reading that the first time it showed up, in Genesis 15:2, they worked around it by using a different synonym for “Lord”, since they were already using κυριος for the Tetragrammaton, and so used δεσποτα. Later on, when the phrase became more common (as in various books of the Prophets like Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) they simply went with κυριος κυριος. But it is comparatively rare in the Masoretic Pentateuch, occurring only in Genesis 15:2,8 and Deuteronomy 3:24, and 9:26. The Samaritan text includes additional occurrences here and in Numbers 20:13 (where it serves to show the occurrence of the prayer recounted by Moses in Deuteronomy 3:24). Ponder this how you will.




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February 21st, 2009


10:29 pm - Shabbat Shemot

A lot of trivial things, and an absolutely classic difference which isn't different (see below).

Chapter 1 is full of little things, like singular vs plural differences, different suffixes, agreement issues (e.g. v. 11, which in Masoretic reads למען ענתו בסבלתם, “in order to torment him with their suffering,” apparently shifting between referring to the nation of Israel in singular to plural in the space between consecutive words.  The Samaritan reads למען ענותם בסבלותם, making both plural.  And the next word, ויבן, is singular again in the Masoretic text, but is ויבנו, plural, in the Samaritan.

Some various cases of synonyms taking each other's place, like in 1:18 the Masoretic text speaks of “the king of Egypt” where the Samaritan mentions “Pharoah,” or how the young Moses in 2:10 is called a ילד in the Masoretic side but a נער in the Samaritan side (they're near synonyms, something like “boy” vs “youth”). Some rare words spelled a little differently; ותדלנה ותמלאנה את הרהטים in Masoretic vs ותדלאנה ותמלאנה את הרחטים in Samaritan (once again the ה/ח interchange). My text has וינחו in 2:23 on the Samaritan side where the Masoretic has ויאנחו, which could be an interesting difference: the Masoretic means “they sighed [because of the work...]”, but the Samaritan could be read (at least) as “they rested [from the work]”; maybe with the death of the king there was a moment of respite where they could make their agony heard (this is generally how the Masoretic version is understood anyway). The next word is a well-known pair of synonyms that occur with about equal distribution in Scripture, but not evenly: ויזעקו from the root זעק is more common in Prophets and Writings, and ויצעקו from the root צעק is more common in the Pentateuch. Here, the Samaritan has ויצעקו and the Masoretic has ויזעקו.

In 3:8, God lists the current inhabitants of Canaan, which he is promising to give to the Israelites. This list is mentioned a few times in the course of the text, but its exact constituents vary slightly here and there. There are traditionally seven peoples mentioned, but in this verse (and in 3:17) there are only six (the Girgashite are missing)—but not in the Samaritan version, which lists them between the Perizzite and the Hivvite.

Verse 3:22 speaks of women borrowing from their neighbors and borders, but the Samaritan version also mentions men borrowing from their fellows, sort of like what we see in 11:2. I remember reading someplace that the word ומגרת (Samaritan ומגירת) is taken in a grammatically different way in the Samaritan reading, but I don't remember the details.

Exodus 4:24-26 has one of the classic cases where the consonants aren't different but the vowels (and meanings) are. I think it's an absolutely mystifying bit of narrative in the first place, under the best of circumstances. God has told Moses to head off to Egypt and yell and Pharoah, and while he's on the way God meets up with him at the lodge on the way and tries to kill him (wait, God is trying to kill him? Since when does God seek to do something without accomplishing it?). The Moses' wife, Zipporah, takes a flint and cuts off her son's foreskin and touches his feet, and God leaves him alone... Not an easy tale to understand, even at best, and naturally the Rabbinic commentary is very active in explaining what is going on.

In the Samaritan text, the consonants are mostly the same, except that instead of saying “and he [God] released him [Moses],” the pronoun is feminine: “and he released her.” But the real difference is in the previous verse, v.25. Where the Masoretic text says “she cut off the foreskin of her son,” the Samaritan version (which is spelled the same) vocalizes the word for “her son,” בנה, differently, and interprets it to mean something like “her understanding” (from בִּינָה), that she cut off the “blockage” that was obstructing her understanding and understood something she did not before. The details here are very complicated, and I don't really understand them all. I think the Samaritans understand that this isn't about circumcizing Moses' son at all, but is about Moses and Zipporah themselves, and when it says “he left her” this is referring to Moses leaving Zipporah, because God wanted him to go to Egypt alone. Tell you what: first, take some time and read up on the different explanations of this in Jewish and Christian thought, since it is confusing there too. Then when Benny Tsedaka's Samaritan Translation of the Pentateuch comes out (he says it's about finished, but I don't know how the publishing plans are going. It should be soon) be sure to read what he has to say. He knows way more about this than I do.

There are a few other things here, but I think that's enough for a week...




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February 15th, 2009


09:04 pm - Shabbat Vayechi
I'm never going to catch up if I don't start doing more than one per week.

One of my favorite differences is in Gen. 48:16:  In the Masoretic version, we have the familiar blessing, המלאך הגאל אתי מכל רע יברך את הנערים, “[May] the angel who redeemed me from all evil bless the lads...”  This is a little bit strange to most readers: since when do we hear patriarchs invoking angels?  The Samaritan version has just one crucial letter different (and a word at the end, but that isn't so critical): המלך הגאל אתי מכל רע יברך את הנערים האלה, “[May] the king who redeemed me from all evil bless these lads...”  By referring to a king, this turns it back to an invocation of God, not an angel.  (I have piece of Samaritan calligraphy of the beginning of this phrase hanging in my living room.)

Shortly afterward, we see Jacob's blessings for his sons, which comprise some really gorgeous Hebrew poetry, and of course which afford all kinds of different possibilities for interpretation.

Reuben: The Masoretic side says פחז כמים, a noun-phrase, something along the lines of “water-like instability”.  The Samaritan has a predicate clause, פחזת כמים, “you were unstable as water.”

Simeon & Levi: Some fun ones here.  The Masoretic has כלי חמס מכררתהם, “instruments of violence are their trade” (something like that; the Rabbis work with various interpretations).  The Samaritan says כלו חמס מכרתיהם; just one letter different, but changes “instruments” to “the finished,” and the interpretation to something like “they finished the violence of their instruments.” 

Also, there is a puzzler in the Masoretic side in the next verse; it seems like it should be saying “may my soul not come in their council, may my glory not be united with their congregation,” but that doesn't fit the text, since “my glory” is masculine and the verb for “be united” is feminine.  The Rabbis generally interpret it as being an exhortation, “do not be united with their congregation, O my glory.”  This works because the second-person singular masculine has the same form as the third-person singular feminine.  The Samaritan has the verb in masculine, but it isn't the same verb!  Another one of those ד/ר interchanges: Masoretic says תחד, Samaritan says יחר:  “let my glory not be angry in their congregation.”

Oh, and we're still not done: The next verse has, in Masoretic, ארור אפם כי עז ועברתם כי קשתה: “Cursed be their anger, for it is strong, and their wrath, for it is hard.”  The Samaritan has some ד/ר and י/ו differences, and also an ע/ח difference, which we also have seen a lot: אדיר אפם כי עז וחברתם כי קשתה: “Mighty is their anger, for it is strong, and their wounding, for it is hard.”  Less of a curse or rebuke than praise, here.

Judah: Once more, recall that for Jews, Judah is a key player, and this blessing in particular is read as implying that Judah is to inherit rulership and the royal dynasty, while the Samaritans have no such importance attached to him.  Particularly, we have the phrase לא יסור שבט מיהודה ומחקק מבין רגליו עד כי יבוא שילה, “the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the staff [of rulership] from between his feet, until Shiloh(?) comes.”  I'm not translating Shiloh, maybe it's “who it belongs to” or something; it's certainly interpreted with Messianic meanings by the Rabbis.  The Samaritan version has some full/deficient spelling differences, but more critically a ד/ר difference: לא יסור שבט מיהודה ומחקק מבין דגליו עד כי יבא שלה, “The tribe shall not depart from Judah, nor the judge from among his flags, until SHILAA comes.”  Once again, not translating שלה.  The word שבט literally means “staff,” but it also means “tribe,” in the sense of the Tribes of Israel.  That's only a difference in translation, not of text.  The tribe in question is the tribe of Simeon, which got its inheritance mixed in among Judah.  The Samaritans only consider the Pentateuch to be holy, but they do have some tradition of what Jews call the earlier Prophets, especially the book of Joshua.  The split between them had not yet happened at that point: the main split, remember, is over where the Temple belongs.  (OK, the official Jewish line is that Samaritans aren't Israelites and were brought in from elsewhere and partly converted to an Israelite-like religion... Believe what you prefer.  But since we're discussing the Samaritan point of view here, it is only right that we consider it from their perspective, that they are Israelite descendants of the tribes of Joseph and Benjamim and some Levi, split off from the Judahite tribes mainly over the location of the Temple).  In a similar way, SHILAA is apparently taken to refer to King Solomon, who was after all king over the unified kingdom, before the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel split.

The Masoretic text then describes Judah as binding his donkey to a vine, and the son of his she-ass to another vine (different word).  The Samaritan has very few differences in the lettering, but the meanings are read a little differently: he will be bound to his city's vine (the Masoretic עירו for donkey is pretty rare; עיר is usually city), and the sons of his strength to the choice vine (איתנו in Samaritan as opposed to אתנו in Masoretic).  One interesting difference that is completely not reflected in the consonants is in the last word of Judah's blessing.  The Masoretic text mentions “teeth whiter than milk,” or “whiteness of teeth from milk” (maybe caused by drinking milk.)  The Samaritan has exactly the same consonants, but instead of reading חָלָב, “milk” (as it is pointed in Masoretic Hebrew), they read it as the word that would be pointed in Masoretic Hebrew as חֵלֶב, “fat” or “suet.”

Zebulun: On the Masoretic side, there's the word על, “upon,” where “up to” would make more sense.  It's one of those things they mark סבירין, that one word makes more sense but you should be careful to say the one that is actually there.  The Samaritan, however, does have עד, the word you expected it to be.

Issachar: Some small differences; one that I don't fully understand is where the Masoretic says המשפתים (whatever it is that the donkey Issachar is being compared to is lying down between), the Samaritan has המשפחתים, which seems to be related to משפחה, “family.”  This may be an error or artifact in the text I have, since other texts apparently have the same as the Masoretic.

Gad, Asher, Naftali: Nothing really striking that's different here.  But Joseph is a fun blessing in any version.

Joseph: The Masoretic text is confusing enough.  Just look at any translation with footnotes (like this one, just to pick one at random).  The words have more than one meaning and you have to pick the ones that actually fit together, and there is more than one choice of those.  Where the Masoretic has בנות צעדה, which means... um, possibly a bunch of things, the Samaritan has בני צעירי, “my son, my young one.”

Another of those cases where one word makes sense and the Masoretes caution you to say the one that's there: ואת שדי ויברכך; the Samaritan version says the word you were hoping for: ואל שדי ויברכך.

More interesting is the next verse, 49:26.  The Masoretic text reads ברכת אביך גברו על ברכת הורי, “the blessings of your father are greater than the blessings of my parents.”  By means of a single letter difference (and adding a word), the Samaritan makes a significant point: ברכת אביך ואמיך גברו על ברכת הרי, “the blessings of your father and your mother are greater than the blessings of my mountain,” making this a reference to the sacred Mt Gerizim.  This also accords well with the next phrase, “to the bounty(?) of the eternal hills”... but of course, in the Samaritan, it isn't the eternal hills.  The plural is only present in the vocalization, and in the Samaritan it is naturally singular: the Eternal Hill, Mt Gerizim.  This also meshes well with Moses' blessing to Joseph at the very end of the Pentateuch (Deut. 33:13-17).  The two blessings always struck me with their similarity.  Both places talk about blessings from above and below, both refer to blessings upon “the brow of the prince among his brothers,” and also both mention this “bounty of eternal hill(s),” which is a phrase that I don't think occurs anyplace else.

Benjamin: A one-verse blessing; the only difference (aside from the spelling of the name), is עד in the Masoretic vs עדי in the Samaritan.  Either way is a little puzzling to understand; the Masoretic is usually taken to mean “in the morning he devours prey”, while the Samaritan seems to be related to “a jewel” instead.

Whew.  Maybe a few more things in this portion, but this entry is plenty long as it is.

חזק חזק ונתחזק



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February 10th, 2009


09:48 pm - Shabbat Vayigash
Let's see what Vayigash has to offer us.

Right at 44:20, where the Masoretic text has וילד זקנים, “A son of [his] old age,” the Samaritan has it as a verb: ויוליד זקנים, something like “and he sired [a child] in his old age.”  Not a huge difference.

A few tweaks of possessives and pronouns... 44:24 in the Masoretic text has Judah speaking of “my father,” and in the Samaritan version it is “our father.”  And in v.30 he fears that his father will see that Benjamin is not “with us,” but in the Samaritan version he says “with me,” while the “with us” appears in the next verse where the Masoretic text has nothing at all: “And when he sees that the lad is not, he will die...” (Masoretic version) as opposed to “And when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die” (Samaritan version).

Seems to be a shift from quote to description 45:1.  In the Masoretic text, Joseph lost his cool “and he cried out, ‘remove every man from me!’”  The Samaritan text doesn't specify what he cried out (maybe it was wordless?): by the simple addition of vavs (one at the beginning of a pair of words and one at the end), it becomes, “and he cried out, and they removed every man from him.”

The neck of Joseph and that of Benjamin are given in the plural form in the Masoretic text in 45:14 (he fell on Benjamin's necks, Benjamin wept on his necks, etc), whereas the Samaritan text has the singular form.

Verse 45:20 seems to shift from passive voice in the Masoretic (“and you are commanded”) to active in the Samaritan (“and you I have commanded”).  Either way it's a puzzler, since the
“you” pronoun used is singular, and the commands following are in plural, as they are given to all the brothers (maybe just to Joseph to relay to them, though?).  The next verse has him cautioning their eye against “taking pity” on their belongings; the Samaritan, interestingly, seems to use the plural “eyes,” but the “taking pity” verb remains in singular.

Once we get into the family listings in chapter 46 we hit a lot of the familiar differences in proper names that so often occur.  Reuben's children include אהד and צחר in the Masoretic text, and אחד and צהר in the Samaritan text (ה and ח are pronounced the same in Samaritan pronunciation, remember).  Various different spellings, some with significant differences in pronunciation, through that section.  We note that Issachar's son יוב/Job (not quite the same as the book of the Bible by that name) who is called ישוב/Jashub in Numbers 26:24 is named consistently in the Samaritan text: he's ישוב/Jashub here too.  Another dalet/resh interchange in v.16 where the Masoretic has ערי and the Samaritan has עדי.  Like I've said before, they don't look quite so similar in Samaritan writing as they do in Jewish Hebrew script... but they're still close enough that I can see them getting confused for one another.

More plural necks vs singular in 46:29... Maybe the idioms were different.  Some potentially interesting linguistic differences, changes of root in places like 47:15, which has הבה/“give!” in the Masoretic side, related to the Aramaic הב/give, while the Samaritan side has הבא/bring, from the Hebrew root בוא.  And I'm not even sure what's going on in the first word of 47:13, which is at least a near-hapax in the Masoretic side (certainly that root is very rare, if it occurs at all).  Another ה͏/ח difference in 47:17, where Masoretic says וינהלם and Samaritan has וינחלם.  But more interesting is the ד/ר stuff going on in 47:21, which in the Masoretic text reads  ואת העם העביר אתו לערים, “As for the populace, he [Joseph] relocated them in the cities,” while the Samaritan text reads ואת העם העביד אתו לעבדים, “As for the populace, he worked them as/into slaves”, that is, he enslaved them, which of course is just what they were suggesting.

Jacob's blessing coming up; I love the poetry of that section.

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