Speaking “Mouth to Mouth” (Num 12:8)

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Abstract

The phrase in Num 12:8a is generally taken to mean to speak with Moses “face to face.” However, commentators have noted that this understanding presents grammatical difficulties. In this study I propose a new understanding of the idiom and argue that it refers to oral transmission, from one speaking agent to the next in a linear chain. This idiomatic use of the phrase “mouth to mouth” is found in ancient Egyptian texts and widely across many cultures. This understanding of the idiom is animated further by a re-examination of four pieces of textual data: a) the meaning of the phrase in Num 12:7, and specifically an interpretation widespread in rabbinic commentary, but absent from modern exegesis; b) the meanings and diffusion of the prepositional verb ; c) the morphologies of various - expressions found in 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and Ezra; d) the structural and thematic similarities of Num 11 and Num 12.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalVetus Testamentum
Volume26
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

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© 2024 Brill Academic Publishers. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • metaphor
  • Moses
  • oral transmission
  • prophecy

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