In various places in Talmud Bavli, there are stories told that take place during the times of Torah or Neviim where people in the story quote verses from prophetic books that did not yet exist at the time the story took place. How am I to understand these stories? Are they not literal? Are the quoted pesukim something that was originally Torah sh'bal peh?

For example: The Gemara in Bava Basra 22a-b says over a story wherein Yoav only kills male Edomites in a war based on a misreading of the verse תמחה את זכר עמלק to mean to kill only the males ("zachor" instead of "zecher"). Yoav confronts his childhood teacher and the following exchange occurs:

שקל ספסירא למיקטליה אמר ליה אמאי א"ל דכתיב (ירמיהו מח, י) ארור עושה מלאכת ה' רמיה א"ל שבקיה לההוא גברא דליקום בארור א"ל כתיב (ירמיהו מח, י) וארור מונע חרבו מדם איכא דאמרי קטליה ואיכא דאמרי לא קטליה

Joab took a sword to kill him. The teacher said to him: Why do you want to kill me? Joab said to him: As it is written: “Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with a slack hand” (Jeremiah 48:10), and you taught me incorrectly. The teacher said to him: Leave that man to remain as cursed. This is a sufficient punishment; there is no need to kill me. Joab said to him: It is also written: “And cursed is he who keeps back his sword from blood” (Jeremiah 48:10). There are those who say that Joab killed him, and there are those who say that he did not kill him.

Yoav lived hundreds of years before Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) HaNavi. How are Yoav and his teacher bringing proofs from a text that would not be written for hundreds of years? How are we to understand this type of aggadata gemara?

  • similar: vosizneias.com/2009/12/12/…
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Jun 23, 2020 at 20:06
  • I just want to add that the Torah itself is an integrated system which for the most part lives within the people of Israel themselves. The texts are the external apparatus relative to the lived tradition - the fact the same ideas come up in different places only underscores the fact that all these ideas come from the same unadulterated, comprehensive tradition from Sinai. I think its less about "reiterating" ideas than a matter of fact that the ideas we care about constantly come up in conversation and text. Jul 15, 2021 at 3:31

1 Answer 1


Tosafos (Gittin 68a, ד"ה וכתיב) addresses this very point, and refers to that episode in Bava Basra:

אף על פי שזה הפסוק לא נכתב עדיין היו יודעין כמו ארור עושה מלאכת ה' רמיה בפ' לא יחפור (ב"ב דף כא:) גבי יואב

Even though the posuk hadn't yet been written, they knew [the concept] already, as with [the verse in Yirmiyah in the episode with] Yoav.

As Binyomin pointed out in a comment, the Neviim didn't come to teach new ideas, but to reinforce existing ones. The idea expressed in this posuk, and similar ones quoted in such contexts, is therefore already inherent in the Torah we received from Moshe. The Gemara itself expresses this with the phrase (Taanis 9a) מי איכא מידי דכתיבי בכתובי דלא רמיזי באורייתא, "Could there be anything written in Scripture which is not hinted at in the Torah?" (on which Rashi comments (ד"ה ולא רמזה) that "Chumash is the foundation of Neviim and Kesuvim, and everything in them must find its basis somewhere in the Torah").

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    I find this answer difficult to accept. The story of Yoav has him saying דכתיב. It strongly implies that it was already written. Unless you say that in the original story Yoav said "shenemar" and it was changed later. Jun 24, 2020 at 22:17
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    @conceptualinertia The whole story is told in Aramaic (and Babylonian Aramaic, at that), so obviously it's not a word-for-word quotation of David's and Yoav's and his teacher's actual speech, which would presumably have been in Lashon Kodesh. So I doubt you can deduce anything from the word דכתיב.
    – Meir
    Jun 24, 2020 at 22:19

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