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Are there good answers to anachronisms in the torah? I've been studying this subject for a while and I don't think a good answer for that an example would be Gen 14:14

And Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, and he armed his trained men, those born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and he pursued [them] until Dan

I think the best answer would be maybe an update of the text by some scribe, but that I think is not allowed in Judaism right?

I don't know but the answer that Moses was a prophet and he wrote it prophetically doesn't seem correct to me.

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    to establish an anachronism, you have to establish what moment you are judging the text against. What time period are you assigning to the text?
    – rosends
    Aug 22, 2021 at 0:57
  • For this example, we assume the text to be written in while Bnei Yisroel were in the dessert, and the naming of Dan to be when the Bnei Dan captured the city after the death of Yehoshua.
    – Mordechai
    Aug 22, 2021 at 21:11
  • @Mordechai so Its a text update ? Aug 23, 2021 at 1:48
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    The entire Jewish tradition is based on the Bible being written with prophecy. If you won't accept that as an answer, there is nothing to discuss.
    – N.T.
    Aug 23, 2021 at 9:25

2 Answers 2

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This question is addressed by several of the commentators to this verse.

Radak suggests either that the place was called Dan based on the future, or that it is referring to a different place that was actually called Dan at that time:

על שם סופו כי כשכתב משה רבינו זה לא נקרא עדין כן אלא לֶשֶם היה נקרא וכשכבשוהו בני דן קראו לו דן בשם דן אביהם ואפשר שהיה מקום אחר נקרא באותם הימים כן

Shadal writes:

Not Laish, which was called "Dan" in the period of the Judges, but a different place, because even according to those who say that this word was added to the text later, this [identification with Laish] would be unlikely. If it were so, the text should have read, "And he pursued until Laish, now Dan," for then it could have been said that the words "now Dan" had been added. But that one should completely emend and replace a word in the Torah—such a thing we have never seen or heard of.

(Klein translation)

R. Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg writes that Moses called the place Dan prophetically, and he provides other examples of such a phenomenon. He then says that it is more likely that it was referring to a different place called Dan:

יקרא כן בימי השופטים כדכתיב ויקרא ללשם דן ומשה כתב כן בנבואה וכמוהו מול הגלגל כ"כ הראב"ע ויותר מסתבר מה שתרגם הירושלמי ורדף עד דן דקיסריון והוא ידוע לבעלי המסעות ואיננו דן אשר בסוף תחום ארץ ישראל לצפונה שזה הוא דן יען ככתוב ויבואו דנה יען ותרגומו ואתו לדן יען

R. Moshe Yitzchak Ashkenazi writes that the place originally had a different name and the scribes changed it to Dan to make it understandable (to contemporary audiences who were familiar with the name Dan). He says this is superior to saying that the entire passage was added to the Torah long after Moses died. He also rejects the possibility that it was referring to a different place, based on geographical support:

קשה איך כבר בימי אברהם או לכל הפחות בימי משה הכותב נקראת העיר על שם דן אולי היתה שם עיר מימים קדמונים וטרם הקראה בשם לשם ליש או דן (יהושע י"ז שופטים י"ח) קראוה בשם אחר בלתי נודע והסופרים תקנו והחליפו השם הקדמון במחודש להקל ההבנה לפי שטוב מכל מקום להניח שיהיה תיקון סופרים מלהניח שנכתב כל סיפור זה כמה שנים אחרי מות משה ושהיתה שם עיר אחרת בלתי ליש ששמה דן דבר רחוק הוא ומושב עיר דן בקצה האחרון לצד צפונית (דברים ל"ד:א' ובכמה מקומות) מכוון יפה למסופר כאן וכמהלך שעה אחת מעיר Banias (היא ליש או דן הקדמונית) נמצא מקום בשם Meschad el Tir שענינו בערבי ברית הצפור (ואת הצפור לא בתר בראשית ט"ו:י') ויש קבלה ביד אנשי המקום ששם כרת ה' עם אברהם ברית בין הבתרים (הח׳ שווארץ בספרו תבואות הארץ)

Between these commentators we have three possible approaches:

  1. The Torah called the place Dan prophetically.
  2. The Torah referred to a different place which was actually called Dan at the time the events occurred.
  3. The Torah originally called the place by it's name at that time, and the text was later updated to reflect the current name.
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  • I couldn't have written this better myself! Also fascinating to note the strong disagreement between Rebbi and Talmid (Shadal and Hoil Moshe). Aug 22, 2021 at 3:22
  • @רבותמחשבות Thanks.
    – Alex
    Aug 22, 2021 at 3:24
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    @MatheusSales It is indeed generally frowned upon in Orthodox Judaism to assert post-Mosaic additions/subtractions/changes to the text, but there are several example of rabbinic commentators suggesting such occurrences, this being one of them.
    – Alex
    Aug 22, 2021 at 17:03
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    @Alex So how do I Iknow that is or not ? hehe Aug 25, 2021 at 1:04
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    @MatheusSales You don't. Welcome to Judaism.
    – Alex
    Aug 25, 2021 at 1:11
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LECH LECHA 14:14

When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he mustered his retainers, born into his household, numbering three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.

is not an anachronism as it was written in the time of Moshe and is describing the history of Avraham. There are those that say that in this this case, Moshe used the names that had been given during the times that the tribes lived in Canaan before they went to Egypt. This was so that the Bnai Yisrael would understand where it was located. I do not recall the location where I learned this answer.

Shadal says that it was not the location of shevet Dan but was a different location.

עד דן: איננה ליש הנקראת דן בימי השופטים (שופטים י"ח ז'), אלא מקום אחר, כי אפי' לדעת האומרים שנוסף אחר זמן, לא ייתכן זה, כי אז היה ראוי שיהיה כתוב וירדף עד ליש היא דן, ואז היה אפשר לומר שמילות "היא דן" נוספות, אבל שיגיה אדם ויחליף מילה בתורה לא ראינו ולא שמענו.

Others do say that it was based on a prophecy of Moses based on where the tribes would live after they entered the land.

Chizkuni for example says

עד דן, as far as Dan, the place was named such (the original “Dan” not having been born yet until at least 100 years later, Ed.] The place called “Dan” in the Book of Judges was called Leshem at the time of this battle (Compare Joshua 19,47).

Haktav VeHaKabalah actually says that Moshe used his prophecy to name it the way it would be called in the time of the Shoftim so that Israel would understand what it was called then. He then gives an alternate answer that it was not the location of shevet dan, but was a different location referring to judgment.

עד דן. יקרא כן בימי השופטים כדכתיב ויקרא ללשם דן (יהושע י״ט:מ״ז), ומשה כתב כן בנבואה, וכמוהו מול הגלגל (דברים י"ב) כ"כ הראב"ע, ויותר מסתבר מה שתרגם הירושלמי ורדף עד דן דקיסריון, והוא ידוע לבעלי המסעות, ואיננו דן אשר בסוף תחום ארץ ישראל לצפונה, שזה הוא דן יען ככתוב (שמואל ב כ״ד:ו׳) ויבואו דנה יען ותרגומו ואתו לדן יען (רוו"ה):

According to Rabbeinu Bachya this does not refer to the tribe of Dan but to the attribute of Justice.

וירדף עד דן, “he pursued as far as Dan.” This is a reference to the מדת הדין, “the attribute of Justice.” Once the attribute of Justice caught up with these kings there was no need for Avram to pursue any further. We find a similar expression in Isaiah 41,3 ירדפם יעבור שלום, “He pursues them, he goes unharmed.”

According to Bereshit Rabbah 43,7 Avram threw earth at these people and the earth turned into swords. When he threw straws at them they turned into arrows. Another explanation offered by the Midrash (Tanchuma Lech Lecha 13) on these words is that when Avram approached Dan, a place where in later years the Israelites would commit idolatry, his strength suddenly evaporated in view of this prospect. (The Midrash referred to the golden calves erected by Jerobam King of Israel shortly after the division of Solomon’s kingdom compare Kings I 12,29).

Mizrachi explains that Avram himself had a prophesy that Yeravam would build an idol there.

שם תשש כחו. בפר' חלק דאם לא כן וירדוף עד דן למה לי אם להודיע מקום מפלתן הרי כבר אמור ויכם וירדפ' עד חובה שהוא דן כדלקמיה אלא לומר לך ששם תשש כחו ולא היה לו יכולת לרדוף מדן והלאה מפני עון העגל שהעמיד שם ירבעם:

Similarly Maskil Ledavid

עד דן שם חשש כחו וכו׳ והא דקרי ליה כן הוא ע״ש העתיד כמו שדה העמלקי דלעיל דהא דן אכתי לא הוה ועוד כתיב בשופטים ויקראו את שם העיר דן וכו׳ ואולם ליש שם העיר לראשונה:

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  • Shavua Tov! 1. Why did you delete and repost the same answer? 2. Please provide a source for (and/or explanation of): "There are those that say that in this this case, Moshe used the names that had been given during the times that the tribes lived in Canaan before they went to Egypt. This was so that the Bnai Yisrael would understand where it was located." 3. The translation of Chizkuni appears to be inaccurate. 4. Why do you ignore the simple answer which Hakesav Vehakabbalah prefers, that this was a different location named Dan that has nothing to do with the individual? Aug 22, 2021 at 3:14
  • different location named Dan, I think is the best option but we have reason to that ? makes sense be a different Dan I`m not good in ancient geography @רבותמחשבות Aug 22, 2021 at 3:24
  • @רבות מחשבות While I was retyping the answer the original answer was downvoted. I threfore deleted the original answer and retyped the new one. I will add the Hakesav Vehakabalah. I will check the Chizkuni. Aug 22, 2021 at 3:42
  • @sabbahillel understood, thanks! (I don't see where Hakesav Vehakabbalah refers to judgement; I read it the same as Alex did below.) Aug 22, 2021 at 5:04

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