Eldad and Medad

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

ELDAD AND MEDAD

ELDAD AND MEDAD (Heb. אֶלְדָּד, מֵידָד), two of the elders (see *Elder) chosen by Moses to assist him in governing the people following their protests about the inadequacy of their diet in the wilderness (Num. 11:26–27). Both names are based on the root ydd, "to love, be in love." Thus, Eldad, "Belovedof-El" and Medad, "Beloved." In response to Moses' complaint about the unbearable burden of administration placed upon his shoulders (verse 14), God commanded him to select 70 men known to him "as elders and officers of the people," that is, from the traditional leadership, who would share the burden with him (verses 16–17). To enable them to perform their function, God endowed them with part of the spirit that had rested on Moses, whereupon they made ecstatic utterances. Eldad and Medad, who did not go out with the others to the Tent of Meeting, but remained in the camp, nevertheless also spoke in a state of *ecstasy. When this was made known to Moses and Joshua, the latter suggested that they be restrained, but Moses answered him, "… Would that all the Lord's people were prophets" (verses 26–29). Eldad and Medad are not otherwise identified or mentioned in the Bible.

In the Aggadah

The enigmatic appearance of the otherwise unknown Eldad and Medad as authors of an unrecorded prophecy (Num. 11:26ff.) provided a fertile field for aggadic interpretations. It appears that at least some of these are thinly disguised references to the conspiracy of R. Meir and R. Nathan against R. Simeon b. Gamaliel (Hor. 13b), an event which gave rise to many "biblical" aggadot (cf. A. Buechler, Studies in Jewish History (1956), 160–78). Thus, according to R. Simeon b. Yoḥai, Eldad and Medad, though chosen to be among the elders of Israel, considered themselves unworthy of such high dignity. Thereupon God said, "Because you have humbled yourselves, I will add to your greatness yet more greatness" (Sanh. 17a). Hence, unlike other prophets, they never ceased to prophesy, and they were granted additional advantages (Num. R. 15:19; Tanḥ. B., Num. 29). The moral of the story seems to be that R. Meir and R. Nathan should have humbled themselves instead of plotting against the patriarch. All the sources report that Eldad and Medad prophesied, "Moses shall die, and Joshua shall bring Israel into the (promised) land." This prediction by the two prophets that the leader of Israel was to be replaced evidently alludes to the plan of the two rabbis to replace the patriarch. Other conjectures were that Eldad and Medad predicted the (imminent) arrival of the quails (cf. Num. 11:31) or else prophesied concerning Gog and Magog (Sanh. 17a; cf. Ezek. 38, 39). The latter suggestion was put forward by R. Naḥman who generally displayed a keen interest in messianic speculations (cf. Sanh. 96b–97a, 98b).

Joshua's objection to prophesying by Eldad and Medad (Num. 11:28) was attributed either to the fact that it was unauthorized – a serious offense in rabbinic times – or to the nature of the prediction (Sanh. 17a). The restraint proposed by Joshua (כְּלָאֵם, kela'em) was interpreted by some as implying the imposition of public office which would cause them to "cease (or "perish") of themselves" (ibid.), an unmistakable allusion to the ruinous burdens of the *Boule office in the amoraic age. Earlier interpretations were even harsher: "Destroy them from the world," or, according to R. Judah ha-Nasi (who many years after the plot against his father bore a grudge against R. Meir and R. Nathan (cf. Hor. 13b–14a)), "Chain them in bonds and fetters" (Sif. Num. 96).

While some late Midrashim make Eldad and Medad sons of Amram and half-brothers of Moses and Aaron, Targum Jonathan, Numbers 11:26, assigns their parentage to Jochebed and Elizaphan son of Parnach (Num. 34:25), whom she is supposed to have married during her temporary divorce from Amram. This strange Midrash may have been designed to counter in advance the charge against Moses' marriage alliance with a Cushite woman (Num. 12:1) – who is in some sources identified with Zipporah (Targ. Jon., Num. 12:1; Sif. Num. 99 et al.) – whom he had married before the giving of the Torah. At that time, Jochebed, too, could have been divorced, remarried, and returned again to her first husband, Deuteronomy 24:4 notwithstanding. (It is noteworthy that the numerical value of the letters פַּרְנָךְ (Parnach) is identical with that of עַמְרָם (Amram); and אֱלִיצָפָן (Eliẓaphan; "God has hidden") is reminiscent of Jochebed's hiding (וַתִּצְפְּנֵהוּ, va-tiẓpenehu) of Moses, Ex. 2:2.) Other Midrashim (Num. R. 15:19; Tanḥ. B., Num. 29) identify Eldad and Medad with Elidad son of Chislon and Kemuel son of Shiphtan (cf. Num. 34:21,24), due no doubt to the similarity or assonance of the names.

bibliography:

B. Maisler, in: em, 1 (1950), s.v.; C.H. Gordon, Ugaritic Manual (1955), glossary, no. 796; Ginzberg, Legends, 3 (1911), 251–3; 4 (1913), 158; 6 (1928), 88–90. add. bibliography: B. Levine, Numbers 120 (ab; 1993), 315–16.

[Moses Aberbach]