Chronology: Ibn Ezra & Ramban
Ibn Ezra vs. Ramban
Interactive Learning Module
Ramban's Commentary (MS Parma 3255)
לגרסה בעברית של יחידת לימוד זו, לחצו
The principle of
"אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה"
, that the Torah does not always preserve chronological order, is well known.
Not all exegetes, however, apply the principle in the same way. This module will contrast the approaches of two commentators who often come head to head on the issue:
Ibn Ezra and Ramban
How does each exegete approach
issues of order
in Torah? How willing is each to suggest that Torah might sometimes veer from the historical order of events? What types of factors lead each to posit achronology and under what circumstances?
2. Declaration of Principles
, Ramban explicitly contrasts Ibn Ezra's approach to chronology with his own. Access his
comments on Bemidbar 16:1
and scroll down to the paragraph beginning, "ואמר רבי אברהם כי זה הדבר היה במדבר סיני".
How does Ramban describe
Ibn Ezra's application of the principle
"אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה"? What does Ramban say about his
to Tanakh's ordering?
How is this difference of opinion expressed in their
dating of Korach's rebellion
3. Dating the Rebellion of Korach
Ramban notes that he and Ibn Ezra have
on Torah's ordering. While Ibn Ezra posits achronology "at will", Ramban rarely does so, preferring to say that "all of Torah is in order".
This debate is reflected in their dating of Korach's rebellion. While Ramban asserts that it occurred in chronological order, after the story of the Spies, Ibn Ezra suggests that it took place in the aftermath of the choosing of the Levites (described in
How does each exegete's position regarding the story's dating relate to their understanding of the
which led to the rebellion? In which direction does the influence go: do the commentators' stances regarding the motivation for rebellion influence their dating or vice versa?
Are there any
which might prompt one to posit achronology? Are there any verses which prove otherwise? If the story is achronological, why might it, nonetheless, be placed here?
Given your analysis, do you think there is sufficient textual or conceptual
to support a claim of achronology?
4. Broader Application
Let's now explore how each of Ibn Ezra and Ramban apply the principle of "אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה" throughout their commentaries.
Highlight the words
"אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה"
in Ramban's commentary and press "Search" from the dropdown options to see where else the term appears, or press
. [As the two commentators do not always use the term when discussing chronological issues, our results will not be exhaustive and should be viewed as only a starting point for discussion.]
In the database tree on the left side of the screen, press on the
next to the words
to expand and see search results in individual commentators. Click on
to scroll to those results.
Scan the various results. [Click on the link next to each search result to see the full comment.]
When Ibn Ezra posits that a story is achronological, does he usually point to
which might prompt the suggestion? How does he explain why the stories are
not recounted in their proper place?
How often does Ramban quote the principle only to
it? When he does apply it, what types of reasons does he provide for the achronology?
5. Case A: Dating the Command of "לֶךְ לְךָ"
Our quick survey shows that while Ibn Ezra is quite comfortable suggesting that a story might be out of order, Ramban does so only when achronology is explicit in the text. In such cases, Ramban tends to give
for Tanakh's reordering. Though at times Ibn Ezra does the same, often he does not give any explanation at all.
Let's now look in depth at three cases where the two exegetes
with each other. We'll start with their dispute regarding the dating of Hashem's initial command to Avraham,
"לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ"
Let's access the Mikraot Gedolot on
. Read to the end of the chapter, and then use the
in the top red bar to continue to
, scanning the first five verses there as well.
According to the simple reading of the chapter,
when does Hashem command Avraham
to head to Canaan? Is there anything in the verses which might lead someone to suggest that the events are not recorded chronologically?
6. Ibn Ezra's Read of "לֶךְ לְךָ"
Let's return to
to see how
, in his
, reads the verses. According to him, when did Hashem command Avraham to go to Canaan – while still
in Ur Kasdim
, or only after he arrived
Which word in Hashem's command might be motivating him to say so? How do the words
"לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן"
in 11:31 further buttress his claim?
Though Ibn Ezra does not mention it here, in
, he notes a third textual motivation for the achronology. [Click
, or use the book icon from the top red bar to choose the chapter and verse.] How does this verse
If Hashem's command is indeed recorded out of place, how might we explain why the Torah chose to do so?
7. Ramban's Read of "לֶךְ לְךָ"
of the verse. As expected, in contrast to Ibn Ezra, he asserts that the command took place where written, in Bereshit 12:1, after Avraham had arrived
Let's return to
to look at his
. We'll start with the paragraph that begins, "ורבי אברהם פירש".
Ramban argues against Ibn Ezra from
. How does each of these verses pose a
to Ibn Ezra's stance? How might he respond?
How might Ramban, in turn, explain why Hashem later says, "אֲנִי ה' אֲשֶׁר
הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים
On the whole, whose arguments do you find more convincing, those of Ibn Ezra or Ramban?
8. A Double Problem: מולדת
One of the points of dispute between Ibn Ezra and Ramban revolves around the usage of the word
found in Hashem's directive to Avraham (
At first glance the word supports Ibn Ezra's position, for it seems from
Ur Kasdim is Avraham's birthplace
and, if so, Hashem's command came to him while he was still living there.
However, Ramban notes that in
, when Avraham sends his servant "אֶל אַרְצִי וְאֶל מוֹלַדְתִּי", he heads to Charan. This leads Ramban to conclude that Avraham must have been
born in Charan
, and it was there that Hashem first spoke to him.
According to this, though, it is difficult to understand why Avraham is found in Ur Kasdim in
The word's usage, thus, presents a
question for both sides
. While Ibn Ezra must explain Bereshit 24:10, Ramban must explain Bereshit 11:31.
9. Concordance Work: מולדת
Let's look at the usage of the noun
throughout Tanakh. A deeper understanding of its usage might allow for
of each of the verses which present challenges for Ibn Ezra and Ramban.
Click on the word
to open the
One Click Concordance
Scan the verses in which the root appears. What might the root mean in Bereshit 43:7 (#8), Bereshit 48:6 (#9), or Esther 8:6 (#22)? See
who explicitly mentions this definition.
How might this meaning be applied to either
obviate the problems
raised by the verses for each of Ibn Ezra and Ramban?
For further discussion of the larger debate and its ramifications for understanding the Avraham narratives, see:
10. Case B: Moshe's Prayer in Shemot 32
Let's now turn to an
between Ibn Ezra and Ramban, this one related to
after the nation sins with the Golden Calf, recorded in
From the verses in Sefer Shemot, Moshe appears to pray on behalf of the nation
upon hearing of the sin, while he is still on Mt. Sinai.
Ibn Ezra's second commentary
where he disagrees, claiming that Moshe actually beseeched Hashem only
after destroying the Calf
What textual support does he bring for his claims? What conceptual argument does he make?
11. Comparing Prayers
Ibn Ezra identifies Moshe's prayer in Shemot with that described in
and alluded to in
, the prayer Moshe uttered when he ascended the mountains for a second set of forty days.
Let's access the
compare the two prayers
Only some of the linguistic parallels are highlighted. To color others that you find, click on the desired phrase, and from the dropdown menu choose either
To what degree are the two prayers
? How does their
Does this prove Ibn Ezra's theory?
If the prayers are one and the same, and relayed only after destroying the calf, why is it
not mentioned in its proper place
, in Shemot 32:31? What does Ibn Ezra suggest? [Return to the Mikraot Gedolot
12. Moshe's Prayer: Ramban
Let's now see how
. We'll start from the paragraph beginning, "ודעת ר"א כי משה לא התפלל".
Why does Ramban
the possibility that the prayer mentioned in verses 11-14 is really part of Moshe's plea in Shemot 32:30-32?
Conceptually, why does he think it is logical that
Moshe did not wait
How does Ramban explain the
to the prayer in Devarim? If the two prayers are one and the same, how can Ramban account for the fact that Devarim implies that it was said during the second ascent and not immediately when Moshe was told of the sin?
Why might Ramban be more comfortable suggesting that there is
in the account
than in the story in Shemot?
13. On Prayers and Apologies
Besides the textual and methodological differences of opinion between Ibn Ezra and Ramban, their two positions have important
regarding prayer, requests for forgiveness, and leadership.
What does Ibn Ezra say about the need to accompany a request for forgiveness with repentance and clear effort to change one's ways?
Why does Ramban think that Moshe's prayer was nonetheless effective?
What does Ramban suggest about the need for leaders to
intervene on behalf of their people
, even when they sin?
What might one learn from him about the
dangers of procrastination
14. Case C: Yitro's Arrival
Another famous disagreement between Ibn Ezra and Ramban has its roots already in the dispute found in
Mekhilta DeRabbi Yishmael Shemot 18:1
at the Israelite camp
before or after the Revelation at Sinai
on your own, looking for verses which might support either side of the debate.
Afterwards, compare the approaches of Ibn Ezra and Ramban in their comments to
15. Yitro's Arrival: Commentary
What arguments for achronology does
bring in his
? When does he assume that Yitro arrived?
Why is the story mentioned here if it only took place later? Ibn Ezra elaborates on this point at the end of his
on the verse. [See also
Yitro and Amalek
for a discussion of the points of contact between the two stories.]
Ramban's primary question
on Ibn Ezra's position?
How does he attempt to
each of his arguments and resolve the various difficulties raised by the verses?
The two positions regarding the timing of Yitro's arrival have
ramifications for a number of issues
According to each opinion, what might have
to arrive when he did? See
Yitro's Visit – Its Purpose and Significance
laws and statutes
in place already before the giving of the Decalogue? How many and which laws were the people given in Marah? See
Miracles and Mitzvot at Marah
What is the relationship between
mentioned here and
mentioned in Bemidbar 10? See
Yitro – Names
What is the relationship between the account of the
appointing of judges
here and in Devraim 1? Do they speak of the same event? See
Appointing Moshe's Assistants
Did Yitro or Moshe's children participate in the revelation at Sinai?
For elaboration on each of Ibn Ezra and Ramban's positions and for other opinions regarding the chronology of the various events of the chapter, see
Chronology – Shemot 18
We have explored Ibn Ezra and Ramban's
opposing views on Torah's chronology
through a number of different stories.
While textual or conceptual questions often lead Ibn Ezra to conclude that a story is
written out of place
, Ramban prefers to
maintain Tanakh's ordering
and find other solutions to such issues.
At times, Ibn Ezra suggests that the Torah's choice to reorder events is due to thematic or homiletic concerns, but often he
does not give any explanation
at all. In contrast, in the rare cases where Ramban admits that there is achronology, as when the change in order is explicit in the text, he consistently attributes it to
It is possible that the two exegetes' different approaches to chronology relates to the general character of their commentaries. Ibn Ezra is very
local in his outlook
, often commenting about individual verses or words, where chronology is irrelevant. Ramban's commentary, in contrast, has a much
, making achronology much more troubling.
Pitting the two approaches one against each other when learning any given story aids the reader to read more carefully. Though we often think of chronological debates as being technical in nature, as we have seen, they often have
far reaching ramifications
for how one understands both individual stories and characters and Tanakh's messages as a whole.
18. Additional Reading
For a general discussion of achronology and the reasons Tanakh might opt to veer from historical ordering, see:
Chronological and Thematic Order
For more about Korach's rebellion, see:
For more about "לֶך לְךָ" and Avraham's move to Canaan, see:
For more about the timing of Yitro's arrival, see:
Chronology – Shemot 18
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