Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Balaam's vision

There are three prima facie cases of talking animals in Scripture. 

1. There's the case of the "snake" in Gen 3. But that's quite ambiguous. The Hebrew phrase has three different meanings: "the snake," "the diviner," and "the shining one."

I think the name of the Tempter in Gen 3 is probably a pun or double entendre that trades on associations with occultic forbidden knowledge, as well as ophiomancy and ophiolatry. I think the Tempter is actually an angelophany. A fallen angel. I've discussed this identification in more detail elsewhere.

2. A second example is the talking eagle in Revelation:

Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!” (Rev 8:13).
Now, someone might object that this isn't a real eagle. Rather, this is something that John sees and hears in his vision. A simulated talking eagle. Even in ordinary dreams, we can see and hear things that are naturally impossible.
And I agree with that. But that, in turn, raise questions about the third example:
3. If the talking eagle in Rev 8:13 wasn't a real eagle, but a vision of a talking eagle, what about Balaam's talking donkey? 
In Num 22-24, Balaam is clearly a seer. 22:8-13 and 22:19-20 describe nocturnal visions or revelatory dreams. Among other things, Balaam may well have been an oneiromantist. In addition, 24:3-4 describe him as a seer and visionary. 
There's a potential distinction between dream visions and waking visions. Moreover, the description in 24:3-4 (par. 24:15-16) is idiomatic and formulaic. There's the distinction between eyes "covered" (closed) and eyes "uncovered" (opened). Perhaps that's equivalent to falling into a trance and coming out of a trace. Or perhaps that differentiates revelatory dreams and/or nocturnal visions from waking visions. 
Indeed, in this context, "falling" denotes drifting into a revelatory dream state or hypnotic trance. Cf. B. Levine, Numbers 21-36, p194. 
Notice the same stereotypical language in 22:31: 
Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. 
This takes place after the talking donkey incident. 
Given the fact that Balaam was a seer, combined with the use of visionary formulas 22:31 & 24:3-4, this may be a narrative clue to the reader that Balaam was in a trace when he saw and heard his donkey speak. In other words, it was a vision. A simulated talking donkey, like the simulated talking eagle in Rev 8:13. 
Num 22:31 may mark the point at this Balaam emerges from his trance. Or perhaps the entire episode is a vision, and this is a recognition scene within the vision. In Scripture, angels sometimes appear to people in visions. Dreams and visions have shifting scenes. 
In this analysis is correct, then Scripture doesn't record any examples of actual talking animals. Even if it did, that would be miraculous. But I'm exploring an alternative interpretation. 

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