N. The Possibility of Textual Corruption in the Talmudic Description of the Tekhelet-hillazon

It is sorely disappointing to be told that the striking researches and discoveries which have thrown so much light on the subject of ancient purple dyeing fail to afford us the key to the solution of the problem presented by the Talmudic description of the hillazon-shel-Tekhelet. The only escape from the difficulty, however, is recourse to textural emendation. Lewysohn identifying the Tekhelet-species with Pliny’s Purpura, which, by the way, he wrongly equates with the Purpura of modern zoology emends גוונו i.e. the colouring matter, for גופו, “the body” in characterisation (a). The correction, besides lacking the support of any authority, is really inadmissible; for גוונו does not mean colouring matter but colour, appearance.1 If in the text גוונו would have the same significance as מפו, that is, the colour of its body. Kohut2 entirely misinterprets גופו.

Raphael Rabinowicz3 mentions the omission of גופו in a single manuscript. Working on the basis of the variant reading we might suggest that ( 1 ) the original text read: חלזון רמו דומה לים i.e. its blood is like unto the sea, (2) the omission of דמו was occasioned by the graphic similarity of the two words; (3)גופו was afterwards inserted to complete the sense.

Once we have substituted “damo domeh l’yam” דמו דומה לים “its blood (dye secretion) is like unto the sea” for gupho, etc. … “its body is like unto the sea,” we have thrown the door wide open for the admission of the old favourite Murex trunculus, though (c) at any rate may still occasion some difficulty. Compare Professor Friedlaender4


“… and a look at the illuminated glands of the Murex trunculus also shows us that the ‘purple sea’ means a poetic hyperbola.” “… und ein Blick auf die belichteten Drüsen von Murex trunculus zeigt uns man auch, dass das ‘purpurne Meer’ eine dichterische Hyperboi bedeutet.”

 But to build a scientific identification on an hypothetical reading based upon the very doubtful authority of a single manuscript is like “trusting on yon cracked reed-staff, which if a man lean on it, will enter into his hand and pierce it.”5



  1. e.g.,.ערובין נ״ה, ע״ב
  2. Aruch, Completum, s.v. חלזון
  3. .,רביניביץ, רפאל נתן, דקדוקי סופרים. מינכן, תרכ״ח-ע תרנ״ז.(1868—1897) מנחות מ״ד ,א↡
  4. Friedlaender, ibid., p. 7.
  5. Isaiah, Ch. XXVI, v.6.