Saturday, May 31, 2008

Exodus 23:17

Although most people don't realize it, this scripture is a theologically revealing scripture. It is also the first of a series of scriptures, stretching all the way to Psalms 42, alluding to the same theological principle. First, the passage in Hebrew and then English:
שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָּל־זְכוּרְךָ אֶל־פְּנֵי הָאָדֹן יְהוָה
Exodus 23:17 (KJV):
Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God.
The Masoretic text vowels the word יֵרָאֶה, translated "appear," as a Niphal. This means the verb should be read passively. The verb r'h means "to see," which renders the reading provided by the Masoretes "appear." This formula (appear three times a year before the Lord) appears, or is alluded to, in Exod 34:20; 34:23–24; Deut 16:16; 31:11; 1 Sam 1:22 (possibly); Isa 1:12; and Ps 42:3.

Some of these attestations, however, call into question the reading provided by the Masoretes. In Exod 34:24, Deut 31:11, and Isa 1:12, the verb appears in the infinitive construct, but the Niphal reading is complicated by a missing h. The infinitive construct normally takes the ləhiqqātēl form, but here the h seems to have elided. This happens more frequently with the Hiphil. There are five other examples of an elided h in the Niphal infinitive in the Hebrew Bible, although a Qal reading is not precluded in any of them.
[1] The infinitive of r'h, however, only ever appears without the h in verses alluding to our formula, and in the MT there are no examples of our formula with an unambiguously Niphal r'h.[2] The elided form without the vocalization would be identical to the Qal infinitive construct, and many conclude that the reading was originally Qal.

If the Niphal reading should be read as Qal it would render the verse, "Three times in the year all thy males shall see the face of the Lord
God." The conclusion has been promulgated by many that the reading was originally Qal, but was altered to minimize anthropomorphizing tendencies.While we can conjecture about the legitimacy of the Niphal infinitive with the elided h, several manuscripts do give us evidence that supports an originally Qal reading.

The Mekhiltas of R. Simeon b. Yohai and R. Ishmael, in interpreting Exodus 23:17, exempt the blind. Later Talmudsic readings seem to recognize the ambiguity of the verse, but don't commit to either reading. For Isa 1:12 and Ps 42:3, several manuscripts (de Rossi MSS 575, 337, 368, 670, 864, 879, primo 43, 380, 683) attest to a Qal punctuation. The Syriac has Qal for Isa 1:12.

Exod 33:20 would seem to agree with a Niphal reading of Exod 23:17, but several scriptures exist which clearly assert that God's face can and has been seen. The verses in question were most likely read Qal prior to Niphal, meaning God's face was most likely sought in the early Israelite temple.


[1] See Gary Rendsburg, “Laqtil Infinitives: Yiphil or Hiphil?” Orientalia 51.2 (1982): 231–38. The verses are Exod 10:3; Job 33:30; Ezek 26:15; Prov 24:17; and Lam 2:11.

[2] 1 Samuel 1:22 contains a clearly Nipahl r’h, but it’s not clear if the phrase is an allusion to the formula in question. Carmel McCarthy concludes it is, but posits a 1st person plural jussive reading. See Carmel McCarthy, The Tiqqune Sopherim (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981), 199–200. The Samaritan Pentateuch has the full ləhiqqātēl form in Exod 34:24 in most manuscripts, but several exist without the h.

3 comments:

LifeOnaPlate said...

Just for fun, cf. D&C 88:68-
Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.

maklelan said...

Also D&C 101:38:

"And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life."

Greg said...

And the five steps to entering into the presence of the Lord in D&C 93:1 - "Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am."

Great blog - glad I found it. See also BelieveAllThings dot com.