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.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Genesis 43:7

This scripture has little theological relevance, but it contains a number of important Hebrew principles of which every student should be aware. I'll be teaching intensive Biblical Hebrew next summer and have found that if I explain these principles to others I retain them much better and understand them more clearly. I'll discuss each word individually and give my translation at the bottom. Here's the text in Hebrew (I apologize for the font. The holem will be spaced as if it's its own letter):

וַיֹּאמְרוּ שָׁאוֹל שָׁאַל-הָאִישׁ לָנוּ וּלְמוֹלַדְתֵּנוּ לֵאמֹר הַעוֹד אֲבִיכֶם חַי הֲיֵשׁ לָכֶם אָח וַנַּגֶּד-לוֹ עַל-פִּי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה הֲיָדוֹעַ נֵדַע--כִּי יֹאמַר הוֹרִידוּ אֶת-אֲחִיכֶם

Qal, prefix, 3rd comm. plural, waw-conversive, אמר, "to say." With the Qal prefix we expect to see an i preformative vowel. An aleph will normally quiesce in the first position, but due to the frequency of its use the vocalization has developed analogous to the 1st singular, prefix of the same verb. The double aleph will combine to give us ā, but the Canaanite shift comes into play and the holem replaces the primitive vocalization.

שָׁאוֹל שָׁאַל-הָאִישׁ לָנוּ
The first form of שׁאל here is a prepositive infinitive absolute. The second is a Qal, affix, 3rd masc. singular. This combination is fairly common in Biblical Hebrew and often gives a nuance of affirmation or "asseveration" to the following verb (often translated "surely"). Here, though, the sense seems to be that of insistence, or a pressing question or demand. An appropriate translation would be, "The man asked us directly concerning us."

The man also asks concerning Jacob's kindred. מוֹלַדְתֵּנוּ is a substantive from the verb yld ("to give birth"). A holem male appears in place of the y, which will be explained below.

"Saying. . . "

הַעוֹד אֲבִיכֶם חַי הֲיֵשׁ לָכֶם אָח

In both sentences the h is interrogative.

וַנַּגֶּד-לוֹ עַל-פִּי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה
The daggesh in the g of וַנַּגֶּד indicates the original first n has assimilated (the n in the first position often assimilates when there is no vowel separating it from the next root letter). The verb is a Qal, affix, 1st comm. plural, waw-conversive.

הֲיָדוֹעַ נֵדַע
Another infinitive absolute followed by a finite verb. The h is interrogative. The sere with the n indicates the y of yd‘ has dropped out completely. The verb is Qal, affix, 1 comm. plural.
כִּי יֹאמַר הוֹרִידוּ אֶת-אֲחִיכֶם
We find with יֹאמַר another example of a preformative holem in a prefix verb. הוֹרִידוּ is an interesting verb. It's a masc. plural Hiphil imperative, which makes it causitive ("cause to come down"). The first y has been replaced with a holem male. This form is actually more archaic than the root from other derived forms of yrd. The verb was originally wrd, and this reading preserves the oldest known form.

And they said, the man asked us directly concerning ourselves and our kindred, saying, "Does your father yet live? Do you have a brother?" And we told him all about these things. Could we really have known that he would say, "Bring your brother down"?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

John 1:1

I figured I'd start out by reviewing a translation issue that often seems to cause confusion. The text of John 1:1 reads thus:
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν λόγος, καὶ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν λόγος
It has traditionally been translated:
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.
Obviously this translation provides a powerful foundation for a Trinitarian reading of the Gospels. Some translations, however, have advocated a far different reading. Most famous (or infamous) among these is the New World Translation, which reads thus:
In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god .
The controversy revolves around the translation of θεὸς ἦν λόγος in 1:1c and the definiteness of θεὸς. Is Jesus the God, or is he divine. The clause is a simple predicate nominative, with the predicate preceding the verb. The verb (ἦν) is a 3rd singular, imperfect, active, indicative.

Normally in a predicate nominative a definite predicate is anarthrous (lacking the article), but there are a few instance where the article is required. Smyth's Greek Grammar lists three such instances (§ 1152):
Even in the predicate the article is used with a noun referring to a definite object that is well known, previously mentioned or hinted at, or identical with the subject.
Smyth deals with Classical Greek, though, and while John employs a sophisticated Greek, it is Koine, and thus somewhat distinct from Classical Greek. Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, however, describe a similar situation in their book A Greek Grammar of the New Testament (
§ 273):
The article is inserted if the predicate noun is presented as something well known or as that which along merits the designation (the only thing to be considered).
Both grammars seem to indicate the article is necessary should
θεὸς be definite. Notwithstanding the grammatical requirements, the style of the New Testament can sometimes be anomalous. E. C. Colwell published an article in the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1933 that argued the word order of predicate nominatives in the New Testament also influenced the use of the article. The relevant portion of the article argues that the New Testament authors more often than not omitted the articles from definite predicate nouns when the predicate preceded the verb.

"Colwell's Rule" has become popular in discussing John 1:1, but scholars warn that Colwell's investigation was exclusively concerned with word order, and does not address all aspects of definiteness with predicate nominatives. There are also numerous exceptions to this rule. In John 1:21, for instance, John employs the article in a definite predicate noun that precedes the verb.

Murray Harris tempered Colwell's ambition in an article entitled "The Definite Article in the Greek New Testament" (301–13 in Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus). He writes that an anarthrous noun in the predicate may be definite or indefinite, but should be presumed indefinite unless the context demands otherwise. According to Harris, the construction may also be interpreted qualitatively, irrespective of the definiteness of the noun.

In the end neither conclusion answers all our concerns, but John 1:1c can surely be translated with an indefinite
θεὸς with no impediments. Many accept it as the stronger perspective, although mainstream Christian scholars have been reticent to allow the reading the circulation it deserves. Any attempt to promulgate the theory is often bemoaned as tacit approval of the New World Translation, whether that translation influenced the research or not (and it usually does not). For many, however, the baby is more easily thrown out if it is shackled to the bathwater of the NWT.

For additional reading see Rodney J. Decker, "Colwell's Rule," and William Arnold III, "Colwell's Rule and John 1:1."