Thursday, July 2, 2009

Can qoneh Mean "Creator"?

The participle qoneh has generally been understood to reference the acquisition or possession of a thing, whether through creation, purchase, or inheritance. The participle is found most importantly (for our purposes) in Gen 14:19, 22:

קנה שמים וארץ

It has traditionally been translated, "Creator of heaven and earth," but some have raised objections to that reading. In Lowell K. Handy's treatment of the Syro-Palestinian pantheon (Among the Host of Heaven) we read, "the meaning of the root . . . has been determined to be ‘acquire/own’ and not ‘create'" (76). Handy cites Peter Katz's 1954 Journal of Jewish Studies article and Bruce Vawter's 1986 Catholic Biblical Quarterly article. We may add a 1980 article by Vawter appearing in the Journal of Biblical Literature which argues the verb qnh in Prov 8:22 should not be understood as "created." To support this he argues the verb should never be taken to mean "create" in Ugaritic or in the Hebrew Bible.

His argument clearly stems from a need to find an uncreated premortal Christ in Proverbs' Wisdom, but of interest to us is his footnote number 20, in which he attempts to support the statement that the translation "create" in the Ugaritic corpus' use of qnh is "never certain," and in some cases, "definitely ruled out." He does this simply by citing translations that use another word:

wy'ny.]aliyn[.b'l.]/ m.kqnyn. '[ ] / kdrd.dyknn. This is translated by Gordon in Ugarit and Minoan Crete (New York: Norton, 1966) 89: "And Aliyan Baal declares: / 'Why, like - upon / Like - which he causes to be"'; the same translation is in his earlier Ugaritic Literature (Scripta PBI 89; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1949) 50. In the second edition of Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1978) 133, J. C. L. Gibson does not translate the text (10 iii 5-7, according to the Herdner sigla), but in his glossary he offers "creator" as the meaning of the qny there (the full word he transliterates kqnym).

Vawter does not address any of these arguments directly, but in this instance he is particularly to be faulted for neglecting to address that qnyn appears in parallel with yknn, which overlaps most parsimoniously with qnh in the sense of creation. My translation of KTU

Indeed, our creator is eternal
Indeed, ageless is he who made us.

For a similar reading, see Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 15. Compare also to KTU 3.5.35-36; 4.1.5-6; 4.4.47-48; where yknnh is parallel to 'abh ("his father").

In this instance, Vawter has overstated his argument and has neglected to even engage a very serious obstacle to his thesis, preferring rather to assert that Gordon translated it with another word, and so "create" cannot be "certain," which, in this case, is clearly incorrect. The argument that qoneh in Biblical Hebrew cannot mean "creator" because it does not mean "create" in Ugaritic is thus undermined.


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