Friday, April 25, 2008

Robert Alter on 'nephesh' as 'throat' in Psalm 63:2

From Robert Alter:

Thirsting reflects a distinctive aspect of Psalms. These poems, even if many of them were written to be used in the temple cult, exhibit an intensely spiritual inwardness. Yet that inwardness is characteristically expressed in the most concretely somatic terms. Here is another example of the psalmist's longing for God articulated as thirst:

God, my God, for You I search.
My throat thirsts for You,
my flesh yearns for You
in a land waste and parched, with no water. (63:2)

The King James Version, and most modern translations in its footsteps, has the "soul" thirsting for God, but this is almost certainly a mistake. The Hebrew nefesh means "life breath" and, by extension, "life" or "essential being." But by metonymy, it is also a term for the throat (the passage through which the breath travels) or, sometimes, for the neck. As the subject of the verb "thirst" and with the interlinear parallelism with "flesh," nefesh here surely has its physical meaning of "throat." The very physicality, of course, makes the metaphor of thirsting all the more powerful.

- Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, p. xxvii-xxviii


אלהים אלי אתה
אשחרך צמאה לך
נפש כמה לך בשרי
בארץ־ציה ועיף

אֱלֹהִ֤ים׀ אֵלִ֥י אַתָּ֗ה אֲֽשַׁחֲ֫רֶ֥ךָּ צָמְאָ֬ה לְךָ֨׀ נַפְשִׁ֗י כָּמַ֣הּ לְךָ֣ בְשָׂרִ֑י בְּאֶֽרֶץ־צִיָּ֖ה וְעָיֵ֣ף בְּלִי־מָֽיִם׃

’aḵə ’el-’ĕlōhîm dûmîyâ nafəšî mimmennû yəšû‘āṯî:

ο θεος ο θεος μου προς σε ορθριζω εδιψησεν σοι
η ψυχη μου ποσαπλως σοι η σαρξ μου εν γη
ερημω και αβατω και ανυδρω

O God, my God, early I approach you
my soul thirsted for you
How many times did my flesh thirst for you
in a land, desolate and trackless and waterless?

Exaudi, Deus, orationem meam cum deprecor ;
a timore inimici eripe animam meam.

God, my God, Y wake to thee ful eerli. Mi soule thirstide to thee; my fleisch thirstide to thee ful many foold.

O God, thou art my God;
early will I seek thee:
my soul thirsteth for thee,
my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land,
where no water is;

O God, thou art my God; earnestly will I seek thee: My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee, In a dry and weary land, where no water is.

O God, you are my God,
and I long for you.
My whole being desires you;
like a dry, worn-out, and waterless land,
my soul is thirsty for you.

O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

God, you are my God, I pine for you; my heart thirsts for you, my body longs for you, as a land parched, dreary and waterless.

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.

You are my God. I worship you.
In my heart, I long for you,
as I would long for a stream
in a scorching desert.

O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.

God—you're my God! I can't get enough of you!
I've worked up such hunger and thirst for God,
traveling across dry and weary deserts.

God, my God, for You I search.
My throat thirsts for You,
my flesh yearns for You
in a land waste and parched, with no water.

Related Post
Eugene Peterson on 'nephesh'

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Don't 'Walk' in NIV's 2 Cor. 5:7?

Like tc, I'm a TNIV fan, but like him (after reading his post, at least), I'm puzzled and unconvinced by Fee and Stuart's argument for translating "peripateo" as "live" instead of "walk" in 2 Cor. 5:7 ("for we walk by faith, not by sight," NRSV). (It looks to me like the problem--or issue, at least--arose with the NIV, so it's not a TNIV-specific matter.)

Read all about it at tc's post--including the comment citing O'Brien on Hebraistic influence.

By the way, the NIV also took "walk" out of passages such as Romans 6:4 ("walk in the newness of life," NRSV), Gal 5:16 ("walk by the Spirit," RSV, and Eph. 2:10 ("that we should walk in them," RSV)--though the NRSV, my default translation, followed the NIV on the latter two moves. (tc now notes that the TNIV actually put "walk" back into Eph 5:2!)

διὰ πίστεως γὰρ περιπατοῦμεν οὐ διὰ εἴδους

dia pisteōs gar peripatoumen ou dia eidous

per fidem enim ambulamus, et non per speciem

for we walken bi feith, and not bi cleer siyt.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Why 'hairy' in Psalm 68:21?

"But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways." (Psalm 68:10, NRSV)

In verse 21b 'the hairy crown' is parallel to 'the heads' in line 'a.' Some take this phrase to refer to the custom of warriors not cutting their hair while engaged in holy wars. NEB has 'flowing locks'; NJB 'long-haired skull.'

- Robert Bratcher, Translator's Handbook on the Book of Psalms

אך־אלהים ימחץ ראש
איביו קדקד שער
מתהלך באשמיו׃

הָ֤אֵ֣ל׀ לָנוּ֘ אֵ֤ל לְֽמֹושָׁ֫עֹ֥ות וְלֵיהוִ֥ה אֲדֹנָ֑י לַ֝מָּ֗וֶת תֹּוצָאֹֽות׃

’aḵə-’ĕlōhîm yiməḥaṣ rō’š ’ōyəḇāyw qāḏəqōḏ śē‘ār miṯəhallēḵə ba’ăšāmāyw:

πλην ο θεος συνθλασει κεφαλας εχθρων αυτου κορυφην τριχος διαπορευομενων
εν πλημμελειαις αυτων

But God will shatter his enemies' heads,
the hairy crown of those who walk in their errors


verumtamen Deus confringet capita inimicorum suorum verticem crinis ambulantis in delictis suis

Netheles God schal breke the heedis of hise enemyes; the cop of the heere of hem that goen in her trespassis.

Surely God will wound the head of his enemies, and the hearie pate of him that walketh in his sinnes.

But God shall wound the head of his enemies,
and the hairy scalp of such a one as goeth on still in his trespasses.

But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of him who walks in his guilty ways.

But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.

Indeed God strikes the heads of his enemies,
the hairy foreheads of those who persist in rebellion.*

tn Heb “the hairy forehead of the one who walks about in his guilt.” The singular is representative.

Our Lord and our God,
your terrible enemies
are ready for war,* but you will crush
their skulls.

* 'are ready for war': The Hebrew text has "have long hair," which probably refers to the ancient custom of wearing long hair on special occasions, such as a "holy war."

What's more, he made heads roll,
split the skulls of the enemy

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shema transliterated into Greek alphabet in Austria inscription

From the University of Vienna, via, via e.t.c.:

Archaeologists from the Institute of Prehistory and Early History of the University of Vienna have found an amulet inscribed with a Jewish prayer in a Roman child’s grave dating back to the 3rd century CE at a burial ground in the Austrian town of Halbturn. The 2.2-centimeter-long gold scroll represents the earliest sign of Jewish inhabitants in present-day Austria.

Curiously, the prayer is Hebrew--the Shema from Deuteronomy 6--but is transliterated into the Greek alphabet:



Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.

• comments at e.t.c.

More about the Shema from

שמע ישראל יהוה
אלהינו יהוה אחד׃

שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה׀ אֶחָֽד׃

šəma‘ yiśərā’ēl yəhwâ ’ĕlōhênû yəhwâ| ’eḥāḏ:

photo of inscription

ακουε Ισραηλ κυριος ο θεος ημων κυριος εις εστιν

Audi, Israël: Dominus Deus noster, Dominus unus est

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

'mega phone' in Revelation 1:10

"I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice (phōnēn megalēn) like a trumpet ..."(Rev. 1:10)

ἐγενόμην ἐν πνεύματι ἐν τῇ κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ καὶ ἤκουσα ὀπίσω μου φωνὴν μεγάλην ὡς σάλπιγγος

egenomēn en pneumati en tēi kuriakēi hēmerai, kai ēkousa opisō mou phōnēn megalēn hōs salpingos

Monday, April 14, 2008

'shields of the earth' in Psalm 47:10

James Barr on using the LXX in Hebrew philology in Psalm 47:10:

Thus the practice of philological treatment has often been to use the LXX or other version not as a direct corrective of MT but as evidence for the identification by comparative methods of Hebrew words or senses previously unknown. ... A good first example is Ps. 47.10

[נדיבי עמים נאספו
עם אלהי אברהם כי
לאלהים מגני־ארץ
מאד נעלה׃ ]

literally apparently 'the shields of the earth'. The LXX (46.10) has

[ αρχοντες λαων συνηχθησαν μετα του θεου Αβρααμ οτι του θεου
οι κραταιοι της γης σφοδρα επηρθησαν ]

'the powerful of the earth', cf. also Syriac 'whdynyh d'r' 'the powers of the earth'. The normal Hebrew sense 'shield' has been felt to be strange: are there 'shields of the earth' which belong to God? Emendations have been suggested which produce a sense like 'princes'; in these the versions are used as clues to construct a consonantal text different from MT. A philological treatment is offered by Driver, who says that the LXX here provides 'far the earliest evidence' for the root of Arabic majin 'bold'. Perhaps, then, there was a Hebrew [מגן] 'bold, insolent', preserved only through the versional evidence. KB, following Driver, registers this as a Hebrew word.

The textual and the philological treatments both result in roughly similar senses ('princes' or 'insolent ones', against the traditional 'shields'), but the mode by which this result is reached is different. In the one case it is reached by altering the text, in the other by offering a different explanation of the same text. ...

In addition to these possibilities, one case also say that the meaning is 'shields' and that this is a figurative expression for the rules or the mighty ones of the earth. This explanation through metaphor, if correct, removes the original difficulty. It implies that the LXX were vague about the meaning and gave a general guess; or that in the translation they abandoned the metaphor and gave expression to that to which the figure referred, rather than reproduce the figure itself in Greek.

- James Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament, p.241-242

נדיבי עמים נאספו
עם אלהי אברהם כי
לאלהים מגני־ארץ
מאד נעלה׃

עַמִּ֨ים׀ נֶאֱסָ֗פוּ עַם֮ אֱלֹהֵ֪י אַבְרָ֫הָ֥ם כִּ֣י
לֵֽ֭אלֹהִים מָֽגִנֵּי־אֶ֗רֶץ מְאֹ֣ד נַעֲלָֽה׃

nəḏîḇê ‘ammîm| ne’ĕsāfû ‘am ’ĕlōhê ’aḇərâām kî lē’lōhîm māḡinnê-’ereṣ mə’ōḏ na‘ălâ:

αρχοντες λαων συνηχθησαν μετα του θεου Αβρααμ οτι του θεου
οι κραταιοι της γης σφοδρα επηρθησαν

Rulers of peoples gathered with the God of Abraam,
because the strong of the earth are God's.
They were very much raised up.


Principes populorum congregati sunt cum Deo Abraham,
quoniam dii fortes terræ vehementer elevati sunt.

The princes of puplis ben gaderid togidere with God of Abraham; for the stronge goddis of erthe ben reisid greetli.

The prynces of the people are gathered together vnto the God of Abraham: for God is farre farre hyer exalted, then the mightie lordes of the earth.

Die Fürsten der Völker sind versammeltals Volk des Gottes Abrahams; denn Gott gehören die Starken auf Erden; er ist hoch erhaben.

The princes of the people are gathered vnto the people of the God of Abraham: for the shields of the world belong to God: he is greatly to be exalted.

The princes of the people are gathered together, with the God of Abraham: for the strong gods of the earth are exceedingly exalted.

The princes of the people are gathered together,
even the people of the God of Abraham:
for the shields of the earth belong unto God:
he is greatly exalted.

The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted!

The rulers of the Gentiles have returned to the God of Abraham; for the dominions of the earth belong to God and he is greatly exalted.

The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings* of the earth belong to God;
he is greatly exalted.
* Or shields

The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted.

The nobles of the nations assemble,
along with the people of the God of Abraham<17>
for God has authority over the rulers<18> of the earth.
He is highly exalted!<19>

17) tc The words “along with” do not appear in the MT. However, the LXX has “with,” suggesting that the original text may have read עִם עַם (’im ’am, “along with the people”). In this case the MT is haplographic (the consonantal sequence ayin-mem [עם] being written once instead of twice). Another option is that the LXX is simply and correctly interpreting “people” as an adverbial accusative and supplying the appropriate preposition.

18) tn Heb “for to God [belong] the shields of the earth.” Perhaps the rulers are called “shields” because they are responsible for protecting their people. See Ps 84:9, where the Davidic king is called “our shield,” and perhaps also Hos 4:18.

19) tn The verb עָלָה (’alah, “ascend”) appears once more (see v. 5), though now in the Niphal stem.

Their leaders come together
and are now the people
of Abraham's God.
All rulers on earth
surrender their weapons,
and God is greatly praised!

The rulers of the nations assemble
with the people* of the God of Abraham.
More powerful than all armies is he;
he rules supreme.

The rulers of the world have gathered together
with the people of the God of Abraham.
For all the kings of the earth belong to God.
He is highly honored everywhere.

Msg Princes from all over are gathered,
people of Abraham's God.
The powers of earth are God's-
he soars over all.

Related Earlier Post
Provocative Vocative in Psalm 47

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

elpizomen - "we had hoped"

ἡμεῖς δὲ ἠλπίζομεν ὅτι αὐτός ἐστιν ὁ μέλλων λυτροῦσθαι τὸν Ἰσραήλ (read)

hêmeis de êlpizomen hoti autos estin ho mellôn lutrousthai ton Israêl (read)

To me one of the saddest verses in the Bible is Luke 24:21, spoken by Cleopas on the road to Emmaus: "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel." ἠλπίζομεν - we had hoped. John Witvliet says:

“Had hoped” means that the hope is gone. This is hope in the past tense. It is this candor that draws us in. This is the story about those who are sympathetic to Jesus’ message, but whose lives are in limbo because of the apparent failure of God’s promises. It is about those of us who quite can’t get our minds around the Easter message. It’s about two people on the road to Emmaus and all those in the 2000 years since whose hope is past tense hope.

As with the Emmaus travelers, the fulfillment of our hope lies in what we do not see unless it is revealed ("then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him").

"But if we hope -- ἐλπίζομεν -- for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." (Romans 8)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Homonymy in Job 4:3?

From James Barr:
The production of new homonyms raises a question about the communicative efficiency of Hebrew. So far as I have found, the producers of philological treatments have taken notice of this question only in very isolated cases. Tur-Sinai notices it, for instance, when he proposes the suggestion that the word רב [rb] should in certain places be understood not as 'great, numerous' but as another word meaning 'weak, powerless, afraid'.

Job 4:3, הנה יסרת רביםוידים רפות תחזק׃
can then read:

If thou hast supported the powerless
and strengthened the weak hands

--which, of course, gives a good parallelism. Other instances suggested by Tur-Sinai are Job 4.14, 26.3, 35.9. He goes on to remark that:

The pronunciation of this word was apparently different from that of רב [rb] in the ordinary sense; otherwise it would not have been possible effectively to contrast רב [rb] 'numerous, great' with אין כח 'powerless' (II Chron. 14.10 [or 11]).

The text at II Chron. 14.10 [or 11] reads:

אין־עמך לעזור בין רב לאין כח

Whatever we may think of Tur-Sinai's solution, it is of real interest that he has noticed the problem of reduction of communicative efficiency caused by homonymy, and has adjust his solution to it by the virtual addition of a qualification making clear that in the original situation there cannot, in his judgment, have been a homonymy.

- James Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament, p.134

הנה יסרת רבים
וידים רפות תחזק׃

Heb (ptd)
הִ֭נֵּה יִסַּ֣רְתָּ רַבִּ֑ים
וְיָדַ֖יִם רָפֹ֣ות תְּחַזֵּֽק׃

Heb (xlit)
hin·neh yis·sar·ta rab·bim;
ve·ya·da·yim ra·fo·vt te·chaz·zek.

ει γαρ συ ενουθετησας πολλους και χειρας ασθενους παρεκαλεσας

LXX (nets)
So what, if you instructed many
and encouraged the hands of the weak one,


Ecce docuisti multos,
et manus lassas roborasti ;

Lo! thou hast tauyt ful many men,
and thou hast strengthid hondis maad feynt.

Behold, thou hast taught many,
and hast strengthened the wearie hands

Behold, thou hast instructed many,
and thou hast strengthened the weak hands.

See, you have instructed many;
you have strengthened the weak hands.

Think how you have instructed many,
how you have strengthened feeble hands.

Look,(7) you have instructed(8) many;
you have strengthened(9) feeble hands(10)

7 tn The deictic particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “behold”) summons attention; it has the sense of “consider, look.”

8 tn The verb יָסַר (yasar) in the Piel means “to correct,” whether by words with the sense of teach, or by chastening with the sense of punish, discipline. The double meaning of “teach” and “discipline” is also found with the noun מוּסָר (musar).

9 tn The parallelism again uses a perfect verb in the first colon and an imperfect in the second; but since the sense of the line is clearly what Job has done in the past, the second verb may be treated as a preterite, or a customary imperfect – what Job repeatedly did in the past (GKC 315 §107.e). The words in this verse may have double meanings. The word יָסַר (yasar, “teach, discipline”) may have the idea of instruction and correction, but also the connotation of strength (see Y. Hoffmann, “The Use of Equivocal Words in the First Speech of Eliphaz [Job IV–V],” VT 30 [1980]: 114-19).

10 tn The “feeble hands” are literally “hands hanging down.” This is a sign of weakness, helplessness, or despondency (see 2 Sam 4:1; Isa 13:7).

You yourself have done this plenty of times, spoken words
that clarify, encouraged those who were about to quit.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

dying daily in 1 Corinthians 15:31

From Gordon Fee:

[Paul] elaborates on the continual dangers mentioned in the opening sentence: "Daily* I die." Taken as an elaboration of v. 30, this means something like "On a daily basis I face the reality of death."** Although one cannot be sure as to what this refers specifically, there are several hints in this letter and in 2 Corinthians that his stay in Ephesus was anything but an Aegean holiday. ... What follows comes as something of a surprise. It is a kind of oath, the first word serving as the affirming particle (= "I swear by"),*** and the next words serving as that by which one swears. Literally it reads "I swear by your boasting," which he quickly qualifies as "(boasting) which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord."

- Fee, commentary on 1 Corinthians, p. 820

καθ' ἡμέραν ἀποθνῄσκω νὴ τὴν ὑμετέραν καύχησιν ἀδελφοί ἣν ἔχω ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ κυρίῳ ἡμῶν

Gk (xlit)
kath' hêmeran apothnêskô, nê tên humeteran kauchêsin, adelphoi, hên echô en Christôi Iêsou tôi kuriôi hêmôn.

cotidie morior per vestram gloriam fratres quam habeo in Christo Iesu Domino nostro

Ech dai Y die for youre glorie, britheren, which glorie Y haue in Crist Jhesu oure Lord.

By oure reioysinge which I have in Christ Iesu oure Lorde I dye dayly

By oure reioysinge which I haue in Christ Iesu or LORDE, I dye daylie

So wahr ihr, liebe Brüder, mein Ruhm seid, den ich in Christus Jesus, unserm Herrn, habe: ich sterbe täglich.

By your* reioycing which I haue in Christ Iesus our Lord, I die dayly.

* As though he said, "I die daily, as all the miseries I suffer can well witness, which I may truly boast of, that I have suffered among you."

I die daily, I protest by your glory, brethren, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

Every day do I die, by the glorying of you that I have in Christ Jesus our Lord:

I protest by that glorifying in you, brethren, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

I protest, brethren, by my pride in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!

My friends, I face death every day! The pride I have in you, in our life in union with Christ Jesus our Lord, makes me declare this.

I die every day--I mean that, brothers--just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you-a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I face death every day--yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!

I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

Every day I am in danger of death! This is as sure as* my boasting in you,** which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.

* Or, more literally, "I swear by the boasting in you."

** Although the witnesses for the shorter reading (Ì46 D F G ? 075 0243 1739 1881 Ï) are not as strong as for the addition of ἀδελφοί (adelfoi, "brothers") at this juncture (? A B K P 33 81 104 365 1175 2464 lat sy co), it is difficult to find a reason why scribes would either intentionally or unintentionally drop the address here. Thus, the shorter reading is slightly preferred.

and face death every day? The pride that I have in you because of Christ Jesus our Lord is what makes me say this.

For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus our Lord has done in you.

I look death in the face practically every day I live. Do you think I'd do this if I wasn't convinced of your resurrection and mine as guaranteed by the resurrected Messiah Jesus?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

'erets,' 'ratsah,' and imaginative etymological rabbinic interpretation

From James Barr:

Why, for instance, Genesis Rabba asks with reference to Gen. 1:10, did God call the dry land ארץ ['erets]? The answer is: because [it] "conformed" (רצח [ratsah]) to his "will" (רצון [ratsohn]. Etymologizing interpretation of this kind, though found particularly in connexion with personal names, is to be found in all sorts of other connexions also [in rabbinic literature].

- James Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament, p.45