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.

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