Tag Archives: hebrew

Gaines, “Poetic Features in Priestly Narrative Texts” (2013)

I just ran across a Ph.D. dissertation that finds two redactions, one poetic and one prosaic, in the P source. I’m blogging it here mostly so I don’t forget about it, since it’s directly relevant to a couple of projects I’m working on.

Jason M. H. Gaines, “Poetic Features in Priestly Narrative Texts,” Ph.D. diss, Brandeis University, 2013.

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Kim, “Early Biblical Hebrew, Late Biblical Hebrew, and Linguistic Variability”

I just finished reading Dong-Hyuk Kim’s dissertation, Early Biblical Hebrew, Late Biblical Hebrew, and Linguistic Variability: A Sociolinguistic Evaluation of the Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (VTS 156; Leiden: Brill, 2013). I may write a longer review here sometime, but I wanted to commend it to everyone before I forgot.

First, despite a few typos, the book is lucid and well-written. It did not feel like I was reading a dissertation, which have a tendency to be dry and technical; instead, it is engaging and concise, which I appreciated very much. Kim’s monograph is an example of scholarly writing done well.

Second, the argument is nuanced and scientific. Over against the two sides in the debate over dating the books of the Hebrew Bible on the basics of linguistics (i.e., Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, and Martin Ehrensvärd against the traditional view set forth by Robert Polzin and Avi Hurvitz), Kim argues for a middle position in the debate. Using historical sociolinguistics, he argues that the language of the Hebrew Bible changes over time; however, this change was gradual and may not be used to date texts whose dates are otherwise unknown (that is, his method is descriptive, not prescriptive). His methodology is cautious and sound, and his conclusions are sure to shape the future of the debate.

Third, in addition to arguing a novel point, Kim’s monograph serves as an excellent introduction to the debate over linguistic dating of the texts of the Hebrew Bible. I started the book with next to no knowledge of the debate (I got it via interlibrary loan simply because the title sounded interesting), but Kim did a very good job of explaining the different sides, such that by the time he got to his own argument, I felt I had a firm grasp on the current shape of the debate.

Kim’s book is solid overall, and I heartily recommend it both to anyone with an interest in linguistic dating of the Hebrew Bible and as a very good example of good scholarly writing.

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Isaiah 40:9-11: Septuagint, Masoretic Text, New Testament

Continuing on in my on-again-off-again series of text criticism/analysis of 2 Isaiah, here’s Isaiah 40:9-11, in the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text. Translations are my own.

The Texts


9 ἐπ᾿ ὄρος ὑψηλὸν ἀνάβηθι, ὁ εὐαγγελιζόμενος Σιων·
ὕψωσον τῇ ἰσχύι τὴν φωνήν σου, ὁ εὐαγγελιζόμενος Ιερουσαλημ·
ὑψώσατε, μὴ φοβεῖσθε·
εἰπὸν ταῖς πόλεσιν Ιουδα
Ἰδοὺ ὁ θεὸς ὑμῶν.
10 ἰδοὺ κύριος μετὰ ἰσχύος ἔρχεται καὶ ὁ βραχίων μετὰ κυριείας,
ἰδοὺ ὁ μισθὸς αὐτοῦ μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸ ἔργον ἐναντίον αὐτοῦ.
11 ὡς ποιμὴν ποιμανεῖ τὸ ποίμνιον αὐτοῦ
καὶ τῷ βραχίονι αὐτοῦ συνάξει ἄρνας
καὶ ἐν γαστρὶ ἐχούσας παρακαλέσει

9 Go up upon a high mountain,
 O Zion, who brings good news;
Lift up your voice with strength, 
O Jerusalem, who brings good news;
Lift it up; do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold, your god.”
10 Behold, the Lord comes with strength and his arm with authority;
Behold, his reward is with him and his work is before him.
11 Like a shepherd he will herd his flock
And with his arm he will gather the lambs.
He will comfort those who have children in their womb.


עַ֣ל הַר־גָּבֹ֤הַ עֲלִי־לָךְ֙ מְבַשֶּׂ֣רֶת צִיּ֔וֹן
הָרִ֤ימִי בַכֹּ֨חַ֙ קוֹלֵ֔ךְ מְבַשֶּׂ֖רֶת יְרוּשָׁלִָ֑ם
הָרִ֙ימִי֙ אַל־תִּירָ֔אִי
אִמְרִי֙ לְעָרֵ֣י יְהוּדָ֔ה
הִנֵּ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
‎‫הִנֵּ֨ה אֲדֹנָ֤י יְהוִה֙ בְּחָזָ֣ק יָב֔וֹא וּזְרֹע֖וֹ מֹ֣שְׁלָה ל֑וֹ
הִנֵּ֤ה שְׂכָרוֹ֙ אִתּ֔וֹ וּפְעֻלָּת֖וֹ לְפָנָֽיו׃
כְּרֹעֶה֙ עֶדְר֣וֹ יִרְעֶ֔ה
בִּזְרֹעוֹ֙ יְקַבֵּ֣ץ טְלָאִ֔ים
וּבְחֵיק֖וֹ יִשָּׂ֑א עָל֖וֹת יְנַהֵֽל׃

9 Go up upon a high mountain, O Zion, who brings news;
Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, who brings news.
Lift it up; do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold, your god.”
10 Behold, the Lord YHWH comes with strength and his arm rules for him;
Behold, his wages are with him and his work is before him.
11 Like a shepherd he will herd his flock
And with his arm he will gather the lambs.
He will carry them at his bosom and will guide those who are giving suck.‎‎


O Zion . . . O Jerusalem (LXX) Technically, these two terms are in the nominative, but they are pretty clearly nominative-for-vocatives, which is common enough in biblical Greek and colloquial Attic Greek. See Conybeare, Grammar of Septuagint Greek, §51 and Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, pp. 56-59. Cf. Smyth, Greek Grammar for Colleges, §202.

Who brings good news . . . who brings good news (LXX) Greek εὐαγγελιζόμενος in both cases. This participle differs from that of the MT (מְבַשֶּׂ֣רֶת) by making it explicit that the news that has been delivered is good. In context, however, it is unmistakeable that the news is good: YHWH is returning the Judean exiles back to their homeland.

Isaiah 40:1-11, I think, is a pretty effective piece of pro-Cyrus propaganda. Morton Smith (Studies in the Cult of Yahweh, I.76-79) makes it abundantly clear that 2 Isaiah is writing about Cyrus’ eventual sack of Babylon before the sack actually happened, and postulates that 2 Isaiah is actually Persian propaganda — that is, subversive, Yahwistic, pro-Cyrus propaganda that was “inspired” by Persian agents looking to drum up support for Cyrus among the Judean exiles. (You can see the same basic style in the first half of the Cyrus inscription [ANET 315b-316], where Cyrus’ success in Babylon is attributed to “Marduk, the great lord,” the patron god of Babylon, who legitimated Cyrus’ success in that city. Cyrus, being a Persian, of course, would not have been a devotee of either Marduk or YHWH, but probably of Ahura Mazda.) So, you have 2 Isaiah promising not only that YHWH would soon “come with power” and return the exiles home from Babylon, but also that life in Judah would be better than it ever had been — the land would be smoothed out and made suitable for real agriculture.

On a side note, I can’t help but wonder if this verse is a source of the NT authors’ referring to their messages about Jesus as “good news” (εὐαγγέλιον) and the spread of it as “delivering good news” (εὐαγγελίζω), given that Isaiah 40:3-6 is such an important text for the Gospel authors. And, if this verse is a source for calling the Jesus-message a εὐαγγέλιον, it would be interesting to compare how 2 Isaiah and the NT authors use the term, especially considering that 2 Isaiah considers Cyrus to be the messiah, and the NT considers Jesus to be the messiah.

Go up . . . Lift up . . . Lift it up; do not fear In the LXX, the first two imperatives of v. 9 are singular (ἀνάβηθι . . . ὕψωσον) while the third and fourth are plural (ὑψώσατε, μὴ φοβεῖσθε), while in the MT, all four imperatives are feminine singular (עֲלִי . . . הָרִ֤ימִי . . .הָרִ֙ימִי֙ אַל־תִּירָ֔אִי). That is, the MT relates all four imperatives to the city of Jerusalem; the LXX, on the other hand, relates its first two imperatives to the city, while its third and fourth imperatives relate to the inhabitants of the city. The difference is subtle, but still worth a remark.

The Lord/The Lord YHWH Based on the meter (I’ll expand on this in a future post), it would seem that the MT’s “Lord” (אֲדֹנָ֤י) is a later addition to the text. The LXX offers no clue as to whether the original reading was “Lord YHWH” or simply “YHWH,” as it consistently translates 2 Isaiah’s “Lord YHWH” as “Lord.” (Elsewhere in Isaiah, the LXX renders “Lord YHWH” variously as δεσπότης κύριος and simple κύριος.) Given that in the pro-Cyrus section of 2 Isaiah (ch. 40-48) the title אֲדֹנָ֤י יְהוִה֙ appears only here and in 48:16 (where it is in the mouth of Cyrus), I’m willing to bet that it’s either a later addition or a corruption that was incorporated into the text of the MT.

And his arm with authority/And his arm rules for him The LXX (“And his arm with authority”) smoothes out the idea in the MT (“And his arm rules for him”), making a nice, tight parallelism. Given that the two texts are almost perfectly identical in this passage — even, in most places, down to word order — it makes most sense to see the two texts as standing in the same tradition, with the LXX translator smoothing out the wording ever so slightly, to make it have a little bit better poetic structure.

Like a shepherd he will herd his flock Woodenly, “Like a shepherd he will shepherd his sheep-herd.” I actually like this rendering better than the one I have included in my translation above, because it preserves the similarity of the terms in both the Greek (ὡς ποιμὴν ποιμανεῖ τὸ ποίμνιον αὐτοῦ) and the Hebrew (כְּרֹעֶה֙ עֶדְר֣וֹ יִרְעֶ֔ה), but, unfortunately, it is pretty terrible English, so I ultimately abandoned it.

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Hebrew Poetry: Why No Standard Meter?

I’m reading an article by Frank Moore Cross about Hebrew prosody,* and he was talking about how, even after a couple centuries’ effort, no one has been able to find a consistent pattern of meter in classical Hebrew poetry — at least any meter like that of other classical poetry (namely, Greek and Latin), based on accent and stress. The main thing is that classical Hebrew poetry has lines of different length and irregular stress, while classical Greek and Latin poetry has strict rules for line length and stress. Cross proposes that the main feature of Hebrew meter is syllable count.

I think I might have a few ideas as to why classical Hebrew poetry doesn’t follow the strict metrical rules of classical Greek and Latin poetry. The first is the obvious: Hebrew poetry developed earlier than Greek poetry (and way, way before Latin poetry) and in a different cultural context, the poetry of which didn’t value strict adherence to set metrical patterns.

The second is the grammatical: the noun cases of Indo-European languages like Greek and Latin make it relatively easy to change the word order of the poetry to fit the rules of meter and still have an intelligible text. Hebrew doesn’t have a case system — at least nothing like the Indo-European languages — so it’s more difficult to shift word order and still have intelligible verse.

The third is the practical: the more you deviate from standard word order, the harder it is to understand you. It’s a fairly open question as to how easily Sophocles’ or Horace’s original audiences could have understood their works when listening to them. Hebrew poets, I think, kept more or less to standard word order, with the twin results that their poetry was easily understandable at first listen and also did not follow a rigid meter.

Thus, to sum up, Hebrew poetry did not follow classical rules of meter for three reasons: 1) It developed at an earlier time and in a different cultural context than Greek and Latin poetry; 2) Hebrew lacks the noun cases that allow Greek and Latin poetry to stray from standard word order to keep meter; 3) Hebrew poets kept mostly to standard word order in order to have verse that was easily understood by ear.


*Frank Moore Cross, “The Prosody of Lamentations 1 and the Psalm of Jonah.” Pages 99-134 in From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1998.

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More on the Hebrew and Greek Texts of Ezekiel 2

I did some more digging after I posted about Ezekiel 2 in the Septuagint a couple of weeks ago. I found a couple articles dealing with the problem of the differences between the Hebrew text (the Masoretic text; hereafter, MT) of Ezekiel 2 and the same text in the Septuagint (hereafter, LXX):

E. Tov, “Recensional Differences between the MT and LXX of Ezekiel,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 62 (1986): 89-101.

Jake Stromberg, “Observations on Inner-Scriptural Scribal Expansion in MT Ezekiel,” Vetus Testamentum 58 (2008): 68-86.

Tov argues (as does Stromberg after him) that the LXX text of Ezekiel is older than that of the MT. Tov sees two reasons for this argument. First, the text of LXX Ezekiel is roughly 4-5% shorter than that of MT Ezekiel. This means that either the translator was loose with his translation and felt free to leave things out as he saw fit, or, if he was strict in his translation, his Hebrew text must have been shorter than what is recorded in the MT (Tov 91-92).

Tov’s second reason, however, narrows the options down to a quite comfortable and manageable level. Analyses of the vocabulary of LXX Ezekiel (see Tov 92, n. 11) have shown that the LXX translator was strict and consistent in his translation, which can only mean that his Hebrew text was shorter than that of the MT. Thus, this means that the MT is an expanded version of original Ezekiel, rather than the LXX being a shortened version thereof.

So, revisiting the two texts:

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2 And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’” (ESV, from Hebrew)

1 This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord, and I looked and fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. And he said to me: Son of man, stand upon your feet, and I will speak to you. 2 And a spirit came upon me and took me up and raised me and set me upon my feet, and I heard him speaking to me, 3 and he said to me, Son of Man, I am sending you out to the house of Israel, those who are embittering me — who embittered me, they and their fathers, to this very day, 4 and you shall say to them, “This is what the Lord says.” (NETS, from LXX)

Verse 1: Same as my last post; nothing big here, except that the two texts divide the chapters differently.

Verse 2: It’s not that the LXX turns the story into an otherworld journey, as I previously thought, but that the MT removes the signals that Ezekiel is on an otherworld journey. Both the LXX and MT mention Ezekiel being:

  • possessed by a spirit/the Spirit
  • lifted to his feet (he had fallen to the ground in his trance, 1:1-3, 28)
  • spoken to by God.

However, the MT leaves out Ezekiel being:

  • taken up (ἀνέλαβέν; i.e. into heaven)
  • raised (ἐξῆρέν; more at “taken away,” but again, into heaven)

So, while the MT has Ezekiel’s commission from God takes place while Ezekiel’s still standing by the Chebar canal (1:1-3), the LXX implies quite strongly that Ezekiel’s commission takes place in heaven.

Therefore, I still say that the LXX provides relatively early evidence of a mystical tradition surrounding Ezekiel’s merkabah vision, but I change my opinion at two points: 1) it is likely that original Ezekiel represented this mystical tradition, including a (shamanic) trance, spirit-possession, and journey to heaven; 2) at some point and for whatever reason, the text represented in the MT was edited down to remove Ezekiel’s journey to heaven, leaving him with his feet planted firmly on earth during his commission.

Verse 3: The LXX doesn’t skip goyim (“peoples,” sometimes derogatory, in the sense of “Gentiles”) here; the MT adds it. Tov (93) thinks that the MT includes goyim in order to soften the blow of  the next word, hammordim (“rebellious”), but I’m not sure; this phrase, goyim hammordim, is found mostly in rabbinic Hebrew (Tov 93, n. 16), so I think it likely that this addition was made by a later scribe or rabbi who added this more-or-less stock phrase into the text, whether thoughtlessly or intentionally, without intending to change the meaning.

I’m not so sure now, though, whether goyim carries its own pejorative force here, or whether the pejorative sense rests more on hammordim. I’d need to read more about the sense of goyim hammordim in rabbinic literature, to see what the range of meaning — and range of insult — the phrase carries there. Suffice it to say, for now, that both the LXX and MT here cast Israel in a negative light.

Verse 4: The addition to the MT here (“The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them”) is, as Tov points out, totally redundant, and derives its content not only from the surrounding context, but also 3:&, 33:3-5; 34:9; and Deut 9:6-13 (Tov 93). These sort of expansions — that is, expansions based not only on the immediate context, but also on other biblical texts — are pretty prevalent in MT Ezekiel (Stromberg 70-83; cf. Tov 93-99).

In sum, between the time the LXX was translated (2nd-1st centuries BCE, give or take) and the time the MT was canonized, a scribe changed the text of Ezekiel. In some cases, he added to and expanded the text, such as in 2:3 and 2:4, in order to make the text easier to understand or to fit the idioms of his day. In other cases, he deleted things from the text, as in 2:2, where he sanitized the text and removed Ezekiel’s otherworld journey.


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