[One of my main areas of research is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint. This post talks about how the Greek text can be used to help us understand the Hebrew original. It was originally published 08/2009]
In this post I am laying a foundation for my next installment in my series on Psalm 151 in the Biblical Tradition, by discussing how to retrovert a text from one language into another. This is most commonly done when using the Septuagint in the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Thus, in order to employ the LXX in textual criticism one must retrovert the Greek text back into Hebrew (for more information on the Septuagint and textual criticism in general see my series of posts on Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible). In many cases retroverting a text is easier said than done.
Here are some tips for retroverting a text:
Focus on the translation technique of the individual book in question. The LXX is not a uniform translation. Various translators at different times, with varying philosophies of translation and different language capability, translated different portions of the Hebrew Bible to make up the LXX. For example, the translation of the Torah is a good formal translation, the translation of the Psalter is very formal, while the translations of Proverbs and Isaiah are less so. Thus one cannot assume that the way one translator rendered a particular Hebrew word or construction will be the same fora translator of a different book. Each individual book of the LXX has its own idiosyncrasies to its translation; thus a careful examination of its translation technique is necessary before one can retrovert the text with any confidence.
Examine the different ways a translator renders a particular word. In order to figure out what Hebrew word may be behind a particular Greek word in a passage, you need to look up every instance of the Greek word in question within the biblical book and note what Hebrew word was being rendered. There are a number of useful resources that will help you with this task. If you have a Bible software package with the original language modules, then you can do a Greek lemma search and see what Hebrew was being translated. Even more ideal is if you have Emauel Tov’s The Parallel Aligned Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Texts of Jewish Scripture module where you can see the equivalent elements of the MT and the LXX (as reconstructed by the editor). For more on the different software programs available for Biblical Studies, see my Bible Software pages. If you do not have a Bible software package, then you can manually look up how a word is with Takamitsu Muraoka’s Hebrew/Aramaic Index to the Septuagint: Keyed to the Hatch-Redpath Concordance (Baker Academic, 1998; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com) which also comes included in Edwin Hatch, Henry A. Redpath, A Concordance to the Septuagint: And the other Greek Versions of the Old Testament – Including the Apocryphal Books (Second edition, two volumes in one; Includes Muraoka, “Hebrew/Aramaic Index”; Baker Academic, 1998; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com).
Identify a pattern. If a clear pattern emerges, propose a retroversion. When you examine the different ways an individual book tends to translate a word into Greek, and if there is a clear default rendering, then you can be fairly confident in proposing the retroversion. While you can never be 100% certain with any retroversion, some will be more certain than others. If a clear pattern doesn’t emerge, or if the words in question do not occur frequently enough in the book under study, then you will need to broaden your investigation to see how the word is rendered elsewhere in the LXX. While this will not produce as clear of results as the previous situation, you can still produce a workable retroversion.
With these principles in mind, the Septuagint may be employed quite fruitfully in the textual criticism of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Of course, retroversion may also be used with texts of other languages, and even in ascertaining the relationship between Hebrew Dead Sea Scroll texts and the Septuagint (as I will seek to do in my next post on Psalm 151).
World class Septuagintal scholar John William Wevers passed away last week. Here is a notice that was sent to the members of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies:
On July 23, Professor Emeritus John William Wevers, of the University of Toronto, passed away at the age of 91. Prof. Wevers was struck by a cerebral hemorrhage in the Toronto nursing home where he had lived since July 2008. A memorial service will be held in Toronto on Sept. 11.
During his long tenure at the University of Toronto, Prof. Wevers had brought the Department of Near Eastern Studies (now merged into the Dept. of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations) to unprecedented complement and quality; he himself became an undisputed master of Septuagint Studies during the last decades of the 20th century, having produced the critical edition of the whole Greek Pentateuch for the Göttingen Septuaginta Unternehmen, and added further text-critical studies, translations, and commentaries to each of the five main volumes of this edition. Prof. Wevers’s knowledge and contribution extended to several other languages; he had, in particular, made significant contributions to Classical Hebrew scholarship, as well as vigorously promoting its study at the University of Toronto.
He was one of the few scholars I know who had the mastery of the languages and texts necessary to do true textual criticism.
May his name be a blessing for future generations. R.I.P.
The latest volume of Biblica has an excellent article by H.G.M. Williamson evaluating the proposed Oxford Hebrew Bible project. In the article, “Do We Need A New Bible? Reflections on the Proposed Oxford Hebrew Bible” (Biblica 90/2  153-175), Williamson begins by noting his general methodological agreement with the project, but then continues to raise some very serious problems with the project as a whole. Some of his objections relate to the nature of the textual evidence for the Hebrew Bible, while others are connected with the proposed format of the OHB.
Here is his concluding paragraph:
It shows a sorry lack of understanding about the fact that our text is a linguistic hybrid which makes this enterprise flawed from the start. Its form of presentation only aggravates that problem, since against its stated objectives it will not present anything remotely resembling an eclectic edition of a supposed archetype. And finally it fails to take into account the ways in which the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible inevitably differs from that of most other texts, leading, I fear, to further confusion on the part of those who are not already well versed in the subject. In the present state of knowledge, as well as in the light of the extraordinary range of diversity of opinion in this field, what is required is full and sober textual commentary. I have no doubt that that aspect of the project will be welcomed and widely used; but it is not a Bible, new or old.
I too have had a number of methodological questions about the project, so it is nice to see Williamson raising some of the same concerns I have had.
[I will be republishing my series on the Hebrew text of Jonah for my current introductory Hebrew class since I had to go back and fix the Hebrew in the posts]
The first chapter of the book of Jonah begins with Jonah’s call to go to Nineveh. But instead of heading for Nineveh, he heads the opposite direction to Tarshish aboard a ship filled with pagan sailors. Jonah’s presence on the ship does not bode well for the sailors, who eventually figure out Jonah is the reason their ship is in danger. After much prayer, they toss Jonah into the sea, after which he is swallowed by a divinely appointed “big fish.” Thus begins Jonah’s “Big Fish” story.
Jonah and the Sailors (1:1-16)
The Hebrew Text is taken from BHS. Click on the image to the right to view the passage in the actual Leningrad Codex (MS B19 A). To hear the chapter read in Hebrew, an MP3 file is available here.
Please note that my translation is more formal in nature and purposefully highlights literary and poetic features of the text. The versification follows the Hebrew text.
1:1 The word of YHWH came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying: 2 Get up, go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim against it; for their wickedness has come before me. 3 Jonah, however, got up to flee to Tarshish away from the presence of YHWH. So he went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish, and he paid its hire, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish, from the presence of YHWH. 4 But YHWH hurled a great wind to the sea, and there was a great storm upon the sea that the ship thought about breaking up!
5 And the sailors were afraid and cried out, each to his own god; and they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten [it] for them. But Jonah had gone down into the hold of the vessel and had lain down, and was in a deep sleep. 6 The captain went over to him and cried out, “Why are you sleeping so soundly? Get up, call upon your god! Perhaps the god will bear us in mind and we will not perish.” 7 The men said to one another, “Let us cast lots and find out on whose account this misfortune has come upon us.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 They said to him, “Please declare to us — you who have brought this evil upon us — what is your business? Where have you come from? What is your country, and from what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew and I fear YHWH, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 The men were greatly terrified [feared a great fear], and they said to him, “How could you have done this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of YHWH, for so he had told them. 11 And they said to him, “What must we do to you so that the sea calms down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more stormy. 12 He answered, “Heave me overboard, and then the sea will calm down for you; for I know that this great storm came upon you on my account.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to return to the dry land, but they could not, for the sea was growing more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they called to YHWH: “Oh, please, YHWH, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood upon us! For You, O YHWH, have done just as you pleased.” 15 And they cast Jonah into the sea, and the sea stopped from its raging. 16 The men feared YHWH with a great fear, and they sacrificed a sacrifice to YHWH, and they vowed vows.
וַיְהִי- This Qal prefix vav conversive apocopated form is at home in Hebrew narrative and is the typical opening for “historical” books like Joshua, Judges, 1Samuel, and Ruth (see AC 3.5.1 c).
יוֹנָה בֶן־אֲמִתַּי - This “Jonah son of Amittai” is considered to be the nationalistic prophet of the same name mentioned in 2Kings 14:23-29.
קוּם לֵךְ- Of the two imperative verbs, קוּם functions as an auxiliary verb to the principal verb לֵךְ and may be translated something like “Arise, go…” or better, “Go at once…” (GKC 120g).
וּקְרָא עָלֶיהָ- The collocation of על with the verbקראtypically has negative connotations, hence my translation “proclaim against.” The parallel statement in Jonah 3:2 on the other hand has אל. While this change may only suggest the interchangeable nature of the prepositions (WO’C), the change to the more innocuous “proclaim to” in 3:2 may foreshadow the Ninevites’ positive response to Jonah’s message (see Ben Zvi).
הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה- The definite articles are functioning as weak demonstratives, “that great city” (AC 2.6.6). Alternatively, both adjectives could be modifying the noun, “Nineveh the great city” (J-M 138b; 141c; BHRG 30.2.2vii).
כִּי־עָלְתָה רָעָתָם לְפָנָי- This phrase should be taken as causal (“because…”), providing the rationale for God sending the prophet to Nineveh (contra Sasson who understands it as asseverative). See AC 4.3.4a, i.
מִלִּפְנֵי- This compound preposition is best translated as “away from the presence of” or even just “away from” (HALOT).
תַרְשִׁישׁ- The identification of “Tarshish” is the subject of much spilled ink (see Sasson for a discussion). I tend to think of it as an ancient “Timbuktu.” Either way, the point is that Jonah headed in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh. Note that it occurs both with and without the directive ה in this passage
אָנִיָּה- The footnote in BHS (sic L, mlt MSS Edd אֳניה cf 4.5) suggests that the pointing of אָנִיָּה is incorrect; it should be אֳניהas many other Masoretic texts indicate as well as the pointing in vv. 4 and 5.
וַיִּתֵּן שְׂכָרָהּ- The antecedent of the 3fs possessive pronoun is clearly אָנִיָּה(“paid its [i.e., the ship's] fare”). A number of Jewish traditions (and modern authors) suggest this indicates Jonah rented the entire ship (and thus was wealthy), which again emphasizes the extent to which he was willing to avoid God’s call.
עִמָּהֶם- While the sailors are not mentioned until v. 5, the 3mp object suffix on עִמָּהֶם refers to the sailors included in the sense of the term אָנִיָּה (GKC 135p).
וַיהוָה- The fronted subject with the conjunction breaks the series of vav conversives and introduces a different subject and is best rendered as “but YHWH…” (AC 3.5.4; 5.1.2b.2).
חִשְּׁבָה לְהִשָּׁבֵר- Many translations render this combination of Piel affix 3fs and Nifal infinitive construct something like, “the ship was about to break up” (NASB) or the like. I prefer to take it as an example of personification or prosopopoeia where the ship is portrayed as thinking about breaking up. This understanding is supported by the fact thatחשׁבis always used elsewhere with an animate subject. See WO’C 23.2.1 for the sense of the Nifal here.
אִישׁ אֶל־אֱלֹהָיו- This is a distributive use ofאִישׁ, “each to his own god” (GKC 139b). It could also be translated “each to his own gods” since the sailors were evidently pagan.
לְהָקֵל- The Hifil infinitive construct needs an object, i.e., “to lighten [it].”
“But Jonah had gone down… and had lain down, and had fallen fast asleep.” The fronted subject once again interrupts the sequence of wayyiqtol verbs and marks a new subject which contrasts Jonah’s actions with those of the sailors.
וַיֵּרָדַם- The verbרדםmeans “deep sleep” and is from the same root as the noun used to describe Adam’s sleep when the woman was taken out of his side in Gen 2:21. The Septuagint translatesרדםwith the verb ῥέγχω “snore,” which adds some humour to the scene as Jonah’s snoring was apparently loud enough for the captain of the ship to hear him from above deck as he comes down to Jonah and asks him what is he doing snoring when a life threatening storm has been thrown to the sea by YHWH (see my post on snoring here)!
רַב הַחֹבֵל- Lit., “chief of the sailors,” i.e., captain.
מַה־לְּךָ נִרְדָּם- The Nifal participle may be functioning as a subordinate accusative of state, i.e., the object of the non verbal interrogative construction, lit. “what [is it] to you, sleeping?” = “why are you sleeping so soundly?” (see GKC 120b; J-M 127a, 161i). I am almost tempted to take the participle as a vocative and translate it something like, “What is the matter with you, sleepy head?!”
יִתְעַשֵּׁת - The Hitpael of עשׁתis a hapax that means something like “bear in mind” (HALOT).
Note the cohortative הs on וְנַפִּילָהand וְנֵדְעָה .
בְּשֶׁלְּמִי- The compound particle is made up of the preposition ב + relative שׁ + preposition ל + interrogative מי; together it means “on whose account” (HALOT), or “for whose cause” (GKC 150k). For the combination of the relative שׁ and preposition ל, see WO’C 19.4a n15.
Note the idiom of “casting lots” with the verb נפל.
There is a rather oblique text critical footnote in BHS (“nonn add Hab” = “several manuscripts have added”) marking off the phrase בַּאֲשֶׁר לְמִי־הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ, “on whose account has this evil come upon us” (as well as a similar phrase in v. 10; see below). The footnote suggests the editors of BHS considered this phrase to be an addition or later gloss. While they do not provide any reasons, it is likely based on two things: (1) the phrase is omitted in the LXX and a number of Masoretic manuscripts and (2) it appears to be a doublet or repetition of virtually the same phrase in v. 7. While this is certainly possible, the phrase is found in the huge majority of Masoretic texts as well as scrolls from Qumran. Furthermore, the absence of the phrase in some Hebrew and Greek manuscripts can easily be explained by homoeoteleuton (skipping over words between words with similar endings) triggered by the repetition of לָנוּ in the Hebrew or ἐν ἡμῖν in the Greek. That being said, the question of how to translate it remains. The most straightforward translation is to repeat the question, “on whose account has this evil come upon us?” even though they already know the answer and Jonah doesn’t answer it (see NASB, KJV, NIV). Another, perhaps better, option is to render it as a relative clause, “you who have brought this evil upon us” (see JPS and Sasson). This recognizes the subtle difference of the construction בַּאֲשֶׁר לְמִי־הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּ with בְּשֶׁלְּמִי הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת לָנוּin the preceding verse.
The sailors pose four questions to Jonah: (1) what is your mission? (2) from where are you coming? (3) what is your (home)land? and (4) from what people are you? (the combination of the interrogative with מן does not produce any notable change in meaning; J-M 143g).
עִבְרִי אָנֹכִי- The order of predicate –> subject in the verbless clause indicates classification and refers to a general class (Hebrews) of which the subject is a member (WO’C 8.4.2). The term “Hebrew” is typically only used in the HB to imply a contrast with foreigners (GKC 2b).
The irony of Jonah’s confession is marvelous; while his confesses he fears “YHWH, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land,” he also appears to believe he can flee from this same YHWH by taking a sea voyage!
וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה- This construction of a verb with a direct object derived from the same root is called an “internal accusative” or “cognate accusative.” It serves to strengthen the verbal idea and may be translated “the men were greatly terrified” or the like (AC 2.3.1c; GKC 117q).
מַה־זֹּאת- The linking of the interrogative pronoun to the feminine demonstrative is an exclamation of shock or horror rather than a query (Sasson).
כִּי הִגִּיד לָהֶם- This phrase is marked off as a gloss in BHS (see discussion on v. 8 above).
מַה־נַּעֲשֶׂה לָּךְ- The prefix form in this context likely has a modal nuance, i.e., “what must we do to you…” (J-M 113m).
וְיִשְׁתֹּק- The prefix + vav form indicates purpose, “so that” (J-M 169i; BHRG 21.5.1.iv).
הוֹלֵךְ וְסֹעֵר- The participles form a hendiadys to convey repetition and increasing intensity, with הלךfulfilling an auxiliary role (GKC 113u).
וְיִשְׁתֹּק- The prefix + vav form in Jonah’s reply has a consecutive sense, “then…” (J-M 169i).
וַיַּחְתְּרוּ- The verb חתר means “to dig”; it is used here to suggest hard rowing or “digging” into the water with their oars.
The first person plural cohortatives are found here with the particle of entreaty נָא, often translated as “please” or the like (J-M 114f; GKC 105, 108c).
כִּי־אַתָּה יְהוָה כַּאֲשֶׁר חָפַצְתָּ עָשִׂיתָ- This clause is a bit difficult to unpack. Sasson takes it and the preceding clause as separate motivations offered by the sailors to God: “Indeed, you are YHWH; and whatever you desire, you accomplish.” While this is possible, I think Sasson is giving too much weight to the zaqef qaton on YHWH. I have translated YHWH as a vocative and the relative clause as modifying אַתָּה“you.”
מִזַּעְפּוֹ- The Qal infinitive construct with the prepositionמן (and the 3ms suffix) serves as a verbal complement to עמד, “the sea stopped from its raging.”
וַיִּירְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים יִרְאָה גְדוֹלָה אֶת־יְהוָה- The verb here has double accusatives: YHWH is the affected object (the object that existed apart and before the action of the verb, but is reached by the verb), while the “great fear” is the internal object (the object is an abstract noun of action typically of the same root as the verb, and thus a cognate accusative) (AC 2.3.1; J-M 125u n1).
Note again the irony that the pagan sailors are more devout than Jonah.
While I will leave most of the larger questions of interpretation to a later post, I do want to highlight a few things from chapter one.
First, it is difficult if not impossible to pick up on a significant key word for the book of Jonah: גָּדוֹל“great” or “big.” Everything in Jonah is “great”: Nineveh (v. 2), the wind (v. 4), the storm (v. 4, 12), the sailors’ fear (v. 10) and their repentance (v. 16). In later chapters we will encounter a “great” or “big” fish (2:1), among other things.
Second, the frequent use of גָּדוֹלas well as some of the other language in this (the ship thinking) and later chapters (the animals putting sackcloth on themselves in 3:8), “shifts the story to the fabulous” as Sasson suggests. I will come back to this observation in a later post.
Finally, when examining the characterization of Jonah, YHWH, and the pagan sailors in this chapter it is striking:
Jonah does exactly the opposite of what YHWH calls him to do: instead of getting up and going (קוּם לֵךְ), he got up to flee (וַיָּקָם יוֹנָה לִבְרֹחַ ), and then in contrast to getting up, he has a series of descents (ירד) in order to get away from YHWH’s call. And of course, as I already noted, the irony between Jonah’s flight and his confession is stunning.
The sailors come across much better than Jonah. Their actions are often parallel to those of YHWH: they, like YHWH, tell Jonah to “get up” and “call” (1:2, 6); they both “cast to the sea” (1:4, 5, 15). In addition, a contrast is set up between the sailors and Jonah: Jonahâ€™s fear (1:9) vs. the sailors’ fear (1:10); and “perish” in the mouths of the sailors (1:7, 14) vs. from Jonah’s perspective (4:10).
Well, this post has ended up longer than I anticipated. I better end it here. We’ll pick up Jonah chapter three next.
As many of my readers may or may not know, there will be a special Codex Sinaiticus Conference at the British Library, London, on 6-7 July 2009.
The Codex Sinaiticus Project, an international initiative to reunite the entire manuscript in digital form and make it accessible to a global audience for the first time (see www.codexsinaiticus.org), will host a conference devoted to this seminal fourth-century Bible.
To celebrate the Project’s achievements, on 6-7 July 2009, the British Library is hosting an academic conference on topics relating to Codex Sinaiticus. A number of leading experts have been approached to give presentations on the history, text, conservation, paleography and codicology, among other topics, of Codex Sinaiticus. Selected conference papers will be edited and published as a collection of articles.
The list of confirmed speakers is quite impressive:
Eldon J. Epp
Harry Y. Gamble
As you can see, my advisor, Al Pietersma, is among the speakers.
This is an exciting project — I hope other similar projects will be inspired by this one so that more primary texts will be available online. From the available preview, the site should be spectacular.
One of the primary issues that he raises at the beginning of his post is the distinction between “interpretive” translations and “faithful” translations. While I understand what he’s getting at (and the theoretical model underlying his perspective), I’m not sure that such a distinction is always easy to maintain. Nevertheless, the distinction does underscore the important first step of assessing the nature of the Greek text you are dealing with.
Shawn further highlights six steps/questions that should be considered while determining the nature of the LXX text:
First, textual criticism of the LXX must be conducted.
With a tentative LXX/OG text, consider the possible Vorlage of the LXX.
When there is a likely equivalent between the Vorlage and the LXX, other questions must still be considered before equivalence (in terms of equivalent meaning) is assumed.
When there is a divergence between the likely Vorlage and the LXX, what is the reason?
Is there enough information to make a decision?
Did the LXX translator just misunderstand their [sic] Vorlage?
These are all good questions and they represent sound method.
The question that his post raises for me is the high expectations often places on biblical scholars. I personally have read enough NT or OT scholarship to know that scholars often use the LXX uncritically. In fact, even when I was reading some articles for my posts onPsalm 2:12 I was surprised by the way the LXX was appealed to by scholars — some of whom should certainly know better.Â The problem is that it is hard enough to keep up in your own field of studies, let alone someone elses field!Â Should the NT scholar have to be a LXX scholar in order to use the LXX? These unrealistic expectations plague scholarship in general. Archaeologists look with contempt at biblical scholars who attempt to engage archaeological data; biblical scholars roll their eyes at theologians when they appeal to the Bible. I could list many more examples, but you get my point.
In my opinion, while any biblical scholar who appeals to the Septuagint in a scholarly context should use the best critical texts available and employ sound method, that does not mean she or he has to become a Septuagint scholar. Of course, the degree to which an argument depends on the LXX, the more expertise is required. Thus, a NT scholar who is investigating the quotations of the Old Testament in the New better have a good grip on Septuagintal scholarship! It is the responsibility of Septuagint scholars to disseminate the results of their research to others and produce tools for others to use without having to re-invent them, so to speak.
So while I agree in principle with Shawn’s post, I wonder if he is being too idealistic?Â What do my readers think?
The debate surrounding the translation and interpretation of Psalm 2:12 continues. For some context, you can see my previous post here, while John Hobbins has some further (good) reflections on why it is inappropriate to capitalize “Son” in this verse (assuming you understand the phrase as “kiss the son”), even if you understand further christological significance in the passage.
The verb most often occurs with an expressed personal object. Most frequently (21x) the object is marked by the preposition lamed: â€œA kissed ×œ-Bâ€? (Qal: Gen 27:26,27; 29:11; 48:10; 50:1; Exod 4:27; 18:7; 2Sam 14:33; 2Sam 15:5; 2Sam 19:40; 20:9; 1Kgs 19:18; 19:20; Job 31:27; Prov 7:13; Ruth 1:9, 14; Piel: Gen 29:13; 31:28; 32:1; 45:15).
Four times a pronominal suffix marks the personal object: â€œA kissed him/her/me/youâ€? (all Qal: Gen 33:4; 1Sam 10:1; Song 1:2; 8:1).
There are two instances where the verb takes an impersonal object; in both of these cases the object is not marked by the preposition lamed, but simply precedes the verb (Qal: Hos 13:2, â€œpeople kissing calvesâ€?; Prov 24:26, â€œhe kisses the lipsâ€?).
The object of reciprocal kisses are not marked with a preposition lamed; in these two cases the object may either follow (Qal 1Sam 20:41) or precede the verb (Ps 85:11 [Eng v. 10]; many conjecture this form should be pointed as a Niphal).
The remaining five instances are more problematic:
Based on this examination of the verb usage, some parameters on how best to understand this passage may be set:
When the verb clearly means â€œkissâ€?, it never takes the preposition ×‘ bet to mark the object of the kiss. This seems to rule out the common emendation â€œkiss his feetâ€? with the bet. (BHS also notes the emendation with a lamed, though that emendation requires more exegetical gymnastics to explain where the lamed came from).
The one weakness of this interpretation is that the meaning of ×‘×¨ bar as â€œfieldâ€? is not very popular and only occurs in a few other places in the Old Testament (Job 39:4 and the Aramaic parts of Daniel, 2:38, 4:9, 12, 18, 20 (2x), 22, 29). That being said, it is a viable usage and makes good sense in this passage.
This, then, is my final word on Psalm 2:12 (at least for now!).
Jim Getz over at Ketuvim has an interesting post on choosing a Bible translation for classroom use. In the end Jim chooses the NRSV, for a variety of reasons which you can read for yourself (For the record, I use the NRSV in the classroom as well, for some of the same reasons). What got my attention about Jimâ€™s post was his discussion of Psalm 2:11-12. To my chagrin, after I had pretty much finished this post I noticed that Chris Heard has also responded to Getzâ€™s post, though luckily (for me at least) Chris did not have all of his resources available to him, so this post actually answers some of the issues that his raised. (UPDATE: Jim has posted a follow-up post on this topic at Ketuvim).
Enough is enoughâ€¦ letâ€™s look at the text in question. Here is a formal translation of the Hebrew of Psalm 2:11-12:
Serve Yahweh with fear,
With trembling, kiss his feet.
lest he be angry and you perish [on the] way,
for his anger burns quickly.
It is this emendation, first suggested by Alfred Bertholet in the early 1900s, which is behind the translation found in the NRSV (among others), and not any sense that ×‘×¨ can mean â€œfeetâ€? in Hebrew (in this regard Getzâ€™s post is inaccurate and Chris Heard is correct insofar as ×‘×¨ doesn’t mean â€œfeetâ€? ). This is a pretty substantial emendation, proposing that the first two letters of ×‘×¨×’×œ×™×• became separated from the last half and ended up with two words between them, among other things. While this emendation results in two nicely balanced lines of poetry, the gymnastics it requires make me wonder how plausible it really is.
This leads many people (and most English translations) to opt for the admittedly problematic translation, â€œkiss the son.â€?
Those opting for this rendering muster a number of arguments in its favour. First, while it is odd to have the Aramaic term for son when the Hebrew term is used just a few verses earlier, this can be explained in terms of who is being addressed. In v. 7 the king is speaking and reporting what Yahweh had declared to him, i.e., â€œYou are my son.â€? In v. 12, however, the statement is being directed to the foreign kings. Thus it is fitting that they be addressed in the official language of their day, Aramaic. This is similar to the usage of the Aramaic ×‘×¨ in Prov 31:2, when the word is put into the mouth of King Lemuelâ€™s mother. Second, while the above emendation makes good sense (almost too much sense), it is next to impossible to understand how a scribe could have made the mistake. Third, all things being equal (which they rarely if ever are!), the MT is the more difficult reading.
I wonder if a better approach would be to dispense of the problematic understanding of ×‘×¨ as the Aramaic â€œson,â€? and try to understand it â€“ like the early Versions â€“ as one of the other Hebrew words with the same spelling. Possibilities include taking ×‘×¨ as â€œfieldâ€? (see Job 39:4 etc.), which would produce a fitting act of submission, â€œkiss the field,â€? i.e., bow prostrate to the ground in homage to Yahweh. It could also be taken as â€œpurityâ€? or â€œpureâ€? (in line with the early versions), and be rendered like the NJPS â€œpay homage in good faithâ€? or the NET â€œGive sincere homage.â€?
There are other possibilities for this verse, but when it comes right down to it, this verse is truly a crux interpretum â€“ and as such, it is not the best passage to base your selection of a translation on! That being said, it does reveal some tendencies in the different translations. The NRSV is more likely on the whole to adopt critical interpretations of problematic verses, while the NIV/TNIV/NJPS will tend to stick to the MT as much as possible. Finally, translations that capitalize â€œSonâ€? (NIV, NASB, ESV, etc.) are clearly expressing a theological agenda, which arguably has no place in a translation.
Here’s the blurb from Oxford: This volume brings together the Psalms in a quartet of versions that is certain to be an invaluable resource for students of this core book of the Bible. The texts featured in A Comparative Psalter represent a progression of the text through time. The ancient Masoretic Hebrew and Revised Standard Version Bible are displayed on one page, while the New English Translation of the Septuagint (by Pietersma) and Greek Septuagint are on the facing page. The same set of verses is displayed for all four texts, making it easy to compare to differences between the MT and LXX. The Modern English versions included in this volume are noteworthy for their fidelity to the ancient texts. The first major translation of the Christian Scriptures from the original languages to be undertaken since the King James Version, the RSV debuted in 1952 to critical acclaim. It dramatically shaped the course of English Bible translation work in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, and remains the Bible of choice for many people. Meanwhile, the New English Translation of the Septuagint is the first work of its kind in a century and a half. This major project brings to the fore a wealth of textual discoveries that help illuminate the Book of Psalms for Twenty-first Century readers.