Don’t be Afraid

30 04 2007

While my lecturer expounded upon the semantic range of Greek verbs in the middle voice, I found myself trying to come up with a Hebrew cognate. Something about the middle fascinates me – perhaps because I still don’t really understand it – and I was trying to think of passive/reflexive Hebrew verbs that possess an active meaning. Now, before you Grecians jump down my throat and tell me that this is not what the Greek middle does (on second thoughts, go ahead; I’d like to know what the Greek middle does), I am going to speak a little about the first Hebrew word to have come into my head. In fairness, this is not a grammatical post – rather, this is an exegetical post, as shall become evident.

The word is תתראו.

This word has often intrigued me because of the context in which it appears. The verse of which I am thinking is Genesis 42:1 and it reads as follows in the deliciously turgid KJV: “Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another?” Our verb, “do ye look”, is in a verbal stem known as the hithpael. One of the meanings that this, normally reflexive, stem can have is reciprocal. Hence “do ye look one upon another”, rather than simply “do ye look”. Now, this is not the only Biblical passage within which the root √ראה appears in the hithpael (see, for example, 2 Kgs 14:11 / 2 Chr 25:21), but our verse is interesting for another reason and that other reason is in relation to the word’s similarity to another word that has quite a different meaning.

The best way to indicate this difference is by comparing the Aramaic translations of Onqelos and Pseudo-Jonathan. Onqelos, which has (perhaps undeservedly) developed the reputation for a literal adherence to the underlying Hebrew, translates Jacob’s question as למא תתחזון. There is not much to say about this as it really is a very literal rendering of the Hebrew into Aramaic. The stem in which the cognate Aramaic √חזי appears is known as the ethpeel and it is the cognate stem to the Hebrew hithpael. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, on the other hand, has well deserved its reputation for being paraphrastic. Jacob’s question, in our instance, is translated as למא דין אתון דחלין למיחות למצרים: “So why are you afraid to go down to Egypt?”

It is perhaps worth noting here that Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi, the mediaeval French exegete) stresses the meaning that Onqelos translated over the meaning translated by Pseudo-Jonathan. In typical Rashi-style, this is done by rephrasing the clause: “למה תראו עצמכם”, “Why are you looking at each other“. Such is also the opinion as it is conveyed in the Babylonian Talmud (bTa’an 10b), from which Rashi is quoting. In fact, it is not unusual for the enigmatic author of Pseudo-Jonathan to be completely estranged from the Rabbinic traditions as they were to develop, perhaps, after his time. Is there a rationale for his interesting translation?

As a matter of fact, there is. The Hebrew root √ראה is not too dissimilar, in many of its guises, from the unrelated root √ירא. The first means ‘see’ but the second means ‘fear’ and, we might assume, would read as תתיראו were it ever to appear in this particular stem. As we can see, all that exists is an additional yodh, but there are some stems within which even this ‘diagnostic feature’ is lacking. One can easily imagine a scenario in which so small a letter could either be added or missed, and this might account for its appearance within the vorlage of Pseudo-Jonathan – that is, the text from which the author of Pseudo-Jonathan presumably made his translation.

I regret that neither my Latin nor my Greek is up to the task of translating from the Vulgate or the Septuagint, but I shall include both references here for anybody who is interested. The Latin reads, dixit filiis suis quare neglegitis which (to my mind) says that Jacob “said to his sons, Why are you sitting around” – literally, neglecting yourselves. Unless I am mistaken, suis constitutes a reflexive particle (although we have not yet actually learnt this), thus lexicalising the reflexivity of the underlying Hebrew. The Greek, however, reads as ει͗πεν τοις υι͑οις αυ͗τον ͑Ινα τι ρ͑ᾳθυμειτε; In English, (something along the lines of) “He said to them, his sons, for what reason are you -ing?” Rather frustratingly, I simply do not know what the final verb means (although I would know if Greek and Latin dictionaries came in affordable prices), and I have fudged various other aspects of the translation as well. The first verb, for example (“said”, in my translation) is an aorist and my teacher seems to think that the aorist does not need to be understood by students until the second semester. Also, I am completely in the dark as to the meaning of the conjunction ͑Ινα τι, but have guessed that on the basis of its apparant semantic role in the clause.

Fortunately for us all, there is an important translation that I can actually read, and that is the Peshitta. Thank God for Syriac, right?

In Hebrew letters, this reads ואמר יעקב לבנוהי לא תדחלון. “And Jacob said to his sons, Don’t be afraid”. For all the purported similarities between the Peshitta and Targum Onqelos, it is wonderful to see the translator siding instead with the (somewhat) heretical Pseudo-Jonathan. Whether or not the Vulgate and the Septuagint agree, I am happy that there are Aramaic versions that represent the reading which suits me the most. It might not constitute a passive/reflexive with an active meaning, but it makes a whole lot more sense, as far as I am concerned, in context.




6 responses

1 05 2007

You can pick up the Bauer’s second edition off amazon for around $25…Its hard to find unless you know the ISBN…which is 0226039323.

1 05 2007

Anyway, about the Greek, ει͗πεν τοις υι͑οις αυ͗τον ͑Ινα τι ρ͑ᾳθυμειτε, your translation is pretty good.

ρ͑ᾳθυμειτε is a second person plural, present, active, indicative.

It deals with viewing an activity or task is a uncaring or disinterested manner.
Lust’s LXX lexicon glosses it as “to be remiss, to be indolent, to take one’s ease, to dally, to delay” and BDAG gives similar definition.

Regarding ͑Ινα, you’re pretty close. τι is a separate word – an indefinite pronoun, here it seems to function as a clause of its own, (woodenly) “why is it, that ( ͑Ινα – providing the content of the it), you are at ease?”

A more dynamic translation would be something like, “He said to them, ‘Why are you lying around?'”

There isn’t any issue of a reflexive/passive in the LXX text and it agree with with the Aramaic versions.

1 05 2007
Simon Holloway

Hey, thanks for that. Unfortunately, I primarily need a Greek lexicon for Septuagint studies (I actually already have a slim NT one, but it lacks most of the words that I would want to look for). I figure that Liddell and Scott’s would be best because, in addition to the Septuagint, they also have a very comprehensive collection of words from other texts as well. Or so I’ve been told.

3 05 2007

About the latin: ‘suis’ actually is a possessive adjective (plural, dative of ‘suus’) that means ‘his’.
‘neglegitis’ is present, active, 2nd plural, indicative of neglego = to neglect, disregard, pass sth by. Usually it’s transitive, but not in this case, I think this non-transitive usage is highly non-standard since the examples provided by my dictionary are all of transitive usage.
quare = why
So ‘dixit filiis suis quare neglegitis’ means
‘.. told his sons why do you disregard ..’
So the reflexive-reciprocal meaning of the original Hebrew (which conveys a realistic and ‘human’ picture of indecision or idleness) is not preserved in the Latin.
Great post.

6 05 2007

‘neglego’, incidentally, = nec (ne) + lego, ‘I do not pick up, select, deal with’. I doubt Jerome’s Latin is non-standard by the standards he was using: not polished, golden-age Ciceronian prose, but rather the informal, idiomatic Latin used in the streets of AD 400 Europe, tending towards vulgar word-order and prepositional (rather than inflectional) syntax. In other words, a pretty good rendition of NT Greek (not sure about LXX Greek).

15 03 2009

Dear Friend,

I have no knowledge of the Hebrew language but I struggled to read through your post because I too am very interested in Genesis 42:1. Your interpretation, “So why are you afraid to go down to Egypt,” is very probable for Jacob’s sons had never been to Egypt; they were just country boys and Egypt was the largest metropolitan of the world.

However, the interpretation, “Why are you sitting around,” seems to be a better fit for what was going on. In difficult times, people often become overwhelmed and sink into despondency, leaving them unable to act. I can see them sitting there with all hope lost looking to each other for answers, even upon hearing the good news that there was corn in Egypt. Their hopeless state left them paralyzed, leaving them unable to act on their own accord. Jacob had to snap them out of their state of despondency because Jacob’s faith remained grounded in the truth that God would not abandon His people people in the midst of despair.

That just my opinion for what it’s worth. Keep up the good work.

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