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"Devotions on the Hebrew Bible" on Gen 15:6


Elijah
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On the product details page of Devotions on the Hebrew Bible there is a comment that points out something that I want to address here. It is regarding the sample screenshot with Gen 15:6:

 

Gen. 15:6 וְהֶאֱמִ֖ן בַּֽיהוָ֑ה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ לּ֖וֹ צְדָקָֽה׃

 

The module says: "The first word in hebrew is וְהֶאֱמִן ("and he was believing"), not וַיַּאְמֵן ("and he believed"), as the ESV and most English versions read. The verb וְהֶאֱמִן is an open-ended tense in Hebrew that is not used very often. Typically, in past contexts this tense is used when repetition is involved, like in Genesis 29:2-3. ..."

 

I don't understand why וְהֶאֱמִן should be translated as "he was believing". Isn't this just a normal Hiphil Perfect? "Open-ended tense" sounds more like a Imperfect to me. Is this an error in the module?!

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In the Tanakh, faith (from the Heb root “ʾ-m-n”) does not mean believing in spite of the evidence. It means trusting profoundly in a person, in this case the personal God who has reiterated His promise.

 

Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition. Accordance electronic ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 32-33.


 

Another example:

God is called in Deut. 32:4   El Emuna  which the Net bible correctly translates as :  He is a reliable God

Emuna=reliable, trustworthy

Edited by Gordon
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The lexical semantics of the verb may be open to question ('believe' versus 'trust') and such a determination would take a careful word study and may end up indeterminate anyway. 

 

The verb conjugation, though, is another matter. And the comment on the perfect verb האמין being an "open-ended tense" is, to be blunt, ridiculous. Such a description does not reflect any of the primary approaches to the verbal system of Biblical Hebrew. Within narrative, the perfect is often used to disrupt the narrative sequence. How it does that depends on the context (note that I'm not suggesting that the essential semantic value of the verb is context-driven; rather, I'm suggesting that within the limits of its perfective semantics, it's narrative nuance is based on contextual clues).

 

In Gen 15.6, the break from the narrative sequence of wayyiqtol to use a perfect may, in fact, support the "trust" gloss for English over the "believe" gloss. Using "believe" here likely signals for most readers that Abraham's האמין action was a response to God's statement in 15.5. In contrast, English "trust" better allows for this to be a statement about Abraham's general response throughout his interactions with Yhwh. Thus, it is a pericope ending summary: after all these things, Abraham wasn't surprised, because "he had trusted in Yhwh" and such trusting "was reckoned to him as righteousness". 

 

Devotions should not be based on Hebrew without a fairly deep understanding of Hebrew grammar. It's dangerous. 

Edited by Robert Holmstedt
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Instead of "righteousness" better to translate "merit" (JPS)

 

He reckoned it to his merit      God is the subject of the verb. Hebrew tsedakah, usually “righteousness,” sometimes bears the sense of “merit.” The idea is that Abram’s act of faith made him worthy of God’s reward, which is secured through a covenant.

 

Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 113.


 

Alternatively:


the subject and object are not specified, and are ambiguous, in Hebrew. Righteousness is being true to one’s social obligations and commitments. It is possible that it is Abraham here who reckons righteousness to the LORD, certifying that he now believes that the LORD will be true to his commitments in 15.1 (cf. 15.2–3).

 

New Oxford Annotated Bible, Fully Revised Fifth Edition, ed. Michael D. Coogan, Accordance electronic ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 32.


 

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Two quick points. 

 

1) "He reckoned it to his merit" does not reflect the Hebrew. There is no pronoun on צדקה. Moreover, צדקה as "merit" strikes me as a meaning derived from a rabbinic lens. I don't think this works throughout the Bible well at all.

 

2) The notion that Abraham is the subject of "reckoned" is grammatically less likely than the traditional alternative. Why? Because the 3fs clitic pronoun on the verb requires us to find a suitable antecedent (English "it" conveniently lets readers bypasses this). The key is to recognize that abstract nouns, including referred to events, are mostly feminine in BH. The second important key in sorting it out is that, all things being equal, there is a strong preference for the closer of multiple available antecedents (here, Abraham "trusting" in the immediately preceding clause or Yhwh doing what he said he'd do, assumed throughout in vv. 1-5). Putting these together highlights the unlikelihood of Abraham as the verbal subject and Yhwh as the prepositional complement in "to him". 

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1) Sarna says the translation "merit" does sometimes not everywhere reflect the Hebrew.   I choose my teacher Prof Nahum Sarna's understanding. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nahum_M._Sarna) given his vast knowledge and expertise in Bible translation.

(Btw, the "rabbinic lens" as you put is often insightful and many times correct in my opinion at understanding the peshat in the text.)

2)  God is the subject.  God reckoned it to Abraham's merit is to be preferred

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Sarna was indeed a very knowledgeable scholar. I've enjoyed and used his works on Genesis for many years. He was simply not a linguist. And as I would take his input on many literary and historical matters, I would guess/hope that he would also accept the input of a linguist. No one scholar can be master of all the myriad facets of investigating an ancient text. As much as it requires confidence (perhaps bordering on arrogance), it also requires an equal or greater amount of humility. 

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Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition. Accordance electronic ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 32-33.

 

So, I opened your link, Gordon, and this is what I saw: (see attached screenshot).  It is a whole page's worth of commentary, with no Hebrew word he'emin.  What's my point?  

 

It just would be so nice if Accordance had a Find on Page utility which allowed me, instead of having to take all the time to read the whole page and try to find Gordon's point, to quickly type a keyword like "believe," "faith," or "trust," and be taken to the relevant text.  Just saying.

 

(Oh, sorry Gordon.  This post wasn't directed towards you :) )

post-35231-0-15939000-1578202981_thumb.jpg

Edited by TYA
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