I AM THAT I AM
furuli at online.no
Wed Dec 23 04:14:08 EST 1998
Eric Weiss wrote:
>Ex. 3:14 usually translates God's name as I AM THAT I AM (EHYEH ASHER
>EHYEH). The Yiqtol forms could, to me, support "I WILL BE WHAT/THAT I WILL
>BE" and that gains some support from seeing EHYEH in 3:12 and 4:12 and 4:15
>(though these last 2 have ANOKI as well).
>HOW would one say in Hebrew at 3:14 "I AM THAT I AM" similar to the Greek
>EGW EIMI hO (or hOTI) EGW EIMI? Or is EHYEH ASHER EHYEH the "best" Hebrew
>way to say this and thus support the traditional translation? The
>Septuagint confuses this for me, for it translates 3:14 as EGW EIMI hO WN
>("I AM HE WHO IS").
>I see a difference between I AM THAT I AM and I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE, but
>I don't want to go off in the wrong direction with this if the Hebrew
>really is saying "I AM THAT I AM" or if that is the best way to say I AM
>THAT I AM in Hebrew.
The basic problem, which is seldom realized, is that HYH and EIMI do not
have the same meaning. The Greek EIMI is used as copula, and the Hebrew
counterpart to this is the nominal clause where a verb "is" is understood.
Thus "I am" in biblical Hebrew may simply be expressed by the lone pronoun
A few numbers may illustrate the difference between HYH and EIMI. There are
a total of 493 occurrences of HYH in the Hebrew OT, compared with 6469
occurrences of EIMI in the Septuagint and 2462 occurrences of EIMI in the
NT. When HYH is used, there often is a stress on existence which is
normally lacking in the Greek EIMI. (In a few instances may HYH seem to
have a copulative force)
What then, is the basis for the LXX rendering? It is a principle in modern
translatology (not Bible translation) that if a particular stylistic effect
in the source language is impossible to express in the target language with
the corresponding word or phrase, this effect may be expressed by another
word in the clause or even by a neighboring clause. It seems to me that
this was what the LXX translator tried to do in Exodus 3:14. I would argue
that the EGW EIMI of the LXX does not correspond with the first EHYE and
that hO WN does not correspond with the second EHYE. The translator
understood correctly that HYH refers to existence, and because the word is
used two times, he evidently viewed this as emphasis. The best way he
thought he could express this, was by using the participle of EIMI together
with hO. Thus hO WN is a translation of *both* the occurrences of EHYE, and
EIMI in the LXX is just a linking verb which has no counterpart the Hebrew
What the Greek translator failed to note (but which you correctly
mention), is that EHYE normally refers to the future. In fact, all
occurrences of this form except, possibly Job 3;16; 10:19; 12:4; 17:6 and
Ruth 2:13 have future meaning. (To translate EHYE in Exodus 3:14 as "I am"
both ignores its lexical meaning and its use as future, and is clearly
idiosyncratic.) Therefore, your suggestion "I WILL BE WHAT/THAT I WILL BE"
is much better than the renderings of most modern translators; I think you
should delete "THAT" and keep "WHAT". The rendition "I will be what I
will be" would not only stress static existence but rather imply action in
connection with existence, thus making the clause semi-fientic. In this way
would the clause be meaningful and not only tautological. BTW, if the
above explanation is accepted, there is a huge gap between Exodus 3:14 and
the EGW EIMI of John 8:58.
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo
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