Illegible Hebrew

George Athas gathas at mail.usyd.edu.au
Tue Dec 28 07:03:45 EST 1999


> Many notes in my English Bible remark, "Hebrew obscure."  I recall
> reading somewhere once, "Hebrew illegible."  Is my memory faulty or
> are there certain passages in the Hebrew Bible that, over centuries of
> copying, are simply illegible?  If memory serves, I read the
> expression "Hebrew illegible" in the Jewish Publication Society (JPS)
> translation.  In Job 19:20, my NAB translates it, "My bones cleave to
> my skin, and I have escaped with my flesh between my teeth," and the
> notes remark, "meaning perhaps that Job has been reduced to such an
> extremity that he scarecely has thin lips over his teeth.  But the
> current Hebrew text of this line is probably corrupt."  Does the word
> "corrupt" mean "illegible"?

Not really. It simply means that as the Hebrew text was transmitted down through the ages,
it was not preserved well in some places. For example, 1 Sam 13:1 says that Saul was 1
year old when he became king. Obviously this is impossible and the original narrative gave
a much more 'reasonable' age. This age, though, has not been properly preserved down
through the ages.

This is just one example. There are other places where the text doesn't seem to make
sense. It is not that we cannot read the text, but that the text that we read doesn't make
much sense, either grammatically or contextually. As a result, translating the text at
these particular points becomes rather difficult. This difficulty needs to be footnoted,
hence the notes in the translated Bibles.

Best regards,
George Athas
 Dept of Semitic Studies,
 University of Sydney
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