hoy and 'oy in prophets

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at sil.org
Thu Apr 5 08:32:56 EDT 2001

Clay, it seems to me that you understand well what is going on, that the
prophet is announcing a future destruction (I assume the Churchill
conversation was before the event!) and perhaps also expressing a measure of
regret that it is necessary - this element is certainly present in the New
Testament examples e.g. Matthew 23, perhaps not so clear in the Hebrew
Bible. I would expect to hear a following "If only you had..."

So it seems that the open question is one of terminology. "Lament" doesn't
sound right as in English that suggests a response after the event. Nor do
"curse" or "threat" because they imply that the prophet, or God, is actively
desiring the event rather than regretting it. Also "threat" implies that the
event is not inevitable if the right response is made, which is not in focus
in the Biblical examples which are not calls to repentance. The best term to
me is simply "woe", which is used as a noun even in the English NIV Bible
headings (at least at Matthew 23:1).

Peter Kirk

-----Original Message-----
From: c stirling bartholomew [mailto:cc.constantine at worldnet.att.net]
Sent: 04 April 2001 18:57
To: Biblical Hebrew
Subject: Re: hoy and 'oy in prophets

The one off list response I received from a scholar in Germany suggested
that these words are words of lament. I suspect that this is often the case
but I wonder about the hoy l+substantive pattern when it is used in the
prophets and the referent of the substantive is a city or a community of

Lets illustrate the question from 20th century history.  It is the second
week of February 1945 and  we are listening in (espionage) on a phone
conversation between Churchill and one of top brass of the RAF. During this
conversation Churchill uses the phrase "Woe to Dresden." Is this a lament?
Is this the same sort of expression used by the OT prophets?

In the OT prophets the formula:  hoy l+substantive is often used to
pronounce judgment and destruction on the referent of the substantive. This
would not qualify as a "curse" in the narrow sense of that word, the sort of
thing that is performed by practitioners of magic. However it is not simply
a "lament" when the prophet is either threatening or announcing destruction
of a city.

Clay Bartholomew

on 4/3/01 11:09 AM, c stirling bartholomew wrote:

> In Isa., Jer. and Ezk. hoy and 'oy seem to be used in what might be
> as curse formulas. What does not seem clear to me is the significance of
> or 'oy in these texts. Take for example the pattern:
> hoy l+substantive
> Does this pattern signify a curse being invoked against the referent of
> substantive?
> The standard lexical reference books speak of hoy and 'oy being used by
> prophets in threats but say nothing about curses. Just exactly what is the
> difference?

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