R: Rephaim

furuli at online.no furuli at online.no
Thu Dec 19 06:26:29 EST 2002

Dear Fred,

Whether the noun is connected with RP) = "to heal" or RPH ="to become 
feeble", "to sink down" cannot be known with certainty. The Ugaritic 
evidence regarding the meaning of RP)Y is uncertain, and the Hebrew 
word need not signify more than "the one who has sunk down in death". 
To interpret Hebrew words in the light of Ugaritic is possible, but 
never conclusive (cf. all the criticism M. Dahood got from his 
extensive use of Ugaritic in his Psalm Commentary, The Anchor Bible). 
The most balanced treatment of the word of which I know, is Harris, 
R. L. et al (1980) "Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament" 
II:858. There is no place in the OT which definitely show that dead 
persons are "alive" after death, and  the idea that the dead exist as 
"shadows"  is simply fictional "the shadow-idea once occurred in the 
mind of someone, and afterwards it has been uncritically repeated". 
Even for Ugaritic I am not aware of any hard evidence showing that 
the  word "shadow" should be used as a designation for the dead; 
absolutely not in  Hebrew, and not in Accadian (the *opinion* of 
Gordon or anybody else cannot be used as evidence).

Another example of how mythology is introduced in Bible translations, 
is the word )I++IM in Isaiah 19.3. This is a hapax, and it is quite 
dramatic that the translators of the Norwegian Version of 1978/85 
have introduced a new doctrine on the basis of a word occurring once 
and having an obscure meaning. It is translated by as "de dodes 
ander" ("the spirits of the dead", NIV and others have done the 
same). In this case Accadian is used to interpret the Hebrew word, 
because Accadian has the word ETEMMU, which can refer to the spirit 
of a dead person. We cannot take for granted that the religion of the 
Hebrews were similar to the one of the Babylonians, and we note that 
ETEMMU also has the meaning "enchanter". The parallel words of Isaiah 
19:3 suggests that enchanter is the reference here.

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>I just wonder if anybody could help me out with some insight on the
>"rephaim". Are we to think of them as "giants" (as in LXX), as "the weak
>ones", "the shades" or the "departed spirits"? Are there any clues to get
>from the study of the Hebrew language, or is the word totally out there in
>the mist? What would you say is the best translation of the word?
>In advance - thank you!
>Greetings from Fred, Norway
>(new to the list - looking forward to some interesting conversations!)
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