[b-hebrew] lexicography?

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Mon Dec 29 20:40:26 EST 2003

Dear Reinier de Blois:

I have been looking at http://www.ubs-translations.org/sdbh/ and wonder if your method has a weakness. Will you be able to recognize the forest for the trees? By parsing the definitions so finely, do you not risk losing sight of factors that hold a definition together?

In the use of your method, will you be able to recognize figures of speech? Literary devices such as irony, satire? Euphemisms? It is my impression that the methodology rules out the recognition of such.

It is my impression that your methodology may lead you to a misunderstanding of verses, or in making lexemes basically meaningless by ascribing too many definitions to them. Would not insisting on looking for a central meaning that ties all the definitions together be an equally valid lexicographic methodology?

What follow are a couple of examples of how I have defined lexemes found in your dictionary: (listed according to verbal root, used only as a device, not because I think a verb is the root of each noun)

XWD to ask a didactic question (hence a derivative noun) XYDH didactic question, a riddle that has an implied message or statement that one has to think about in order to get the message, e.g. Judges 14, Sampson killed the lion with his bare hands, therefore his message was, “Don’t mess with me!” The Philistines got it, imperfectly, as their subsequent actions showed.

XBL to tie in knots (hence) to be bound up, to be bound to (either literally with ropes, or figuratively through moral suasion or contractual obligation), to knot, to bind (take as) collateral, to make twisted as a knot, to contract (knot up) muscles (hence derivative nouns) XBL rope (for tying), sailor (one who works the ropes), band or group (bound together for an action), region (tied to a locality), muscle contraction (knotting up of the muscles), collateral (tying property to a loan), XBLH pledge, TXBLWT binding and guiding principles (synonyms in alphabetical order) )SR to tie to, to yoke, XBR to join (together) (hence) XBR XBR to join a secret society, gang (often as a form of idolatry), XB$ to bind on (hence) to saddle (a donkey, horse), N(L to latch, (B+ to give collateral (hence) to become indebted, (ND to clasp on an all metal necklace, (QD to tie up, wrapping the rope around and around, PTL to entangle, CRR to straighten, a term meaning to tie up tightly, to close
  in as an enemy, to close in on others in battle and as troubles overwhelm someone, Q$R to bind, often used in an indirect sense meaning to join oneself with another in conspiracy, obligation or for what ever other reason, RQS to knot on

On the first above, I noticed that XYDH is usually used in a context where there is learning, e.g. Proverbs 1:6 yet it is something that is usually asked, leading me to the conclusion that it is dealing with a didactic question. If so, then the verb would be to ask a didactic question. Then I decided to look at Judges 14, the best known example of its use. I asked myself, “Is there a lesson here for the Philistines?” Seeing as Samson had killed the lion with his bare hands, I took the meaning as “Don’t mess with me.” Well, in chapter 15, when Samson was wronged by his father-in-law and took revenge, the Philistines went after the members of their own master race first who had wronged Samson. In looking at history, that seems pretty unusual for a master community to punish one of their own before going after one of their perceived inferiors. Then they sent a whole army, at least a brigade, hoping that that would be enough. Samson killed a thousand of them. Yes, the Philistines
  got the message.

In the second example, I looked for a meaning that fit most, if not all, the examples that I found. I am willing to say that I don’t understand the meaning of a verse and come back to it, than give a definition to a lexeme that is unique to that situation. This is an example of why I asked the question I opened with, namely if lexemes have widely different definitions, could we be misunderstanding verses? For example, I read Nehemiah 1:7 as “We are surely bound to you, but we did not keep the commands and the precepts and the judgments which you commanded Moses your slave.”

It is also an example of how I compared it with synonyms to try to get a better handle on how broad its meaning might be.

Any thoughts?

Yours, Karl W. Randolph.
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