[b-hebrew] zerayim, zerah - to Abraham and his seed

Peter Kirk peter.r.kirk at ntlworld.com
Sun May 25 19:20:24 EDT 2003

I have recently been involved in a discussion of Galatians 3:16 on another
(private, sadly) list. It is certainly an interesting take on the exegesis
of the Hebrew text, and one which, in my opinion, should not be judged by
modern standards which attempt to draw a rigid line between exegesis and
application: I would suggest that Paul was not trying to claim that the
original author intended a reference to Christ, rather that he was making an
application by analogy (or typology) to Christ. In fact much of the
discussion on the other list related to exactly which promises to Abraham
Paul was referring to: the exact words he used are quoted from Genesis
13:15, 17:8, 24:7 LXX but another participant argued from the context in
Galatians that the reference is in fact to 22:18.

Gill's point doesn't really hold. It is true that the plural of ZERA` is
used, but in the Hebrew Bible only in 1 Sam 8:15 where the reference is to
literal seeds and may well be understood in terms of different kinds of
seed. But it is undeniable that in some places the singular ZERA` is to be
understood as a collective for multiple descendants e.g. Gen 13:16, and
15:13 where a plural suffixes are used. Usage in the Talmud is not really
relevant as Hebrew had changed a lot by that time.

The issue then becomes how to determine when ZERA` is used as a singular and
when as a collective. This was in fact the issue I was looking at in Gen
22:17-18 which I mentioned in a recent posting to this list; if these lines
are in poetic parallelism, it seems unlikely to me that ZERA` singular is
being used as a collective in the first and a singular in the second, as NIV
seems to take it - and in v.17 it surely must be collective.

On this point I was referred to two articles in Tyndale Bulletin which
apparently attempt to define criteria based on the number of suffixes etc
(but I have only seen abstracts): Alexander, T.D. "Further Observations of
the Term 'Seed' in Genesis", TynBul 48 (1997), 363-67 and J. Collins, "A
Syntactical Note [Genesis 3.15]: Is the Woman's Seed Singular or Plural?"
TynBul 48 (1997): 142-44; also a discussion (not seen) in Williamson,
Abraham, Israel and the Nations, 247-53. Steven, these may help your
research. There is also a wealth of material on the Internet, e.g. from a
Google search for "abraham seed", but probably a lot to be weeded out before
you find the good stuff.

Peter Kirk
peter.r.kirk at ntlworld.com

> -----Original Message-----
> From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-hebrew-
> bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Schmuel
> Sent: 25 May 2003 12:05
> To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> Subject: [b-hebrew] zerayim, zerah - to Abraham and his seed
> Shalom b-hebrew,
> You folks are all so helpful, I hope you find my rather diverse questions
> to be interesting :-)
> John Gill makes an observation about the word "seeds" in Hebrew
> in his commentary on Galatians 3:16.
> It looks like his Hebrew transliteration words come in right to left in
> the web-page.
> http://www.gospelcom.net/eword/comments/galatians/gill/galatians3.htm
> John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
> ....there are instances to be given, where the word "seed" is used, not in
> a collective sense, but of a single person, as in Genesis 4:25. Nor has
> the Jew {d} any reason to charge him with a mistake, in observing that the
> word is not in the plural, but in the singular number, when it is the
> manner of the Hebrew language to speak of seed only in the singular
> but this is false, the word is used in the plural number, and so might
> have been here, had it been necessary, as in 1 Samuel 8:15 concerning seed
> sown in the earth, from whence the metaphor is here taken. The first tract
> in the Jews' Misna, or oral law, is called, (Myerz), "seeds"; and the
> even as spoken of the posterity of men, is used in the plural number in
> their Talmud {e}; where they say, "pecuniary judgments are not as capital
> ones; in pecuniary judgments, a man gives his money, and it atones for
> in capital judgments, his blood, and the blood (wytwerz), "of his seeds,"
> or posterity, hang on him to the end of the world; for we so find in Cain,
> who slew his brother; as it is said, "the bloods of thy brother crieth";
> it is not said, the blood of thy brother, but the bloods of thy brother,
> his blood, and the blood (wytwerz), 'of his seeds.'"
> {d} Chizzuk Emuna, . par. 2. c. 90. p. 468. {e} T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol.
> 1.
> There are some questions that can arise from John Gill's exposition here.
> Could "zerayim", or "zrewtym" or another form, could have been used in
> Tanach
> as a plural, as they were in Talmud ?
> Another is to what extent Paul's view is Mishnaic, rather than straight
> commentary.
> And others revolve around the various singular/plural concepts, which are
> a tad tricky in both
> Hebrew and English.
> Anybody want to give some thoughts on the Hebrew involved, or Paul's
> discussion of the
> Genesis promises, or the Gill commentary ?  Does anyone other than Gill
> have a helpful
> or deep discussion of this?
> Thanks :-)
> Shalom,
> Steven Avery
> Queens, NY
> schmuel at escape.com
> Messianic_Apologetic-subscribe at yahoogroups.com
> http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Messianic_Apologetic/

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