[b-hebrew] `edut, was: Alleged meaning of ecclesia in OT

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Sat Dec 18 19:29:38 EST 2004

On 18/12/2004 17:29, Peter Kirk wrote:

> ...
>>> The same confusion underlies the translation of ("DW.T as 
>>> "testimony", also used with )OHEL for the Tabernacle, and especially 
>>> in Psalms 19 and 119. This word is also derived from Y(D and refers 
>>> to something appointed by God, rather than to a witness or testimony.
>> HH: Is this something new? BDB lists eduth, (DWT, under the root (WD, 
>> "bear witness."
> Well, it is newer than BDB (1906), which is wrong here.
> It is generally recognised, even by BDB, that there are two senses of 
> (DH `eda, one "testimony" and the other "congregation". It makes much 
> more sense to relate `edut (plural: `edwot) to the latter than to the 
> former. But I don't have time to justify this just now.
A little more on this one. I was surprised not to find any mention of 
this interpretation in the reference books I have to hand, because I had 
been led to understand it was almost certain. But here is some of the 
evidence as I see it:

1) The form `edut is clearly either `ed or `eda with the abstract noun 
forming suffix -ut (compared in GKC 86k to English -dom, -hood, -ness). 
But `ed and `eda have a variety of meanings. `ed means "witness", either 
a person or in the abstract, from the root `wd. `eda can also mean 
"witness" in the abstract sense, but its most common meaning is a formal 
"assembly", from the root y`d. There is no a priori reason to prefer a 
link to `ed over one to `eda.

2) Any evidence that LXX etc understood `edut as "testimony" should be 
disregarded on the grounds that LXX also understood mo`ed as "testimony" 
but this is generally recognised to be inaccurate.

3) The Tabernacle was variously known as 'ohel ha`edut and as 'ohel 
mo`ed. The latter is clearly linked to the word mo`ed "assembly". While 
it is possible that the Tabernacle was described by means of two words 
of similar form but very different meaning, it makes more sense to 
understand `edut and mo`ed as more or less synonymous here, describing 
the Tabernacle as the tent formally set up by the assembly and perhaps 
the site of its meetings.

4) In none of the biblical occurrences of `edut is there any clear 
semantic link to the concept of bearing witness or giving testimony. The 
meaning of the word seems rather to be a synonym of "law" or 
"stipulation". Here are the glosses as given in HALOT:

1. witness, testimony:
a) the document that was presented to the king of Judah at his coronation
b) collective sg. the stipulations of the Sinai covenant laid down in 
c) the solemn undertaking of the given duty connected with the 
remembrance of God’s saving acts
d) witness in the sense of a statute
e) witness concerning a person’s reputation
2. pl. laws, more precisely legal provisions

Well, in English "witness" simply does not have the sense "statute", see 
for example http://www.bartleby.com/61/45/W0194500.html, so sense 1d 
should be reglossed simply as "statute". Sense 1e is the only one which 
has anything to do with "witness, testimony", and the examples quoted 
for this sense are only in Sirach - and as Sirach is unpointed these 
words could actually be `edot, plural of `eda "witness".

The gloss for sense 1c may seem to have an element of "witness" in the 
sense of "remembrance". The references quoted for this one are Psalm 
19:8, 78:5, 119:88, but there is nothing in the contexts of any of these 
three to suggest any connection with remembrance; so I conclude that 
this part of the sense has been introduced merely to conform to the 
supposed etymology, and perhaps to theological interpretations based on 
the Greek, English translations like "testimony".

So I conclude that the sense of `edut is never clearly "witness, 
testimony", but rather more like "formal stipulation".

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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