[b-hebrew] Ezekiel 38:2f.; 39:1

Heard, Christopher Christopher.Heard at pepperdine.edu
Sat Dec 25 23:18:08 EST 2004

On 12/25/04 3:44 PM, "Peter Kirk" <peterkirk at qaya.org> wrote:
> On point 1), the wording is N:&IY) RO)$ in all three of these verses.
> Grammatically, this is a noun meaning "prince" in the construct state
> followed by the word RO)$, in the absolute state but without the
> article. RO)$ is also followed by two undisputed place names linked by
> the waw conjunction. Now RO)$ generally means "head", and can mean
> "chief" in an adjectival sense. But RO)$ is not syntactically an
> adjective, and so the adjectival sense has to be shown by a variety of
> syntactical constructions. The commonest of these seems to be RO)$ in
> the construct followed by the noun to be modified in the definite
> absolute plural, e.g. "head of the princes". If that is the sense in
> these verses, the construction is reversed and would be glossed "prince
> of a head". Now I don't say that this is impossible or unprecedented
> (although I don't have another example). But it is an unusual and
> surprising construction. However, it would be the normal construction if
> RO)$ were a place name or ethnic group name. I guess it is for this
> reason that the translators of the English Revised Version (at least)
> rendered this as a place name, "Rosh".

Peter, thanks for working with the whole phrase, and not the word RO)$ in
isolation. The word sequence N&Y) + R)$ is attested also in Num 10:4; 36:1,
in the phrase HANN:&IY)IYM RF)$"Y )LP"Y YI&RF)"L (Num 10:4) and HANN:&IY)IYM
RF)$"Y )FBWT LIBN"Y YI&RF)"L (Num 36:1). In translating these verses, the
major North American commercial translations (the only ones I have easy
access to at this moment) all treat N&Y) and R)$ as appositive, yielding
such translations as "the princes, the heads of the clans of Israel" and
"the princes, the heads of the fathers[' houses] of the Israelites."

Your hypothetical reverse, however--R)$ + N&Y) as "head of the princes"--is
not attested in the Tanakh.

On the strength of these parallels, few as they are--as far as I can tell,
Num 10:4; 36:1; Ezek 38:2, 3; 39:1 are the _only_ verses to contain N&Y) +
R)$--I would suggest that the R)$ and N&Y) in Ezek 38:2, 3; 39:1 ought to be
treated as appositive, and the translation something like "the prince, the
head of Meshekh and Tubal ..."
> I wonder if RO)$ ME$EK could be a compound place name meaning "the
> Meshech headland", given that the Arabic cognate of RO)$, Ras, is
> commonly used meaning "headland" in compound place names, and the modern
> Hebrew word can also have that sense: Rosh Hanikra is a headland in Israel.

A quick Accordance search for R)$ + proper noun produced 42 hits in 35
verses: Gen 46:21; 48:14, 17; 49:26; Lev 8:12; Deut 33:16; Judg 7:25; 9:53;
1 Sam 5:4; 2 Sam 3:29; 4:8; 4:12; 12:30; 20:22; 1 Kings 2:33; 2 Kings 6:31;
25:27; Isa 7:8, 9; Jer 52:31 (MT); Ezek 38:2, 3; 39:1; Jonah 4:8; Micah 3:1;
Zech 6:11; Song 4:8; 1 Chr 5:7; 12:3, 9; 20:2; 23:8, 19; 24:21; 2 Chr 11:22.

First, we can eliminate the verses where R)$ + the proper name is not itself
a phrase, but an incidental feature of the word order. This is the case in
Gen 46:21, where R)$ and the following word MWPPIYM are people's names (sons
of Benjamin), items in a list, separated by an athnach. It is also the case
in 1 Chr 5:7; 12:3, 9; 20:2, 23:8, 19; 24:21, where the phrase R)$ + proper
noun indicates that person was the "head" or "leader" among his family
group. 1 Chron 11:22 belongs in this group too, for there in the phrase
WAYYA(:AM"D LARO)$ R:XAB:(FIM )ET-):ABIYYFH, the word RO)$ is clearly not
bound to the following word, Rehoboam; rather, the following word, Rehoboam,
is the subject of which RO)$ is the indirect object, as indicated by the L-.

Second, we can eliminate those verses where R)$ + proper name clearly refers
to the physical head of a particular person (or, in a couple of verses ,a
statue): Gen 48:14, 17; 49:26; Lev 8:12; Deut 33:16; Judg 7:25; 9:53; 1 Sam
5:4; 2 Sam 4:8, 12; 12:30; 20:22; 2 Kings 6:31; Jonah 4:8; Zech 6:11.

Third, we can eliminate those verses where R)$ + proper name refers to a
particular person in a metaphorical sense, e.g., "may guilt fall upon Joab's
head." I place in this group 2 Sam 3:29; 1 Kings 2:33; 2 Kings 25:27 // Jer

It seems obvious to me that senses 1-3 as I have outlined them here have no
bearing on understanding the use of R)$ + proper noun in Ezek 38:2, 3; 39:1.

Fourth, we have a category where R)$ + the name of a mountain means the
"head" or "peak" of the mountain, attested twice in Song 4:8: M"RO)$
):AMFNFH M"RO)$ &:NIYR. Other than this, I cannot find any places in the
Tanakh where R)$ + toponym itself refers to a geographical or topographical
feature. That is, I cannot find any attestations of R)$ + toponym to mean
"headland" in a compound place name, _unless_ the three instances in Ezek
38:2, 3; 39:1 constitute such.

Fifth, we have three verses where, in the phrase R)$ + proper noun, the
proper noun names a political unit with a recognizable territory. I take
this to be the sense in Micah 3:1: $IM(W-NF) RF)$"Y YA(:AQOB UQCIYN"Y B"YT
YI&RF)"L. This usage appears several times in Isaiah 7:8-9:
    W:RO)$ DAME&EQ R:CIYN ...
In these instances, RO)$ + proper noun clearly refers to rulership of a
particular place, by a particular person or from a particular place within
the larger unit, such that RO)$ here points up the political hierarchy. This
seems to me the usage that most illuminates the usage in Ezek 38:2, 3; 39:1.

> On point 2), if Rosh is a place name (and not a compound), there is a
> reasonable chance of a link to the name Russia. The word "Russia" (in
> Russian, Rossiya) first appears in the form Rus', the name of a state
> founded about 860 CE in modern Russia and Ukraine. The Byzantine Greek
> form of the name was RWS, rho-omega-sigma. The etymology of this name is
> disputed (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rus%27_%28people%29 and
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymology_of_Rus_and_derivatives), but one
> possibility is that the name comes from the Rhoxolani (see
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhoxolani), Sarmatian tribes known from the
> 3rd and 4th centuries BCE, named from the Persian word rokhs = "light"
> because of their light-coloured hair - something they share with at
> least prototypical modern Russians. These Sarmatians lived in an area
> adjacent to one likely location of Meshech and Tubal, in modern Georgia
> (cf. "Meskheti", the modern name for western Georgia) - their modern
> descendants include the Ossetians, who also live partly in Georgia.
> So I conclude that there is a real possibility that Ezekiel was at this
> point using RO)$ as the name of an area or an ethnic group, parallel to
> Meshech and Tubal, and that the modern name Russia is derived from this
> place name Rosh - and even that the modern Russians are at least in part
> descended from the people of the Rosh referred to by Ezekiel.

For what it's worth, I agree with Peter about the _procedure_ above _not_
being an example of the "etymological fallacy," but an exploration of a
possibly toponymic continuity across time and cultures. This is exactly the
sort of thing that archaeologists do when they use Arabic place-names as
evidence for identifications of Syro-Palestinian sites named in the Bible.

However, I don't find the analysis convincing. Peter, I realize that you are
offering merely an exploratory possibility, not a dogmatic prouncement or
even really an argument. I think the analysis is actually reasonable. But I
don't think it's persuasive. I think for the analysis to be convincing, I
would also have to be convinced of a synchronism between Persian rakhs,
Byzantine Greek RWS, and Hebrew RO)$. You well know that you haven't gone so
far as to present that evidence; as far as I can tell, you didn't intend or
pretend to do so, so I don't mean that as a criticism.

Even if I were convinced of those cross-linguistic toponymic equivalencies,
however, I would still need to be convinced that RO)$ was actually a proper
noun in Ezek 38:2, 3; 39:1. Yet the N&Y) + RO)$ constructions in Numbers
10:4; 36:1 and the use of RO)$ + toponym in Isa 7:8, 9 persuade me that RO)$
is not a toponym in Ezek 38:2, 3; 39:1.

My conclusion: N&Y) and RO)$ are appositive in Ezek 38:2, 3; 39:1, and thus
the question of any link between the RO)$ there and Russia is moot because
that RO)$ is not a toponym.

Best wishes to all,


R. Christopher Heard
Assistant Professor of Religion
Armstrong Fellow in Religion
Pepperdine University

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list