[b-hebrew] 'Prophesying' 1 Samuel 18:10

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Thu Jul 8 05:28:14 EDT 2004

On 07/07/2004 03:13, Brian & Laureen Powell wrote:

> Dear Peter & Harold,
> Thank you for your helpful comments, though it has to be said that I 
> am still just as confused now as I was when I posted the question!
> There seem to be two different, though related, problems here.
> First, is the question I originally raised as to the meaning of the 
> word NB) in the Hithpael in this verse.
> Secondly, we have the problem of 'an evil spirit from the Lord'.

Sorry to complicate things! But there is no easy answer.

> In relation to the first problem, I am looking to find a word in 
> Manobo (the Philippine language that I'm trying to translate into) 
> that carries the idea of ecstatic speaking in the style of a prophet. 
> At present I have not found a suitable word that really fits this 
> idea. I will try to research if there is another word when I next 
> return to the village where I can ask several language informants.
> The words that I have as options so far are;
> 'tagna' which means to prophesy with the basic idea of predicting an 
> outcome.
> 'tagna-tagna' which means to pretend to 'tagna', or to predict without 
> any real certainty of the outcome being fulfilled.
> 'babansagon' which means to shout / rage
> 'pabailan' which means to act like a spirit priest
> 'nangon-nangon' which means to give a discourse / preach
> Any ideas of how I might use one of these?

This is really a translation issue, and suitable for one of the 
specialist Bible translation lists. My first impression would be not to 
use babansagon or nangon-nangon. I would want to ask in more detail 
exactly what pabailan refers to and whether it is necessarily something 
evil - although I realise it might be rejected by churches at least 
where "prophesying" seems to result from the activity of the Holy 
Spirit. As for tagna-tagna, it might be possible (and would work well 
for some of the references in later books e.g. Jer 29:26,27) but I 
wouldn't want to limit the activity to prediction of the future.

> In relation to the second problem of 'RUAX RA`AH ME'ET YHWH' I am 
> struggling with the concept of this (as have scholars for 
> generations). In the 'Bible Speaks Today' commentary on Samuel, Mary 
> Evans sees this as a way of expressing 'episodes of bleak depression' 
> which God sent to Saul, seeing God as the ultimate source of 
> everything that comes into our lives whether good or bad. ...

I am surprised at this from Mary Evans, but I see this 'episodes of 
bleak depression' explanation as a way of explaining the phenomena 
within a modern (but not post-modern) western worldview. This was not 
the worldview of the original Hebrew authors, who saw the activity of 
spiritual beings, and it is not the worldview of the Manobo people who 
have spirit priests. Imposing western non-biblical worldviews on your 
target audience is not part of your job as a translator.

> ... In Manobo, there is no generic word for a spirit. A person has a 
> spirit or 'spiritual double' as it is described in some 
> anthropological textbooks, which is what leaves the body when one 
> dies, and is what is seen in dreams. There are also demons, and there 
> is God's Spirit.
> On the other hand, the seat of emotions in Manobo is the breath, where 
> in English it is mostly seen as being the heart.  So, if one were to 
> translate the idea of a depression sent by God to Saul into Manobo it 
> would read something like 'a bad breath sent by God'. (Nothing to do 
> with halitosis!)
> So far in my translation I have been using such a phrase, with a 
> footnote explaining that it could also be interpreted to mean  'a 
> demon from God'. I don't know though whether this is a legitimate 
> translation. I was influenced unduly perhaps by the similarity of 
> 'RUAX' in Hebrew meaning both 'breath' and 'spirit' and the Manobo 
> word which means both 'breath' and 'emotions'.
> Any suggestions?

This comes back to a Hebrew exegesis question, and a good one. Can RUAX 
refer simply to human emotions? I think it must be at least broader than 
just emotions, "the entire immaterial consciousness of man... the 
principle of man's rational and immortal life... [it] possesses reason, 
will and conscience" (J.B. Payne in TWOT, "man" obviously intended 
inclusively). But when this is the sense, can it be said to come from 
God, and can it be associated with prophecy? I don't think so, nor do 
Payne or BDB who list 1 Sam 18:10 as referring to "a supernatural, 
angelic being" and "spirit of God" respectively.

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

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