[b-hebrew] Review of Alter's Translation

Joseph I. Lauer josephlauer at hotmail.com
Wed Oct 27 18:31:46 EDT 2004

    A number of posts to the list have discussed the absence of words in the
Hebrew Bible, and Uri Hurwitz mentioned that "we have extra-biblical,
archaeological evidence of words that were in use and never appeared in BH
    Philologos, the language columnist in the English-language The Forward,
discussed this in (at least) two columns that may be of interest to list
    In one column, "Bible-Speak, Repatriated" (July 5, 2002), Philologos was
essentially asked with regard to "archeological finds in which Hebrew from
the period of the Bible has been unearthed", "Has there been any attempt to
repatriate this defunct Hebrew back into modern spoken Hebrew?"
    Among the items discussed were the Lachish Letters, including the
previously unknown "idiom 'ata ka-yom 'ata ka-yom - literally, 'now as of
this day, now as of this day'", in the sentence "El adoni Ya'osh. Yashmi'a
adonai et adoni shmu'at shalom 'ata ka-yom 'ata ka-yom." ("To my master
Ya'osh. May God bring [literally, 'sound out to'] my master tidings of peace
this very day.")
    Another discussion concerned the "phrase be-t'sibat ha-boker, 'in the
t'sibah of the morning'", in the sentence "Ve-avdekha eyneni sholeah. shama
oto 'o[d hayom] ki im be-t'sibat ha-boker ve-yeda ki el masu'ot lachish
nah.nu shomrim ke-khol ha-otot asher natan adoni, ki lo nir'eh et Azekah."
("And your servant [that is, Hoshayahu] is not sending him today, but rather
early in the morning. And [you should] know that we keep watching for the
beacons of Lachish, according to the signs my master gave us, for we no
longer see [the beacons] of Azekah.")
    Philologos wrote that "The word [t'sibah] almost certainly comes from
the Hebrew verbal root s-v-v, having the base meaning of 'to turn,' and
probably means something like 'at the turn of,' but whether this means the
point at which night turns into morning, or morning into noon, is not
    Philologos concluded the column by pointing out that "T'sibah ... can
now be found in Hebrew dictionaries, with an attribution to the Lachish
letters. More than 2,500 years after it last disappeared from the ken of
Hebrew readers, it is, in a manner of speaking, back again. I am sorry to
say, however, that neither it, nor 'ata ka-yom 'ata ka-yom nor any other
extra-biblical words or expression that I know of, has yet to make it back -
be "repatriated,... - into the spoken language of Israel. But patience:
Perhaps this will yet happen, too."
    The URL for the "Bible-Speak, Repatriated" column is
    The second column, "Language of Lachish" (December 12, 2003), briefly
reviews words and phrases mentioned above and then discusses the biblical
phrase "ma avdekha ha-kelev" (translated as "But what, is thy servant a
dog") and the Lachish Letters' phrase, "mi avdekha kelev" ("For thy servant
is but a dog").
    In Philologos's words: ".... take verse 13 of Chapter 8 of Kings II. In
it, the future king of Aram, Hazael, told by the prophet Elisha that he will
'do evil unto the children of Israel,' replies, in the language of the King
James Bible: 'But what, is thy servant a dog [ma avdekha ha-kelev] that he
should do such a thing?' Hazael is apparently saying that it would be a vile
act, worthy only of a dog, to act in this manner - but in Hosha'yahu's
letters to Yu'ash, Hosha'yahu routinely begins any request or response with
the same phrase, mi avdekha kelev, 'For thy servant is but a dog.'
Obviously, this was in biblical times a standard form of polite address
toward one's superiors rather than a phrase of self-castigation, and
Hazael's words would be better translated as, 'But why would thy humble
servant do such a thing?'"
    Philologos mentioned in this column, "All this makes one reflect that,
as large and varied a book as the Bible is, its Hebrew represents only a
part of the Hebrew spoken in biblical times, about which we need to avoid
overly hard-and-fast assumptions."
    The URL for the "Language of Lachish" column is
    Joseph I. Lauer
    Brooklyn, New York 

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