[b-hebrew] nouns and adjectives, was re: origin of evil

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Fri Sep 15 22:02:56 EDT 2006


You and I have been on this list together for how long? Yet it appears
that you have not read my posts.

After carefully saying that looking at the uses of R(, it appears that
its semantic domain lies between and overlaps with "displeasing" to
"harmful" where harmful includes spiritual and mental harm all the way
to physical death, means that the best way to translate that word (a
completely different exercise than defining the semantic range) would
include also close synonyms of those terms.

However, the many times it is used in contexts that exclude the moral
aspect that is an integral part meant by the term "evil" means that
the semantic domain of R( does not overlap "evil".

If one insisted that one use the same term each time R( is used in
Tanakh for translation, one would have to use the two paragraphs
above, an impossible task.

You most likely have forgotten that shortly after I joined this group,
I mentioned that )BD אבד means to become lost, often used as a
euphemism for to die. It is sloppy lexicography not to recognize its
euphemistic use and simply define the term as meaning to die.
Likewise, it is sloppy lexicography to claim that R( includes the
moral aspect that is inextricable from "evil" in some of its uses
while unquestionably excluding it in other uses. Languages don't act
that way. However the term does include harm, from the minor harm that
results in mere displeasure, to major harm of death and calamity.

On 9/15/06, Lisbeth S. Fried <lizfried at umich.edu> wrote:
> Dear Karl,
> Sorry for taking so long to reply, things got hectic around here for a
> while.
> >
> >
> > Where we disagree:
> >
> > I say that an adjective used to modify nouns has the same meaning
> > irrespective of whether the noun is attached to an action or to an
> > object.
> >
> > Correct me if I misunderstand you, but I understand your position as
> > stating that an adjective that modifies a noun attached to an action
> > can and often has a different meaning than the same adjective
> > modifying a noun attached to an object. In other words, the subject of
> > a noun can and does modify the meaning of an adjective modifying that
> > noun.
> >
> > A practical problem with your position, as I understand it, is that
> > one could read meanings into adjectives to suit one's ideological
> > position depending on the noun's meaning, while my position is that an
> > adjective's meaning is fixed by the aggregate of all its uses; where a
> > meaning is ruled out by some uses, therefore it is also ruled out in
> > all uses.

> Dear Karl,
> I don't think that this is your understanding either.

This is my understanding. Furthermore, your answer does not address
the theoretical lexicography questions I raised above. Are we like
Humpty Dumpty in Alice through the looking glass, where he arbitrarily
defined terms irrespective of how others used the terms? Or do people
choose terms they use as they are defined by common usage in order to

> ... You would not
> translate the word RA( the
> same way in every context. You can't possibly. The same Hebrew word would
> make sense in one context would be nonsense in another context. I don't even
> think that you could come up with one English word that would fit all the
> uses of Ra( that occur in the Hebrew.
Where have I claimed otherwise? How does this answer the question I
raised above?

> >
> > Actually, my position is part of my total understanding of
> > lexicography: when looking at a term, I look for a semantic domain
> > that will encompass the aggregate of all uses of that term limited
> > also by that aggregate of uses, while taking into account idiomatic
> > uses and compound lexemes (where two or more terms are combined to
> > make a third meaning). This is also where I disagree with BDB,
> > Gesenius and others who allow for different meanings in different
> > contexts which, as I understand it, effectively leaves terms
> > undefined, with meanings to be filled in by the readers, though
> > usually a certain number of acceptable meanings are given.
> Languages don't work like that.

How does that answer the above paragraph?

> ... Semantic ranges of words in different
> languages are not one to one.

Where have I ever made that claim?

> ... They overlap in some areas, but not in every
> area. Words have to be translated according to context. Context has to
> provide the clue to meaning.
> Words don't occur in isolation.
> >
> > I also see that at times Hebrew uses adjectives where English uses
> > nouns, in cases where the noun is undefined. In such places, I
> > translate it as "...that which is..."
> >
> > To apply the above to our discussion of Isaiah 45:7, starting with my
> > position, it is one of the cases where an adjective is used where the
> > noun is undefined. Looking at the aggregate of its uses, there are
> > times where "evil" is an incorrect definition for R(, therefore it is
> > an incorrect definition here too. Your position, as I understand it,
> > is that words can have different meanings depending on the contexts,
> > an adjective can and often does have a different meaning depending on
> > the definition of the noun it modifies, therefore, even though "evil"
> > is unquestionably the wrong definition for some uses of R(, it can be
> > used as the definition for R( in this verse.
> Absolutely. You think that you are being rigorous, but I don't believe that
> you can translate the Hebrew bible or translate any text, using the same
> English word for every occurrence of a single Hebrew word, or a single
> German or French word. Languages don't work like that.
> >
> > We have agreed to disagree, I have written the above just to make sure
> > I have correctly understood you and correctly described our
> > disagreement.
> Yes, but I don't believe that you believe what you are saying.
> Liz Fried

Yes I do believe what I wrote, it is just that you are so fixated on
translation, and it appears to be the translation of a particular term
in a particular context in a particular way, that you have
misunderstood and misrepresented what I wrote.

Now that we are talking past each other, and not discussing the same
subject, we can neither agree nor disagree. Do you want to try again,
or just throw up your hands and say "I give up!"      .....     ;-)
> >
> > Karl W. Randolph.

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list