[b-hebrew] Genesis 49: 6: The Joint Curse of Simeon and Levi

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Dec 11 10:08:43 EST 2007


Genesis 49: 6:  The Joint Curse of Simeon and Levi
 
Before going on to look at the puns in the name “Judah”, I would first like 
to use the puns on the names “Simeon” and “Levi” to suggest a 
re-interpretation of the final joint curse that Simeon and Levi receive at Genesis 49: 6.
 
Why do Simeon and Levi get this horrible joint curse?  Is it because they 
killed men at Shechem to avenge the rape of their full-sister Dinah?  (Chapter 34 
of Genesis)  Or, on the contrary, is it because they tried to kill their 
young half-brother Joseph?  (Chapter 37 of Genesis)
 
A.  As a prelude to discussing whether the puns on the names “Simeon” and “
Levi” may provide the answer to these important questions, consider the many 
competing translations of Genesis 49: 6.  In the entirety of the Patriarchal 
narratives, the one verse that has perhaps the wildest variations in the various 
mainstream English translations is the second half of Genesis 49: 6.
 
1.  “…for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged 
down a wall.”  KJV
 
2.  “…for in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they houghed 
oxen.”  JPS1917
 
3.  “…For in their anger they slew a man,  And in their self-will eradicated 
a prince.”  Young’s Literal Translation  [This is an 1862 translation that 
was revised in 1898.]
 
4.  “…For in their anger they slew men, And in their wantonness houghed oxen.
”  Darby
 
5.  “…For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they 
hamstrung oxen.”  English Standard Version
 
6.  “…for in their anger they killed men, and at their whim they hamstrung 
oxen.”  Revised Standard Version
 
7.  “…For when angry they slay men, And when pleased they maim oxen.”  
JPS1985 
 
8.  “…For in their anger they killed a man, and by their will they crippled 
an ox.”  Richard Elliott Friedman
 
9.  “…For they killed men in their fury,  And they maimed oxen at their whim.
”  E.A. Speiser
 
10.  “…For in their fury they slaughtered men, at their pleasure they tore 
down ramparts.”  Robert Alter
 
B.  In a later post, we can discuss the heated controversy as to how to 
translate the last word in Genesis 49: 6.  But first, it may be of even greater 
importance (though less often discussed) to consider what the proper translation 
should be of the final word in the first line quoted above.  The translations 
split between translating aleph-yod-shin as “man” (singular) vs. “men” 
(plural).  Here are four more translations that use “man” in the singular.
 
_American Standard Version_ (http://asvbible.com/genesis/49.htm) :
 ”…For in their anger they slew a man….” 
 
_Douay-Rheims Bible_ (http://drb.scripturetext.com/genesis/49.htm) :
 ”…because in their fury they slew a man….” 
 
_English Revised Version_ (http://erv.scripturetext.com/genesis/49.htm) :
 ”…For in their anger they slew a man….” 
 
_Webster's Bible Translation_ (http://websterbible.com/genesis/49.htm) :
 ”…for in their anger they slew a man….”
 
C.  Finally, we should perhaps consider whether this line of text may reflect 
the subjunctive mood.  (Subjunctive mood in Biblical Hebrew can rarely be 
ascertained by form, but rather in most cases can only be ascertained from the 
context.)  If both subjunctive mood and the singular of “man” are used, then we 
would have:
 
“For in their anger they would slay a man.”
 
Note that such a translation would fit perfectly the fact that Simeon and 
Levi in anger tried to kill their younger brother Joseph in chapter 37 of 
Genesis.  (The life of only that one individual was at stake in chapter 37 of 
Genesis.)  Such a translation would not fit the Shechem incident in chapter 34 of 
Genesis, where several men were killed by Simeon and Levi.
 
So the first question we face in trying to understand the joint curse of 
Simeon and Levi at Genesis 49: 6 is whether aleph-yod-shin here should be given 
the normal translation of “man” (singular), as opposed to being translated, as 
it has usually (but not always) been translated in the 20th century, as “men” 
(plural).  Then we can quickly move on to the question of whether the puns on 
the names “Simeon” and “Levi” are pointing us to the proper interpretation 
of this controversial joint curse at Genesis 49: 6.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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