JimStinehart at aol.com
JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Nov 2 09:19:21 EDT 2007
We have seen that the last two of the nine uses of the word
MWLDT/"mowledeth" in the Patriarchal narratives, at Genesis 43: 7 and Genesis 48: 6, mean
"father's descendants", and do not mean "the geographical locale of one's
birth". The other seven uses of MWLDT in the Patriarchal narratives are all paired
with the word "land", although the pairing is done in many different ways.
In four of those seven uses of the word MWLDT, the word MWLDT and the word
for "land" are separated by the word "and". In those four cases, the more
natural reading of the sentence is that two different things are being
referenced: (1) the word for "land" is referencing land, whereas (2) MWLDT is, by
contrast, referencing "father's descendants" or "kindred". As we will see in due
course, almost all well-known standard English translations of the
Patriarchal narratives translate MWLDT as "kindred", or some similar term that can
refer to "father's descendants", when MWLDT is paired with "land" and the two
words are separated by "and". That is the natural reading in those cases, and
most translations follow that natural reading.
In this post we will look at Genesis 32: 10 as one key example of this.
This is a critical use of MWLDT, because in this verse Jacob/"Israel" tells us
how MWLDT should be interpreted.
The context is that Jacob is on the outskirts of Canaan, having returned
from Harran in accordance with YHWH's advice. Jacob is terrified that his older
half-brother Esau may murder Jacob and all of Jacob's family tomorrow. In
this passage, Jacob fervently reminds YHWH that not only had YHWH directed
Jacob to return to the land of Canaan, but also YHWH had specifically directed
Jacob to return to Jacob's father's descendants, Jacob's MWLDT. The one very
threatening member of Jacob's MWLDT (Jacob's "father's descendants" or
"kindred") is, most obviously, Esau.
Here is what Jacob says:
"And Jacob said: 'O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, O
LORD [YHWH], who saidst unto me: Return unto thy country, and to thy MWLDT,
and I will do thee good". Genesis 32: 10
In context, Jacob is saying that YHWH had advised Jacob to return to Jacob's
MWLDT/"father's descendants", and hence YHWH should see to it that Jacob is
not murdered tomorrow by Esau, who is the most prominent member (other than
Jacob himself) of Jacob's MWLDT/"father's descendants". In context, Jacob is
not, at this critical moment, making irrelevant remarks about the place where
Jacob had been born, or the place where Jacob had formerly lived.
1. The place of Jacob's birth is Beer-lahai-roi, south of Hebron, on the
northern edge of the Negev Desert. (See Genesis 25: 11.) Jacob never goes
back to Beer-lahai-roi. In a matter that can be addressed in more detail in a
later post, it seems most doubtful that YHWH ever told Jacob to go back to
the place of Jacob's birth, because Jacob in fact never goes back to the place
of Jacob's birth. Jacob at this point is just east of Shechem, nowhere near
Beer-lahai-roi on the northern edge of the Negev Desert. For years Jacob
never settles anywhere near the place of Jacob's birth.
2. In context, Jacob is making a clever argument to YHWH here. Jacob is
stating that Jacob has simply done what YHWH told Jacob to do: return to
Jacob's country, and return to Jacob's MWLDT. Jacob at this point is just east
of the Jordan River, a short distance from Shechem, which is west of the
Jordan River. Jacob has returned to Jacob's country, in the important sense that
as soon as Jacob goes a half-day's more travel west, Jacob will be in Canaan.
If MWLDT means "father's descendants", then Jacob has certainly returned to
Jacob's father's descendants as well (though not to the place of Jacob's
birth, which is located far away to the south, on the northern edge of the Negev
Desert). At this very moment, Jacob is terrified that his father's oldest
son, Esau, who is Jacob's older twin brother, is going to murder Jacob and all
of Jacob's family the next day. Just two verses later, Jacob says exactly
that to YHWH:
"'Deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of
Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and smite me, the mother with the
children.'" Genesis 32: 12
3. Note that the whole focus of attention here is on a human being, Esau,
who is one of Jacob's father's descendants. There is no focus whatsoever at
this point on the geographical place of Jacob's birth, which is a very long
ways away, south of Hebron (which itself is far south of Shechem), and is a
place to which Jacob in fact never returns. At Genesis 32: 10, Beer-lahai-roi
is entirely irrelevant, but the only other named brother of Jacob (namely
Esau), who is certainly one of Jacob's "father's descendants", is front and
center as the focus of attention.
4. In the four cases in the Patriarchal narratives, such as here, where
"land" and MWLDT are separated by the word "and", the natural reading is that
MWLDT means "father's descendants" (or "kindred"). Note how awkwardly the
following approach would read: "Return unto thy country, and unto the place of
thy birth". Instead of this redundancy, the following reading is much more
natural and meaningful: "Return unto thy country, and unto thy father's
5. We see that MWLDT at Genesis 32: 10, as at Genesis 48: 6 and Genesis 43:
7, in context must mean "father's descendants", and cannot possibly mean
"the geographical place of the person's birth".
6. Almost all of the standard English translations use "kindred" to
translate the word MWLDT at Genesis 32: 10. That includes JPS1917, English
Standard Version, Darby, Young's Literal Translation, and Revised Standard Version.
King James Version uses "family", but in context that has the same meaning
here (since Jacob is with all of Jacob's immediate family; it is only Jacob's
father's family, that is Isaac's descendants, to whom Jacob is returning in
going back to Canaan). The standard translation here, which consistently is
"kindred", reflects the fact that MWLDT is referring to human beings at
Genesis 32: 10, namely Esau as one of Jacob's "father's descendants".
7. At Genesis 32: 10, Jacob is forthrightly saying that since YHWH advised
Jacob to return to Jacob's father's descendants, then it is now incumbent
upon YHWH to make sure that no person who is one of Jacob's father's
descendants, namely Esau, murders Jacob and his family.
In the Patriarchal narratives, the core meaning of MWLDT is "father's
descendants", or "kindred" in the narrowest sense of that English word. As we can
explore in future posts, if this core meaning of MWLDT is applied both at
Genesis 12: 1 and Genesis 11: 28, then there is no assertion whatsoever in the
Patriarchal narratives that the Hebrews or the pre-Hebrews were indigenous to
Mesopotamia. In secular history, the Hebrews and the pre-Hebrews were
indigenous to Canaan or greater Canaan, not to Mesopotamia. In my view, that
important secular historical fact is consistent with, rather than contradicts,
what the Hebrew text of the Patriarchal narratives says. It all depends, you
see, on how one understands the key Hebrew word MWLDT/"mowledeth".
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