[b-hebrew] Ecclesiastes 3:11

Bryant J. Williams III bjwvmw at com-pair.net
Tue Nov 13 00:41:34 EST 2007

Dear List,

Below is a reply from Dr. Stuart Weeks who is working on the new ICC commentary
on Ecclesiastes based on a referral from Dr. Peter Gentry who has worked on the
NETS LXX Ecclesiastes. I have also included Dr. Gentry's remarks.

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

Dear Rev. Williams,

Al Pietersma has forwarded your message to me. I am editing Ecclesiastes for the
Goettingen Septuaginta. I have
spent some time on the Hebrew Text but would not consider myself an expert. May
I also apologise for a delay in responding to this message.

I would view BILTI as a conjunction (literally WITHOUT) introducing an exceptive
clause. The ASHER nominalises
the exceptive clause. The negative LO' applies to the embedded clause or
sentence. Thus I would translate,

"except that they do not find"

This is functionally equivalent to a negative purpose clause. The rendering in
the LXX is more idiomatic than normal for the translator, showing he is capable
of idiomatic renderings.

Dear Bryant,

This is a fascinating verse, and I don't think I have got to the bottom of it
yet, but I can give you the gist of my notes:

Peter Gentry has quite rightly, I think, identified precisely how G took the
text, essentially as a negative final clause ('so that not...'). I'm not sure,
though, that this is quite what the Hebrew originally meant. The main problem,
of course, is מבלי, which is commonly described as a negative particle or
conjunction, but which really has more to do with 'lack' or 'absence': it is
roughly equivalent to the English 'without', and correspondingly requires a
following substantive, or equivalent - commonly a noun or substantivized
participle, although Deut. 28.55 uses an impersonal verb. According to context,
it can have the nuances 'for want of'/'because of the lack of' or , rarely,  'so
that x was/is absent' (cf. Ezek. 14.15), but it often just means 'without', and
BDB associates this last use especially with late texts. It is not a way of
negating a verb, but implies the absence or non-existence of a substantive.. The
expression המבלי אין, found in, e.g. Exod 14.11, seems to be an idiom in which
the term itself is used nominally 'Is there an absence, (in that) there is not
...?', but generally מבלי has to be attached more directly to what follows.

As Prof. Gentry says, the effect of אשר is to nominalize the clause which it
heads. It need not make it a relative clause, as such (cf., e.g. 3.22), but it
means that we should read what follows as the substantive element governed by
מבלי: '(that/what) the human will not discover'. Taking מבלי in its normal
senses, that gives us the possibilities:

    (1) without that which the human will not discover;
    (2) for the lack of the human not discovering (unlikely with the imperf.);
    (3) so that there is not that which the human will not discover.

None of these, I think, is readily construed in terms of double negation, and I
would take the point to be that God has 'put eternity in their heart, without
that which the human cannot discover (for himself) - the work which God has
done'. In other words, humans have been given incomplete knowledge, with a
deficit which they cannot fill for themselves. I think this fits in well with
8.17, which includes a rather similar statement. Overall, I would understand Q.
to be suggesting that God has given humans a glimpse of how much there is to
know, but not knowledge of his own actions, so that they are driven to occupy
themselves in a quest for an understanding which they are not, in fact, capable
of achieving.

In short, then, I don't think that there's a double negation here, but 'without'
+ a negative relative clause, all qualifying the preceding statement. The
relative clause is in the 'backward' form 'what is y ... (that is), x' (e.g. in
English 'I like what I'm reading, a book by ...).

Best wishes,

Stuart Weeks

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