[b-hebrew] Ecclesiastes 3:11

Martin Shields enkidu at bigpond.net.au
Tue Nov 27 16:45:26 EST 2007

Hi Yitzhak,

Just a couple of brief comments to update this...

> (mdy n? bxbryk wbrb k$pyk b?$r yg(t mn(wryk
> JPS: Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of
> thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth
> Well, JPS translates it as "wherein", which accords with your reading.
> It seems the "wherein" applies to sorceries.  But this is in fact  
> only a
> secondary reading.  It is possible to read this verse differently:
> Stand now in your enchantments,
> .. and in your sorceries,
> .. in that which you have labored from your youth

The few modern versions I checked follow the JPS for Isa 47:12, which  
is not to say that they are correct. A couple of commentaries I  
checked also adopted this rendering without any discussion.

> This interpretation still maintains the function of ?$r in  
> introducing a
> clause.  The object of "in" is not just ?$r but it is the entire  
> clause.
> This interpretation also does much better than the previous one
> because it provides for a parallelism, keeping with the poetic
> character of the text.  The previous reading destroys this poetic
> character somewhat in that "wherein" gives an overly long
> parallel, as if the prophecy diverges from its poetic form for a bit
> to add a little prose.

Perhaps so, but more broadly the appearance of parallelism throughout  
Isa 47 does not seem (from a quick reading) to give rise to a simple  
pattern in such a way as to be able to entirely discount the  
possibility that we have here in verse 12 something of the form A - A'  
- B - C' - C. Verse 11 has three parallel lines which could be argued  
to support three parallel lines in verse 12 (and so your reading), but  
the pattern doesn't seem to be consistent throughout, so I'm not sure  
that the parallelism alone is a strong argument.

> In view of this example, then, let me restate what I said, which is  
> based
> more on my personal intuition based on the Biblical text, than on a
> careful examination of each use of ?$r.  For such a careful  
> examination,
> you can look at Holmstedt's dissertation which I linked to earlier:
> http://individual.utoronto.ca/holmstedt/HolmstedtDissertation.pdf

I'm a little wary of intuition (there's a danger of smoothing over the  
"bumps" where unusual usage appears) but the link to Holmstedt's  
dissertation provides good grounding for your view. I found I even had  
a copy I had previously downloaded but not gotten around to reading.

> Specifically, see p. 96 n . 53 (107 in the pdf) which seems to
> suggest just such a reading as I have explained above for Isa 47:12.
> In any case, ?$r, as I see it, and especially in such situations,
> always introduces a clause.  When the object of a preposition,
> the entire clause is the object of the preposition and ?$r is to be
> translated "that which is" or "that which".  This is not possible
> with the way you want to read Qohelet 3:11 although it is probably
> possible with all the examples you use for an "antecedent"
> interpretation of ?$r.

I've now looked through Holmstedt's dissertation and it certainly does  
support your understanding of Isa 47:12 and, if correct, also supports  
your understanding of Qoh 3:11 because, as you say, a preposition  
preceding אשר belongs to the preceding clause, not to the clause  
introduced by אשר. After looking at this I think I better understand  
what Stuart Weeks was getting at. Holmstedt certainly makes a good  
case for his understanding of the relative, and I'm inclined to agree  
with him in most circumstances, but I'm still mulling it over. At the  
very least I think Holmstedt's work on ש/אשר is worth a look by  
anyone interested in this verse (or Isa 47:12).


Martin Shields,
Sydney, Australia.

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