[b-hebrew] Was Pharaoh "Touched" or "Plagued" by God at Genesis 12:17?

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Mon Aug 18 23:12:35 EDT 2008


We've already established that NG( has a wide range of meanings. What you're 
doing now is discussing the meaning of the English word "plague". This is 
not quite the purpose of this list. Please stick to the meaning of the 

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <JimStinehart at aol.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Monday, August 18, 2008 11:53 PM
Subject: [b-hebrew] Was Pharaoh "Touched" or "Plagued" by God at Genesis 

> Karl W. Randolph:
> 1.  You wrote:  “The meaning of נגע NG( when looking at all its uses in 
> the
> Bible is "to
> reach out to touch, used for all touching from soft caresses to a hard 
> blow
> intended to injure or kill, also for sexual contact".  As such, that is 
> not
> the same meaning as used in English.”
> I agree that nun-gimel-ayin means “to reach out to touch”, in a wide 
> variety
> of applications.  In Hebrew, to “touch” in this sense could be, but need 
> not
> be, to render “a hard blow intended to injure or kill”.  Or it could refer
> to, but need not refer to, “sexual contact”.
> As a noun, in its second use at Genesis 12: 17, Gesenius says that
> nun-gimel-resh means “stroke, blow, mark, spot”.  It really means “touch”, 
> viewed
> broadly.  Genesis 12: 17 says that YHWH “touched” (nun-gimel-ayin) Pharaoh 
> and
> Pharaoh’s household with “strokes, blows, marks or spots” or “touchings”
> (nun-gimel-ayin) of considerable magnitude.
> 2.  You wrote:  “Genesis doesn't give us the details of how God "touched"
> pharaoh, other than that it was great, and given the term's broad uses, 
> "plague"
> fits the
> context.”
> One important “detail” that Genesis does give is that YHWH “touched”
> Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s household.  That means that YHWH did not rain down a 
> plague on
> Egypt as a whole.  So we are not dealing with a plague afflicting the 
> country
> of Egypt.  No, we are dealing with YHWH “touching” Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s
> household.
> In what sense does translating nun-gimel-ayin as “plague” at Genesis 12: 
> 17 “
> fit the context”?
> It is perhaps possible that Pharaoh and many people in Pharaoh’s household
> came down with the plague of leprosy.  But Pharaoh does not say that at 
> Genesis
> 12: 18-19 (quoted below).  And why would Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s household
> coming down with leprosy or some similar disease be interpreted by Pharaoh 
> to mean
> that Sarah must be a married woman?
> Note that Pharaoh does not claim that either he has been afflicted by
> infirmities or an individual plague, or that Egypt has been afflicted by a 
> plague:
> “And Pharaoh called Abram, and said: 'What is this that thou hast done 
> unto
> me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?  Why saidst thou: 
> She is
> my sister? so that I took her to be my wife;  now therefore behold thy 
> wife,
> take her, and go thy way.'”  Genesis 12: 18-19
> Pharaoh’s reference to “that thou hast done unto me” is Pharaoh’s claim
> that Abraham has allegedly put Pharaoh into an immoral situation by reason 
> of the
> fact that Sarah, who has been in Pharaoh’s harem for a short time, is a
> married woman.  That meaning is clarified by the immediately following 
> line:  “why
> didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?”  Pharaoh is not claiming at
> Genesis 12: 18 that Pharaoh has been afflicted by an individual plague, or 
> that
> Egypt has been afflicted by a plague.  No, Pharaoh is claiming that 
> Abraham has
> put Pharaoh into a potentially immoral situation, allegedly under false
> pretenses, which in turn has led to a sharp divine communication to 
> Pharaoh (by
> means of both Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s household being divinely “touched”) to 
> cease
> and desist immediately as to Sarah being in Pharaoh’s harem.  This sharp
> divine communication affected not only Pharaoh individually, but also 
> Pharaoh’s
> household generally, and it was done in such a way that all attention
> immediately focused on Sarah.  Note, importantly, that YHWH makes this a 
> p-u-b-l-i-c
> matter.  Since Pharaoh’s household has been divinely and unpleasantly 
> “touched”
> by YHWH, in a way that focuses attention on Sarah’s curious and unpleasant
> plight, all of Egypt will soon know of Sarah’s awkward situation.  We 
> should
> ask ourselves why it is important that Sarah’s awkward situation becomes
> p-u-b-l-i-c  knowledge throughout Egypt.
> Since all of Pharaoh’s household is undoubtedly buzzing about these 
> divine,
> undesired “touchings”, which in turn would set all of Egypt buzzing about
> these divine and undesired “touchings”, the necessary implication is that 
> Pharaoh
> summoned Abraham to a very  p-u-b-l-i-c  audience with Pharaoh at Genesis 
> 12:
> 17-18 to deal with this matter.  Pharaoh in effect loudly tells all of 
> Egypt
> that this woman who was recently introduced into Pharaoh’s harem is the 
> wife
> of this monotheistic man from Canaan.  Then instead of having Abraham 
> impaled
> (cf. Genesis 40: 22), or throwing Abraham into jail (cf. Genesis 39: 20), 
> or at
> least confiscating Abraham’s new great wealth that Abraham has just now
> amassed in Egypt, this is what Pharaoh does regarding the Hebrew 
> monotheist from
> Canaan, his wife, and his possessions:
> “And Pharaoh gave men charge concerning him;  and they brought him on the
> way, and his wife, and all that he had.”  Genesis 12: 20
> Remember now, Pharaoh does all this high-profile action in  p-u-b-l-i-c. 
> Can
> you imagine the incredible buzz in Egypt?  Why would this Pharaoh have 
> wanted
> that particular buzz?  Everyone in Egypt would be buzzing about Pharaoh’s
> special treatment of this monotheist (Abraham) from Canaan.  It is perhaps 
> easier
> to see why that buzz (malicious gossip) was an unpleasant ordeal that 
> Abraham
> and Sarah had to endure, as part of a series of divine tests showing them 
> to
> be worthy of being the first Hebrew monotheists.
> At the end of the day, we do not know the precise way in which YHWH 
> “touched”
> Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s household.  What the text says at Genesis 12: 17 is
> that God “reached out to touch” (nun-gimel-ayin) Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s
> household, with “touches” of great magnitude.  That was the clear, 
> unambiguous divine
> signal that Pharaoh was to return Sarah to Abraham.  Which Pharaoh 
> promptly
> did.
> YHWH touched Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s household.  It likely was a harsh 
> touch.
> It certainly made a big impression on everyone.  We know that Pharaoh got 
> the
> divine message, loud and clear, that’s for sure.  But I see an English
> translation of “plague” as being unwarranted at Genesis 12: 17, as it 
> fails
> miserably to reflect the nuances and ambiguities of the wonderful Hebrew 
> word
> nun-gimel-ayin/“touch”.
> Why YHWH “touched” Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s household with great magnitude in
> such a  p-u-b-l-i-c  way is one key to understanding what is going on in
> chapter 12 of Genesis.  Another key is to understand that Pharaoh is 
> reacting to
> Abraham as a monotheist, not as the consort of an irresistibly physically
> attractive woman (Sarah, who is age 65 “years” and almost beyond the 
> normal age of
> childbearing in the ancient world).
> We see that the old Pharaoh in chapter 12 of Genesis gives “special 
> treatment”
> to Hebrew monotheist Abraham.  Ditto for the young Pharaoh at the end of
> Genesis for Hebrew monotheist Joseph.  Why?  Why this special treatment? 
> Are
> these believable stories, that would have seemed credible to their initial 
> Hebrew
> audiences?
> These stories make sense, both logically and historically, if and only if 
> the
> old Pharaoh at the end of his reign, and the young Pharaoh throughout his
> reign, were semi-monotheists, who respected Abraham, Joseph and Jacob/“Israel”
> as being fellow monotheists after a fashion.  Otherwise, the Pharaohs’ 
> actions
> towards (special treatment of) Abraham, Joseph and Jacob are inexplicable.
> That in turn solidifies the historical time period of the Patriarchal Age 
> as
> being the Late Bronze Age.  These stories are credible, and make sense, 
> only in
> that one particular, peculiar, unique historical time period.
> I agree that nun-gimel-ayin often has a different meaning than the normal
> meaning of the English word “touch”, which I believe was the point you 
> were
> validly making.  But if the English word “touch” is viewed very broadly, 
> then I
> nevertheless see it as being a better translation than the English word 
> “plague”
> , which destroys all the subtleties, nuances, overtones and ambiguities in
> the Hebrew original, and even, in my opinion, misrepresents what the 
> Hebrew text
> is actually saying.  YHWH communicated to YHWH a specific message, by 
> harshly
> “touching” Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s household.
> Genesis 32: 25 importantly uses the same word nun-gimel-ayin/“touch”, when 
> a
> divine figure “touches” Jacob and then re-names Jacob as “Israel”.  You
> would not say that that divine figure “plagued” Jacob, would you?  No, 
> although
> Jacob thereafter has a terrible limp (like the immediate successor,
> historically, of the young Pharaoh at the end of Genesis), this phenomenon 
> of being
> divinely “touched” has the same fundamental ambiguity in Hebrew at Genesis 
> 32: 25
> as it does at Genesis 12: 17.  This is the mysterious divine “touch” in 
> the
> Patriarchal narratives.  It is not gentle or pleasant, but it’s not a 
> “plague”
> either.  Rather, it is a harsh divine “touch”.
> Jim Stinehart
> Evanston, Illinois
> **************It's only a deal if it's where you want to go. Find your 
> travel
> deal here.
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