[b-hebrew] "Rope Imagery" in Biblical Hebrew

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Dec 11 09:51:29 EST 2008


Karl:  
 
You wrote:  “YTR is never used in Biblical Hebrew in the sense of ‘
superiority, excellency’, not in Genesis 49:3 nor any other verse.”
 
That was the key point of my post, in equating YTR/“rope” with YTR/“
excellence”.
 
Could you please give us your translation of YTR at Genesis 49: 3, and 
explain the reasoning for your translation?
 
You seem to agree that on several occasions in the Bible, YTR means “cord” 
or “rope”.  If I understand your post, you also agree with me that YTR/“rope”/
“cord” is not the same word as the YTR that means, in your words:  “that 
which goes beyond, an overflow, more than needed”.  But there our agreement ends, 
as you then specifically assert that YTR at Genesis 49: 3 definitely does not 
mean “superiority” or “excellency”.
 
At Genesis 49: 3, Reuben, who is Jacob’s firstborn son, is said to have YTR 
of dignity, and YTR of power.  YTR there cannot mean “that which goes beyond, 
an overflow, more than needed”.  No, in context Reuben is clearly being stated 
to have had a “natural superiority” as to dignity and power (which Reuben 
unfortunately subsequently forfeited).  Literally, Reuben had a “rope”/YTR of 
dignity and power, with “rope” in the Patriarchal world being synonymous with “
natural superiority, excellence”/YTR.  Reuben had a “natural superiority” of 
dignity and power by virtue of being Jacob’s firstborn son, but Reuben, alas, 
ended up forfeiting that natural position of preeminence by Reuben’s improper 
actions.
 
Here are 10 standard translations of Genesis 49: 3, all of which back up my 
view of the case.  In order to focus the discussion, I have taken the liberty 
of typing in all capital letters the English word that the translator has 
chosen for YTR.  As far as I can see, all 10 translators see YTR at Genesis 49: 3 
as effectively meaning “excellency” or “superiority”.
 
1.  New International Version:
 
"Reuben, you are my firstborn, 
  my might, the first sign of my strength, 
  EXCELLING [YTR] in honor, EXCELLING [YTR] in power.”
 
2.  English Standard Version:
"Reuben, you are my firstborn,
  my might, and the firstfruits of my strength,
  PREEMINENT [YTR] in dignity and PREEMINENT [YTR] in power.”
 
3.  King James Version:
 
“Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, 
the EXCELLENCY [YTR] of dignity, and the EXCELLENCY [YTR] of power:”
 
4.  Darby:
 
“Reuben, thou art my firstborn, My might, and the firstfruits of my vigour:  
EXCELLENCY [YTR] of dignity, and EXCELLENCY [YTR] of strength.”
 
5.  New American Standard Bible:
 
“Reuben, you are my firstborn;
  My might and the beginning of my strength,
  PREEMINENT [YTR] in dignity and PREEMINENT [YTR] in power.”
 
6.  American Standard Version:
 
“Reuben, thou art my first-born, my might, and the beginning of my strength; 
The PRE-EMINENCE [YTR] of dignity, and the PRE-EMINENCE [YTR] of power.”
 
7.  Jewish Publication Society 1917 [which in my view is often the best 
translation]:
 
“Reuben, thou art my first-born, my might, and the first-fruits of my 
strength; the EXCELLENCY [YTR] of dignity, and the EXCELLENCY [YTR] of power. “
 
8.  Jewish Publication Society 1985:
 
“Reuben, you are my first-born,
My might and first fruit of my vigor
EXCEEDING [YTR] in rank
And EXCEEDING [YTR] in honor.”
 
9.  Robert Alter:
 
“Reuben, my firstborn are you—
my strength and first yield of my manhood,
PREVAILING [YTR] in rank and PREVAILING [YTR] in might.”
 
10.  E.A. Speiser:
 
“You, Reuben, my first-born, 
My strength and first fruit of my vigor,
EXCEEDING [YTR] in rank and EXCEEDING [YTR] in honor!”
 
 “Excellency” or “excelling” or “exceeding” predominate as the 
translations of YTR at Genesis 49: 3.  There’s also “preeminent” and “pre-eminence”.  
And one “prevailing”.  That all sounds like “superiority” or “excellency” to 
me.  In my opinion, the best English translation of YTR in the particular 
context of Genesis 49: 3 would be “natural superiority”.
 
In your view, are all of these translations in error?  What does YTR mean at 
Genesis 49: 3, in your view?  Didn’t the first Hebrews, and doesn’t the 
language of Biblical Hebrew itself, effectively equate “rope”/YTR with “natural 
superiority, excellence”/YTR?  That’s the point I’m trying to make.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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