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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Dec 11 14:47:18 EST 2008


Karl:
 
1.  I do not see how your translation of Genesis 49: 3 makes sense.  You 
translate it as follows:
 
“Reuben, my firstborn, you are my power and the first of my potency, an
 excess (abundance leading to having more than enough) of lifting up (there’s
 no exact equivalent to this in English, here referring to what he lifts up)
 and an excess of strength,
 spineless as water, you will not exceed, for ...”
 
You then comment:  “Notice that in the context that ‘excess’ does not mean 
the same as ‘excellency’.”
 
In a sense I agree with your comment.  But it’s “excellency” that makes 
sense here, not “excess”!  “Natural superiority” is even better than “excellency”
.
 
2.  It is notable that using most of your wording, but substituting “natural 
superiority”, would result in the verse making perfect sense:
 
“Reuben, my firstborn, you are my power and the first of my potency, [you as 
my firstborn have] a natural superiority of lifting up and a natural 
superiority of strength; [but] spineless as water, you will not be superior [as to your 
brothers], for ...”
 
3.  Reuben as the firstborn does not have an “excess” of lifting up.
 
Reuben as the firstborn does not have “more than enough” of lifting up.
 
Reuben as the firstborn does not have an “excess” of strength.
 
Nor do Reuben’s sins cause poor Reuben to “not exceed”.
 
4.  Rather, Reuben as the firstborn has a “natural superiority” of lifting 
up.
 
And Reuben as the firstborn has a “natural superiority” of strength, 
vis-à-vis his many younger brothers.
 
But Reuben’s sins cause poor Reuben to “not be superior” to his younger 
brothers after all, as his father Jacob lays a terrible final curse upon Reuben.
 
5.  In response to my statement that “You seem to agree that on several 
occasions in the Bible, YTR means ‘cord’ or ‘rope’,” you oddly wrote:
 
“No, it is listed that way only a few times.”
 
That’s what I said.  I think we in fact agree that on several occasions, but 
not too many, YTR means “rope” or “cord” in the Bible.
 
6.  You wrote:  “You could bring 100 translations. What you need to do is to 
show me from the language itself, not translations.”
 
That’s exactly what I’m doing.  My whole point regarding YTR is that the 
first Hebrews equated “rope” with “natural superiority” and “excellence”.  That
’s why YTR is used in precisely that sense at Genesis 49: 3 in the 
Patriarchal narratives.
 
You and I agree on so many aspects of Biblical Hebrew.  I certainly agree 
with you that not every Hebrew word has a 3-consonant root.  I also fully agree 
with your statement that:  “Just because a word may have the same letters as a 
root does not automatically
 mean that the word comes from that root.”  Indeed, I think you and I agree 
that there are two separate Hebrew words involved here, though both are spelled 
YTR.  I think we may agree that when YTR means “rope”, that’s a different 
word than when YTR means “abundance leading to having more than enough”.  What 
we’re arguing about is which word YTR is present at Genesis 49: 3.  In 
context, “abundance leading to having more than enough” just won’t fit Genesis 49: 
3.  Reuben does not have “more than enough” dignity or strength.  No, as the 
firstborn son, what Reuben has is a “natural superiority” of dignity and 
strength, so that Reuben’s dignity and strength as the firstborn are like “rope”:  
naturally superior and excellent.  Genesis 49: 3 is saying good things about 
Reuben, not bad things.  It is only when we get to Genesis 49: 4 that Jacob 
announces that Reuben has ignominiously forfeited all of his natural superiority 
as the firstborn.
 
The only way to understand Genesis 49: 3, in my opinion, is to realize that 
the tent-dwelling early Hebrews equated “rope”/YTR with “natural superiority, 
excellence”/YTR.  A totally different Hebrew word (having nothing to do with 
either “rope” or “excellence”), reflecting a completely different ancient 
Semitic root (seen in a different Assyrian word), is the YTR that has the meaning 
of “abundance leading to having more than enough”.
 
I just don’t see how your translation of Genesis 49: 3 makes sense.  Reuben 
does not have an “excess”, or an “abundance leading to having more than enough”
, of anything.  Rather, Reuben has a natural superiority as the firstborn, 
which Reuben unfortunately squanders by his improper actions.
 
It all makes sense, once one realizes that Biblical Hebrew is the language of 
Bronze Age rural Canaan, where “rope” was a wondrous technological 
innovation that was synonymous with “natural superiority” and “excellence”.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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