[b-hebrew] Interchange of L/lamed with R/resh in Biblical Hebrew

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Jun 16 12:04:31 EDT 2008


Interchange of L/lamed with R/resh in Biblical Hebrew 
 
1.  In connection with Isaiah 13: 22, Gesenius remarks:  “the letter resh [R] 
being softened into lamed [L] as is frequently the case.”
 
Is that comment generally accepted as accurate by modern scholars of Biblical 
Hebrew?
 
Apparently the most famous example of this phenomenon is Isaiah 13: 22, where 
the two underlying basic words, one spelled with a lamed/L and one spelled 
with a resh/R, are as follows:
 
aleph-lamed-mem-nun/aLman = forsaken
 
aleph-resh-mem-vav-nun/aRman = palace
 
At Isaiah 13: 22, we see a feminine plural form, spelled with a lamed/L:
 
aleph-lamed-mem-nun-vav-tav
 
But although the lamed/L would normally indicate “forsaken”, here this word 
is often taken to mean “palaces”, as if the second letter was resh/R.  Or 
possibly there is a double meaning here, so that the word in context means “
forsaken palaces”.  Gesenius further notes in this context:  “i.q. 
aleph-resh-mem-nun-tav (which is itself the reading of some copies)”.
 
2.  Four more examples like this, with lamed/L being interchangeable with 
resh/R in Biblical Hebrew in certain contexts, are set forth by Aloysius 
Fitzgerald in “The Interchange of L, N, and R in Biblical Hebrew”, in “Journal of 
Biblical Literature”, Vol. 97, No. 4 (Dec, 1978), pp. 481-488:
 
(a)  At Job 6: 15-17, “understand… ayin-lm here as a dialectal form of 
ayin-rm”.  At p. 483.  Ayin-resh-mem means “heaped”.  Ayin-lamed-resh, by 
contrast, “denotes ‘hidden from the mind so that one is unaware of, unconcerned about 
an idea, activities, a situation or the like.’  The verb is never used of a 
physical thing being hidden from the eyes of a beholder.”  At p. 483.  Here, 
the snow is “heaped up”, rather than the snow being “unaware” of some “
situation”, or someone being “unaware” of the “situation” regarding the snow.  This 
is not a “mistake” in the text, but rather the poet is deliberately using 
ayin-lm as a dialectal form of ayin-rm.  “The poet used this dialectal form 
because it fit the alliterative pattern of the colon l,l,l, which answers the 
q,r,q,r pattern of the first colon.”  At p. 485.
 
(b)  “The second instance, confirmatory of the first, of this interchange [of 
lamed/L with resh/R] in Job 6 is found in v 25:  …Here nmrsw = nmlsw….”  At 
p. 485.
 
(c)   At Psalms 37: 34b-35, “mt-ayin-rh [should be] understood as dialectal 
mt-ayin-lh.”  At p. 486.
 
(d)  “There may be another instance of r for l in the same verse, once again 
for the sake of alliteration.  …Ayin-rys = ayin-lys in Ps 37: 35….”  At p. 
486.
 
3.  The scholarly explanation of Aloysius Fitzgerald of this phenomenon of 
resh/R and lamed/L sometimes being interchangeable in Biblical Hebrew is as 
follows.  Regarding an interchange of resh/R and lamed/L in Biblical Hebrew, this 
is an “interchange of consonants in poetic texts….  [W]hat the poet is doing 
is using a dialectal form that fits better the sound-patterning of his line.”  
At p. 481. 
 
4.  Is this mode of analysis generally accepted by Biblical Hebrew scholars?  
Could an author of Biblical Hebrew on occasion switch a resh/R with a 
lamed/L, for the sake of alliteration, and also possibly for the sake of obtaining a 
double meaning?  Is resh/R a “dialectal form” of lamed/L and vice versa?  If 
so, then we wouldn’t expect this phenomenon to be limited in the Bible solely 
to poetry, would we?  Is Gesenius correct in noting “the letter resh [R] being 
softened into lamed [L]…is frequently the case”?
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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