[b-hebrew] one-to-one rendering of olam

Bryant J. Williams III bjwvmw at com-pair.net
Sat Dec 11 02:30:00 EST 2010

Dear List,

Maybe we should check TWOT, Volume II, "Olam," by Alan A. MacRae, pp. 672-673,

    1631a    'olam - foerver, ever, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, old,
ancient, world, etc. (RSV similar in general, but substitutes "always" for "in
the world: in Ps 73:12 and "eternity" for "world" in Ecc 3:11.) Probably derived
from 'alam I, "to hide," thus pointing to what is hidden in the distant future
or in the distant past. The Ugaritic cognate is 'lm, "eternity."

    "Though 'olam isl lused more than three hundred times io indicate indefinite
continuance into the very distant future,the meaning of the word is not confined
to the future. There are at least twenty instances where it clearly refers to
the past. Such usages generally point ot something that seems long ago, but
rarely if ever refer to a limitless past. Thus, in Deut 32:7 and Job 22:15 it
may refer to the time of one's elders. In Prov 22:28; 23:10; Jer 6:16; 18:15;
28:8 it points back somewhat farther. In Isa 58:12; 61:4; Mic 7:14; Mal 3:4, and
the Aramaic of Ezr 4:15, 19 it clearly refers to the time just before the Exile.
In I Sam 27:8, in Isa 51:9 and 63:9, 11 and perhaps Ezk 36:2, it refers to the
events of the Exodus from Egypt. In Gen 6:4 it points to the time shortly before
the flood. None of these past references has in it the idea of endlessness or
limitlessness, but each points to a time long before the immediate knowledge of
those living. In Isa 64:3 the KJV translates word "beginning of the world." In
Ps 73:13 and Eccl it is translated "world," suggesting the beginning of a usage
that developed greatly in postbiblical times.

    Jenni holds that its basic meaning "most distant times" can refer to either
the most remote past or to the future or both as due to the fact it does not
occur independently (as subject or as an object) but only in connection with
prepositions indicating direction (min "since," 'ad "until," le "up to") or as
an adverbial accusative of direction or finally as the modifying genitive in the
construct relationship. In the latter instance 'olam can express by itself the
whole range of meanings denoted by the prepositions "since, until, to the most
distant time": i.e. it assumes the meaning; "(unlimited, incalculable)
continuance, eternity". (THAT II, p. 230) J. Barr (Biblical Words for Time) (2
1969, p. 73) says, " 'We might therefore best state the 'basic meaning' as a
range between 'remotest time' and 'perpetuity' ". But as shown above it is
sometimes used of a not-so-remote past. For the meaning of the word in its
attributive use we should note the designation of the LORD as 'el 'olam, "The
Eternal God" (Gen 21:33).

    The LXX generally translates 'olam by AIWN which has essentially the same
range of meaning. That neither the Hebrew not the Greek word in itself contains
the idea of endlessness is shown both by the fact that they sometimes refer to
events or conditions that occurred at a definite point in the past, and also by
the fact that sometimes it is thought desirable to repeat the word, not merely
saying "forever," but "forever and ever."

    Both words came to be used to refer to a long age or period - an idea that
sometimes pressed in English by "world." Postbiblical Jewish writings refer to
the present world of toil as ha'olam hazzeh and to the world to come as ha'olam

    'ad (q.v.) has substantially the same range of meaning as 'olam (usually
continuance into the future, but  cf. Job 20:4)."

See also the following:

A Theological Wordbook of the Bible, Edited by Alan Richardson, "Time, Season,"
by John Marsh, pp. 258-267. New York: The MacMillian Company, 1950.

Nelson's Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament, Edited by Merrill F. Unger
and William White, Jr., "Ever, Everlasting," pp. 117-118, Nashville: Thomas
Nelsons Publishers, 1980.

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown: General
Editor,Tanslated, with additions and revisions, from the German THEOLOGISCHES
BEGRIFFSLEXIKON ZUM NEUEN TESTAMENT, Edited by Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther
and Hans Bietenhard. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1978. "Time,
Eternity," by H.-C. Hahn, Volume 3, pp. 826-833.

Translator and Editor Geoffrey W. Bromiley, d. litt., d.d.
"AIWN, AIWNOS," Volume 1, pp. 197-209.

The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament by Kittel and The New
International Dictionary of the Old Testament by Van Gemeren, I do NOT have with
me at this time. Maybe one of the listers can give the source information.

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Gary Hedrick" <GaryH at cjfm.org>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Friday, December 10, 2010 3:05 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] one-to-one rendering of olam

> 1. You might want to check the archives. In some ways, this thread is
reinventing the wheel, so to speak, although I have to admit that your point of
view is definitely unique.
> 2. Re: a possible agenda, fair enough.
> 3. Re: olam and your quest for a one-size-fits-all definition; I guess this
begs the question, how do you translate it when it refers to God?
> Gary
> On Dec 9, 2010, at 7:44 PM, fred burlingame <tensorpath at gmail.com> wrote:
> > Hello Gary:
> >
> > Thanks for your comments. Please allow me to respond.
> >
> > 1. I have not reviewed the archive you referenced.
> >
> > 2. I do have an agenda by coming here: to learn more of biblical hebrew
language. That's the limit of it, for however long I might be here.
> >
> > 3. I appreciate your comments concerning olam. My experience with all uses
of the word in the masoretic text leads me to a somewhat different understanding
of the word. I see the word as meaning "a concealed (or hidden) period of time."
Other parts of the text sometimes reveal the length of that particular time,
such as jonah in the whale for 3 days. And other instances of the word sometimes
contain no such revelation of the length of time intended.
> >
> > 4. Hence, for the verse in question I see the term of the priesthood duties
and functions as simply an unknown period of time. The later disclosure (in
jeremiah) of the subsequent destruction of the first temple, including the loss
of the aaronic line of priests, confirms to me that the period of time intended
in this verse consumed approximately 1400-587 b.c.
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3:19 PM

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