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

fred burlingame tensorpath at gmail.com
Sat Dec 11 13:08:25 EST 2010

Hello Bryant:

Thanks for taking the time to compile these lexicon excerpts.

As an evangelical acquaintance of mine observes ... "tradition drives the

To that observation, I would only add: opinions resemble skin; everyone has

The hebrew language manifested in the masoretic text uses the little verb
עלם as "concealing" or "hiding." Witness 2 kings 4:27. The noun derivative
עולם likewise applies as a "concealed" or "hidden" or "unknown" period of
time, backwards or forwards. Witness Isaiah 44:7.

Boosting the meaning of עולם into "eternal" orbit, seems to me a clear case
of theological license, at least in so far as the leningrad codex uses the
term. The popularity however, of the lexicons you cite, both with publishers
and consumers, confirms that tradition rules the day.


fred burlingame

On Sat, Dec 11, 2010 at 1:30 AM, Bryant J. Williams III <bjwvmw at com-pair.net
> wrote:

> Dear List,
> Maybe we should check TWOT, Volume II, "Olam," by Alan A. MacRae, pp.
> 672-673,
> #1631a.
>    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
> habba.
>    '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
> 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

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