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

Bryant J. Williams III bjwvmw at com-pair.net
Sat Dec 11 18:30:42 EST 2010

Dear Fred,

I think all the articles are based on how the word is used. I do not see that a theological bias is being applied to the word. It is possible, but not probable. Another thing is that the article states, "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." The reasoning for this identification of the root is assuming that the initial letter is pronounced, ayin, and not ghayin (see #1629, 'lm, pp. 671-672.) The problem is that 'alam, 'almah and 'olam are from the same root. Thus, if the initial letter is an ayin then it is the parent of 'olam and means "hidden, concealed." Now, the initial letter is ghayin, then it is the parent of 'elem and 'almah meaning "young man and young woman, respectively.

"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."

Each of the sources are quite consistent with regards the basic of meaning of 'olam. This does not mean that there has been eisegesis. Each is looking at the context that the word is being used. Just because that is what the tradition states does not mean that the tradition is inaccurate. It is quite clear from the amount of material that the word is found in that a different range of meanings are found.

It is the context that determines meaning. Any time one takes a text out of context is creating a pretext and, thus, has no text at all. That is eisegesis.

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: fred burlingame 
  To: Bryant J. Williams III 
  Cc: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org 
  Sent: Saturday, December 11, 2010 10:08 AM
  Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] one-to-one rendering of olam

  Hello Bryant:

  Thanks for taking the time to compile these lexicon excerpts.

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

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

  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    '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



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