[b-hebrew] Order of Death: A Key to Understanding Genesis

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Sep 20 10:03:53 EDT 2011


Order of Death:  A Key to Understanding Genesis
 
One key to understanding the Patriarchal narratives is to focus on what the 
Hebrew text actually says about death order, and compare that to the 
English mistranslations thereof.  In particular, we will see in this post that 
modern translators are unwilling to report what the second half of Genesis 25: 
18 actually says about Ishmael’s order of death.  The text states, in 
straightforward Biblical Hebrew prose, that Ishmael predeceased all of his 
half-brothers.  We will find that, after taking into account the birth order of 
both Ishmael and Joseph, the Hebrew text of Genesis tells us that each of 
Ishmael and Joseph was the second youngest of 12 sons, but nevertheless 
predeceased all 10 of his older half-brothers.  Same.  No modern scholar has 
discerned the order of Ishmael’s death.  We will see that modern translators gin up 
all sorts of creative, terrible things to say about Ishmael in “translating”
 Genesis 25: 18 [a kind of “translators’ midrash”, if you will], rather 
than seeing that the second half of Genesis 25: 18 is a straightforward report 
of Ishmael’s order of death, as compared to Abraham’s many other sons.
 
Ishmael’s Order of Birth  
 
Abraham was old when he sired Ishmael, though Abraham is even older, almost 
impossibly old [Genesis 17: 17], when Abraham subsequently sires Isaac.  
Though we don’t hear about Abraham’s sons by minor wives until a later point 
in the text, nevertheless such sons would have been sired by Abraham at a 
younger age.  Genesis 25: 2 reports 6 named sons that Keturah bore to Abraham, 
and Genesis 25: 6 vaguely mentions “sons of concubines”, without giving 
more details.  We can probably figure out that there were 4 such “sons of 
concubines”, so that Abraham sired exactly 12 biological sons [all of whom lived 
to adulthood].  [We later learn that Jacob/“Israel” famously has 12 sons, 
and so does Abraham’s brother Nahor, at Genesis 22: 20-24, so the 
implication is that Abraham likely had 12 sons.]  Of Abraham’s 12 sons [or 
approximately 12 sons], it is clear that Ishmael was the second youngest.
 
Ishmael’s Order of Death
 
The second half of Genesis 25: 18 is a straightforward report of Ishmael’s 
order of death.  Interestingly, virtually the only decent translation of the 
second half of Genesis 25: 18 is the old KJV:  “he died in the presence of 
all his brethren.”  I agree that in this context, NPL, which literally means 
“to fall”, here means “to die”.  My only quibble with KJV is that “in the 
presence of”, or (L-PNY, though it literally means “in the face of”, is an 
idiom whose actual meaning is:  “during the lifetimes of”.  We can see 
that here because none of Ishmael’s half-brothers were literally “present” 
when he died, nor did any of them attend his funeral [if he even had a proper 
funeral].  No, the key is that the Hebrew author is telling us that Ishmael’s 
divine disfavor is shown by the fact that Ishmael, though the second 
youngest of Abraham’s 12 sons, nevertheless is the very first son to die, 
predeceasing all of his half-brothers, including all 10 of his older half-brothers.
 
Many translations of Genesis 25: 18 are downright embarrassing in their 
creativity and lack of respect for what the Hebrew text says.  Here’s a 
representative sampling:
 
Robert Alter:  “In defiance of all his brothers he went down.”
 
American Standard Version:  “He abode over against all his brethren.”
 
English Standard Version:  “He settled over against all his kinsmen.”
 
Darby:  “He settled before the face of all his brethren.”
 
New Revised Standard Version:  “he settled down* alongside** all his 
people.  *Heb ‘he fell’.  **Or ‘down in opposition to’.”
 
JPS 1917:  “over against all his brethren he did settle.”
 
JPS 1985:   “they camped alongside all their kinsmen.”
 
Not only are all of those terrible mistranslations, but also they miss the 
entire point that the Hebrew author is trying to make.  What the Hebrew 
author is saying in plain Biblical Hebrew is that divine disfavor is shown by 
the fact that though Ishmael was the second youngest of Abraham’s 12 sons, 
nevertheless Ishmael was the very first son to die.
 
NPL is used 15 times in the Patriarchal narratives, and it always means “
fell”, never “abode”, “settled” or “camped”.  Nor is there any concept here 
of “against” or “in defiance of”.
 
Based on the foregoing straightforward analysis of the Hebrew received 
text, we on the b-hebrew list can see what no modern university scholar has 
discerned:  both the birth order and the death order of Ishmael and Joseph are  
i-d-e-n-t-i-c-a-l.  Each is the second youngest of 12 sons, who nevertheless 
predeceases all 10 of his older half-brothers.  The order of deaths of 
Ishmael and Joseph are an integral part of understanding what the Patriarchal 
narratives are telling us.  Despite the horrible modern mistranslations, the 
second half of Genesis 25: 18 in fact is telling us in straightforward 
Biblical Hebrew prose the following key fact about Ishmael’s order of death:
 
He fell [died] during the lifetimes of all his [half-]brothers.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois


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