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

Stephen Shead sshead.email at gmail.com
Tue Sep 20 15:28:26 EDT 2011


Jim:

OK, I'll take up this one (at least with one reply!). I don't often get to
the end of your posts, but once again, unfortunately, the supreme confidence
of your claims clashes with massive leaps of logic in your arguments.

1. Your claim: "the Hebrew text of Genesis tells us that each of Ishmael and
Joseph was the second youngest of 12 sons."

The bases of your claim (emphasis mine):

- JS: "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."

Really? How do we know? Genesis certainly doesn't tell us that. All of them
born before Ishmael in Genesis 16??? Then why on earth does Sarah say what
she does in Gen 16:2? And why did Abraham say in Gen 15:2 that Eliezer of
Damascus would be his heir, if in fact he already had at least half a dozen
natural sons?

It simply doesn't work. And even if somehow your guess is right, this is
something that "the Hebrew text of Genesis" simply does not tell us,
contrary to your claim.

- JS: "Genesis 25: 2 reports 6 named sons . . . , 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" [because both Jacob
and Nahor had 12 sons] . . . Of Abraham’s 12 sons [or approximately 12
sons], it is CLEAR that Ishmael was the second youngest."

Exactly how is anything "clear" in all this? It is pure speculation, based
on thin air. And again, even if you happen to be correct, this is something
that "the Hebrew text of Genesis" does not tell us. Does not even "imply" it
to anybody except you. In fact, if the author of the Patriarchal Narratives
had wanted us to see the connection, why on earth would he not have
specified that there were 4 sons of concubines?? And named them also, as was
customary? There is no reason whatsoever for the omission.

Actually, I think the most likely explanation for the lack of names is that
the "sons of his concubines" is a shorthand for Ishmael and the sons of
Keturah (notwithstanding the details his relations with Hagar and Keturah,
in terms of their respective statuses). That is, they have already been
numbered and named, and there aren't 12. And Keturah is called Abraham's
"concubine" in 1 Chr. 1:32, so there is ancient interpretation on my side.

But I repeat: even if you disagree with me on that (as no doubt you will),
it simply is not clear, nor are we told anything of the sort in "the Hebrew
text of Genesis".

2. Your claim: "The text [of Gen. 25:18] states, in straightforward Biblical
Hebrew prose, that Ishmael predeceased all of his half-brothers."

The bases of your claim:
(i) you agree with the KJV that NPL, in this context, means "to die", though
(L-PNY means "during the lifetimes of", and
(ii) NPL is used 15 times in the Patriarchal narratives, and it always means
"fell".

Jim, what you fail to mention is that, aside from this supposed instance,
NPL is never used in the Patriarchal narratives to mean "die". Not once, not
even with a faint dying connotation. In fact, as far as I can tell, in the
whole Hebrew Bible, where NPL means "die", it is almost always (if not
always) in the context of battle - i.e. "fell [in battle]" - clearly not
applicable in this case. It is simply not a normal word to report a person's
death.

Furthermore, there is a clear reference to the prophecy of Genesis 16:12:
"He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and
everyone's hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his
kinsmen." The last phrase is almost identical to the last part of Gen.
25:18: W(L-PNY KL-)XYW Y$KN. The only difference is that, in Gen. 16:12, the
verb $KN "settle, live, dwell" is used, rather than NPL.

That doesn't clear up all the issues with the best translation, but is
certainly a strong pointer towards a living (rather than dying) translation.
It at least shows that translations other than the KJV aren't quite so
"embarrassing" as you claim!

In sum: "the Hebrew text of Genesis" tells us none of the things you claim
it does.

Best regards,
Stephen Shead
Santiago, Chile

---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: JimStinehart at aol.com
> To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2011 10:03:53 -0400 (EDT)
> Subject: [b-hebrew] Order of Death: A Key to Understanding Genesis
>
> 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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