Friday, April 21, 2006

Meaning of the Hebrew root 'pqd'

The Hebrew root ‘pqd’ is grossly misuderstood and mistranslated. The problem with this word is that it is found in the Bible in various contexts prompting the translator to come up with a different meaning in many instances depending on the context. What they don’t realize is that even though CBH (classical Biblical Hebrew) is a relatively poor language with a small vocabulary and the speaker or writer of Hebrew can therefore express himself with a word that can be applied in several ways, yet such words can have one and only one primary meaning.

The secondary meanings of pqd used for translation purposes are: miss, remember, reserve, count.

The primary meaning of pqd as a noun is an item that is temporarily cared for by a person who does not own it. The item is thus a "temporary burden" upon the niphqad (trustee).

The best example of the pqd root used in this way in JE is Gen 41:36 RSV: the food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine... (wehayah ha’akel lepiqqadon le’arets). But the RSV is not even consistent with its translation of this root two verses earlier: let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land... (weyepaqqed piqqedim ‘al ha`arets). In one verse it means overseers and in the next verse it means reserve food? Unlikely!

Rather, Piqqadon here is borrowed from the primary meaning of the word as used in Lev 5:21. Piqqadon is an object that is entrusted to a friend to watch over it and guard it temporarily so that it will be available at a later time to the owner. The piqqadon is thus an object of burden to the trustee. Likewise, the food shall be "carried by the land" or "entrusted to the land" during the seven fat years so that it is available later during the seven lean years. weyepaqqed piqqedim ‘al ha`arets means: Paraoh shall place the food as a temporary burden over the land.
Likewise, whenever the root pqd is used as a verb referring to an army, it means to provide battle equipment to troops, which they are responsible to guard and care for temporarily. When the battle is over they must return the equipment.

י וַיַּשְׁכֵּם יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בַּבֹּק%

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Which Hebrew tribes were slaves in Egypt?

Judah seems to be one of those tribes who never was in Egypt. We know for sure that the tribe of Levi and Joseph were in Egypt. Levi we know because Moses and Aharon and the entire concept of Yahwism originated from this tribe during their stay in Egypt. In fact, I strongly suspect that the Levites were in turn influenced by the Egyptian monotheist movement by Akhenaten

According to J theology, why were the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt? The reason for their enslavement is openly stated in J, even though it is commonly misinterpreted. Common sense dictates that J should have something to say about why the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to whom Yahweh promised the land of Canaan, should be enslaved for four generations (Gen 16:16) before inheriting the land.

There are actually two reasons for their enslavement:

One reason is "for the iniquity of the Amorite has not been complete until now" (Gen 16:16). But why should the Hebrews suffer enslavement? Wouldn’t it be sufficient that the Hebrews simply sojourn in Egypt like their forbears did and have the status of "aliens" while waiting for the Amorites to be punished and expelled from Canaan for their sin? It should be noted that the sections of Exodus where the "rigorous labor of the Israel" is described (Exodus 1:13) are not part of J. And so it is possible that J had a different idea of what alien status in a foreign land involved for the Hebrews.

But there is another verse we need to focus in on:

ו וַיַּעֲבֹר יְהוָֹה עַל-פָּנָיו וַיִּקְרָא יְהוָֹה יְהֹוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב-חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת: ז נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים נֹשֵֹא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה וְנַקֵּה לֹא יְנַקֶּה פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים וְעַל-בְּנֵי בָנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים:

Yahweh passed before him and Yahweh proclaimed, "Yahweh is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness and faithfulness, keeping kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation" (Exodus 34:6-7).

This verse is extremely central to J theology because it essentially summarizes the character of the newly invented deity "Yahweh". Later, when the Hebrews committed the grave "iniquity" of accepting the negative report of the spies and conspiring to rebel against Moses and head back to Egypt, Moses invoked this verse to show that Yahweh is a forgiving God (Numbers 14:17). But what is meant by the statement "visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children..."?

I have a strong suspicion that it refers to the tribal patriarchs iniquity of selling Joseph into slavery. God is saying that he had remembered this iniquity for four generations (i.e. Levi, Qehath, `amram, Moses) but the fourth generation is now being forgiven and he will bring them into the promised land remembering the faithful kindness of Abraham Isaac and Jacob to the thousands of Hebrews about to enter Canaan. J emphasizes the fact that only the three patriarchs exhibited kindness towards God. Yet thousands of their descendants will now benefit as a result. J also emphasizes Yahweh’s concern for justice necessitating the punishment of four generations for the Joseph iniquity.

We thus see that the Hebrew enslavement in Egypt according to J is a punishment for the sin of selling Joseph into slavery.

Other proof will be listed below:

In Genesis 42:21-22 (which is not part of J) Jacob’s sons realize that their troubles are a punishment for selling Joseph into slavery: Then they said to one another, "In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he besought us and we would not listen; therefore is this distress come upon us." The meaning of this is a bit deeper that it seems. It’s not just "a" punishment; it’s punishment in kind. They sold Joseph into Egyptian slavery; now they are about to be enslaved to an Egyptian official. They refused to listen to Joseph’s supplications not to harm him; now they are supplicating Joseph to believe them that they are not spies but he refuses to listen to them. Joseph then tests his half-brothers to see whether they are still antagonistic towards the "Rachel brothers" (Benjamin) and when he sees their devotion and concern for Benjamin he forgives them, identifies himself and invites them over to Egypt so that they may survive the famine. However, their iniquity is not quite forgiven by God. A new king emerges who does not "know" Joseph (which has the secondary meaning of that he does not remember that Joseph forgave his brothers) and he enslaves the brothers’ descendants just like their ancestors caused Joseph to be enslaved.

There is also another interesting verse in Genesis which seems somewhat trivial and out of context but is now very well understood:

כד וַיַּרְא יוסב לְאֶפְרַיִם בְּנֵי שִׁלֵּשִׁים גַּם בְּנֵי מָכִיר בֶּן-מְנַשֶּׁה יֻלְּדוּ עַל-בִּרְכֵּי יוסב:

Joseph saw a third generation to Ephraim. Even the sons of Machir the son of Manasseh gave birth on the knees of Joseph (Genesis 50:23).

The question is: why is this mentioned? and why not talk about the third/fourth generations of the other brothers? But according to our explanation, this verse sits very well. It is pointing out that Joseph’s descendants, up to four generations, were all "seen" by Joseph, that is they were treated well and protected from slavery because of Joseph’s status. This is an important anecdote because it is essential that the punishment of the rest of the Hebrews not involve the Joseph tribe since Joseph is the victim and not the sinner. He’s the reason that the other tribes were enslaved in Egypt in the first place.

Why mention four generations of Joseph? Because after four generations, all of Israel is bound to emerge from Egypt anyway and so there’s no need to point out that the fifth generation and onward were "seen" by Joseph.

In the very next verse Joseph makes his brothers swear that they will bring his bones up from Egypt and bury him with his fathers once Yahweh remembers them on occasion of the Exodus. This passage is now situated well contextually because Joseph is saying: even though my progeny will be well off during those four generations and yours will not, swear to me that after Yahweh brings you up from Egypt you will bring my bones with you (which act symbolizes that the Joseph tribe remains part of Israel and does not become assimilated into Egypt).

Other proof:

"fathers" and "sons" as mentioned in Exodus 34:7 are abstract terms if not for my interpretation. Abstractions are possible in Priestly writings but they are virtually nonexistent in the extremely ancient J source. In J everything is concrete and could be felt by the senses. God himself is a physical entity in J who descends from heaven in order to destroy the tower of Babel and to rescue Israel from Egypt. J is not talking about a theoretical sinner whose four generations must suffer as a result. In fact Deut 24:16 states openly that sons should not be put to death for a sin of their fathers. If our J verse here lays forth a central Yahwist principle (of which we see no application anywhere in the Bible), then the Deuteronomist would have been unable to change that in the seventh century BCE. Rather, Yahweh is saying here what he had already done: he remembered the iniquity of the Jacob brothers for four generations. Now however, Yahweh is saying that he is about to remember the kindness of the patriarchs towards him and in turn visit kindness upon the thousands of their descendants by means of giving them the land of Canaan. But he expects some continuing service on the part of Israel as well and so he goes on making a covenant (Exodus 34:10) in which the duties of both parties are specified:

Yahweh will make "a wonderful act" (niphleath) before all the people and all will see that the deed of Yahweh is awesome (Exodus 34:10). This "wonderful act" refers to the the standing "as one heap" of the waters coming down from the Jordan so as to allow the Israelites to pass in dry land (Joshua 3:16). The term "niphla`oth" (wonders) is mentioned in Joshua in this regard (part of the J narrative) and it’s --in all likelihood-- what the verse here is referring to. (the plural "wonders" in Joshua is probably the hands of a late editor; it should read without the waw and the translation is "a wonderful act", not "wonderful acts").

In turn, Israel will observe the "ten articles of the covenant" (diberei haberith `asereth hadebarim Exodus 34:28) involving acts of service to Yahweh such as dedicating firstborn animals and fruits to Yahweh and observing three annual festivals to Yahweh.