Friday, 4 May 2018

How does the Adonai cookie crumble? (part 2: Hebrew)


I SHEEPISHLY YET confidently admit my results on Adonai have surprised me, humbled me, and caused me to question how to proceed. Readers may remember that I have already shown in 2016 some results on the book of Psalms that were particularly telling: a diminished faithfulness by the Psalms translators to the "anarthrous rule" principle introduced for the initial Torah translation project, but an Adonai rate of articles that far outpaced the Yahweh "arthricity", and even a special case of ἐπὶ τὸν κύριον (Adonai in Psalm 130:6) vs. ἐπὶ κύριον (Yahweh in Ps 4:5, Ps 21:7, Ps 22:8, Ps 31:24, Ps 32:10, Ps 32:11, Ps 37:3, Ps 40:3 and Ps 55:22).

I thus overly quickly drew a sketch in my mind about how:

  1. Adonai was distinct from Yahweh, and treated grammatically according to that difference
  2. The Greek translation of Yahweh as anarthrous kyrios goes right back to the original Alexandrian translation.


Thus far, I still believe in the second point. But like Hoog, we need to be careful in describing how the translation issue is distinct from and connected to the Hebrew written-spoken practice issue. Although you are still going to have to wait until my next post to see why my results are humbling me to reconsider 1, let's scrap my original plan and align it with the reality of the best available critical editions of the texts.

Let's start by simply pasting here a Hebrew lexical entry for Adonai as a more logical starting point and reference (i.e. one that leaves Greek translation to the side for a moment) [source, slightly antiquated: Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon]:

I'm not going to explore here all the ins and outs of Hebrew distinctions between plural of majesty or number etc. hinted at by the lexicon, but I will expand on it as follows and introduce a fun and more memorable term of "combo" (by the way, please take my counts as "approximate" as I haven't been able to double check all the arising data):

  • As Koog showed, manuscripts have shown fluidity and even hesitation between Adonai and Yahweh in the Hebrew during retranscription.
  • Adonai frequently occurs as a combo with Yahweh. I am particularly interested in tracing the relationship of Adonai to Yahweh, so am focussing on the most common type, Adonai-Yahweh combos. These result in English translation alternatives you may be familiar with, such as "Lord GOD" or "Sovereign LORD" (e.g. Gen 15:2, Ex 23:17, De 3:24, Jos 3:13, Jdg 6:22, 2Sa 7:18, 1Ki 2:26, Neh 10:29, Ps 16:2, Is 1:24, Ezekiel en masse, Amos 1:8, Oba 1:1, Zep 1:7, Zec 9:14). In fact, in the Hebrew occurrences I have examined, 319 out of the 453 occurrences of Adonai referring to God are Adonai-Yahweh combos, of which 215 are in Ezekiel and 21 are in Amos. In other words, if Adonai occurs, there's a 69% chance that it is occurring alongside Yahweh, probably before it. Can you see just how close the relationship is between the two terms? Back to this in the next post though because any further generalisations could be skewed by Ezekiel's "thus-says-the-Lord-GOD" mantra.

  • Lord or O Lord in the vocative (e.g. Gen 18:3, Ex 4:10, Nu 14:17, De 3:24, Jos 7:7, Jdg 6:15, 2Sa 7:18, 1Ki 8:53, Neh 1:11, Ps 8:1, Is 6:11, Je 1:6, Lam 3:58, Ez 9:8, Dan 9:4, Amos 7:5), imploring God, is also quite an important usage for Adonai, 76 times. Note that vocative usage is not mutually exclusive to the 319 combos referred to in the previous point, but more frequently occur without Yahweh than with (47 x "O Lord" vs 29 x "O Lord GOD"). It is important to note for the Greek issue in advance, that of the scant representation of the Adon root in the Pentateuch - a mere 19 occurrences - thirteen of the nineteen are in the vocative, of which six are recorded alongside Yahweh. Thus we can speculate: vocative was apparently the initial style of Adonai.
    “The sanctuary, O Lord [Adonai], which Your hands have established."
     Exodus 15:17
  • Other normal and independent usage occurs around 88 times. 
    • For the Pentateuch, of course, it is very limited, and basically comprises "speaking to Adonai" (e.g. Gen 18:27),  beseeching Adonai, "may Adonai do x" (Ex. 34:9), and in De 10:17 he is the "Adonai of all Adonai". 
    • Beyond the Pentateuch, non-combo-dependant Adonai extends to include: 
      • some of Adonai's stuff (e.g. "Adonai's covenant", Jos 3:11, 1 Ki 3:15, "Adonai's table", Mal 1:12, etc.)
      • Adonai titles, such as "Adonai of the whole Earth" (Jos 3:13); 
      • "my Adonai" (Jos 5:14, Ps 35:23, )
      • "in the sight of Adonai" (1 Ki 3:10); 
      • the main subject of a sentence, i.e. "Adonai does x to y at z" (e.g. "Adonai says/said", e.g. Amos 7:8, "Adonai will give it into the hand of the king", 1 Ki 22:6 or "Adonai is my soul's sustainer, Ps 54:4, see also 2 Ki 7:6, Ps 2:4, Ps 37:13, etc.)
      • acting on Adonai, such as "reproaching Adonai" (2 Ki 19:23, Is 37:24), "remembering Adonai" (Neh 4:14) or "fearing Adonai" (Job 28:28). 
      • ...
Thanks for reading! Come back soon to see why I was mistaken about Adonai going into the Greek, and why Pietersma seems to have been on the right track after all.

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