Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

A Note on Peshitta Job 28:23

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

A Note on Peshitta Job 28:23

Article excerpt

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The Peshitta of Job (P-Job) preserves a unique reading in Job 28:23 that has not been fully appreciated nor, evidently, properly understood. This reading is important in several respects, not the least of which is that it offers another example of how even the smallest of text-critical differences can have a significant impact on the structure and interpretation of larger semantic units.


The reading of the Peshitta of Job 28:23 is as follows:

mtl d'lh' hw bynn 'wrhith. whwyw yd' dwkth.1

This may be provisionally translated:

Because it is God who bynn its ways; and it is he who knows its place.

To judge from secondary treatments (see further below), the form bynn (...) has occasioned some difficulties, perhaps owing to the low frequency of the root bwn (...) in Syriac.2 In context, however, it is clear that bynn can be analyzed only as a pael perfect third person masculine singular of Nwb with a first person common plural suffix-hence, bayyenan, "he has made known to us," or, perhaps better, "he has made/caused us (to) know."3 The pael here is best understood as causativefactitive (cf. MT's hiphil), but it is the suffix that is intriguing-especially as it is lacking in the other versions as well as in some secondary discussions of this verse in P-Job.4

With regard to the versional evidence, the following are noteworthy:

MT: ...

God understands its way and he knows its place.

LXX: ...

God has well-ordered its way and he knows its place.

OL and Vg.: Deus intellegit viam eius et ipse novit locum illius.

God understands its way and he knows its place.

Targum:6 ...

God understands its way, and he knows its place.

Scholars working on Job have generally neglected the differences between the Peshitta and the versions at this point. Moreover, even the treatments that do exist are often erroneous or misleading. Consider, for instance, George M. Lamsa's translation of P-Job 28:23: "For only God understands the way of it, and he knows the place thereof."11 Lamsa's rendition of the verse (which here apparently simply follows the Authorized Version, as often in his popular, nonscholarly translation) reflects an impermissible understanding of bynn.12 J. Payne Smith also mistranslated the verse (though admittedly not with respect to bynn): she took the suffix on 'wrhith to refer to God ("His ways") rather than Wisdom ("its [or her] ways").13 Her translation apparently derives from her father's earlier lexicon.14 Other lexica give little or no attention to the use of bwn in Job 28:23.15

Secondary treatments, too, are rare or nonexistent. In her fine work on translation technique in P-Job, Heidi M. Szpek mentions 28:23 in several footnotes but does not deal explicitly or extensively with the verse.16 In his monograph on P-Job, Gösta Rignell offers only the briefest of remarks: "P begins the verse with: ... ... is understood causative and P has, with suffix for 1. pers. plur.: ... The meaning is thus essentially changed."17 Rignell does not, however, discuss the implications of this reading for the text's interpretation.

In addition to ..., a few other differences between the Peshitta and the MT in Job 28:23 deserve mention-even if these others are at least somewhat less significant. Only the most obvious are listed here:

* The Peshitta introduces the verse with a plus: ... ("because").

* As commonly in P-Job, the Peshitta shifts from the MT's singular ... ("its way") to a plural form: ... ("its ways").18

* Another common difference between the Peshitta and the MT is what Szpek calls the "verbal tense adjustment"-present here in the Peshitta's treatment of the MT's .... While the Hebrew often uses the word in the perfect tense, the translator of the Peshitta frequently employs the participle. …

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