Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Translation of Horse Colors in Zechariah 1:8; 6:2-3, 6 Based on Textual and Material Evidence

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Translation of Horse Colors in Zechariah 1:8; 6:2-3, 6 Based on Textual and Material Evidence

Article excerpt

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The Hebrew Bible describes the color of horses only in Zech 1:8 and 6:2-3, 6, in Zechariah's first and last visions; these colors constitute part of the inclusio in the imagery of the visions. The translation and significance of the colors have been widely debated, but the most compelling proposals suggest that these color terms reflect realistic horse colors and contribute to the interpretation of the passage. Athalya Brenner's textual analysis of the color terms in the Hebrew Bible can be combined with a list of genetically probable horse coat colors in Iron Age Israel to develop translations for the color terms describing horses in Zechariah for American audiences familiar and unfamiliar with horses.1 A list of genetically probable horse coat colors in Iron Age Israel will be deduced from David W. Anthony's account of horse domestication and trade patterns, which reveals how domesticated horses most likely entered ancient Israel, and Arne Ludwig et al.'s genetic study of coat colors present in ancient horse populations.2

In Zech 1:8, a man is riding one horse with more horses behind him: "In the night I saw a man riding on a red ... horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen; and behind him were red ... , sorrel ... , and white ... horses" (NRSV). Zechariah 6:2-3 lists four chariots with differently colored horses: "The first chariot had red ... horses, the second chariot black ... horses, the third chariot white ... horses, and the fourth chariot dappled gray ... horses" (NRSV). The last word of Zech 6:3, ... , suggests that all of these horses are also "strong." In Zech 6:6, the groups of chariot horses head in different directions: "The chariot with the black ... horses goes toward the north country, the white ones ... go toward the west country, and the dappled ones ... go toward the south country" (NRSV). The basic meanings of ... and ... are, respectively, "red" or "brown," "black," and "white," but ... and ... are more obscure. ... is a secondary term in the "red" range, and ... refers to a type of speckled appearance.

I.THREE CONTESTED ISSUES

The debates about the color of the horses in Zechariah center on three issues: (1) whether these horse colors are realistic or visionary; (2) how significant these colors are to the interpretation of the text; and (3) whether technical terms or ordinary terms should be used to translate these horse colors into modern English.

Commentators have reached different conclusions about these issues.3 Joyce Baldwin, David L. Petersen, Carol L. Meyers and Eric M. Meyers, and David Clark treat these colors as realistic for horses, while Barry Peachey argues that such an attempt is misguided because the horses are in Zechariah's visions and thus do not possess realistic coat colors.4 Petersen and Meyers and Meyers maintain that horse color is an integral detail in the interpretation of the passage, while Baldwin and Peachey are skeptical that the precise colors bear on the text's interpretation.5 Baldwin notes that the text does not ascribe specific meaning to the horse colors and suspects they were "merely background."6 Peachey does not consider the colors significant because he does not know how much contact ancient Israelites had with horses.7

Petersen favors technical terms when translating these words, while Peachey and Clark prefer ordinary terms.8 Because Peachey argues that the horses in Zechariah's visions do not necessarily have realistic colors, he contends that technical terms are not needed to translate these colors.9 Clark recommends ordinary terms for translations that strive to use accessible language.10

II.PREVIOUS TRANSLATIONS

All of these scholars agree that "white" and "black" are good translations for ... and ... , respectively, but debate surrounds the other terms. ... is taken as "dappled" or "gray" Proposals for the translation of ... include "red" (McHardy and Meyers and Meyers), "bay" (Baldwin), "dark chestnut" or "bay" (Petersen), "chestnut" or "sorrel" (Peachey), and "brown" (Clark). …

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