I mentioned in a previous post that I wanted to work on translating some Hebrew narrative, with the goal of looking at the flow of thought and different verbal forms. I am currently working my way through Learn Biblical Hebrew, by John Dobson. And in lesson 8, it asks you to translate Genesis 24:1-10 (which – gasp – it does not provide 1), with exactly this goal in mind.
The chapter first walks you through some very common action words. Taking, going up, going down, sending, staying, etc. are all pointed out. Then it discusses some common verbal patterns it has not discussed to that point, namely previous action, sequenced future events and participles 2. It recaps the structure for continuing action, and then throws you right in to the translation, providing helpful notes along the way.
So here we go.
|וְאַבְרָהָם זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים וַיהוָה בֵּרַךְ אֶת־אַבְרָהָם בַּכֹּל׃||1||Now Abraham was old, advancing in years, for YHWH had blessed Abraham in all things.|
|וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם אֶל־עַבְדּוֹ זְקַן בֵּיתוֹ הַמֹּשֵׁל בְּכָל־אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ שִׂים־נָא יָדְךָ תַּחַת יְרֵכִי׃||2||So Abraham said to his servant, the senior staff of his house, the one in charge of all that he owned, “Put your hand under my thigh.|
|וְאַשְׁבִּיעֲךָ בַּיהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וֵאלֹהֵי הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לֹא־תִקַּח אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי מִבְּנוֹת הַכְּנַעֲנִי אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּקִרְבּוֹ׃||3||I will make you promise on YHWH, God of heaven and God of earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the Canaanites I am living among.|
|כִּי אֶל־אַרְצִי וְאֶל־מוֹלַדְתִּי תֵּלֵךְ וְלָקַחְתָ אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי לְיִצְחָק׃||4||But you will go to my land and my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”|
|וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו הָעֶבֶד אוּלַי לֹא־תֹאבֶה הָאִשָּׁה לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרַי אֶל־הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת הֶהָשֵׁב אָשִׁיב אֶת־בִּנְךָ אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יָצָאתָ מִשָּׁם׃||5||Then the servant replied, “She might not be willing to follow me back to this land. In that case, shall I return and take your son back to the land you came from?”|
|וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אַבְרָהָם הִשָּׁמִר לְךָ פֶּן־תָּשִׁיב אֶת־בְּנִי שָׁמָּה׃||6||And Abraham responded, “Be careful not to take my son back there!|
|יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם אֲשֶׁר לְקָחַנִי מִבֵּית אַבִי וּמֵאֶרֶץ מוֹלַדְתִּי וַאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר־לִי וַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע־לִי לֵאמֹר לְזַרְעֲךָ אֶתֵּן אֶת־הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת הוּא יֵשְׁלַח מַלְאָכוֹ לְפָנֶיךָ וְלָקַחְתָּ אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי מִשָּׁם׃||7||YHWH, God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my relatives and who spoke to me, and who swore to me, saying, ‘I will give your offspring this land’ – he will send his angel before you and you will take a wife for my son from there.”|
|וְאִם־לֹא תֹאבֶה הָאִשָּׁה לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרֵיךָ וְנִקִּיתָ מִשְּׁבֻעָתִי זֹאת רַק אֶת־בְּנִי לֹא תָשֵׁב שָׁמָּה׃||8||And if the woman isn’t willing to go after you then you will be free of this oath – so long as you do not return there with my son.”|
|וַיָּשֶׂם הָעֶבֶד אֶת־יָדוֹ תַּחַת יֶרֶךְ אַבְרָהָם אֲדֹנָיו וַיּשָּׁבַע לוֹ עַל־הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה׃||9||Then the servant put his hand under his master Abraham’s thigh and swore this to him.|
|וַיִּקַּח הָעֶבֶד עֲשָׂרָה גְמַלִּים מִגְּמַלֵּי אֲדֹנָיו וַיֵּלֶךְ וְכָל־טוּב אֲדֹנָיו בְּיָדוֹ וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל־אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם אֶל־עִיר נָחוֹר׃||10||Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and went with all sorts of goods from his master and set off, and came to Aram Naharaim, to the town of Nahor.|
In verse 1 we see the start of the action in the perfective verb זָקֵן, “he was old” or “he became old”. I’m not sure how to take בָּא. It could either be “he came” (a perfective) or “coming” (a participle). I have not seen where two perfective verbs were placed side by side with the idea of “he had done A and had done B”, but my knowledge is limited. It would be fairly easy to see this as parallel with the “he was old”.
In any case, the formulation וַיהוָה בֵּרַךְ “[and] YHWH blessed” indicates that this is a previous action or even a preceding condition, rather than a continuation of the narrative. The reason Abraham lived to such a ripe old age was rooted in God’s blessing. Based on this, I have translated the ו as “for”, rather than a conversive “and” or “but”.
From the root action זָקֵן, the action continues with וַיֹּאמֶר “then he said” (v.2, 5, 6), וַיָּשֶׂם “then he put” (v.9), וַיּשָּׁבַע “then he promised” (v.9), וַיִּקַּח “then he took” (v.10), וַיֵּלֶךְ “then he went” (twice in v.10) and וַיָּקָם “he set off” (v.10). Throughout most of the passage, this sequence indicates a conversation between Abraham and his chief servant. In the last two verses, the narrative proceeds into actions as he moves from promising to Abraham what has been requested of him to actually getting out on the road.
In verse 4 you can see the progression of future events in the expression: תֵּלֵךְ וְלָקַחְתָ “you will go and [you will] take”. Rather than both expressions being in the future/imperfective, the second is prefixed with ו and placed in the perfective. Similarly, verse 7 has יֵשְׁלַח…וְלָקַחְתָּ, “he will send…and you [will] take” – once again employing a future/imperfective followed by a ו paired with a perfective.
Verse 7 reminds me of Daniel, where his compatriots are found saying that God is able to rescue them from the furnace, but that even if he does not, they will serve him. Abraham shows great faith – confidence in God’s provision in accord with the promises already made. That we would all show as much faith! He also appears to be a kind and understanding employer, if that term is not completely anachronistic in this setting.
- Notably, this is what caused me so much grief the last time I worked through Learn Biblical Hebrew, as I was young, stupid, and lacked a copy of a Hebrew Bible. Luckily, at least the last of these issues has been rectified by my purchase of Zondervan’s A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible.
- No word formation has been addressed for participles. The specific examples, often ending in a long “a” vowel and a leading long “o” are meant to illustrate so that one can pick them out. This has been a frustrating feature of the book – typically forcing you to pick out forms and patterns before describing the actual pattern!