Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Εγω ειμι ο ων (Exodus 3:14) And יהוה


See my earlier posts on this subject for the background to this post, as well as for the Scripture texts (Hebrew, Greek and Latin):

I raised this question before, and I'm raising it again:

Did the Septuagint's (LXX), and then the Vulgate's, translation of Exodus 3:14, as well as the change from saying God's name (יהוה) to referring to Him by a title ("(the) Lord"), affect the concept of God, distancing Him in the minds of the people and their theologians - a distancing that we may unconsciously still think and experience?

Did the Septuagint's "I Am He Who Is" (more literally "I Am The Being [One]") and the Vulgate's "I Am Who I Am" and "Who Is" move the church away from the covenanting and actively-with-His-people God of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms, and towards an impassible and apophatic "Eternally Existing One," a God who may have more in common with Platonic philosophical concepts than with יהוה, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Father of Jesus Christ?

My speculation about the philosophical impact of the LXX's translation seems to find support in Toorn, K. v. d., Becking, B., & Horst, P. W. v. d. (1999). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible DDD (2nd extensively rev. ed.) (913–914). Leiden; Boston; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brill; Eerdmans:
The interpretation of the theonym as a finite verb is already found in Exod 3:14. In reply to Moses’ question of what he is to say to the Israelites when they ask him which god sent him, God says: “I AM WHO I AM”, and he adds: “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’”. The explanation here offered is a sophisticated play based on association: the root HWH is understood as a by-form of HYH, ‘to be’ and the prefix of the third person is understood as a secondary objectivation of a first person: yhwh is thus interpreted as ʾhyh, ‘I am’. Since the significance of such a name is elusive, the reconstructed name is itself the subject of a further interpretation in the phrase ʾehyeh ʾăšer ʾehyeh, ‘I am who I am’. Its meaning is debated. Should one understand it as a promise (‘I will certainly be there’) or as an allusion to the incomparability of Yahweh (‘I am who I am’, i.e. without peer)? Even in the revelation of his name, Yahweh does not surrender himself: He cannot be captured by means of either an image or a name. The Greek translation ὁ ὤν (LXX) has philosophical overtones: it is at the basis of a profound speculation on the eternity and immutability of God—both of them ideas originally unconnected with the name Yahweh.
My intuition about the meaning of the Hebrew and how it should probably be translated finds support in VanGemeren, W. (1998). Vol. 4: New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (NIDOTTE) (1295–1296). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House:
2. Exod 3:14 is one of the most puzzling verses in the OT. The name given at Moses’ request, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, consists of the repeated form of the vb. to be (הָיָה [#2118], earlier form הוי) in the first person sing. plus the relative particle (Yahweh itself may be a third person impf. form; the a vowel suggests a hi. form, but that aspect is not attested in the OT or northwest Sem.). The most common translation is that given in the NIV, “I AM WHO I AM.” Some scholars suggest that this response is a refusal to give the divine name, out of a belief that knowing the name gives some control over the one named: in effect, “I am who I am, and it is not your business to know my name.” This, however, is a counsel of despair and stands at odds with God’s regularly giving a name when appearing to Israel’s ancestors (Gen 35:11; Exod 3:6). Moreover, the fact that Yahweh is immediately used in apposition to the God of your fathers in vv. 15–16 suggests a more positive meaning. It is difficult to believe that the 6800 uses of Yahweh in the OT are only testimony to God’s refusal. There is, of course, a lack of final definition in the name Yahweh. But, as with all names, this is simply to recognize the limits of drawing inferences from the name regarding the nature of the one whose name it is.

Other translations include “I will be what (who) I will be”; “I will cause to be what I will cause to be”; “I will be who I am/I am who I will be.” The last-noted may well be the best option, in essence: “I will be God for you.” The force of the name is not simply that God is or that God is present, but that God will be faithfully God for them in the history that is to follow (see vv. 16–17). The use of the same verbal form in 3:12 and 4:12, 15 (cf. 6:7; 29:45) also suggests this. God will be God with and for this people at all times and places; the formula suggests a divine faithfulness to self. Israel need not be concerned about divine arbitrariness or capriciousness. God can be counted on to be who God is. Israel understands its history from this name and this name from its history. This name will shape Israel’s story, but the story will also give greater texture to the name. This means that there are stakes in this for God; God now has to live up to the name given.
Here again, from my earlier posts, is the verse under discussion (Exodus 3:14):

ויאמר אלהים אל משה אהיה אשר אהיה ויאמר כה תאמר לבני ישראל אהיה שלחני אליכם׃

And God said unto Moses, אהיה אשר אהיה (I will be who/what I will be; I am who/what I am): and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, אהיה (I will be; I am) hath sent me unto you.

Greek Septuagint:
και ειπεν ο θεος προς Μωυσην Εγω ειμι ο ων (I am the being [one]/I am he who is)· και ειπεν Ουτως ερεις τοις υιοις ισραηλ Ο ων (the being [one]/he who is) απεσταλκεν με προς υμας.

Latin Vulgate:
dixit Deus ad Mosen ego sum qui sum (I am who (I) am) ait sic dices filiis Israhel qui est (who is) misit me ad vos

To see how the Hebrew Bible uses אֶהְיֶה with reference to יהוה, I've listed and marked in blue all the occurrences of the verb אֶהְיֶה (usually translated "I will be"). Verses are marked with an asterisk (*) when אֶהְיֶה does not refer to God. Where the English "I" translates the pronoun אָנֹכִי or אֲנִי, rather than the verb אֶהְיֶה, I do not indicate it with blue.

VerseBHS (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia)NASB 1995 (New American Standard Bible 1995 Update)
Genesis 26:3גּוּר בָּאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת וְאֶהְיֶה עִמְּךָ וַאֲבָרְכֶךָּ כִּי־לְךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אֶתֵּן אֶת־כָּל־הָאֲרָצֹת הָאֵל וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת־הַשְּׁבֻעָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לְאַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ׃“Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham.
Genesis 31:3וַיֹּאמֶר יהוה אֶל־יַעֲקֹב שׁוּב אֶל־אֶרֶץ אֲבוֹתֶיךָ וּלְמוֹלַדְתֶּךָ וְאֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ׃Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”
Exodus 3:12וַיֹּאמֶר כִּי־אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ וְזֶה־לְּךָ הָאוֹת כִּי אָנֹכִי שְׁלַחְתִּיךָ בְּהוֹצִיאֲךָ אֶת־הָעָם מִמִּצְרַיִם תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת־הָאֱלֹהִים עַל הָהָר הַזֶּה׃And He said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”
Exodus 3:14וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל־מֹשֶׁה אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה וַיֹּאמֶר כֹּה תֹאמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶהְיֶה שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם׃God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”
Exodus 4:12וְעַתָּה לֵךְ וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה עִם־פִּיךָ וְהוֹרֵיתִיךָ אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר׃“Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.”
Exodus 4:15וְדִבַּרְתָּ אֵלָיו וְשַׂמְתָּ אֶת־הַדְּבָרִים בְּפִיו וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה עִם־פִּיךָ וְעִם־פִּיהוּ וְהוֹרֵיתִי אֶתְכֶם אֵת אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשׂוּן׃“You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do.
Deuteronomy 31:23וַיְצַו אֶת־יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן וַיֹּאמֶר חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ כִּי אַתָּה תָּבִיא אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לָהֶם וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ׃Then He commissioned Joshua the son of Nun, and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.”
Joshua 1:5לֹא־יִתְיַצֵּב אִישׁ לְפָנֶיךָ כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר הָיִיתִי עִם־מֹשֶׁה אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ לֹא אַרְפְּךָ וְלֹא אֶעֶזְבֶךָּ׃“No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.
Joshua 3:7וַיֹּאמֶר יהוה אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁעַ הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה אָחֵל גַּדֶּלְךָ בְּעֵינֵי כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יֵדְעוּן כִּי כַּאֲשֶׁר הָיִיתִי עִם־מֹשֶׁה אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ׃Now the LORD said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.
Judges 6:16וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו יהוה כִּי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ וְהִכִּיתָ אֶת־מִדְיָן כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד׃But the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.”
* Judges 11:9וַיֹּאמֶר יִפְתָּח אֶל־זִקְנֵי גִלְעָד אִם־מְשִׁיבִים אַתֶּם אוֹתִי לְהִלָּחֵם בִּבְנֵי עַמּוֹן וְנָתַן יהוה אוֹתָם לְפָנָי אָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה לָכֶם לְרֹאשׁ׃So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you take me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the LORD gives them up to me, will I become your head?”
* Ruth 2:13וַתֹּאמֶר אֶמְצָא־חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ אֲדֹנִי כִּי נִחַמְתָּנִי וְכִי דִבַּרְתָּ עַל־לֵב שִׁפְחָתֶךָ וְאָנֹכִי לֹא אֶהְיֶה כְּאַחַת שִׁפְחֹתֶיךָ׃Then she said, “I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.”
* 1 Samuel 18:18וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל־שָׁאוּל מִי אָנֹכִי וּמִי חַיַּי מִשְׁפַּחַת אָבִי בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי־אֶהְיֶה חָתָן לַמֶּלֶךְ׃But David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my life or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be the king’s son-in-law?”
* 1 Samuel 23:17וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אַל־תִּירָא כִּי לֹא תִמְצָאֲךָ יַד שָׁאוּל אָבִי וְאַתָּה תִּמְלֹךְ עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה־לְּךָ לְמִשְׁנֶה וְגַם־שָׁאוּל אָבִי יֹדֵעַ כֵּן׃Thus he said to him, “Do not be afraid, because the hand of Saul my father will not find you, and you will be king over Israel and I will be next to you; and Saul my father knows that also.”
2 Samuel 7:14אֲנִי אֶהְיֶה־לּוֹ לְאָב וְהוּא יִהְיֶה־לִּי לְבֵן אֲשֶׁר בְּהַעֲוֹתוֹ וְהֹכַחְתִּיו בְּשֵׁבֶט אֲנָשִׁים וּבְנִגְעֵי בְּנֵי אָדָם׃“I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men,
* 2 Samuel 15:34וְאִם־הָעִיר תָּשׁוּב וְאָמַרְתָּ לְאַבְשָׁלוֹם עַבְדְּךָ אֲנִי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶהְיֶה עֶבֶד אָבִיךָ וַאֲנִי מֵאָז וְעַתָּה וַאֲנִי עַבְדֶּךָ וְהֵפַרְתָּה לִי אֵת עֲצַת אֲחִיתֹפֶל׃“But if you return to the city, and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father’s servant in time past, so I will now be your servant,’ then you can thwart the counsel of Ahithophel for me.
* 2 Samuel 16:18וַיֹּאמֶר חוּשַׁי אֶל־אַבְשָׁלֹם לֹא כִּי אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר יהוה וְהָעָם הַזֶּה וְכָל־אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא אֶהְיֶה וְאִתּוֹ אֵשֵׁב׃Then Hushai said to Absalom, “No! For whom the LORD, this people, and all the men of Israel have chosen, his I will be, and with him I will remain.
* 2 Samuel 16:19וְהַשֵּׁנִית לְמִי אֲנִי אֶעֱבֹד הֲלוֹא לִפְנֵי בְנוֹ כַּאֲשֶׁר עָבַדְתִּי לִפְנֵי אָבִיךָ כֵּן אֶהְיֶה לְפָנֶיךָ׃“Besides, whom should I serve? Should I not serve in the presence of his son? As I have served in your father’s presence, so I will be in your presence.”
1 Chronicles 17:13אֲנִי אֶהְיֶה־לּוֹ לְאָב וְהוּא יִהְיֶה־לִּי לְבֵן וְחַסְדִּי לֹא־אָסִיר מֵעִמּוֹ כַּאֲשֶׁר הֲסִירוֹתִי מֵאֲשֶׁר הָיָה לְפָנֶיךָ׃“I will be his father and he shall be My son; and I will not take My lovingkindness away from him, as I took it from him who was before you.
1 Chronicles 28:6וַיֹּאמֶר לִי שְׁלֹמֹה בִנְךָ הוּא־יִבְנֶה בֵיתִי וַחֲצֵרוֹתָי כִּי־בָחַרְתִּי בוֹ לִי לְבֵן וַאֲנִי אֶהְיֶה־לּוֹ לְאָב׃“He said to me, ‘Your son Solomon is the one who shall build My house and My courts; for I have chosen him to be a son to Me, and I will be a father to him.
* Job 3:16אוֹ כְנֵפֶל טָמוּן לֹא אֶהְיֶה כְּעֹלְלִים לֹא־רָאוּ אוֹר׃“Or like a miscarriage which is discarded, I would not be, As infants that never saw light.
* Job 10:19כַּאֲשֶׁר לֹא־הָיִיתִי אֶהְיֶה מִבֶּטֶן לַקֶּבֶר אוּבָל׃ I should have been as though I had not been, Carried from womb to tomb.’
* Job 12:4שְׂחֹק לְרֵעֵהוּ אֶהְיֶה קֹרֵא לֶאֱלוֹהַּ וַיַּעֲנֵהוּ שְׂחוֹק צַדִּיק תָּמִים׃I am a joke to my friends, The one who called on God and He answered him; The just and blameless man is a joke.
* Job 17:6וְהִצִּגַנִי לִמְשֹׁל עַמִּים וְתֹפֶת לְפָנִים אֶהְיֶה׃“But He has made me a byword of the people, And I am one at whom men spit.
Psalm 50:21אֵלֶּה עָשִׂיתָ וְהֶחֱרַשְׁתִּי דִּמִּיתָ הֱיוֹת־אֶהְיֶה כָמוֹךָ אוֹכִיחֲךָ וְאֶעֶרְכָה לְעֵינֶיךָ׃“These things you have done and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.
* Song of Solomon 1:7הַגִּידָה לִּי שֶׁאָהֲבָה נַפְשִׁי אֵיכָה תִרְעֶה אֵיכָה תַּרְבִּיץ בַּצָּהֳרָיִם שַׁלָּמָה אֶהְיֶה כְּעֹטְיָה עַל עֶדְרֵי חֲבֵרֶיךָ׃“Tell me, O you whom my soul loves, Where do you pasture your flock, Where do you make it lie down at noon? For why should I be like one who veils herself Beside the flocks of your companions?”
* Isaiah 3:7יִשָּׂא בַיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר לֹא־אֶהְיֶה חֹבֵשׁ וּבְבֵיתִי אֵין לֶחֶם וְאֵין שִׂמְלָה לֹא תְשִׂימֻנִי קְצִין עָם׃He will protest on that day, saying, “I will not be your healer, For in my house there is neither bread nor cloak; You should not appoint me ruler of the people.”
* Isaiah 47:7וַתֹּאמְרִי לְעוֹלָם אֶהְיֶה גְבָרֶת עַד לֹא־שַׂמְתְּ אֵלֶּה עַל־לִבֵּךְ לֹא זָכַרְתְּ אַחֲרִיתָהּ׃“Yet you said, ‘I will be a queen forever.’ These things you did not consider Nor remember the outcome of them.
Jeremiah 11:4אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי אֶת־אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם בְּיוֹם הוֹצִיאִי־אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ־מִצְרַיִם מִכּוּר הַבַּרְזֶל לֵאמֹר שִׁמְעוּ בְקוֹלִי וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אוֹתָם כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר־אֲצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם וִהְיִיתֶם לִי לְעָם וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים׃which I commanded your forefathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, ‘Listen to My voice, and do according to all which I command you; so you shall be My people, and I will be your God,’
Jeremiah 24:7וְנָתַתִּי לָהֶם לֵב לָדַעַת אֹתִי כִּי אֲנִי יהוה וְהָיוּ־לִי לְעָם וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים כִּי־יָשֻׁבוּ אֵלַי בְּכָל־לִבָּם׃‘I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.
Jeremiah 30:22וִהְיִיתֶם לִי לְעָם וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים׃ ‘You shall be My people, And I will be your God.’ ”
Jeremiah 31:1בָּעֵת הַהִיא נְאֻם־יהוה אֶהְיֶה לֵאלֹהִים לְכֹל מִשְׁפְּחוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהֵמָּה יִהְיוּ־לִי לְעָם׃“At that time,” declares the LORD, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.”
Jeremiah 32:38וְהָיוּ לִי לְעָם וַאֲנִי אֶהְיֶה לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים׃ “They shall be My people, and I will be their God;
Ezekiel 11:20לְמַעַן בְּחֻקֹּתַי יֵלֵכוּ וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי יִשְׁמְרוּ וְעָשׂוּ אֹתָם וְהָיוּ־לִי לְעָם וַאֲנִי אֶהְיֶה לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים׃that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.
Ezekiel 14:11לְמַעַן לֹא־יִתְעוּ עוֹד בֵּית־יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאַחֲרַי וְלֹא־יִטַּמְּאוּ עוֹד בְּכָל־פִּשְׁעֵיהֶם וְהָיוּ לִי לְעָם וַאֲנִי אֶהְיֶה לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים נְאֻם אֲדֹנָי יהוה׃in order that the house of Israel may no longer stray from Me and no longer defile themselves with all their transgressions. Thus they will be My people, and I shall be their God,” ’ declares the Lord GOD.”
Ezekiel 34:24וַאֲנִי יהוה אֶהְיֶה לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים וְעַבְדִּי דָוִד נָשִׂיא בְתוֹכָם אֲנִי יהוה דִּבַּרְתִּי׃“And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the LORD have spoken.
Ezekiel 36:28וִישַׁבְתֶּם בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם וִהְיִיתֶם לִי לְעָם וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים׃“You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.
Ezekiel 37:23וְלֹא יִטַּמְּאוּ עוֹד בְּגִלּוּלֵיהֶם וּבְשִׁקּוּצֵיהֶם וּבְכֹל פִּשְׁעֵיהֶם וְהוֹשַׁעְתִּי אֹתָם מִכֹּל מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר חָטְאוּ בָהֶם וְטִהַרְתִּי אוֹתָם וְהָיוּ־לִי לְעָם וַאֲנִי אֶהְיֶה לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים׃“They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.
Hosea 1:9וַיֹּאמֶר קְרָא שְׁמוֹ לֹא עַמִּי כִּי אַתֶּם לֹא עַמִּי וְאָנֹכִי לֹא־אֶהְיֶה לָכֶם׃And the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.”
Hosea 14:6אֶהְיֶה כַטַּל לְיִשְׂרָאֵל יִפְרַח כַּשּׁוֹשַׁנָּה וְיַךְ שָׁרָשָׁיו כַּלְּבָנוֹן׃NASB Hosea 14:5 I will be like the dew to Israel; He will blossom like the lily, And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon.
Zechariah 2:9וַאֲנִי אֶהְיֶה־לָּהּ נְאֻם־יהוה חוֹמַת אֵשׁ סָבִיב וּלְכָבוֹד אֶהְיֶה בְתוֹכָהּ׃NASB Zechariah 2:5 ‘For I,’ declares the LORD, ‘will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.’ ”
Zechariah 8:8וְהֵבֵאתִי אֹתָם וְשָׁכְנוּ בְּתוֹךְ יְרוּשָׁלָםִ וְהָיוּ־לִי לְעָם וַאֲנִי אֶהְיֶה לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים בֶּאֱמֶת וּבִצְדָקָה׃and I will bring them back and they will live in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God in truth and righteousness.’

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