Interpretation and Biblical Scholarship

כֹּל פֵּירוּשׁ שֶׁאֵינוּ עַל פֵּירוּשׁ הַטְעָמִים לֹא תֹאבֶה לֹו וְלֹא תִשְׁמַע אֵלָיו

You shall not consent to nor listen to any interpretation which is not according to the interpretation of the te’amim [meaning the Masoretic vocalizations and accents].

Abraham ibn Ezra 1089–c.1167 one of the most distinguished Jewish biblical peshat commentators and philosophers of the Middle Ages. Bracketed text is mine.

The Massoretic vocalization and accents are the written vowel signs and accent marks found in the Hebrew Bible which were devised by the Masoretes- a group of priestly Bible scholars between the 5th and 10th centuries ACE. Their responsibility was to safeguard the meaning of the Hebrew Text and the correct pronunciation of the Hebrew language due to the exile of the Israelite peoples and their subsequent loss of their knowledge of the Hebrew language. It is due to the work of these Masorete Scholars that the Hebrew Text of the Bible was safeguarded- as well as the correct rules to Hebrew grammar.

To be a scholar [חָכָם- Hakham] of the Hebrew Bible, which is the definition of a Karaite, one must use proper skills in interpretation. Interpretation means, literally, translation- it comes from the Latin interpres which was a broker or one which was employed to act as a liaison between two parties. Anyone who wishes to have an interpretation of the Bible can only have one in which it is between the Hebrew Text and themselves; in order to do this, one must first have mastered the Hebrew language. No person can be said to interpret a text of scripture from a translation [a word which means something that was carried across- that is, carried from Hebrew to another language]. Exposition of the Hebrew Text is being able to extrapolate exegesis from the Hebrew Text and expound it to those who do not know Hebrew themselves in a correct and understandable manner. When it comes to true Biblical Scholarship, one employs the skill of exegesis- meaning one brings a meaning from the Text. This is then passed along to others in the form of exposition- which is setting the exegesis before an audience or students.

Poor Biblical Scholarship is the exact opposite. A false interpreter uses eisegesis- adding something into a text which wasn’t there- and imposition- which means to put a thesis into the Text.

True Biblical Scholarship= Exegesis and Exposition

False Biblical Scholarship= Eisegesis and Imposition

A false interpreter= one who does not know the original language for which he claims to translate- all interpretation equals translation which cannot be accomplished from one ignorant of the language to be translated.

I challenge everyone who reads this to do an etymological search for the following words:

Interpretation

Translation

Exegesis

Exposition

Eisegesis

Imposition

What many, today, mean by interpretation is actually opinion. Opinion comes from the Latin opinor which means to opine- that is, to imagine or the think, to suppose. The motto of the Karaite [Bible Scholar] is

חַפִּשׂוּ בְאֹורַיְיתָא שַׁפִּיר וְאַל תִּשָּׁעֲנוּ עַל דַּעְתִּי
Search in the Torah thoroughly and do not support yourself with my opinion.
Anan bin David
 

This motto is interesting and profound. The first part is Aramaic and the second Hebrew. The first word חַפִּשׂוּ- happisu is a plural imperative from from חפשׂ which meant to search- it is a duty for everyone to do this. The second part begins with the negating particle אל- al which is used as a temporary negation; when a permanent negation is meant, the negating particle לא- lo is used. This means that we are not to support ourselves on any opinion immediately, but are to take every opinion to task and search in the Torah for the truth of the matter. If it proves to not violate the Tenakh, then we may accept an opinion.

An example of how we can understand the advice of ibn Ezra and the Karaite Motto spoken by Anan ben David can be seen from the first chapter of Genesis.

In the first chapter of Genesis, we find the statement

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

And Elohim said, “We want to make a human in our image- according to our likeness; that they may rule over the fish of the seas, the bird of the skies, the beast, over all the earth and the creeping things which creep on the earth.”

The normal translation of נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם na’aseh adham is Let us make a man- which indicated that Elohim was seeking permission as opposed to stating His intention and desire to accomplish the act. The verb נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה na’aseh is a cohortative and not simply an imperfect verb. A cohortative always comes at the beginning of its clause- as this verb clearly did. An interesting aspect of the cohortative is that it expresses a wish or desire- an intention to accomplish something. In a similar manner, we can also understand other uses of the cohortative in relation to YHWH- for instance in Genesis 12:2-3

 

וְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַֽאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶֽהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה׃
I will make you a great nation, and bless you; I want to make your name great- so be a blessing,
 
וַאֲבָֽרְכָה֙ מְבָ֣רְכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָֽאֲדָמָֽה׃

I want to bless those blessing you and those cursing you, I will curse; so that by you all the families of the land shall be blessed.

The final clause “and you will be a blessing” is grossly mistranslated by all translations. The verb וֶֽהְיֵ֖ה wehyeh is an imperative- it is a command; every translation falsely translated this imperative as an imperfect וְהָיִיתָ [and you shall be]. The final clause is rightly translated as “so be a blessing.”

Another interesting thing about these translations is the final clause of the first section וַֽאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ which is normally translated as “and I will make your name great” as if this is a consecutive verb, but it is not. The verb וַֽאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה wa’aghaddelah is in the cohortative- which expresses a volition, a wish in the 1st person singular or plural. If it had been a consecutive verb in the imperfect, it would have been written וָאֶגְדַּל wa’eghdal, but it was not. The clause should have been translated as “I want to make your name great.” 

This same construction was used throughout this parashah [section]- for instance:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה זַֽעֲקַ֛ת סְדֹ֥ם וַֽעֲמֹרָ֖ה כִּי־רָ֑בָּה וְחַ֨טָּאתָ֔ם כִּ֥י כָֽבְדָ֖ה מְאֹֽד׃ אֵֽרְדָה־נָּ֣א וְאֶרְאֶ֔ה הַכְּצַֽעֲקָתָ֛הּ הַבָּ֥אָה אֵלַ֖י עָשׂ֣וּ ׀ כָּלָ֑ה וְאִם־לֹ֖א אֵדָֽעָה׃

And YHWH said, “the cry of Sodom and Amorah- it is great; for their sin has become very great. I want to go down and see- have they completely done according to its cry that comes to me; and if not, I want to know.” Genesis 18:20-21

I think it is better to translate any cohortative in reference to YHWH as a volitional intent as opposed to translating it as a request using the English let- as this is a form of asking permission or allowance to do something.

About Ya'aqov ben Yisrael

I am simply a man with questions and trying to figure out the answers; my greatest joys are found in the study of Torah: its language and exegesis.
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