Monday, June 28, 2010

Joseph Smith Translation Genesis 22: Bildash and Haza

Nowhere does the Joseph Smith Translation of the Holy Bible get more specific than in its rare but telling changes in Biblical names, and particularly those occuring in the Abraham narrative. The New Translation also introduces novel, spell-binding names, like Mount Hanabal in Genesis 14. At times the changes seem to reflect a wish for consistency in transcription: Girgashite does match the Hebrew better than Girgasite; Zeboiim beats Zeboim (as in KJV Genesis 14:2,8): though how would the Prophet know which choice to make? His Hebrew lessons were years away. At other times, the Prophet simply crosses out one consonant or vowel and substitutes another. Thus poor Pildash becomes Bildash, and Hazo, Haza in JST Old Testament Manuscripts 1 and 2 of Genesis 22:22.

The Authorized Version (i.e., Don't Touch) reads:

20 And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, Behold, Milcah, she hath also born children unto thy brother Nahor;
21 Huz his firstborn, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram,
22 And Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash [cf. JST OT Mss 1 and 2], and Jidlaph [JST OT Ms.2 has Sidlaph], and Bethuel.
23 And Bethuel begat Rebekah: these eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham’s brother.
24 And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she bare also Tebah, and Gaham, and Thahash [JST OT Ms.2 has Thahasel], and Maachah.

Can a case be made for changing these two odd names? Could the Masoretic Text of the Bible be in error?

Yes and yes.

Professor Goshen-Gottstein has given us a Law of scribes: "By this law, he means that all scribes at all times and places make certain predictable kinds of errors" (Ronald S. Hendel, The Text of Genesis 1-11, 40). And even Latter-day Saint John Whitmer falls under this cautionary law: "Some of the names in the more extensive genealogy lists in Genesis show evidence of multiple layers of editing. As John Whitmer was making a copy of an earlier manuscript, it appears that he had difficulty reading Sidney Rigdon's handwriting in OT1 and therefore rendered some unusual spellings," Faulring, Jackson, Matthews, Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, 586. So much then for Sidlaph and Thahasel, I suppose. And it's possible that Bildash and company are also modern scribal missteps. . .

But let's go back to ancient scribes.

Touching Hazo, what we note in the Hebrew is the consonantal root h-z-w (Het-Zayin-Waw). Upon this root, the Masoretes (whom we surely honor for the gift of the Bible) have inserted a vocalization that obviates the waw (or vav)--by converting it into a simple vowel: a long -o. But such an insertion reflects incomplete analysis of the root. We do not know what the vowels might have been, but if the reading is Haza, then it reflects an analysis of the name as Hazaw, with the final a- being both long and distinct and rounded--and thus all but whistling for a change.

Indeed some students relate the name to a place found in an Assyrian text: Hazu (ha-zu-u). Though there is no way of knowing whether this Hazu must be equated with the personal name Hazo, Hazu does show us options other than that of the Masoretic Text. And that's what Brother Joseph is doing as well. He wants the freedom to pursue options and ideas in his quest to uncover the true facts of the matter. And, at once, he shows, in utter simplicity--no lights or flares--and without hesitation, his total independence from the countless generations of scholarship bound to a traditional Text. He speaks with authority, not as the scribes.

But Bildash for Pildash: wouldn't that amount to Balderdash?

No so fast!

If anything, the unanalyzable name Pildash (and so much for the countless generations of ignorant scholarship--one little name. . .), evokes the word for concubine, pilgash. And most surprisingly, that very word occurs just two lines down in verse 24: And his pilgash, whose name was Reumah. . .

Now it doesn't take much imagination to see how an ancient scribe, a bit deaf to the wee difference between voiced and unvoiced labial stops, and working long before the text of Genesis became fixed, just might--given the proximity of the homonymous words--have mixed Bildash with pilgash and come up with Pildash.

There's something fun about it all, and yet it points the mind heavenward: "prophets again in the land."

Philologists hunting for Pildash in the wreckage of languages come up only with the late Nabatean name, Pindash (unexplained). Bildash scores more hits: The Bible gives us Bildad, a name rich in cognates throughout the Semitic world: Heb. bn + dad/dod = son of so-and-so; Bir-Dadda (cuneiform); Bil-Adad from Apil-Adda or Adad (Nuzi); Ugaritic (ie Canaanite) yields Blshsh and Blshpsh, and Bld (from ld); the word bldn signifies land. The possible derivation of Bildad, if likely not Bildash, from Apil-Adda via Bil-Adad brings us round full circle, in a confusion of labial stops, to Pildad or Pildash.

But Bilshash definitely puts Bildash into the game.

Hazu (Esarhaddon): see Westermann's Commentary on Genesis, 368.

Ugaritic: G. del Olmo Lete and J. Sanmartin, A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition, 2 vols.

Confronted with variants, the Prophet, only at times following his Phinney Bible (or Cooperstown edition of the KJV) in these next instances (perhaps with Zeboiim, for instance), always chooses readings that better reflect the Hebrew and at once also work better for English speakers: Ajalon (3 times in the KJV) not Aijalon (the Phinney Bible name index does show Ajalon only), Lubim not Lubims, Sukiim not Sukiims, Us for Uz (the s for the ts works better than the z), Girgashite not Girgasite, Phicol not Phichol--he doesn't want a confusable ch (see Gen. 10:23; 1 Chron. 6:69; 2 Chron 12:3 and the like). The Prophet also always follows Ezra, and not Nehemiah, where variants in the names occur (Bani not Binnui; Jorah not Haniph). We don't understand much about the nature of the work involved, yet it would seem that the Prophet is not relying on a knowledge of Hebrew (these corrections were made prior to his study of that language), but on inspiration. And, in this group of inspired corrections, I would also include the reading re-em for unicorns (Isaiah 34:7)--he didn't need to wait for Hebrew lessons to give us re-em (and note the separation of consonants reflecting the glottal stop aleph), for unicorns, in this case a Hebrew singular noun intended for a collective noun in English, as consistent with English usage.

A copy of the Phinney Bible may be consulted at BYU's Rare Books library.

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