Jeremiah 3:9

July 29, 2008 at 10:08 am (Ancient Languages, Theology and the Bible) (, , )

Thanks to everyone who posted a comment on my previous post regarding what Harvard class I should take. I appreciate the input! There’s still time, if anyone else wants to comment. 🙂

I was translating Jeremiah today, and I ran across this problem in 3.9:

וַתֶּחֱנַף אֶת־הָאָרֶץ

Here’s the problem: how to translate? You see, the vowels clearly indicate that this is a Qal. (Alas, the vowels didn’t really copy and paste properly. Just take my word for it.) Unfortunately, the Qal definition of this verb is something like, “to be defiled.” This is a problem because there is a direct object marker after the verb indicating that the noun “the land” is the direct object of the verb. So, what it literally says is “she was defiled (DO) the land.” Obviously that makes no sense. The stative definition can’t take a direct object. At first I thought, okay, perhaps the DO is really the preposition “with,” as per the end of the verse, “and she committed adultery with the stone and with the tree.” Unfortunately, “she was defiled with the land” really doesn’t make sense in context. The land didn’t defile Israel, Israel defiled the land, which is clearly stated properly elsewhere. So, we either have two options: remove the DO marker and thus we are able to make “the land” the subject so that it reads, “the land was defiled,” or, change the vowels on the verb to make it a Hiphil, which would make it read, “and she defiled the land,” which obviously makes much more sense, and also fits the context better, since here we are primarily focused on Israel’s actions, not the land.

After consulting BDB I see that I am not (of course) the first to notice this problem, and BDB lists both options for resolving this. My question is, is there really a textual problem here? Did the Masoretes mess up the vowels on the verb, or include an extra DO marker? Or, is this some sort of poetic thing, where they just liked the way it sounded regardless of what we say the “definitions” should be?

Of further interest is that apparently this phrase is not in the LXX, though I’m not sure about the other versions. (BHS has a textual note but I’m not entirely sure what it means!)

This would be interesting to put some further study into, but, today I must forge on ahead in my translation.



  1. Jay said,

    I don’t have a reference grammar on hand to give you sections, but the DO marker occasionally marks the subject . . . this also agrees in gender and number with the verb.

  2. Jay said,

    Thanks for giving me something to do!

    The other option (probably works better) is to repoint the verb as a Hiphil (‘She polluted the land’) following Aquila, Theodotian, the Peshitta, Targums, and Vulgate (the note in the apparatus). It seems most translations take this approach.

  3. jimgetz said,

    If you’re committed to the MT, I’d take it as an adverbial accusative. It would be translated something like “she is polluted by the land.” Though of course, it would really be “she is polluted in regards to the land,” which might mean about the same as the versions record. Granted, I’d expect a directive ה rather than the d.o. maker את, but it is possible.

    BTW rather than going with the standard emendation, you could always posit the preposition את (“she is polluted with the land”). It would fit well with Dtr theology and also allude to Judah’s lascivious activities.

    Regardless, mention an adverbial accusative in class (and look it up in IBHS 10.2). There good things to know about.

  4. RHolmstedt said,

    If you keep the MT (and I probably would), then it is more likely a case of את used with the subject than as an adverbial accusative. See the articles by Randy Garr and John Elwolde (and note the long history of scholarship on this issue in the very full footnotes):

    Garr, W. R. 1991. Affectedness, Aspect, and Biblical ‘et. ZAH 4: 19-34.
    Elwolde, J. 1994. The Use of ʾēt in Non-Biblical Hebrew Texts. VT 44(2): 170-82.

    In my opinion, it’s evidence of a small ergative-absolutive layer in BH — a layer that comes out a bit here and there in Semitics. On this, see:

    Müller, H.-P. 1995. Ergative Constructions in Early Semitic Languages. JNES 54(4): 261-71.

    Have fun!

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