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Entries in Hebrew Bible (2)

Tuesday
May222018

Was Esther Mordecai’s (Adopted) Daughter or His Wife?

Edwin Long's Queen Esther (1878)Over the past few years, any time I read an Old Testament passage—whether preparing a passage myself or listening to someone else—I always compare the Hebrew Masoretic Text (which is the basis for most modern Old Testament translations) with the Septuagint (or LXX, the 2nd century BC Greek translation of the Old Testament, primarily used by New Testament and Early Church writers). 

Most of the time, there’s not a significant amount of difference but the basic kind of variations to be expected when literature is translated from one language to another. However, occasionally, intriguing differences stand out, such as the one below I discovered recently.

A week ago Sunday, I was able to attend my home church in Louisiana with my mother for Mother’s Day. The sermon that morning was drawn from the second chapter of Esther, and it was v. 7 that jumped out at me when I compared it to the LXX using Accordance on my iPad. The pastor was reading from the New King James Version, which I will quote below as a decent English representation of the Hebrew text. I’ve included notes for a couple of words significant to this discussion.

“Mordecai was the legal guardian of his cousin Hadassah (that is, Esther), because she had no father or mother. The young woman had a beautiful figure and was extremely good-looking. When her father and mother died, Mordecai had adopted [לָקַח/laqach, literally “taken”] her as his own daughter [בַּת/baṯ].”

What jumped out when looking at the LXX was the replacement of בַּת (daughter) with γυνή/gynē (wife)! Mordecai had taken Esther as his wife? And technically, he had not taken Esther as his wife, but as the LXX indicates in the phrase, “ἐπαίδευσεν αὐτὴν ἑαυτῷ εἰς γυναῖκα,” Mordecai “had instructed/trained her to be a wife for himself.”

Compare the LXX with three English translations of Est 2:7—

Of course, at this point, I was no longer concentrating on the sermon but scrambling to look at commentaries to see if there was any mention of this major distinction in regard to Esther’s relationship to her cousin, Mordecai. I consulted a half dozen or so current biblical commentaries in Accordance, and none of them mentioned the discrepancy between the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament--until I looked at Levenson’s volume in the Old Testament Library series, where he writes

“The Greek version and rabbinic midrashim tend to see the relationship between Mordecai and Hadassah (Esther) as one of marriage, and ancient custom does indeed know of adoption in anticipation of matrimony (cf. Ezek. 16:1–14).”

There was a footnote in Levinson’s commentary on Esther that led me to the Babylonian Talmud where Neusner translates the appropriate section (Meg 13.1) as follows: 

VI.1 A. “...and when her father and mother died, Mordecai took her to himself as a daughter.”

B. One taught in the name of R. Meir: Do not read [it] “as a daughter” (le-vat), but rather as a wife (le-vayit).

C. And similarly it says, “and the poor man had nothing except one small lamb that he owned and fed, and it grew up together with him and with his children; it ate from his bread, and drank from his cup, and lay in his bosom, and it was like a daughter” (2Sa. 12:3). Because it lay in his bosom is it called a daughter (bat)? Rather [it should be called] a wife (bayit).

D. Here, too, [in Esther, the word “as a daughter” (bat) should be understood to mean] “as a wife” (bayit).

This is interesting because the rabbis are suggesting that the Hebrew, which obviously does not contain vowel pointing when they are reading it, should read Esther’s role not as daughter (בַּת/baṯ) but as wife (בַּיִת/bayit). Of course, my understanding of בַּיִת relates it to meaning househousehold, or family, so perhaps this is somehow synonymous with wife as Hebrew is usually more functional than ontological in its use of language. Or perhaps I'm "reverse-transliterating" Neusner's Hebrew incorrectly. If anyone can offer insight, I’d appreciate that in the comments. 

However, this matter of unpointed Hebrew would also explain why the LXX reads that Mordecai had instructed/taught (παιδεύω/paideuō) Esther rather than the Masoretic Hebrew understanding of taken (לָקַח/laqach). Obviously, the LXX translators understood the unpointed לקח as לֶקַח/leqaḥ (taught) rather than לָקַח/lāqaḥ (taken). 

Incidentally, I often hear the LXX criticized for being too interpretive of the Hebrew text, but the vowel points added to the Hebrew by the Masoretes are often just as interpretive. The LXX probably translates Esther 2:7 as it was understood in Jewish thought around 200 BC. This understanding is backed up by the later rabbinic testimony found in the Talmud. Evidently, by the time of the 10th century AD, Esther’s relationship to her cousin as wife and not daughter was either forgotten or re-interpreted when the Masoretic Hebrew text was finalized. 

For the sake of modern readers, I should probably mention that there really would not have been any scandal around the idea of cousins marrying each other at this time. Race and tribe would have been the most important factor, so the fact that Esther was already part of Mordecai’s family made her a seemingly ideal mate in a time of exile. Esther is referred to as a girl in both Hebrew (נַעֲרָה/naʿarāh) and Greek (κοράσιον/korasion) versions of the story, so she was probably fairly young. Since her beauty is also mentioned, she had probably reached marriageable age by the time she is taken from Mordecai, but presumably the marriage had not been consummated yet as she was deemed a suitable canidate for Xerxes' harem.

So by this point, I believe I’ve convinced myself that Esther probably was brought up by Mordecai to be his wife as opposed to his merely being her legal guardian until she was of marriageable age. And that makes the story even more tragic, doesn’t it? This reading certainly explains Mordecai’s angst over Esther as he continually loiters outside Xerxes’ harem (a dangerous thing to do) to see if he could find out how she was doing. Mordecai had not just lost a family member to a pagan king—he had lost his betrothed, someone to whom he had invested years of care and instruction, and he had lost his future. No doubt, Mordecai loved Esther on multiple levels; but in the end, his forced loss of her to a pagan king led to the salvation of the Jewish people in Persia. Mordecai’s personal loss was his people’s gain.

Friday
May132011

Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) for Kindle & Nook



Kindle Edition
Nook Edition

Popular eReaders like the Kindle and Nook are still new technologies essentially. As such, there are features not yet present in eReaders, such as the ability to display right-to-left languages like Hebrew and Arabic. To my knowledge, because of this limitation, there have not been any Hebrew Bibles available for the Kindle or Nook until now.

Last week, Miklal Software Solutions, Inc. released a true Bible in Hebrew for both the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook. Here is the description from the company website:

Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) is a complete Hebrew Bible in an aesthetically pleasing Hebrew script. It contains all of the consonants, vowels, cantillation marks (accents), and other symbols. It follows the text of the Leningrad Codex as digitized by the J. Alan Groves Center for Advanced Biblical Research. This is the same manuscript underlying Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) and Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ).

In addition, the Kindle version has The Comprehensive Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic Glossary, by Humphrey H. Hardy, appended to it.

The reference to an "aesthetically pleasing Hebrew script" is no exaggeration. Drayton Benner, president of Miklal Software, sent me review copies of both the Kindle and Nook versions of the text. Although I think I'm probably biased at this point toward E Ink displays, honestly, the text in both versions looks as professional as the type in my hardcopy Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Here are a couple of screenshots:

Psalm 23 on the Kindle

 

Psalm 23 on the Nook Color

As you'll notice the formatting looks much better on the Kindle version than the Nook Color screen. I'm trying to get a screenshot of an E Ink Nook screen for comparison, and if I do, I'll update this post. My hunch is that the E Ink Nook will display this text better than the Nook Color, which is essentially an Android tablet. This version of the Hebrew Bible seems primarily intended for dedicated eReaders as there is a warning that the formatting has mixed results on some mobile devices (the iPhone is specifically mentioned). I'll come back to this subject toward the end of the review.

Regardless of the differences, the final result is impressive when considering the limitations of a device like the Kindle or Nook when it comes to right-to-left text. Benner is not currently revealing his method of reproducing the Hebrew text on these devices, but I have a few hunches. For instance, the text itself cannot be increased or reduced like normal English text on a Kindle or Nook. When navigating through the text with the Kindle's five-way controller, the insertion point jumped letter by letter instead of word by word as with other titles. This leads me to believe that perhaps each Hebrew character, including vowel markings and cantillations, are essentially small graphic files, but I may be wrong. I checked file sizes to see if this title took up an inordinate amount of space on my Kindle, but it does not; I actually have a number of other titles, including some English Bible translations, that are much larger in size. But in the final analysis, none of this really matters because it's the end product that counts, and the end product is quite impressive.

The Hebrew Bible for Kindle and Nook includes a fairly sophisticated navigation system—one that is more feature rich than most eReader titles. Like a handful of other better-formatted Bibles, there is a fully interactive table of contents allowing the reader to go from the listing in the contents to the text and then back very quickly. But there's even greater flexibility than that. The search feature built into the device allows for strings such as "Joshua 4" to be entered as one means for accessing a chapter. If you don't want to type that much on an eReader keyboard, no problem, as there is a table included in the preface that offers abbreviations such as "jos" instead of the aforementioned "Joshua." While in a passage, pressing left or right on the five-way Kindle controller moves to the previous or next chapter respectively.

Interestingly, the order of the books matches that of most English Bibles rather than the traditional order found in Hebrew Bibles.

The Kindle edition has one advantage over the Nook version: the inclusion of a concise Hebrew glossary. Here is a sample screenshot:

Representative page from The Comprehensive Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic Glossary, by Humphrey H. Hardy

The navigation system for the glossary has received a good bit of thought as well to make navigation as quick as possible.

 

So, what's the true need for something like this? Even though there are Kindle and Nook apps on iOS and Android devices, those are not the platforms for which this title is really intended. The more advanced mobile devices all have dedicated Bible apps that make displaying and reading the Hebrew Bible a breeze. In fact, I tried viewing the Nook version of this Hebrew Bible on my iPad and the Nook app repeatedly crashed. I viewed the Kindle version on my iPad, and it was stable; but again, it wasn't overly necessary for that device.

 

When I got my Kindle, I wondered whether I needed a Bible installed on it. Bible reading and study on the iPad becomes more and more practical as the software and platform continue to improve. But after installing a few English translations of the Bible on my Kindle, I discovered that I ended up accessing the biblical text much more often that I initially imagined I would. That's what this Hebrew Bible is for. If you need access to an original language text on your Kindle or Nook, this is it. And what's more, this isn't something that you have to "settle for" simply because it's an only option. Rather, this edition of the Hebrew Bible is put together with quite a bit of thought and skill, and more impressive navigationally and in other ways than many "normal" Kindle books in English.

 

So, if you're a student of Hebrew, and if you have a Kindle or a Nook, you're covered. Be certain to look at the Miklal website for more information, and pick up either version for only $9.99 each, which, incidentally, is much less expensive than the average print copy of a Hebrew Bible.