Construct Nouns

When first learning to read biblical Hebrew (not speak, read!) far and away the most important skill is the ability to recognize its letters, vowels, words, and phrases. Learning to recognize nouns in their construct state (i.e., expressing an “of relationship”) is a wonderful way to build that skill.

I’ve just rewritten and revised the introduction to construct nouns. The section is by no means exhaustive as I’ve not covered any of the numerous exceptions to the normal rules governing construct nouns. But, we have to start somewhere so we’ll start with the simplest case. Read the lesson and then attempt to count all the instances of the Hebrew word for “land of” (i.e., the Hebrew word meaning ‘land’ or ‘earth’ in its construct state.

If you have questions just post them in the forums or as comments to this post. Take your time and have fun.

Jacob Settles in Goshen

ויָּבֹא יוֹסֵף וַיַּגֵּד לְפַרְעֹה וַיֹּאמֶר אָבִי וְאַחַ֜י וְצֹאנָם וּבְקָרָם וְכָל־אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם בָּאוּ מֵאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וְהִנָּם בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן׃ 2 וּמִקְצֵה אֶחָיו לָקַח חֲמִשָּׁה אֲנָשִׁים וַיַּצִּגֵם לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה׃ 3 וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל־אֶחָיו מַה־מַּעֲשֵׂיכֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל־פַּרְעֹה רֹעֵה צֹאן עֲבָדֶיךָ גַּם־אֲנַחְנוּ גַּם־אֲבוֹתֵינוּ׃ 4 וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל־פַּרְעֹה לָגוּר בָּאָרֶץ בָּאנוּ כִּי־אֵין מִרְעֶה לַצֹּאן אֲשֶׁר לַעֲבָדֶיךָ כִּי־כָבֵד הָרָעָב בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וְעַתָּה יֵשְׁבוּ־נָא עֲבָדֶיךָ בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן׃ 5 וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל־יוֹסֵף לֵאמֹר אָבִיךָ וְאַחֶיךָ בָּאוּ אֵלֶיךָ׃ 6 אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְפָנֶיךָ הִוא בְּמֵיטַב הָאָרֶץ הוֹשֵׁב אֶת־אָבִיךָ וְאֶת־אַחֶיךָ יֵשְׁבוּ בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן וְאִם־יָדַעְתָּ וְיֶשׁ־בָּם אַנְשֵׁי־חַיִל וְשַׂמְתָּם שָׂרֵי מִקְנֶה עַל־אֲשֶׁר־לִי׃ 7 וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת־יַעֲקֹב אָבִיו וַיַּעֲמִדֵהוּ לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה וַיְבָרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב אֶת־פַּרְעֹה׃ 8 וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל־יַעֲקֹב כַּמָּה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֶּיךָ׃ 9 וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל־פַּרְעֹה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי מְגוּרַי שְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה מְעַט וְרָעִים הָיוּ יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיַּי וְלֹא הִשִּׂיגוּ אֶת־יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי אֲבֹתַי בִּימֵי מְגוּרֵיהֶם׃ 10 וַיְבָרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב אֶת־פַּרְעֹה וַיֵּצֵא מִלִּפְנֵי פַרְעֹה׃ 11 וַיּוֹשֵׁב יוֹסֵף אֶת־אָבִיו וְאֶת־אֶחָיו וַיִּתֵּן לָהֶם אֲחֻזָּה בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בְּמֵיטַב הָאָרֶץ בְּאֶרֶץ רַעְמְסֵס כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה פַרְעֹה׃ 12 וַיְכַלְכֵּל יוֹסֵף אֶת־אָבִיו וְאֶת־אֶחָיו וְאֵת כָּל־בֵּית אָבִיו לֶחֶם לְפִי הַטָּף׃ 13 וְלֶחֶם אֵין בְּכָל־הָאָרֶץ כִּי־כָבֵד הָרָעָב מְאֹד וַתֵּ֜לַהּ אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וְאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן מִפְּנֵי הָרָעָב׃ 14 וַיְלַקֵּט יוֹסֵף אֶת־כָּל־הַכֶּסֶף הַנִּמְצָא בְאֶרֶץ־מִצְרַיִם וּבְאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בַּשֶּׁבֶר אֲשֶׁר־הֵם שֹׁבְרִים וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת־הַכֶּסֶף בֵּיתָה פַרְעֹה׃ 15 וַיִּתֹּם הַכֶּסֶף מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וּמֵאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן וַיָּבֹאוּ כָל־מִצְרַיִם אֶל־יוֹסֵף לֵאמֹר הָבָה־לָּנוּ לֶחֶם וְלָמָּה נָמוּת נֶגְדֶּךָ כִּי אָפֵס כָּסֶף׃


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Translations: Genesis 15:1-6

Just a reminder, this is largely a blog dedicated to learning to read and understand biblical Hebrew. So, these posts are intended to focus on the Hebrew, not the theology. However, sometimes theology cannot be avoided and the theology advanced by these 6 verses simply cannot be ignored.

In this post, I provide translations for Genesis 15:1-3, 6 – a set of verses that constitute the lynchpin of the Christian doctrine of salvation by faith. A doctrine that holds that we will attain eternal life, not by good deeds or by good works, but by our belief.

St. Paul’s mistranslation of the Greek Old Testament version Genesis 15:6

You may be surprised to know that many scholars claim that 15:6 is an egregious mistranslation and that all English Bibles get it exactly backwards. However, the Hebrew text is quite explicit: God does NOT judge Avram. In fact, it is Avram who does the judging and he (begrudgingly, it seems) judges God as righteous.

The five preceeding verses, Genesis 15:1-5, are important because they set the context. Specifically, they show Avram to have become frustrated (and maybe a little angry) with God for His incessent promising of descendents without any follow-through.

  • Genesis 15:1 
  • Genesis 15:2 
  • Genesis 15:3 
  • Genesis 15:4
  • Genesis 15:51)I will be providing the translations to verses 4 & 5 shortly.
  • Genesis 15:6 – long and technical. Best studied with a cup of coffee and Bach concertos in the background.

Let me know what you think.

לֵךָ־נָא וְדִּבְרֵי (Now, go and study)



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Thinking Critically

As you continue your study of biblical Hebrew you will no doubt encounter people who take offense to your understanding of the biblical text. You should not feel attacked. Rather, treat your interlocutor as an opportunity to clarify your own thinking and, along the way, give him or her something to think about. But, you should never, ever take it upon yourself to win the argument. Your goal must always be to walk away from the discussion knowing that your interlocutor understands your position. In effect, agreeing to disagree – so long as clarity is achieved – all you should ever expect.

So, what’s this all about?

Recently, I was confronted by an exceptionally aggressive (and fundamentalist) believer who took offense at the implications of my translation of Genesis 1:11-12 (the translation can be found on this page). The thrust of her argument was to the effect that God cannot make a mistake and therefore my translation is bogus.

As it happens, I agree with her that God cannot make an mistake but that’s not really the issue. So I offered to her one of my favorite quotes: this, from Bernard Ramm. The context was a discussion of whether the Great Flood in Genesis 6-9, was local or global.

It is not a question as to what God can or cannot do. Those who believe in a local Flood believe in the omnipotence and power of God as much as any other Christian does. The question is not: ‘What can God do?’ but ‘What did God do?’

– (Bernard Ramm,, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, Eerdmans, 1954, p. 163

This is really important to keep in mind as you engage other people about the Bible. It’s also a good habit to check your own understanding just to be sure your interpretations and translations are not colored by your pre-existing suppositions about God.

Now, go and study

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Isaiah 45:7 – Is God Responsible for Good AND Evil?

Yes, as He himself admits. We begin with the King James Version of verse 45:7:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

And here is the Hebrew text of that same verse, followed by its literal translation:

יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע אֲנִי יְהוָה עֹשֶׂה כָל־אֵלֶּה

yotzer `or uvore` choshekh `oseh shalom uvore ra`; `ani YHWH kol-`elleh

Forming light and creating darkness; forming peace and creating evil; I, YHWH, [do] all these [things]

Now, let’s note some not so obvious, but significant, aspects of the Hebrew.

  1. In the first clause, God forms (וֹצֵר) light and peace, but creates (בוֹרֵא) darkness and evil. Of note is that the the verb  yotzer is only used when modifying a previously existing substance. For example, in Genesis 2, God forms Adam and the animals from preexisting dirt and clay of the earth. Just to emphasize this point, if the creation of Michaelangelo’s statues were to be described by the authors of the Bible, they would be depicted as having been formed from preexisting marble. Never would the authors think of claiming that Michaelangelo created them from nothing or that statues were something never before seen.
  2. By contrast,  בוֹרֵא is a verb that only God uses. It’s the participle form of bara, the verb in the first verse of Genesis. “When God bara the heavens and the earth …”. Bara is closely associated with bringing into existence something that had previously not existed or, had that something existed, had never been seen.

Given the semantics of the two verbs, we might rewrite 45:7 using ‘but’ instead of ‘and’ in order to better express and emphasize the verbal ontrast:

Forming light, but creating darkness; forming peace, but creating evil; I, YHWH, [do] all these [things]

I argue that the use of ‘but‘ is a better translation because the contrast between light and darkness and peace and evil is more evident. Moreover, by using a verb that only God can execute, the author is calling our attention to the idea that God wants there to be no confusion on this point. God created the darkness and the evil at some point in time in which the two concepts were previously unknown (or non-existent).

From a theological point of view, we recall that in the story of Adam and Eve, one of its main points was that God created nature to be morally inert. From a cultural context, this was a radical departure from the theodicy of the pagan religions in which good and evil resided in the actions of nature (i.e., personified as gods).

However, the Garden of Eden story reveals to us that evil does not arise in the workings of nature. Rather, evil arises from the actions of humans. Nahum Sarna, one of the great Old Testament scholars of recent memory, expressed it this way: the first and second creation stories elevates evil from the natural world into the metaphysical realm of mankind. Only humans can contemplate evil, argues Sarna, because only humans have free will, rightly understood (see here for a more in-depth explanation).

So, the answer is yes!

Now, go and study



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