But historically speaking, did Gesenius (Gx) actually change his mind on these matters (e.g. the Isaiah 7 passage, use of indefinite translations for the definite article, the meaning of 'definiteness')?

[April 2014; called from Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah, part 2].


Changes in his grammar?


Historically speaking, I cannot see any real change in his position in the Grammar over the years. Here are three timeline points (his own edition, his student's edition, GKC:


* The 11th edition--still being authored by Gesenius himself--was translated in 1839 by T. J. Conant. The syntax of the article is discussed in sections 107-109. Conant adds a reference to Lehrgeb sections 166-168 at the section header.]


Remark 1 under 107 reads as follows:


"The Hebrew article certainly never stands for the indefinite article; but the Hebrew conceives and expresses many ideas definitely which we are accustomed to conceive and express indefinitely."


He gives three principles as illustrative: its use in comparisons, in designation of classes of objects which are universally known (e.g. 'THE gold' for 'gold')--where most languages would omit the article; and in the expression of abstract ideas (e.g. 'THE falsehood' for 'falsehood').


Then follows his mention of special cases:


"On these principles, it is easy to explain the use of the article in special cases, as 1 Sam. 17:34 h-'ri, THE LION, as the well-known enemy of the flocks (comp. ton lukon, John 10:12), 17:8. Gen 8:6,7,8. 14:13, h-yom should not be translated 'A DAY', but "THE DAY, (AT) THE TIME", viz. as determined by what precedes. [Conant notes: "For a more full examination of such cases, see Lex. Man. Art. H- closing paragraph.]


* The 14th edition was the first edition published after his death, by his student Rodiger in 1845. It was translated into English by JT Conant again, in 1846. It maintains the same basic structure, discussing the syntax of the article in sections 107-109.


Remark 1 is word-for-word unchanged from the 11th edition, and the only change in the 'special cases' paragraph is an expanded/changed list:


"On these principles, it is easy to explain the use of the article in special cases, as in 1 Sam 17.34, h-'ri, THE LION, as the well-known enemy of the flocks (comp. ton kukon, John 10.12); [1 Sam 17.8--'AM I NOT A (the) PHILISTINE'--is dropped from the list] 1 Kings 20.36 [new addition, 'A (the) LION WILL STRIKE YOU']; Gen 8.7,8; 14.13. The frequent expression y-ihi h-yom should not be translated it happened on a day, but the day, (at) the time, viz. as referring to what precedes."


* And when we get to the 28th edition (our modern GKC) in 1910, the numbering scheme has changed and the relevant section is now 126. There are some noteworthy changes:


There is no 'strong statement' that it 'never stands for the indefinite article', but we do find the comment about having to express it using an indefinite article in English (126q):


"Peculiar to Hebrew is the employment of the article to denote a single person or thing (primarily one which is as yet unknown, and therefore not capable of being defined) as being present to the mind under given circumstances. In such cases in English the indefinite article is mostly used." [There is a footnote here about it being 'peculiar to Hebrew': "Cf., however, analogous examples in biblical Aramaic in Kautzsch’s Gramm. des Bibl. Aram., 79 f, e.g. Dn 2:14, 3:2, &c."]


And then the 'counterpart' to the 'special cases' would be 126r [overlaps with previous 'special case' verses noted in RED]:


"Thus Am 5:19 as if a man did flee from a lion (i.e. the particular lion pursuing him at the time), and a bear met him, &c., cf. 3:12, 1 K 20:36 (John 10:12); also Gn 8:7 f., 14:13 (i.e. one that had escaped, the particular one who came just then; so also Ez 24:26, 33:21; cf. 2 S 15:13); Gn 15:1, 11 18:7 the servant, who is regarded as being constantly at hand and awaiting his commands; cf. 2 S 17:17 (but Nu 11:27 is used like fugitive above); Gn 19:30, unless means in the well-known cave; Gn 28:11, according to Dillmann, upon the place suitable for passing the night, or the right place, but it may possibly also refer to the sanctuary of Bethel afterwards so sacred and celebrated; Gn 42:23, 46:2, 50:26, Ex 2:15, 3:2, 4:20, 21:20 (2 S 23:21), Lv 23:42, 24:10 (Samaritan. י without the article); Nu 17:11, 21:6, 9, 25:6, Dt 19:5, Jos 2:15, Ju 4:18, 8:25, 13:19, 16:19, 19:29, 20:16, 1 S 17:34, 19:13, 21:10, 2 S 17:17, 1 K 6:8, 13:14 (? most probably a particular tree is meant); 19:9, Is 7:14 (h-almah, i.e. the particular maiden, through whom the prophet’s announcement shall be fulfilled; we should say a maiden [cf. Driver on 1 S 1:4, 6:8, 19:13]; Jb 9:31." [Note: 1 Sam 17.8--Goliah--is not included here either.]


Notice that all the special case verses are still there, representing 'special cases', but that the list of verses illustrating this usage of 'grammatically definite, present to the mind, but cognitively unknown' is greatly expanded.


Notice that the Isaiah passage is not mentioned by Gx in his own 11th edition, nor does it occur in the Rodiger revision of the 14th edition. Gx does not give a 'position' on the subject in these editions of the grammar. The only mention of our passage is in the editions revised by Kautzcsh--which means it was either (a) added from Gx later works (esp. the Thesaurus) or (b) added because of non-Gx data discovered after his death.


So, there is no real 'Gx mind' expressed in the grammars for him to 'change'.



Changes in his lexicons?


However, the reference to 'changing his mind' is no doubt a reference to his remarks in his Lexicon (not grammar). The last 'updated' version of his lexical work (although departing from it in many ways…) is the Brown, Driver, Briggs work of 1910--which also is stated to include all his writings and more modern data.


There are three data points from Gx's own works to consider on the lexical side:


A. The un-updated translation into English by Edward Robinson (1836 translation of 1833 Lexicon Manuale)


B. The updated translation into English by Tregelles (1846 trans of 1833 Lexicon Manuale, updated from Thesaurus and other works)


C. The initial Lehrgebäude of 1817 (in German) which later became the Lexicon Manuale.


Let's compare these---


A. Robertson will be the only work in English generated during the lifetime of Gx. Under the article He, here is the entry relevant to our quest (removing the ancient citations and unusable-fonts…sigh):


"2. As the definite article, Engl, the, like Greek ho, ha, to, in the insertion or omission of which the Hebrews and Greeks and also the English and Germans follow similar laws, for which see the usual grammar, e. g. Lehrg. p. 652 eq. Heb. Gramm. § 107 sq. One topic however, which has latterly been much discussed, although superficially and carelessly, as is usual where the deductions are made from a few examples, it will be proper here to consider, and to give the result of recent and careful investigations. (SNIP) The question is raised: Whether the definite article is used indefinitely? This is wholly denied by some, and affirmed by others. The true answer is, that the definite article cannot indeed be rightly said to stand indefinitely; but yet the Hebrew conceives and expresses many things definitely, which in Greek, German, English, French, are expressed without the article. Just as the modern languages differ much in this respect among themselves; and espec. the French language by a peculiar idiom inserts the article before very many words, which in English and German do not admit of it. Thus in French it is said correctly: nous aurons aujourd'hui la pluie, soyez le bien venu, il a la memoire bonne, l,esprit inquiet; in all which phrases the idiom of the English and German does not tolerate the definite article. The Hebrew usage in this respect may be reduced to certain classes; which however for the most part all flow from the one principle, that the article is prefixed to things well known. (SNIP) — Hence, in a manner differing from English usage, the article is put [SNIP] e) Sometimes the article is put before a noun which more accurately would be made definite by a suffix ; [SNIP] ; as when a German woman calls her husband [SNIP], the husband ; or a servant his master, the master. So Is. 9. 6 'of the increase of THE government' for 'HIS government', which the Engl. Ver, expresses ; v. 2 'THE joy' for 'HIS joy' . So too is prob. to be explained 'THE almah' Is. 7, 14, which, with the Hebrew intpp. and Grotius, I understand as for "MY almah". After this exposition it is hardly necessary to repeat, that every noun which has the article, is, and ought to be taken as, definite and demonstrative. As to the examples which we have elsewhere cited in support of the contrary opinion, Lehrg. p. 655, they may be explained as follows: 1 Sam. 17, 34 [snip] the lion, as the known and perpetual enemy of flocks, comp. 'the wolf' John 10,12 [snip]- Ex. 2, 15 "the well" of that region. Num. 11, 27 "the young man. i. e. the servant, minister; and so Gen. 14, 13 "the fugitive, the only one who escaped. 1 Sam. 17, 8 "lo, I am the Philistine", i. e. he who challenges you to single combat. So in Is. 66, 3 But he who kills an [THE] ox is like one who slays a man; He who sacrifices a [THE] lamb is like the one who breaks a dog’s neck;. Here it may be asked why the words OX, LAMB , take the article, while MAN and DOG omit it. The reason is that the slaughterers of oxen and sheep really existed and could be pointed out by the writer as with the finger; but homicides and sacrifice of dogs are here only supposed, for the sake of comparison; the ox-slaughterer is as a homicide, etc."


B. Tregelles' version seems basically the same [forgive the Hebrew transliteration! The cut-and-paste from Logos software REVERSED the Hebrew letters in the process, writing the letters left-to-right, rather than the correct right-to-left! It is correctly rendered in the text itself, and seems to be only in the cut-and-paste operation!]:


"(2) the definite article, the, like the Gr. ὁ, ἡ, τὸ, in the insertion or omission of which similar laws are followed in Heb. as in Gr. and in modern languages; these laws are explained in grammars (Lehrg. page 652, seq.). It will be well, however, to treat with care a subject which has been discussed of late, although without much exactness or accuracy, as is sure to be the case when a judgment is formed from but a few examples (see Winer’s Lex. p. 239, Gram. Excurse, p. 57. Ewald’s Hebr. Gram. p. 568; and on the other hand Gramberg, Religion d. A.T. i. p. 12), and on this, it will be well to add some original observations. The question has been raised (as it has been denied by some, and defended by others) whether the definite article can ever be used for the indefinite. To this it must be replied, that the definite article can never rightly be said to be used for the indefinite; however, there are many ideas which would be thought of and expressed as definite by the Hebrews, which, from their being taken indefinitely in Greek, German, French [or English], would be without the article; just so in the modern languages, great differences are found as to the use of the article in this respect; in French for instance, by a peculiar idiom, the article is frequently prefixed in places in which it could not be used in German. Thus in French it is correct to say “nous aurons aujourd’hui la pluie, soyez le bien venu, il a la mémoire bonne, l’esprit inquiet,” in all of which expressions, the definite article could not in German [or English] be even tolerated. The peculiarities in the Hebrew usage, in this matter, may be arranged in certain classes, almost all of which, however, rest on the principle that the article is prefixed to known things. ([SNIP]). Hence in a manner differing from our usage, the article is appended— [SNIP] (e) also it is rightly noticed by some that the article is used in such cases when a suffix would define the noun more accurately ([SNIP]); as when a woman calls her husband κατʼ ἐξοχὴν, husband; a slave his master, der Herr, the master. So Isa. 9:6, לְמַרְבֶּה הַמִּשְׂרָה for מִשְׂרָתוֹ; verse 2, הַשִּׂמְחָה for שִׂמְחָתוֹ; so too we must probably explain הָעַלְמָה Isa. 7:14 [tanknote: H-almah, the almah], which, with the Hebrew interpreters and Grotius, I take as עַלְמָתִי [tanknote: alma-thi, MY almah] [Tregelles' remark here: But this contradicts the New Testament; see עַלְמָה, also Matt. 1:23.] After these remarks it is needless to state that there is no noun, which has the article, which both cannot and even ought not to be taken definitely [note the difference from Robinson's 'definite and demonstrative']. As to the instances which I formerly brought forward in contradiction to this (Lehrg. p. 655), they may be explained as follows: הָאֲרִי 1 Sam. 17:34, the lion, as the known and continual enemy of the flock; compare ὁ λύκος, John 10:12; [SNIP]; הַבְּאֵר Ex. 2:15, the well of that district; הַנַּעַר Num. 11:27, the young man who attended him in the camp; and in like manner הַפָּלִיט Gen. 14:13, the fugitive, namely, the one who had escaped. So 1 Sam. 17:8, “behold I am הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי,” namely, he who has come forth to challenge you to single combat. Also in a passage which I have lately noticed. Isa. 66:3, שׁוֹחֵט הַשּׁוֹר מַכֶּה אִישׁ זוֹבֵחַ הַשֶּׂה עֹרֵף כֶּלֶב. It may be asked why the words שׁוֹר, שֶׂה have the article, and אִישׁ and כֶּלֶב have it not. The reason is, that the slayers of oxen and sheep really existed, and could be pointed out, as it were with the finger, by the writer; the murderers and sacrificers of dogs in this passage are only supposed for the sake of comparison, der Rinder=Opferer ift wie ein Menfchenmörder, the ox-slaughterer is as a murderer."


…………………………………… ………………………………………………………….


Changes in his translation rules?


Let's stop a second before we get to the 'contradiction' passages and reflect a moment.


When I back up and look at the Robinson/Tregelles passages, I still note that there is no difference between Gx's position and the later GKC position on the TRANSLATION of the article at all.


Here's the passage from the oft-cited grammar (GKC):


“Peculiar to Hebrew is the employment of the [tanknote: DEFINITE] article to denote a single person or thing (primarily one which is as yet unknown, and therefore not capable of being defined) as being present to the mind under given circumstances. In such cases in English the indefinite article [tanknote: “a”] is used."

Here's the two parallel comments from Gx's own lexical works:


"The true answer is, that the definite article cannot indeed be rightly said to stand indefinitely; but yet the Hebrew conceives and expresses many things definitely, which in Greek, German, English, French, are expressed without the article. (Robinson)


"To this it must be replied, that the definite article can never rightly be said to be used for the indefinite; however, there are many ideas which would be thought of and expressed as definite by the Hebrews, which, from their being taken indefinitely in Greek, German, French [or English], would be without the article; (Tregelles)


So, the only difference is that the later GKC editors tried to identify a 'primary' notion of unknown-ness to this 'peculiar' use of the article--whereas Gx did not probe there. The GKC locates the definiteness in the 'present to the mind under given circumstances'--which doesn’t in any way specify identity or pre-knowledge (e.g. Jacob's future wife at the well, below).



Can something be 'definite' and still 'unknown'?


A good example of how something can be 'unknown' to the speaker, but also be 'definite' in their imagination [and hence take the definite article in Hebrew, but indefinite article in Eng/German] is the prayer in Genesis 24.12-14 by Abraham's servant (possibly Eliezer):


He said, “O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham. “Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; now may it be that the girl [he-na'arah] to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’—may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown lovingkindness to my master.”


This girl is very 'definite' in the servant's mind, and given specific behaviors to manifest, but would be completely unknown to him at the time of speaking. He could not 'point to her' at that point, even though the definite article is present. The English has 'the girl' and German (Schlachter, 1951) has 'eine Tochter'.


Or Ezek 24.26, 27:


On that day a (the) fugitive will come to you to report the news, and on that day your (Ezk's) mouth will be opened to the fugitive.


This future fugitive is completely unknown and unidentified, but is grammatically definite. It is definite in the prophet's mind (maybe even vision?).


Grammatical definiteness is simply not precise enough of a construct upon which to build some firm understanding of what definiteness was in "the Hebrew mind"…


Okay, back to the 'contradiction passages' discussion...

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C. The Lehrgebäude


Both Robinson and Tregelles give Gx's reference to "Lehrg. P. 655" at the 'contradiction' passages. The "Lehrg" abbreviation refers to the German work by Gx (never really translated directly into Eng) known as: Ausführliches grammatisch-kritisches Lehrgebäude der hebräischen Sprache mit Vergleichung der verwandten Dialekte (1817). It is only available as a scanned facsimile edition. It is a precursor to the Lexicon Manuale (of 1833)--upon which Robinson and Tregelles are based. It would represent one of the earliest data points we have on his position


Page 655 occurs in the syntax section of the work, as part of topic 166 "Use and Representation of the Article" (Gebrauch and Bezichnung des Arkitels).


The topic begins on page 651 and begins with the general usage, and then on page 653 it introduces a section on 'specialty' or 'particular' cases. He lists 5 usages [for the genitive, for a collective, when a generic noun is used for a specific individual (e.g. 'the poet'=Homer, 'the river'=Euphrates), for the vocative, and as a number].


Following this list, and before topic 167 (on when the article is generally omitted), Gx presents three remarks.


Remark 3 is of interest to us here, since it refers to the 'indefinite' article. It gives 3 ways of expressing the 'indefinite article' ["Den unbestimmten Artikel"]. Here is the outline/translations of those remarks (emphasis added), with unnecessary parts of the text omitted:


"Remark 1. The original/primitive meaning of the article … (demonstrative use)… this/these in this day


"Remark 2. By this (Ger. hieron) comes its use as a Relative (pronoun), so 'the' for 'which', in Greek, 'ho' for 'hos'… Jos 10.24 (Hb: the men, the ones going with him) "which went with him" (die mit ihm zogen)


"Remark 3. Hebrew expresses the indefinite article (a man, any/some man; ein Mann, irgend sin Mann):


a) also through the definite article. For example, h-yom, a day (eines Tages) in the past (einst); 1 Sam 1.4; H'RY a lion (ein Lowe) 1 Sam 17.34; 'al HB'R at a well Ex 2.15; HB'R a young man Numbers 11.27. More examples added here are but certainly doubtless different to explain, for examples, H'YRB Gen 8,7-8 not a raven but on the contrary the raven previously pointed out, which was in the Ark; H'LMH Is 7.14 not: a young woman, but rather on the contrary, the young woman, namely the prophet's wife (cf. 8.1-3)


b) through omission of any article, e.g., Job 1.1: ish hyh b'rtz 'utz there was a man in the land of Uz; … a man of war, Jos 17.1.


c) though 'hd (certain)… a certain (gewisser) man 1 Sam 1,1…"


Gx's four supporting verses in Remark 3a are 1 Sam 1.4; 1 Sam 17.34; Ex 2.15; Num 11.27; and the verses mentioned which do NOT support an 'indefinite' understanding (i.e., explained differently) are Gen 8.7-8 and Is 7.14 (our verse/ our term).



The 4 (5) Contradictory Passages



So, let's compare the statements about the passages in question, from the works of Gx himself (in chrono-order):


1 Samuel 17.34:

·Lehrg (1817) - 'a lion'

·Lexicon (1836) - 'the lion, as the known and perpetual enemy of flocks'

·Grammar (1837ish) - 'The lion as the well-known enemy of the flock'


Notice something odd about this 'change of mind': we don’t really have anything more 'definite' than we began with. There was a specific lion (it was in the past, and in the story David is telling), but his audience (Saul and others in the tent) could not 'point to it' or identify it as a 'specific lion'. In fact, Gx's explanation makes it LESS definite instead of more--the 'known-ness' is about the character of lions IN GENERAL, and NOT about the concreteness of that particular lion. I am not sure Gx really makes this any more definite by adding a 'the' to the front of it. It seems like he is changing his definition of 'definiteness' here (i.e., no longer does it point to a specific lion, but to something much more abstract--the role of lions relative to flocks). Not sure there really IS a change of mind here--maybe a change of terminology…?


This a little inconsistent with other cases, though. Lion is used elsewhere without the article (1 Kings 13.24 'and a lion met him on the road and killed him') and with it (I Kings 20.36 'as soon as you have gone from me, a (the) lion shall strike you down'). Is this latter articular usage supposed to be explained as 'the lion, as the known and perpetual enemy of those who disobey prophets'?


Numbers 11.27:

·Lehrg (1817): "a young man"

·Lexicon (1836): "the young man. i. e. the servant, minister" (Tregelles: " the young man who attended him in the camp)

·Grammar (1837ish): --not mentioned--


Notice that this is NOT a textual/lexical move, but an interpretive move--and probably a bad one at that. The young man in question is not said to be Moses' attendant anywhere. In fact, he seems to be differentiated from the KNOWN attendant/minister to Moses--Joshua--right there in the next verse (contra Allen, EBCOT2):


(27) So a young man ran and told Moses and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” (28) Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, “Moses, my lord, restrain them.”" (cf. Ex 33.11: When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.")


[We might would have expected it to read "So Joshua ran and told… and then said '… restrain them'", had the young man been Joshua.]


Rashi commented on this verse that 'there were some who say… that it was Gershom, the son of Moses" (but this too is speculation and assumption). The footnote in the Sapirstein edition of Rashi gives this explanation, which obviously does not tie the interpretation to any textual or lexical data:


"Tanchuma 12. Gershom's birth is mentioned in Exodus 2:22. 'The youth' rather than 'a youth' implies the particular youth whom we would assume would inform Moses, his eldest son (Gur Aryeh; Sifsei Chachamin). Furthermore, this explains why the verse says that the youth 'ran' rather than that he 'went'; he was upset by what appeared to be an affront to his father." (in. loc.)"


There's just nothing in the text/context to suggest anything more definite than what we had to begin with. Maybe 'everybody knew' who specifically was supposed to do that (assuming it was ONE specific person, obviously), but we have no real data to work with to 'force' such an interpretation on it.


Genesis 14:13:

·Lehrg (1817): --not mentioned--

·Lexicon (1836): "the fugitive, the only one who escaped"

·Grammar (1837ish): (implies that the figure was 'well-known', like the case of the lion…)

·[Tregelles, post-mortem]: "the fugitive, namely, the one who had escaped."  


This is very odd, because this fugitive could NOT have been "well-known" at the time of the action--most of those involved in the fighting would have been unknown to Abraham and his group. The lexicon makes the 'bold' assertion that out of 5 armies only ONE person escaped--unsubstantiated by any data. [GKC creates some definiteness through 'vividness'--a theme we will see later in the modern reference grammars: "one that had escaped, the particular one who came just then"].


And such a view would prove too much anyway, because Abraham is called "THE Hebrew" in the same clause, and he was CERTAINLY not the only descendent of Eber, of the line of Shem. [Rejecting the identification of eber and Habiru, obviously]. It is taken normally as pointing out that the speaker (the fugitive) is not of Abraham's ethnicity (E.g., NICOT, in loc).


Ancient pre-Rashi Jewish interpreters took the He to imply that the person who told Abraham was known beforehand to have been a fugitive (from something). These interpreters connect this fugitive with Og, the last remaining giant (!). The midrash Genesis Rabbah connects this --wildly (!)--to the Flood. So, the footnote in Rashi, Sapirstein:


"According to the simple meaning, the context indicates that 'the fugitive' escaped from the war referred to in the previous verses. The language of the verse in Deuteronomy (3.11) points to the fact that he was Og. According to this Midrrash, the fact that the verse refers to 'the fugitive' rather than 'a fugitive' indicates that he was someone who had already been known at the time to have escaped from peril, namely Og, who escaped from the Flood (see Levush HaOrah)."


Again, we have no data and no real understanding why this is grammatically definite, but fairly 'indefinite' in the story. Of course--as we shall see--being 'indefinite' does NOT mean being 'unknown' and vice versa.


Accordingly, Gx 'changed mind' seems to be interpretive (or even a 'forced application' of the general rule… think 'Procrustes'?). However, the Tregelles' version seems to soften this from 'only one' to 'the one', and, since Tregelles had access to the finished works of Gx after his death, it might be a more accurate rendering of Gx's final understanding.


[There are other more reasonable attempts to interpret this usage, but I cannot find any that seem to find wide acceptance. Ehrenvard appeals to Noldeke for making 'fugitive' into a collective noun, making the passage say 'the escapees--who fled to the hills' (v10, satisfying the 'previous mention' criterion), but this would require plural forms of the verbs 'came' and 'told' (normally). Ehrenvard points out that the passage was interpreted as singular by a later writer in 1QApGen 22.1--as did the commentators/rabbis noted above in the 'Og' context. The targums/targumim Onkelos and Neof have it singular--but without identification--and targum Pseudo-Jonathan inserts Og and that entire escape-from-Flood legend into the slot where the single word 'fugitive' occurred in the text! I would think that some kind of narrative frame-based approach might be worth looking at--a reader would certainly EXPECT something to trigger Abraham's efforts to rescue Lot--but how to get from 'something' to 'the fugitive' is not obvious. … FYI, Ehrensvard's article is "An Unusual Use of the Definite Article in Biblical and Post-Biblical Hebrew, in Sirach, Scrolls, and Sages.]


I Samuel 17.8 (this one is not listed in GKC at all, and some grammars place this under predicative use):

·Lehr (1817): -- no mention --

·Lexicon (1836): "lo, I am the Philistine, i. e. he who challenges you to single combat"

·Grammar (1837ish): -- no mention --

·[Tregelles (post-mortem): "namely, he who has come forth to challenge you to single combat."


This is another case where I can only assume Gx has changed his definition of definiteness. There is a contrast between him being a Philistine and the opponents being 'servants of Saul', which makes the reference LESS definite. The taunt seems not to be about him being a 'specific Philistine' or about him being 'the BIGGEST / MEANEST of all the Philistines' (e.g. in English, we might use slang and say to somebody who did something 'really kool'--"you are THE MAN", in some kind of 'eminence' usage (like 'the river' or 'the poet' noted above?).


The LXX understands this as an 'indefinite' referral also, translating it as 'a Philistine' (am I not a Philistine and you Hebrews of Saul?), but this might have the same force as the 'the' anyway--as a contrast: "Using the definite article (I am the Philistine), Goliath contrasts himself as the Philistine with the Israelites as slaves belonging to Saul. It is not necessary to read “a Philistine” with LXX." [Tsumura, D. (2007). The First Book of Samuel (p. 445). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]


I would understand the usage (IMO) that it was to highlight the identity of Goliah as representative of the Philistine 'collective'--i.e powerful, masters over Israel, superior in every way. Reminds me a little of the 'the lion, enemy of the flock".


But adding 'who challenges you' to the term just doesn’t really add more definiteness to the experience -- VIVID ALREADY! --of a screaming, terrifying, historically informed (about the weakness of Isreael!) giant warrior…


It just seems so much more natural to understand his use of HE as pointing to his superior character as a warrior (similar to how h-almah might be pointing to the virginity characteristic of the individual in the prophecy). But with these options open, it might still be simpler to set it as a first mention (he is called that way 20+ times in the narrative).



Okay, so that is the complete list given (in Robinson's translation of the Lexicon) of 'contradiction' passages.


Tregelles translation -- which had access to a more complete set of Gx's writings--has one additional one:


Exodus 2.15:

·Lehrg (1817): "at a well"

·Lexicon (1836): -- no mention --

·Grammar (1837ish): -- no mention --

·Tregelles (post-mortem): "the well, of that district"


This is another interpretive play, trying to force the rule of 'identity' or 'known-ness' on the reference. Gx seems to assert that the well that Moses sat down by was a 'well known' well, known well by the inhabitants of that district. ("As falls Wichita, so falls Wichita Falls'--Pat Metheny Group…blurry-eyed smile)


Obviously, since it was a drinking well for the herds, it would have been 'well known' to the inhabitants, but wouldn’t be such to the audience or even to Moses at that point.


The land is said to be the land of 'Midian', which is a large area on both sides of the Gulf of Aqabah. Moses would have traveled on a main road from Egypt, so this was probably the international highway known as "The Way to Mount Seir". It connected On in Egypt with Elath/Ezion-geber at the edge of the Gulf of Aqabah (Reed Sea). The distance from the edge of Suez to Elath is approximately 160 miles, but there were several roads which broke off from it and landed in different parts of Midian on the west bank of the Gulf. Water supplies were absolutely necessary in such areas and was often sold to travelers (as mentioned in Moses' appeal for safe passage on the Kings Highway through Edom in Num 20). I cannot find any information on the density/distribution of such wells in the area, but there must have been many because of the time it took to move flocks and herds for watering and pasture. In other words, there must have more than one well in that 'district', but there might not have been more than one well for a city (cf. Ewald, below). We just don’t know the geography / location of that even to know how relevant the assumptions about 'city', 'district' or density might be. And ancient readers of the Pentateuch probably didn’t know that either.


The ancient Jewish sources do not comment on the presence of the article (like they do on Gen 14.13). English translations of Rashi's comment (about Moses sitting at a well to find his mate, like Jacob!) use the indefinite article ('a well'). English translations of the targums/targumim render it as 'a well' too, and the Aramaic originals preserve the article (in Aramaic the definite article is a suffixed Aleph; in Hebrew the article is a prefixed He).


But again, this just seems like a change of definition or notion of definiteness. The reader of the narrative would not have known the well at all--the 'new' definiteness is simply the fact that it was 'in that district'. Nothing really new to add here.


Summary of the contradictions: they do not seem to really be substantially different than before. Gx seems to be saying (in most of them) that it was just as acceptable to use 'the' in front of them, than to use 'a' in front of them. In English and German this would be misleading, but Gx is probably trying to stay as close to the Hebrew 'notions' as possible, and trying to find some way (whether the text supported his view or not) to justify the use of the article without appealing to exceptions (which he constantly had to do anyway--at the end the passage in Tregelles he talks about the use of the article with a predicate: "The rule is also rightly given by grammarians, that the predicate of a sentence does not take the article (); contrary instances are however to be observed in Deuteronomy and in Jeremiah, as Jer. 19:13, “the houses of Jerusalem were unclean,” Deu. 4:3; 3:21…")

And whatever we make of his 'change of mind', this cannot be used 'absolutely' because this would contradict his own words mere paragraphs earlier in the same work(s):


"The true answer is, that the definite article cannot indeed be rightly said to stand indefinitely; but yet the Hebrew conceives and expresses many things definitely, which in Greek, German, English, French, are expressed without the article. (Robinson)


"To this it must be replied, that the definite article can never rightly be said to be used for the indefinite; however, there are many ideas which would be thought of and expressed as definite by the Hebrews, which, from their being taken indefinitely in Greek, German, French [or English], would be without the article; (Tregelles)




The 'abstract quality' or 'characteristic' usage even seems applicable to us


It should also be mentioned that some of the cases DO seem (to me) to fit more with the 'abstract quality' uses, and hence would NOT be exceptions. The lion (highlighting his antagonist character relative to sheep), the fugitive (highlighting his dire or non-Abrahamic character), and the Philistine (highlighting his non-Hebrew or anti-Hebrew character) would seem to fit under that rule. [This would be harder to make work for the others above though.]


But if that understanding is correct, then the use of the article at Isaiah 7.14 could be doing the same thing -- highlighting the 'almah' characteristic of the referent.


And this would make more sense in the context, than would a specific, localized referent:


"Behold, a damsel is with child, and shall bring forth a son, and call his name Immanuel the Hebrew article is ambiguous: almah may mean either the damsel, or a damsel, or even damsels. That it has here one of the two latter meanings is the view advocated above; among earlier advocates of this view are J. D. Mich., Eich., Kuen, Du., W. R. Smith, Budde, Sta., Marti…. if a particular definite individual is intended, it is curious that she is not more precisely specified. The damsel would be a strange mode of reference either to the wife (or a concubine) of the king, to the prophet’s own wife, or to some pregnant woman present at the interview and singled out by the prophet for his purpose…" [Gray, ICC, in. loc, 1912]




But did Gx change his view on the meaning of h-almah in Isaiah 7?


Now, before we leave Gx and move on to the modern grammars and lexicons, let's note that there was no change of mind about OUR PASSAGE at all in Gx--except possibly in "our" direction! (The above discussion of possible change-of-mind was about the use of the article and definiteness-vs-indefiniteness, just to be clear.)


Here's the chronological data from the works we used above, dealing with our passage:


·1817: The earliest mention in his work of our passage is in the Lehrig, where he interprets 'the almah' as 'my almah/jung frau' (i.e., the prophet's wife/weiss).

·1842: Last notes from Gx to Robinson in preparation for a second English translation, immediately before Gx died--'almah' is rendered: "a girl, maiden, young woman" with this note at Isaiah 7.14: "spoken of a bride, a youthful spouse, a wife recently married" [Note: this is an interpretive move, not a lexical one Isaiah 7.14 is the ONLY passage given as support for this and as a passage in which it means this (N=1 is not a large sample size)… 'girl, maiden, young woman' does not imply 'married' at all… see comment below…]

·1842: His death.

·1846: Tregelles gives basically the same as Robinson--"a girl of marriageable age…a youthful spouse recently married" [Note: same remark as at Robinson's]


So, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious change in his understanding of almah in these sources (or in the use of the article therein), but in the standard monograph on Gx's life/impact (The Influence of Gesenius on Hebrew Lexicography, by Edward Frederick Miller, AMS Press:1966/ColumbiaUP:1927), there is a footnote on page 98 about this:


"In his first two editions [tanknote: of his lexicon, not his grammar], Gesenius had said that this word meant: a virgin, always unmarried and mature. From Gesenius 3 on he said that the stress is on the maturity not the virginity, although marriage is usually excluded. He considered the LXX rendition in Isa. 7,14: parthenos to be incorrect. In his Thesaurus he weakened his latter statement when he added that both: bethulah and parthenos were sometimes used to stress maturity, and not virginity. Buhl (editor) in Ges. Ed. 16. Put the stress on: maturity, and made no comment concerning the Greek translation, while Koenig, in his latest edition, states that the LXX translation in Isa. 7,14 is not "in reality wrong" (Edit. 3, 331). So far as we know, the word never meant 'young married woman'. "


Now, if I read this correctly, this says that Gx never really abandoned the notion that 'virginity' was included in almah, but that it was not stressed. And that he said marriage was 'usually' excluded. This would suggest that if there was change in his understanding of almah, then it was away from his position in the earliest work (Lehrg--where the almah is explicitly called a wife/Weiss), and that his position on Isaiah 7.14 was based solely on interpretive factors, and not lexical ones [especially given that this is the single verse adduced in support of that translation…]


But I don’t have a copy of his commentary on Isaiah (1820-1821) , but K&D place his interpretation in line with the earliest lexical work (identifying the individual as the 'wife'), but not so much in line with his later works--especially the Thesaurus. Gx seems to be making an interpretive or exegetical move and not allowing the lexical and syntactical ambiguity to carry its intended weight. Here's K&D mention of Gesenius' view in his commentary:


"Moreover, the condition of pregnancy, which is here designated by the participial adjective (cf., 2 Sam. 11:5), was not an already existing one in this instance, but (as in all probability also in Judg. 13:5, cf., 4) something future, as well as the act of bearing, since hinnēh ("look", "behold") is always used by Isaiah to introduce a future occurrence. This use of hinneh in Isaiah is a sufficient answer to Gesenius, Knobel, and others, who understand hâ’almâh as referring to the young wife of the prophet himself, who was at that very time with child. But it is altogether improbable that the wife of the prophet himself should be intended. For if it were to her that he referred, he could hardly have expressed himself in a more ambiguous and unintelligible manner; and we cannot see why he should not much rather have said "my wife"(ishti)) or "the prophetess" (h-nabi'ah), to say nothing of the fact that there is no further allusion made to any son of the prophet of that name, and that a sign of this kind founded upon the prophet’s own family affairs would have been one of a very precarious nature." [Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament (Vol. 7, pp. 140–141). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.]



The ambiguity in the prophetic word is real and stark--and needs to be preserved (according to good rules of translation). Without other textual clues, all identifications (to satisfy the 'definite article') are just speculative and many can be shown to be contradicted by other elements in the situation:


"The ancient Jewish explanation, according to which the Alma was the mother of Hezekiah, that Abi, daughter of Zachariah (2 Kings 18:2), was shown by JEROME even to be impossible, inasmuch as Hezekiah at the time Isaiah spoke these words was already 12 years old. The later Jewish explanation ranks among its supporters FAUSTUS SOCINUS, JOH. CRELLIUS, (Socinian), GROTIUS, (…), JOH. LUDWIG VON WOLZOGEN (Socinian), JOHN ERNST. FABER (…), GESENIUS, HITZIG, HEUDEWERK, KNOBEL, etc. According to this view the Alma is the wife of the Prophet himself, either the mother of Shear-jashub, or a younger one, at that time only betrothed to him. But this is wrecked on the impossibility of referring ha-almah to the wife or the betrothed of the Prophet without any nearer designation and without the faintest hint of her being present. Beside, how should the family of the Prophet happen to have the Immanuel born in it? Were the promises to David to be transferred to Isaiah? KIMCHI and ABARBANEL modify this view by saying that by the ALMA must be understood the wife of Ahaz. But then, instead of something bad, the Prophet would rather have announced something joyful. Others again understand by the Alma any virgin, not more particularly specified, that was present at the place of interview, and to whom the Prophet pointed with the finger… To account for the Alma by a second marriage of Ahaz, or of Isaiah, or by the presence of a pregnant woman, or the Prophet’s pointing at her,” “may be justly charged with gratuitously assuming facts of which we have no evidence, and which are not necessary to the interpretation of the passage.” [J. A. Alexander and Nagelsbach, in the old Lange commentary series, published in late 1800s: Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Nägelsbach, C. W. E., Lowrie, S. T., & Moore, D. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Isaiah (pp. 123–124). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software."



His commentary is very early in his career, before most of his lexical labors had been done, so it might represent a strata of his thought which was 'softened' later. His later statements about 'usually excluding marriage' would certainly suggest this. Miller noted that he 'was not so much an exegete as a lexicographer' (p.17). It was never translated into English, and I don’t see it referenced in any modern bibliographies on Isaiah.





·No change in his grammars.

·No change in his interpretation of Isaiah 7.

·Softened his position on the meaning of almah, but I cannot find any reflection of this in his lex/gram work.

·No change in his translation practice (i.e. use of indefinite article in German for some cases of definite articles in Hebrew).

·Changes in the 4 (5) 'contradictory' passages seem to actually be a softening of the definition of 'definiteness' (e.g. the concept of 'well-known' can apply to character and not just individual specific identity), or an assumption of well-known to the audience.


Again, this is not immediately relevant to the question, since I was quoting not Gesenius the individual but GKC the later, composite, update-work of 50 years later.

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