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I was reading through Exodus the other day and thought that the translation of Exodus 26:26-27 was odd. OSB:

"You shall make bars of incorruptible wood: five for the posts on one side of the tabernacle, five bars for the posts on the other side of the tabernacle, five bars for the side of the tabernacle toward the sea."

For reference, the Orthodox Study Bible OT is a translation of the Septuagint. I took a look at the translations I used to use:


“Then you shall make bars of acacia wood, five for the boards of one side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the boards of the [aq]other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the boards of the side of the tabernacle for the rear side to the west."


“And you shall make bars of acacia wood: five for the boards on one side of the tabernacle, five bars for the boards on the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the boards of the side of the tabernacle, for the far side westward."


And thou shalt make bars of shittim wood; five for the boards of the one side of the tabernacle, And five bars for the boards of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the boards of the side of the tabernacle, for the two sides westward.

The OSB translation of the end of verse 27 ("toward the sea") has the feel of a pretty literal translation to me. However, it has been a long time since I took Greek. How faithful is that translation to the Greek manuscripts?

The other versions obviously follow the Masoretic text more closely but it has been even longer since I took Hebrew. How faithful are they to the rendering of the Masoretic text and any older Hebrew texts that exist? (Or any text at all that is older than the Masoretic for that matter.)

Lastly, is this a significant detail for understanding the assembly of the tabernacle?

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3 Answers 3

I can't help with the Greek, but KJV's "shittim" is a transliteration of the Hebrew שִׁטִּים.

JPS translates this as "acacia" too, and that's the translation I'm most used to seeing. Like some other specialized words (dolphin skins?), it's hard to know what the original meaning was. We don't have other occurrences of שִׁטִּים that make clear what kind of wood exactly is meant. Archaeologists might have opinions, but the text is unclear.

As for the sea, the word here is יָמָּה, "sea-ward". This refers to the Mediterranean sea and we see this with directions in other places. For example, Genesis 28:14 says (where God is telling Yaakov about the land):

וְהָיָה זַרְעֲךָ כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ, וּפָרַצְתָּ יָמָּה וָקֵדְמָה וְצָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה; וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כָּל-מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה, וּבְזַרְעֶךָ.

And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. And in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

The directions here are:

יָמָּה: west (as above)
קֵדְמָה: east (no special references; the word means "east" everywhere)
צָפֹנָה: north (ditto)
נֶגְבָּה: "toward the Negev", i.e. south

Modern Hebrew has other words for west and south, I'm told, because it wouldn't make sense for a Hebrew-speaker in, say, the US to use "yamah" to mean "west". But the language of the torah is focused on the land of Israel, where these points of reference make sense. It's kind of like an American saying "Canada-ward" to mean "north", at least if he doesn't live in the upper peninsula of Michigan. :-)

Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Thanks. I was actually more struck by the phrase "toward the sea" since it is the most drastic departure from the other translations. I'll edit the question to reflect that. –  false0start Mar 2 '12 at 23:13
Here's the dolphin skin question, for linking purposes. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Mar 2 '12 at 23:19
@false0start, oh, I didn't realize you were asking about the sea rather than the ambiguous wood! I've updated my answer to address that. –  Gone Quiet Mar 4 '12 at 1:50
I think it makes perfect sense to say "seaward" instead of west! ;-) When I lived in Colorado Springs, we got to thinking of west as "toward the mountains". But thank you for updating the answer including the literal meaning of south. –  Jon Ericson Mar 4 '12 at 5:50

The Greek Septuagint does indeed say toward the sea:

27 καὶ πέντε μοχλοὺς τῷ στύλῳ τῷ κλίτει τῆς σκηνῆς τῷ δευτέρῳ καὶ πέντε μοχλοὺς τῷ στύλῳ τῷ ὀπισθίῳ τῷ κλίτει τῆς σκηνῆς τῷ πρὸς θάλασσαν

"πρὸς θάλασσαν" literally means "toward sea".

But this isn't a case where the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew text, which the NET Bible uses. In fact, the Hebrew word is yam <03220>, which can mean:

1) sea
1a) Mediterranean Sea
1b) Red Sea
1c) Dead Sea
1d) Sea of Galilee
1e) sea (general)
1f) mighty river (Nile)
1g) the sea (the great basin in the temple court)
1h) seaward, west, westward

In context, since the entrance faces east, the other side of the tabernacle is on the west-side. And if the people of Israel are on the other side of the Red Sea from Egypt (they were), the Red Sea (and the Mediterranean Sea) will be toward the west. The sea was a dangerous place, so it could be that there is a symbolic reason to use "toward the sea" rather than "westward". It seems there were at least 4 options the author could have used, so it seems the connotation of the sea was intended.

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I know this isn't what you are most interested in (Jon did a good job on that), but I found this a little interesting. The type of wood in the LXX is asepton, which means "not rotted." The word is not used in the New Testament and has only a small entry under "LXX Supplement" of the Bible Works Greek data. The Vulgate uses acaciae. Brown, Driver, Briggs points out that almost all the uses are related to building the tabernacle and its items. The time that it isn't, it simply refers to a tree growing in the desert.

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