When translating Exodus, I became intimately familiar with every sentence (it is really a tremendous form of close reading), and I noticed something amazing. The cases where Moses speaks Hebrew, he always speaks in what I would call "Moses speak", a strangely ungrammatical and inelegant Hebrew that is distinguished by various errors from the clean prose it is embedded in.
I preserved these grammar errors as best I could in the Wikisource translation Here's Exodus 32:11:
... Why would Yahweh snarl his lip at your people, which you have taken out of the land of Egypt, in great force and with a strong hand?
Why would the Egyptions say, saying, "In bad faith he took them out, to kill them in the mountains, and to annihilate them from the face of the Earth"? Reconsider your snarling, and have mercy on the evil to your people."
Remember to Abraham to Isaac and to Israel, your servant, those who you swore to them in you, and speak to them: "I will multiply your seed as the stars of the sky, and all this land which I have said, I will give to your seed, and they will inherit, forever.
וַיֹּאמֶר, לָמָה יְהוָה יֶחֱרֶה אַפְּךָ בְּעַמֶּךָ, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, בְּכֹחַ גָּדוֹל וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה לָמָּה יֹאמְרוּ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר, בְּרָעָה הוֹצִיאָם לַהֲרֹג אֹתָם בֶּהָרִים, וּלְכַלֹּתָם, מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה; שׁוּב מֵחֲרוֹן אַפֶּךָ, וְהִנָּחֵם עַל-הָרָעָה לְעַמֶּך
זְכֹר לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבָדֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לָהֶם בָּךְ, וַתְּדַבֵּר אֲלֵהֶם, אַרְבֶּה אֶת-זַרְעֲכֶם כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם; וְכָל-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְתִּי, אֶתֵּן לְזַרְעֲכֶם, וְנָחֲלוּ, לְעֹלָם.
The issues are first that it is extremely clunky, especially compared to the surrounding prose. I tried to make an analogously clunky English, but it is best if you compare the Hebrew to the Hebrew. Second, there are mismatches in grammar and content: "Why would Yahweh snarl his lips at your people", it is adressing Yahwen, but then switches perspective. This could be an honorific, like "Why would your majesty reject your own letter?" But if this is so, it should be "Why would Yahweh snarl your lips at your people". I can't read the "his/your" combo as anything other than a mistake.
Next: "Have mercy on the evil to your people" is not a Hebrew idiom--- it just sounds bad. You should "have mercy on your people", you can "reconsider the evil", but you can't "have mercy on evil", because evil is not something you can be merciful towards.
There are other minor things of this sort throughout the passage, like zechor le-Avraham..., which shouldn't be "remeber to Abraham". I translated it exactly like I read it, but I noticed the unusual cluster of grammar errors.
Although there are occasional grammar errors in the Bible, they are never clustered like this, and they never sound so clunky all together like that.
Later, I notice the same pattern in another Moses dialog passage 33:15:
If your presence will not go, do not take us up from this. 16 And how will it be attested how that I am pleasing to you, me and your people? I mean, in your going with us, and distinguishing us, me and your people, from all the nation which is on the face of the Earth.
אִם-אֵין פָּנֶיךָ הֹלְכִים, אַל-תַּעֲלֵנוּ מִזֶּה. וּבַמֶּה יִוָּדַע אֵפוֹא, כִּי-מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ אֲנִי וְעַמֶּךָ--הֲלוֹא, בְּלֶכְתְּךָ עִמָּנוּ; וְנִפְלִינוּ, אֲנִי וְעַמְּךָ, מִכָּל-הָעָם, אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה
The clunkiness is apparent right from the start, and its the same inelegant Hebrew style that just sounds like Hebrew as a second language. For an explicit example: "mi-col ha-am" should be "mi-col ha-amim", "halo, be-lechta 'imanu" is just a clunky aside, "we-naphleinu, ani we-amcha" should be rephrased, it's all terrible.
The errors and awkwardness are not preserved in any other translation that I read. I kept it, but I worry I might be over-analyzing things that are too ancient to reliably ascertain grammar errors.
But I remember that there is a Rabbinical tradition that Moses is a clunky speaker, and this is actually mentioned in another passage in Exodus, when Moses asks for a spokesman, and is given Aaron.
I am asking:
- Am I correct in the broken Hebrew interpretation?
- Are the translations I give an accurate rendering of the broken-ness, or was there more broken-ness I should have included?
I am not looking for anything that claims that Moses was a historical Egyptian speaking person whose words are recorded faithfully, as I find these claims repugnant to reason and scholarly morality. So please, I don't want ancient Egyptian grammar overlayed on top of the existing Hebrew, or anything like that. I just want to know exactly where the Moses grammar mistakes are.