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The New JPS translation of Hosea 11:1 reads:

I fell in love with Israel
When he was still a child;
And I have called [him] My son
Ever since Egypt.

This seems to indicate that when Israel (metaphorically, the Jewish people) were in Egypt, God began calling them His son. In other words, Hosea is simply observing that even before the Exodus, God considered Israel like His child.

Looking at a wide variety of other translations, I get the sense that the meaning is focused on God initiating the Exodus. The NIV is typical:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.

Even the original JPS used that phrasing:

When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

Do we know why the New JPS changed this verse? Is there any support for this reading in either the Hebrew or in some commentary?

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2 Answers 2

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I can't answer why New JPS did that, but here's a breakdown of the Hebrew.

כִּי נַעַר יִשְׂרָאֵל

When (or as) a child [was] Yisrael (verb is implied)

וָאֹהֲבֵהוּ

and I loved him

וּמִמִּצְרַיִם

and from Mitzrayim (Egypt)

קָרָאתִי לִבְנִי

I called to my son.

The word "and I loved him" is the same root as Deut 6:5, "and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart (etc)". While this root can mean romantic love (it appears in Song of Songs), that doesn't seem to be the kind of love being talked about here. (Romance between us and God?) The prophet here says that God has the same kind of love for His son Yisrael that Yisrael is commanded to have for God. In modern English when we say that someone "fell in love" we tend to mean something that's either romantic or spontaneous (or both); that seem to be pretty different from this love. So I don't think "fell in love" rings true here.

I do not see support for "then" in "then I loved him", though the vav prefix ("and") is often translated rather loosely and I don't know the rules for this. I do note that the only answer there talks about a "soft 'then'"; perhaps this is why original JPS translates it that way, as a sequence -- Yisrael was in Egypt and then I loved him.

But your primary question is about וּמִמִּצְרַיִם, literally "and from Egypt". The mem-prefix "from" can be either physical or temporal. In the torah I believe it is usually physical (there are many references to God bringing Israel "from Egypt", for example, and it means relocation). I don't know when the temporal meaning began to show up; prophetic language might be different.

Further, the one use of a temporal referent that I can find in torah, Num 22:30, does not use the mem prefix:

עָלַי מֵעוֹדְךָ עַד-הַיּוֹם

...all thy life long unto this day...

The word עַד means "until" and it is not uncommon in tanakh -- until today (as here) and until "the world" (meaning forever) are the common ones. If Hosea wanted to say "ever since Egypt", he could have formulated that as "from Egypt until now":

וּמִמִּצְרַיִם עַד-הַיּוֹם

But he didn't.


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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Is it fair to say then that the NJPS rendering is unlikely to be what Hosea meant, but can be supported by the text if there's some reason not to use the most natural sense? We don't know what that factor might have been unless or until one of NJPS translators explains the reasoning. (Thanks for the answer; this might be all we can know about the question.) –  Jon Ericson Nov 21 '12 at 16:01
    
It doesn't seem to be what Hosea meant (at least from immediate context; I haven't reviewed the whole book). It's certainly possible that there is some nuance that I'm missing; I'm not saying NJPS is wrong, just that I don't understand how they got there. It'd be great if one of their editors were to drop in here; I'm not aware of an annotated edition of their translation. –  Gone Quiet Nov 21 '12 at 19:37
    
Ahava is a brand of skin-care in Israel associated with the minerals of the Dead Sea en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahava. It's quite a romantic word, at least in modern Hebrew, –  Blessed Geek Nov 22 '12 at 17:36
    
@BlessedGeek, and based on your comment I went looking in Song of Songs and found it. I've revised my answer, thanks. While the word can mean romantic, I don't think that's the kind of love that God commands us to have for him (ooh, disturbing mental image :-) ) or that the prophet is talking about. –  Gone Quiet Nov 22 '12 at 19:53
    
Firstly, that particular vav is very well defined, it's called vav hahipuch, and is the reason your translation is correct of "loved" is in the "past tense" and not the "future tense", despite the verb itself being in "future tense" form. Secondly, the conjunction "and" then becomes questionable because of this. Lastly, I disagree with your conclusion and justification that he could have written עד היום, least of all because the biblical expression is עד היום הזה or sometimes עד עצם היום הזה. There's more to be said about the grammar here, maybe some other time. –  bjorne Sep 13 '13 at 12:23

My sense is that the Hebrew here is poetic and ambiguous. However, I think the verse should not be understood as referring to the time period in Egypt before the Exodus. Instead, the verse references God taking his people out of Egypt and the forty years spent in the desert/wilderness prior to their entrance into the land of Israel.

Hosea 13:4-5 is similar to 11:1 and ambiguous in exactly the same way, but the focus on the post Exodus experience is clear:

But I have been the Lord your God ever since you came out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me. I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of burning heat. (Hosea 13:4-5 NIV)

Hosea is talking to a people who are on the verge of exile. Religiously, the Israelites have become obsessed with ritual and have neglected social justice.

I fell in love with Israel when he was still a child" (Hosea 11:1).

This prophecy, like many others around this time, romanticizes the time period before the establishment of a monarchy in Israel. For the prophets, the time spent wandering in the desert following the Exodus was one of complete dependence on God and is related to the metaphor of God being the shepherd of his people (Jeremiah 23:1-4 and Ezekiel 34:1-31).

The desolation of the desert symbolizes an emphasis on a pure relationship between God and individuals and a de-emphasis on religious ritual:

‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of his harvest... (Jeremiah 2:2-3)

Similarly,

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you (Jeremiah 21:21-23).

In summary, the Later Prophets are replete with references to the Exodus from Egypt and the subsequent covenantal relationship that was forged in the desert/wilderness prior to entrance into the land of Israel (Isaiah 11:16 is another clear example). Therefore, Hosea 11:1 should be understood as referring to the time period after the Exodus from Egypt.

Footnote:

The image of God shepherding his people in the desert after the Exodus is particularly poignant because the eventual exile from Israel is described by the prophets as a return to the desert context and that type of a relationship with God. For example, Hosea 12:10:

I have been the Lord your God ever since you came out of Egypt; I will make you live in tents again, as in the days of your appointed festivals.

Also, Hosea 3:4:

For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods.

Also relevant to this theme is Jeremiah's plea in Jeremiah 9:1.

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Very nice analysis. Thank you! –  Gone Quiet Nov 23 '12 at 5:29

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