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In Gen. 9:16, עלום is translated as "everlasting" in reference to the covenant of the rainbow:

וְהָיְתָה הַקֶּשֶׁת בֶּעָנָן וּרְאִיתִיהָ לִזְכֹּר בְּרִית עוֹלָם בֵּין אֱלֹהִים וּבֵין כָּל נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה בְּכָל בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר עַל הָאָרֶץ

And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. (KJV)

In Dan. 12:2, עלום is translated as "eternal" ("everlasting") in reference to the life received by those who awaken from their sleep (i.e., in the resurrection):

וְרַבִּים מִיְּשֵׁנֵי אַדְמַת עָפָר יָקִיצוּ אֵלֶּה לְחַיֵּי עוֹלָם וְאֵלֶּה לַחֲרָפוֹת לְדִרְאוֹן עוֹלָם

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (KJV)

However, in Psa. 143:3, should it be understood as "eternity" or simply a long duration?

כִּי רָדַף אוֹיֵב נַפְשִׁי דִּכָּא לָאָרֶץ חַיָּתִי הוֹשִׁבַנִי בְמַחֲשַׁכִּים כְּמֵתֵי עוֹלָם

For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead. (KJV)

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There is no way to definitely determine according to a rule. You have to rely on context. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Nov 27 '13 at 18:56
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Just to offer some advice, a great Christian commentary on the Old Testament is by Keil and Delitzsch (that is, if you are a Christian). You should read what they have to say on this verse: studylight.org/com/kdo/view.cgi?bk=18&ch=143 –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Nov 27 '13 at 19:11
    
Interesting question! I'd encourage you to post it on the Judaism stackexchange site in addition to here - they know the Old Testament well. –  Niobius Nov 28 '13 at 14:38
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I agree with H3br3wHamm3r81 about the context. In fact, negative expressions convey the concept of something being eternal way better than such adjectives like "eternal" or "everlasting": "...the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary" (Isa 40:28), "...before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me" (Isa 43:10), "But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end" (Psalms 102:27) –  brilliant Nov 28 '13 at 20:06
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1 Answer 1

As a matter of semantics, the Hebrew word עלם ('olam) means something more like the English words 'age' or 'era', in the sense of a distant time period.

עלם is occasionally translated as 'everlasting' or 'eternal', with a meaning of 'age-enduring'. For example, some passages describe hills or mountains as עלם (Genesis 49.26; Deuteronomy 33.15; Habakkuk 3.6), because from the view of the writers, mountains endure countless ages; from human perspective, they are 'eternal'.

So as @H3br3wHamm3r81 said above, how עלם should be translated is entirely dependent on context. Relatively speaking, few words have an absolute one-to-one translation in any given language.

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