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Looking at Ezekiel 6:3 as an example, this sort of phrasing has always intrigued me:

and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord GOD! Thus says the Lord GOD to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places.

What is the purpose of "I, even I" as opposed to just saying "I"? To my untrained mind it seems to be 'weakening' language rather than glorious. Kind of like saying, "I, even I, will pass that exam."

Any help in understanding this phrasing, and the other similar occurrences elsewhere in Ezekiel, will be greatly appreciated.

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The question, launched from a rendering of Ezekiel 6:3, is:

What is the purpose of "I, even I" as opposed to just saying "I"?

Two observations, first on the translation, second on the Hebrew which gave rise to it.

(1) First of all, then, note that the "I, even I" translation of Ezek 6:3 is limited to a very particular translation tradition. Picking up the spread of common English renderings of Ezek 6:3 from Biblehub, it is limited to: KJV, ESV, Jubilee 2000, KJ2000, American KJV, American Standard Version, English Revised, Webster's, and WEB. What they all have in common is some ancestry to the KJV or Tyndale tradition. This is a fine tradition, but it is conservative -- I don't mean theologically, but I mean with reference to the KJV renderings. Revisions from it tend not to be very radical.1 So, "conservative" in that specific sense.

Why, though, should these translators ever have thought "I, even I" to be a good translation? Tyndale, and subsequent revisers, were not numpties, and Tyndale in particular is regarded as a stylist par excellence.2 Which leads us to...

(2) The underlying Hebrew in Ezekiel 6:3 takes a very particular form. The relevant bit runs this way:

...הִנְנִי אֲנִי מֵבִיא עֲלֵיכֶם חֶרֶב
hinĕnî ʾănî mēbîʾ ʿălêkem ḥereb...

The first two words are the ones of interest for this question:

  1. hinĕnî = hinnēh + 1st person singular suffix, "I, me" = "behold I"
  2. ʾănî = independent 1st person singular pronoun = "I"

So now it should be obvious what Tyndale & Co were up to. The initial hinĕnî already includes "I", and then it is re-inforced by a second, independent 1st person pronoun, giving the "even I" bit. Ask yourself: you're Tyndale -- how else would you translate such a compound expression?

In fact, it only occurs three times in the Hebrew Bible, all three in Ezekiel (sticking with KJV to make obvious the parallels):

  • 6:3 Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you,...
  • 34:11 Behold, I, even I, will ... search my sheep...
  • 34:20 Behold, I, even I, will judge...

There are other places where KJV has "I, even I", but these reflect different Hebrew constructions -- 16× further times altogether, most reflecting a doubled independent pronoun, although not all.3

In summary, the "I, even I" translation is an attempt to capture the emphatically insistent focus on the "first person" which is present in the Hebrew. How to do this most effectively in English of course shifts over time as the language itself changes. "I, even I" represents the Authorized Version's (KJV) best shot that has stuck in the translation tradition which looks back to the KJV.

To conclude, Daniel Block's translation in his magisterial commentary attempts to capture the flavour this way:4

See I, yes I, am wielding a sword against you...

Any better?


Notes

  1. See, for example, the statistics cited in a Q&A about quantifying difference among Bible translations.
  2. On Tyndale's life and achievement, see the highly readable (and somewhat controversial) biography, David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography (Yale University Press, 2001). He translated only a limited amount of the Old Testament (not including Ezekiel) before his death. For details, see the description of Tyndale's Old Testament.
  3. All KJV "I, even I" renderings: Gen. 6:17; Lev. 26:28; Deut. 32:39; Jdg. 5:3; 1 Ki. 18:22; 19:10, 14; Ezr. 7:21; Isa. 43:11, 25; 48:15; 51:12; Jer. 23:39; Ezek. 5:8; 6:3; 34:11, 20; Dan. 8:15; Hos. 5:14.
  4. D.I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 1–24, (NICOT; Eerdmans, 1997), p. 220. Detecting something slightly unusual here, Block adds in a footnote:

    On the solemn declaration of divine threat ... which occurs only in Ezekiel ... see T. Muraoka, Emphatic Words and Structures in Biblical Hebrew (Leiden: Brill, 1985), pp. 62, 139.

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  • Great answer. Special thanks for the list of references in footnote 3. – omannay Sep 24 '14 at 6:03
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In answer to your question concerning the wording of Ezekiel 6:3; namely,

"'Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places'" (Ezekiel 6:3),

I direct you to this web site Bible.org which includes the following footnote:

"Hebrew, 'Look I, I am bringing.' The repetition of the pronoun draws attention to the speaker. The construction also indicates that the action is soon to come; the Lord is 'about to bring a sword against' them."

Each culture, and sometimes each succeeding generation within each culture, has its own way of expressing things. In other words, the rhetorical paradigm of invention, style, organization, memorization, and delivery, will sometimes alter modes of expression in a subtle- and hard-to-pinpoint evolutionary process. As Michael Marlowe points out,

"This stylistic character may be seen in several areas, including the grammar, syntax, semantics, and rhetorical features of the text."

Hebrew culture at the time of Ezekiel's writing of his prophetic book is no exception to this evolutionary process. "Hebrew" ways of expressing things is not static, to be sure, but as an exegete of a passage in the Tanakh (the Jewish "Old Testament" Scripture) there are certain legitimate generalities you can use in making sense of Hebrew ways of talking and writing. Put differently, you need not be afflicted with the paralysis of analysis.

Though far from an expert in Hebraisms (or Semitisms), I can point out some unusual ones, at least from our 21st century American-English perspective!

  • Proverbs 6:16-19: "These six things doth the LORD hate : yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."

Why did not the writer come right out and say

"There are seven things the LORD finds abominable:

  1. a proud look

  2. a lying tongue

  3. violent hands . . .."?

The answer is because of ancient Hebraisms. In our modern Western culture (if I may use such a sweeping, broad-brush expression), we are more comfortable, at least in formal occasions, of saying "There are seven reasons we ought to do X: first, . . . , second . . . , third . . . " and so on.

Part of the challenge of exegesis and hermeneutics is "getting behind" unusual-to-us modes of expression, particularly idioms and stock phrases, figures, and tropes.

Just as

"Six things, yea seven, are an abomination"

needs some cultural and rhetorical unpacking, so does

"'Behold I, even I"

require some digging. Once that digging is complete (or as complete as it can be, given the thousands of years between when it was said and when we're exegeting it), we come away, at times, not only with a better understanding of the text but also an appreciation for the richness of communication in every generation and culture.

Some expressions, by the way, stay--survive--in pretty much their same or similar wording for many, many generations, even cross culturally. Will "googling" for information on the world wide web survive our generation? That's hard to say. Other expressions, however, will almost undoubtedly survive and thrive. Three thousand years from now, however, will exegetes of today's writings (and speakings!) be able in 5014 to make sense of them? Good question. (Thank you!)

In conclusion, a few other Hebraisms from the Tanakh might be helpful (see Marlowe's citation of David Alan Black’s article “New Testament Semitisms” from The Bible Translator 39/2 [April 1988], pp. 215-223, for a New Testament slant on what Marlowe calls "Hebrew in disguise"), which are excerpted from a doctoral dissertation written over 100 years ago by William Rosenau (reformatted by me for better clarity):

LEXICOGRAPHICAL HEBRAISMS

  1. "Know" (in')-

a. realize: "They knew that they were naked." Gen. 3, 7 (Vulgate).

b. pay attention to: "The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous." Ps. 1, 6.

c. acknowledge: "My God, we know Thee." Hos. 8, 2.

d. experience: "As had known all the wars." Judg. 3, 1 (R).

e. choose" "I know thee by name." Ex. 33, 12 (Vulgate).

f. acquire.

g. have sexual intercourse: " Bring them unto us, that we may know them." Gen. 19, 5 (Vulgate 2 ). 22

  1. "Make" (rww):

a. form, " He made all the vessels of the altar." Ex. 38, 3 (Polychrome Bible);

b. prepare, " > Made a feast"; II Sam. 3, 20,

c. create, " God made the firmament." Gen. 1, 7.

d. grant, "Made a release." Est. 2, 18.

e. yield, "Shall he eat nothing made of the vine tree." Numb. 6, 4 (Polychrome Bible).

f. worship, "Unto the place of the altar which he made there first." Gen. 13, 4 (Polychrome Bible)."

  1. "Melt" (arc or DO:).

a. become liquid, "When the sun waxed hot it melted." Ex. 16, 21 (Polychrome Bible).

b. become disheartened, "All the inhabitants shall melt away." Ex. 15, 15 (R). 14

c. tremble. Cf. Polychrome Bible, "He uttered his voice, the earth melted." Ps. 46, 6. 23 Cf. Gr. -yryvtioKu, Syriac N**> ->^ ^ Arabic ^ y, 9 Assyrian lam&du. 23 Cf.Adler Am. Soc. Baltimore, Oct., 1884, Art. 11. 24 The phrase, " heart melted, " often occurring in the A. V., should here be noted. One might be led to suppose that it means " the heart melted in pity." Such, however, is not the case. It always signifies to become disheartened, as understood by the ancient Hebrews. Contrast "heavy- hearted " in Hebrew; that is, " obstinate."

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  • Not quite sure why people are down voting this answer; I found it quite helpful. Anybody care to elaborate on what they disagree with? – omannay Sep 24 '14 at 6:01
  • @omannay: I've made myself persona non grata here recently, but I'm sure things will get better, eventually. Thanks for your vote of confidence! Don – rhetorician Sep 25 '14 at 14:59
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When it happens people will be surprised to see that it is actually Yeshua/Jesus who they rejected. He is telling them “Look, it is me, yes, me!!!

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  • Welcome to BHSE! Make sure you take our Tour (lower left). Thanks – John Martin Sep 9 '19 at 13:07

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