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In Obadiah’s vision of the fall of Edom (v. 7), it is written:

All your allies have driven you to your border; those at peace with you have deceived you; they have prevailed against you; those who eat your bread have set a trap beneath you — you have no understanding. (ESV)

The bolded portion in Hebrew:

לַחְמְךָ֗ יָשִׂ֤ימוּ מָזוֹר֙ תַּחְתֶּ֔יךָ
laḥmək̲ā yāśîmû māzôr taḥtêk̲ā

The ESV has a footnote on the word 'bread':

Hebrew lacks "those who eat."

Despite this, translations are nearly universal in understanding לַחְמְךָ֗ (laḥmək̲ā, lit. your bread) as something like “those who eat your bread.”

This is explained in the NICOT Commentary:1

laḥmᵉḵā 'your bread,' is hardly intelligible in the context...It is best to revocalize as a plural participle lōḥᵃmeyḵā in the sense 'those who eat with you,' assuming a loose use of the suffix and the verb lāḥam, 'eat,'...

However, Judaica Press Tanach seems to find the Masoretic pointing intelligible as written:

your food they lay as a wound under you

Rashi explains:2

your food they lay as a wound under you: Even your food your brother Jacob made for you as a wound, for he gave you bread and a pottage of lentils, and thereby you despised the birthright.

This requires invoking the ancestry of the Edomites, which may have been an obvious leap for the original audience; to me it's more difficult than an ESV-like interpretation. On the other hand, many decisions would be different if the Tiberian vocalization were irrelevant.

  • Why have translators3 decided to 're-point' laḥmək̲ā? (And is that ‘loose use of the suffix’ pronoun → ‘with you’ normal?)

  • Is it possible that the author intended it to be understood as vocalized by the Masoretes?


1. Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 153.

2. It’s not clear to me whether Rashi was using a pointed text. Regardless, his understanding of the vocalization seems to have been consistent with the MT.

3. For the record, it’s not only Christian translations.

  • Should this be tagged textual-criticism? I wouldn’t have thought so, since it’s not about trying to decide what was written in the consonantal text, but I have an impression that this sort of thing is considered text criticism. – Susan May 16 '15 at 18:57
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This is a textual crux since לַחְמְךָ֗ makes no sense by itself. Biblical Hebrew for "those who eat bread with you" would be (in transliteration) ochlei leḥem itach. The suggestion of lōḥᵃmeyḵā doesn't strike me as good Hebrew, since it does not occur in the Bible.

It's possible, perhaps even probable, that the root L-ḥ-M Obadiah is using here is not the one that means "bread" but the one that means "to make war" which we most commonly find in the noun milḥamah (war).

In the previous clause we have הִשִּׁיאוּךָ יָכְלוּ לְךָ אַנְשֵׁי שְׁלֹמֶךָ, which means "those at peace with you have beguiled you." So perhaps this clause--לַחְמְךָ יָשִׂימוּ מָזוֹר תַּחְתֶּיךָ--means "those at war with you have placed a snare beneath you." (The word מָזוֹר is a hapax, which may be trap, or snare or wound.)

That would keep the parallelism of the sentence intact, without doing much violence to the Masoretic text. Just a suggestion....

  • Thanks for your thoughts. It would be interesting to know if any commentators have proposed/defended this idea; I haven’t seen any translations that adopt it. Minor point: to the extent that it may mean “wound”, מָזוֹר doesn’t seem to be a hapax - Jer 30:13, Hos 5:13 (x2). – Susan Jun 28 '15 at 23:20

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