In the Book of Job, Eliphaz relates one palpable experience he had with a "רוּחַ" (translated spirit in the NASB), which had caused the hair of his body to stand on end.

In Job 4:14-16 we read the following -

Job 4:14-16 (NASB)
14 Dread came upon me, and trembling,
And made all my bones shake.
15 Then a spirit passed by my face;
The hair of my flesh bristled up.
16 “It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance;
A form was before my eyes;
There was silence, then I heard a voice:

The word for hair here is שַׂעֲרַת, which is the construct state for the lexeme שַׂעֲרָה (H8185) and is feminine, which means single hair. That is, this word appears 7 times in the Hebrew Bible, and in two of those instances the word is plural in the Psalms, which is poetical. Why not then the plural form of this word here in the poetical Book of Job?

Better, the collective word for hair in Hebrew is שֵׂעָר (H8181) and is masculine, and appears 28 times in the Hebrew Bible although never in the plural form (because the sense of the word is collective). Why then would this more common, collective word for hair not appear instead of the former word (considering that both words are "singular" in form)?


1 Answer 1


Why then would this more common, collective word for "hair" not appear instead of the former word (considering that both words are "singular" in form)?

I think the why question is probably unanswerable as such. OP describes this odd situation very clearly so there is no need, then, to rehearse again the details provided in the question.

There have been various explanations offered for what is going on with this form, even if we lack an explanation for why שׂערת arose in the first place.

  1. It has long been suggested that this is simply an odd use of the feminine form, and it, too, should be regarded as a collective, just like the masculine. This is already recorded in Brown Driver Briggs, and is still registered as a possibility in HALOT.

  2. There have been various text-critical suggestions to emend away the offensive ת and so get to the more expected masculine collective form, but these have been consistently rejected so far as I'm aware.

  3. The Septuagint reads slightly differently here: ἔφριξαν δέ μου τρίχες καὶ σάρκες = "my hair and flesh quivered". It recasts the syntax, but more importantly for our interests, the word for "hair" (triches) is in the plural. It might thus support S.R. Driver's solution: to read שַׂעֲרֹת, plural, thus avoiding the difficulty (S.R Driver & G.B. Gray, A critical and exegetical commentary on the Book of Job [T & T Clark, 1921], pt. 2, p. 25). He argued that the singular reading (the consonants remain the same; it is a matter of different vocalization) arose mistakenly under influence of the singular verb, finding an explanation for his proposed text in GKC § 145k. Driver makes no mention of the LXX, however, possibly because the distance between LXX Job and its Hebrew parent text is quite distant (for more on this general point, see Claude Cox's introduction to the NETS translation).

  4. Perhaps more appealing are the suggestions that שַׂעֲרָה "hair" is not the lexeme appearing in this verse, but appeal rather to שְׂעָרָה "storm" which appears also in Job 9:17. This possibility is discussed and adopted by two recent Job commentators: (1) D.J.A. Clines Job 1-20 (Word, 1989; reissued 2015), pp. 107, 111; (2) C.L. Seow Job 1-21: Interpretation and Commentary (Eerdmans, 2013), p. 401-402. This possibility was mentioned and rejected by Driver (see above).

    The Hebrew form in this reading still needs explanation, however, since the ת remains odd. Both Clines and Seow (the latter with some persistence) argue for an original absolute form ending with tau. Seow adduces examples in support of this conjecture.

    Why bother? In part, because the evidence of the Targum favours this approach. It has ʿalʿōlāʾ "whirlwind" where the Hebrew has (apparently) "hair". If this suggestion is adopted, the line would read something like: "a whirlwind made my flesh quiver", which is a nicely balanced partner for the previous line, "a wind [ruach] passed by my face".

In sum, there is no way to make sense of the Hebrew text here without recourse to something odd, whether its cutting some slack for the feminine form to convey a collective sense (uniquely here) like the masculine, or emending the text, or suggesting a different word altogether, with the Targum supplying the lead for the best candidate.

  • 1
    David, as always your answers are brilliant. You provide us all an excellent example which to follow. Thank you for all your contributions during the last year. Please have a safe holiday season with my kindest regards to both you and S.
    – Joseph
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 4:31

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