It would seem from the various translations of Zephaniah 1:9 that is is tricky to understand. Some translations give an apparently fairly vanilla, literal rendering:

On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud. (ESV)

The NIV appears to be slightly more interpretative:

On that day I will punish all who avoid stepping on the threshold, who fill the temple of their gods with violence and deceit. (NIV)

On the basis of the story of the breaking of Dagon, I would have thought this passage meant:

Yes, I will punish those who participate in pagan worship ceremonies, and those who fill their masters' houses with violence and deceit. (NLT)

But the God's Word Translation convolutes this somewhat:

On that day I will punish all who jump over the doorway and all who fill their master's house with violence and deception.

"Doorway" has a less obvious connection to a pagan temple, in my mind, a threshold allowing for a much larger entrance. But the NASB (and some variants of the King James) seem to introduce the opposite meaning, which is very hard to understand:

And I will punish on that day all who leap on the temple threshold, Who fill the house of their lord with violence and deceit.

Finally, the Douay-Rheims, perhaps interpretively, goes in a rather different direction:

And I will visit in that day upon every one that entereth arrogantly over the threshold: them that fill the house of the Lord their God with iniquity and deceit.

So what does this passage mean? Is it connected to Philistine superstitions from the breaking of Dagon?

  • Threshhold מפתן is formed 'from מ the poisonous snake פתן. leap דלג is formed from 'poor דל pursuing ג . Poor is the same metaphor as the desolate, meaning without the word of God. God will punish those who do not have his word but pursue the poisonous snake. The formation defines the idiom as a metaphor.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 27 '18 at 10:14
  • *formation of words is called: Notarikon - Interpretation by dividing a word into two or more parts in the 32 rules of Rabbi Eliezer ben Jose de Galili
    – Bob Jones
    Jun 27 '20 at 13:58

The Masoretic manuscripts have for Zephaniah 1:9:

U'fakad'ti al col hadoleg al hamiftan bayom hahu...

Word-for-word translation is: "And I will visit" (u'fakad'ti) on (al) every (col) one who hurdles (hadoleg) over (al) the threshold (hamiftan) on day (bayom) that (hahu)..."

I see from the OP the NASB adds "temple", the Douay-Rheims adds "arrogantly" (where does that come from?), and the NLT omits "threshold".

The story of Dagan in I Samuel 5:5 indicates that there was similar Philistine religious practice (though it might be that the practice pre-dated the incident related there). Most commentators link Zephaniah 1:9 to I Samuel 5:5. There does not seem to be any other source to which to tie this verse.

There are similar and probably unrelated threshold customs in other cultures, such as carrying a newlywed bride over the threshold. No doubt Zephaniah would take a dim view ;-).

In this verse Zephaniah uses a known custom or action of idolaters as a name or term for them, "the threshold hurdlers" as it were. This literary form is similar to Hoshea's quote of the proverb that calls idolaters "calf kissers" in Hoshea 13:2, and on the other hand, God's words to Eliyahu in I Kings 19:18 where the faithful remnant of Israel is referred to as the "all the knees that did not bend to Baal".

There is an interesting discrepancy in the translation of the second half of the verse. Most of the Jewish commentators interpret "they who fill their master's house with violence and deception", referring to the ministers and courtiers of the king mentioned in verse 8, who fill the royal palace with violence and deceit, yet I see that Douay-Rheims interprets "fill the house of the Lord their God" and the NIV interprets "fill the temple of their gods". The interpretation hinges on the word "adonehem"—which is "their masters". The later two interpretations seem far-fetched to me in the light of how this same language is used in Genesis 39:20, "literally "Joseph's masters" but meaning Pharaoh.

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