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Job 13:15a

NRSV: See, he will kill me; I have no hope ...
ESV: Though he slay me, I will hope in him ...
BHS: הֵן יִקְטְלֵנִי לֹא [לוֹ] אֲיַחֵל

The difference rests on whether to prefer the ketib לא (=no), negating the verb יחל (=hope; "I have no hope"), or the qere (here bracketed) לו (=in him; "I [will] hope in him").1 This is very different!

It looks like this verb commonly takes an adjunct with the preposition ל, so the qere (in him) plausible on that level. To my (very untrained) ear, it's weird to have the prepositional phrase "in him" before the verb, whereas this is the normal place for a negative particle, but I suppose anything goes in poetry. LXX Job is characteristically "free" and is not obviously helpful here.

  • Should we prefer the ketiv or qere?

I'm also curious, in light of the fact that we often (usually?) prefer the qere because (it makes more sense and) we value the reading tradition received by the Masoretes:

  • Is there a difference in pronunciation that would have been heard by the Masoretes? They're the same to my ear ( vs. lōʾ ), but there are a lot of distinctions I don't hear in Hebrew.

1. It also requires differing interpretations of the initial particle הן (~behold) -- "see" vs "though" -- but that is secondary to the textual issue in my mind.

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2 Answers 2

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The Idea in Brief

The best reading for this verse would accept the qere as suggested by the Masoretic editors. That is, the following translation would capture the full essence of this verse:

Job 13:15
15 Look, he is going to kill me: I wait for him [to strike]; in the meantime, I am going to argue [my case] before Him.

Why does the ketiv or qere appear here? Like so many other places in the Hebrew Bible, the sounds of לֹו () and לֹא (lōʾ) were homonymous, and therefore several instances of the ketiv and qere appear (for both words) throughout the Masoretic text.

The following paragraphs will discuss various aspects for understanding the preference for the qere reading of this verse.

Discussion

1. The words לֹא (lōʾ) and לֹו () are homophonic

There are two instances in the Masoretic Text (1 Sam 2:16 and 1 Sam 20:2) where the לֹא (lōʾ) is to be understood in lieu of the written לֹו () , and there are 17 instances where the לֹו () is to be understood in lieu of the written לֹא (lōʾ). Both words are homophonic; that is, these words sound the same but are written in a different way and have different meanings. (An example in English would be the words to, two, and too, which are homophones because they each are written in a different way and have different meanings.) The reason that לֹא (lōʾ) is more often confused for לֹו () is because the former (5,184 instances) outnumber the latter (1,026 instances) by a ratio of four-to-one in the Masoretic Text. In other words, the word לֹא (lōʾ) is much more common in Biblical Hebrew, and therefore very apt for homophonic confusion with the less common Hebrew word לֹו ().

2. The Hebrew verb יָחַל (yachal) means not only to hope, but also means to wait

According to GHCLOT, this verb in the piʿʿēl aspect means to expect, to hope, to wait.
According to HALOT, this verb in the piʿʿēl aspect means to await.
According to HAL, this verb in the piʿʿēl aspect means to wait.

3. The phrases within this verse (and throughout the entire chapter) appear to be in synonymous parallelism

Twelve (12) of the twenty-eight (28) verses in this chapter have the exact same accentuation according to the Masoretic Text. In other words, these verses in addition to the remaining verses in this chapter (with slight variations of accentuation) appear in synonymous parallelism, which the 19th Century Hebraist William Wickes described in his chapter on the dichotomy of Hebrew verse. That is, the first part of each verse is echoed by the second part of each verse, and thus the entire chapter.

Please click on the image below to enlarge, or view the source (online).

enter image description here

In other words, the first phrase of the verse provides the main idea. The second phrase echoes the first phrase. At this point the dichotomy of the verse appears. Then the remainder of the verse (which is also comprised of two phrases) complements the first half of the verse. In summary, these phrases appear in symmetrical parallelism within the verse.

4. The second half of the v.13 begins with the restrictive adverb אַךְ ('ak)

The second half of this verse begins with the Hebrew adverb אַךְ ('ak), which is restrictive according to Gesenius’s Hebrew Grammar. For example, Gesenius notes the following in §153.

Please click on the image below to enlarge, or view the source (online).

enter image description here

This adverb may best be translated, “in the meantime,” not only because of the restrictive sense, but also to align the second half of the verse with the first half of the verse (in keeping with the synonymous parallelism noted in the previous paragraphs).

Conclusion

Although he provided no analysis for his opinion, Dr. Charles Caldwell Ryrie provided the following observation concerning this verse in his Ryrie Study Bible.

13:15
The text is uncertain and may be translated, “He will slay me; I wait for Him (to strike)”; i.e., “I have no hope.” Or it may mean, “Though He slay me, I will not delay.” In any case, the general sense is clear: the fear of death would not deter Job from saying, “Not guilty” to God.

In summary, this discussion outline had provided four points which suggest that the best reading for this verse is to accept the qere as noted by the Masoretic editors.

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  • Thanks, Joseph! I'm a teeny bit skeptical about ל- + יחל as "wait for x [to strike]" which I think would be a usage not otherwise attested (not that this rules it out) -- it's usually "waiting on x" in a positive sense (e.g. Job 29:23) -- but this verse is difficult and this seems to me a coherent approach.
    – Susan
    Jan 16, 2016 at 20:09
  • @Susan - thank you for the feedback. There is actually one example in the Hebrew Bible where the pi'el stem of this verb takes the infinitive construct as its object (similar to English) with the meaning of "wait for x [to ... ]"
    – Joseph
    Jan 17, 2016 at 0:41
  • The verbal idea being implied is the part I was uncertain about, a different thing.
    – Susan
    Jan 17, 2016 at 1:45
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The end of the verse is אַךְ־דְּ֝רָכַ֗י אֶל־פָּנָ֥יו אוֹכִֽיחַ, "but my ways before him I will make known (protest)." It seem to me that the beginning of the verse would best be read to necessitate that "but." If the first part of the verse indicates a lost trust or hope, the "but" would not be there.

However, I don't think this eliminates the ketiv as a reading of the verse. Using the ketiv, the first part of the verse is a rhetorical question: "If he were to kill me would I lose hope?"

In modern Hebrew, there is no difference in pronunciation between the two.

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  • Thanks you for your thoughts! My understanding is that אך is not necessarily introducing a contrast, but can be asseverative (“surely”). Although to me it seems like it actually is drawing a contrast in the “no hope” scenario: “I have no hope.... yet (but) I will argue my case...", no?
    – Susan
    Dec 14, 2015 at 16:18
  • My understanding, and admittedly this reflects biases of my rabbinic training, is that אך, even when used asseveratively, always connotes a contrast to something the listener or reader might otherwise have thought ("but surely"). Furthermore, where, as here, it is used in the middle of a sentence, it seems to me that "but" is the better translation. Dec 14, 2015 at 18:12
  • That being said, your point that the second part of the verse makes sense as a contrast to the lost hope/trust is well taken. Dec 14, 2015 at 18:18

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