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For example:

You rule the raging sea; you still its swelling waves.

You crush Rahab with a mortal blow; with your strong arm you scatter your foes.

Yours are the heavens, yours the earth; you founded the world and everything in it.

Zaphon and Amanus you created; Tabor and Hermon rejoice in your name.

Psalm 89 10:13 NABRE

I know from reading the notes that Rahab is a sea beast and that Zaphon, Amanus, Tabor and Hermon are mountains. But they could just have easily have been people or places.

Is there something in the Hebrew or Greek that signifies to an audience when a proper noun represents a person or a tribe or a thing?

3 Answers 3

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There's no real way to identify a proper noun (at least in Hebrew). In fact, even if Rahab is interpreted as a sea serpent, there's no real way to determine whether it's "Sea Serpent" or "a sea serpent" (the definite article never appears before names in Hebrew).

Furthermore, it's sometimes impossible to be totally certain in translating a word. The simple עֶרֶב ("evening," Habakkuk 1:8), for instance, is interpreted by the LXX as עֲרָב ("Arabia"). Even if a word isn't a proper noun, there are often many ways to interpret it.

That said, some ways to identify a proper noun are:

The Bible itself

The best way to know is from other places in the Bible. Obviously, a prose description of Rahab (like we have for many other figures in poetry, like Moses or David) would be the best starting point, but it doesn't exist (discounting the story of the Exodus, which doesn't mention Rahab). Traditions about Rahab have to be pieced together from the different poetic verses that speak about Rahab.

The notes you quoted give one good example of using prooftexts in this manner:

[89:11] Rahab: a mythological sea monster whose name is used in the Bible mainly as a personification of primeval chaos, cf. Jb 9:13; 26:12; Ps 74:13–14; Is 51:9.

Note that Isaiah 51:9, for instance, uses רהב in parallel to תנין (serpent), which makes it clear that the two are connected.

Context

Psalms 40:5, on the other hand, clearly is not speaking of any sort of serpent when it uses רהבים to mean "arrogant people" (in parallel to שטי כזב).

Between the two possibilities of a sea serpent and arrogant people, the verse in question (Psalms 89:11) can be either, but the context of the sea and slaying foes seems to favor the first explanation.

External Sources

The Talmud (Bava Batra 74b) explicitly describes Rahab as the "minister of the sea" (שרו של ים), and this is sometimes taken as an additional proof for the idea of Rahab being identified with the split sea. However, external sources are less reliable and can (and often do) use the same words for different concepts, so this should be used cautiously.

(Ugaritic texts are often invoked regarding Rahab, but since they, like the Exodus, don't actually mention Rahab, I am ignoring this source.)

Knowledge of mythology, geography, and history can all be put to use. They can be learned from contemporary sources (but of course also from reference works, and footnotes on Bibles).


As for Zaphon and Amanus (apparently these mountains), I am not quite sure what proofs can be brought for Amanus from the Bible itself. בעל צפון was also a place (Exodus 14:2), and could be referred to here, but I'm not aware of any sacred mountain called "ימין." The decision to translate it as Amanus is probably due to context (Tabor and Hermon appear many times as mountains). However, צפון can mean north and ימין can mean south, so I see no reason why not to translate "north and south."

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The scripture of God is contained in many books, scattered much like the nation/people of Israel. There are key-words which relate to other scriptures, mountains and nations are most notable. You will know what I speak of when you ask for truth with and accepting heart.

Also the way in which your specified article is written, is highly exalting of God, giving him glory through his works. You're right that the scripture contains prompts or key-links so that man can keep to the very fine path God has ordained -- a straight and narrow path.

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In the literal historical school you must read everything as literal unless you simply cannot, then you may be permitted to read it figuratively.

In methods which recognize sensus plenior, God speaks in double entendre; he has two intended meanings.

Ps 89:9 Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.

This was literally fulfilled as a prophecy when Jesus calmed the seas. It was spiritually fulfilled (as the firmament between the waters) when Jesus reconcile Holiness and love on the cross.

Ps 89:10 Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.

Rahab also means proud. Why should we not understand that this is a parallel teaching to the following?

Job 40:12 Look on every one [that is] proud, [and] bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place. Ps 101:5 Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Ps 119:21 ¶ Thou hast rebuked the proud [that are] cursed, which do err from thy commandments.

The raging sea and proud Rahab are tied together by:

Job 38:11 And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?

The next couplet speaks of heaven and earth:

Ps 89:11 The heavens [are] thine, the earth also [is] thine: [as for] the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them. Ps 89:12 The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.

North is a metaphor for heaven: the word Zaphon means treasure, and we are told to store up our treasure in heaven.

South is a metaphor for the earth. East is eternity and west is time.

Tabor though a mountain, means purpose of the Son's (teaching by clarification; joining and separating). It is a metaphor of his earthly life.

Hermon is the mountain of tranfiguration. It has three peaks, and means sanctuary. It is a metaphor for his resurrection and heaven.

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