My question is: In the original Hebrew of Psalm 127:2, what is the syntactial function of the word translated as "sleep"? Is sleep the time (or metaphorically the mode) of giving, or is it the gift itself?
It seems that all major bible translations in my native language (German) render the part referring to 'sleep' as more or less: "because he gives to his (chosen) in their sleep." AFAIK, these translations are supposed to be based on the original Hebrew, but they might be just following Luther in this.
The older Vulgata however renders it as (with my emphasis):
vanum est vobis ante lucem surgere surgere postquam sederitis qui manducatis panem doloris cum dederit dilectis suis somnum.
("... because he has given to his selected sleep").
The difference in meaning is that in the first case "sleep" is the time, or rather the mode of giving: 'his chosen' receive without doing anything; that which is given is that which is lacking if the builders work in vain or if the guard watches in vain.
In the second case, sleep itself is the gift. The meaning of 127:2 could then be paraphrased as: "It is vain for you to be busy and worry about success beyond what needs to be done and what is humanly possible. Sleep is a gift from god not to be cast away."
I find that this sense works better for the architecture of the poem. If it is "in their sleep", then it's not clear at all why the poem suddenly starts to talk about having children. However, if sleep is the gift, then the continuation to 127:3 works by means of a structural equation: "sleep : work :: having children : the future". Sleep is a gift (that we cannot control) that provides the rest necessary to continue work. Likewise, children are a gift (that we cannot control) that provides what's necessary to face the future.
In preparation for writing this question, I looked up the King James version. Except for the present tense of "to give" rather than perfect as in the Vulgata, the translation is as in latin, that is, "sleep" is the gift not the mode of giving:
It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.
Does this correspond to the Hebrew? Or is the King James bible based on the vulgata? What's the tense of "giving" in the original?