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The Hebrew in Amos 6:13 reads

הַשְּׂמֵחִים לְלֹא דָבָר הָאֹמְרִים הֲלוֹא בְחָזְקֵנוּ לָקַחְנוּ לָנוּ קַרְנָיִם

The KJV translates thus:

Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?

But the NIV translates:

you who rejoice in the conquest of Lo Debar and say, "Did we not take Karnaim by our own strength?"

The disagreement between those two translations is how to interpret the Hebrew terms לֹא דָבָר קַרְנָיִם. While the KJV gives a literal translation, the NIV and many others take them as names of places. For Lo-dabar cf. 2 Sam. 9:4; 17:27. For Karnaim cf. Gen. 14:5.

The translation of the NIV intrigues me and i would be eager to accept it if not for the Masoretic niqqud vowel sign that seem to contradict it. In all the three instances the place Lo-dabar is found in Samuel the letter Daled of the last word is always pointed with a Shva (דְבָר) indicating that the word Debar is connected with the preceding word Lo. But here it is pointed with a Kames (דָבָר) which suggests that it is not the place mentioned in Samuel.

My question is twofold:

  1. Does the Masoretic niqqud sign agree more with the KJV that these are not names of places and that they are to be literally translated?
  2. Leaving aside the Masoretic niqqud system for a moment, which interpretation is more likely taking into account the context of Amos chapter 6?
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  • Robert Young in his literal translation has the same as the KJV. – Nigel J Apr 22 '18 at 13:00
  • Could always be both/and, knowing the tendency to wordplay in Hebrew poetry. Personally I'm tempted to go with the words, not placenames, interpretation for the primary meaning. I think the pointing with a qamats is a good clue. I'm not sure I'd interpret the sheva that way but the difference is probably significant. (You can never be sure with an atnah that's often paired with vowel lengthening, but that argument would also lead us to expect verse-final davar in 2 Sam 9:4 and it's devar instead.) Incidentally, the names in 2 Sam 17:27 are all possible (puns on) words too. – Luke Sawczak May 11 '18 at 5:34
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To understand better this passage of Amos can be useful connect it with the chapter 5 of Isaiah, to grasp the general meaning of the divine message to the Israelites (especially northern ones). These two prophets painted – even if between them did pass about seventy years - Amos preceding Isaiah – an inside view of the spiritual situation of Israel. Their descriptions are striking similar. In general, the components of God’s people in that epoch – and, the leading men of Israel, particularly - overjoyed on their wealths, neglecting their spiritual need, and that of their subordinates, also.

For example, the wealthy שׁאננים (Amo 6:1), that is, ‘those who are at ease’, or, as Isaiah (5:13) said, the מתי כבודו, that is ‘the glorious (or, ‘honourable’) men’, lived a life of ease (Amo 6: 4, 5; Isa 5:8, 9), sprawling themselves on the sofas (Amo 6:4), annexing to their estates houses upon houses, and fields upon fields (Isa 5:8a), wine boozing themselves, from the morning to the evening (Isa 5:11, 22), even drinking from the מזרקי (Amo 6:6), literally, ‘jams shedding wine’. There, it was no lack of music (Amo 6:5; Isa 5:12). Plainly, according their lifestyle, they weren’t interested about the spiritual degradation in which Israel lived (Amo 6:6; Isa 5:12). They changed the justice into wickedness (Amo 6:12; Isa 5:7, 20), being corrupted and neglecting to make justice on favour of the defrauded ones (Isa 5:23). Well, if we take account of this background, the verse 13 – we are disserting – seems to be structured into a synthetic parallelism’s frame. In this kind of parallelism, the second part of the verse amplifies and clarifies the concept expressed in the first part of it. This was hinted yet by Keil&Delitzsch, inside their Commentary on the OT: “These great men, however, rejoice thereby in לֹא דָבָר, ‘a nothing’, or a thing which has no existence. What the prophet refers to may be seen from the parallel clause, viz., their imaginary strength (chōzeq). They rested this hope upon the might with which Jeroboam had smitten the Syrians, and restored the ancient boundaries of the kingdom. From this might they would take to themselves (lâqach, to take, not now for the first time to create, or ask of God) the horns, to thrust down all their foes. ‘Horns’ are signs and symbols of power (cf. Deu 33:17; 1Ki 22:11); here they stand for the military resources, with which they fancied that they could conquer every foe.” Those wealthy and arrogant men – through the wine effect acting as catalyst – fooled themselves, rejoicing over the “void”, or, “nothing”, that is on their power (‘horns’) they imagined to possess (Amo 6:13; Isa 5:15, 19, 21). Very interestingly, we may note that the link between ‘wine’, ‘illusion’ (= “nothing, void” [דבר לא]) of power, and ‘horns’ [קרנים] was utilized also by extraBible writers. For example, Ovid (some centuries after Amos) in his Ars Amatoria (Book I, Part VII) wrote: “Vina parant animos faciuntque caloribus aptos / cura fugit multo diluiturque mero. / Tunc veniunt risus, tum pauper corna sumit […].” (“Wine rouses courage and is fit for passion / care flies, and deep drinking dilutes it. / Then laughter comes, the poor man dons the horns […].”).

What Amos said in 6:13… in other words.

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Dictionery דבר can be: object, thing, item ; event, occurrence, happening ; anything ; Even though ללא דבר could have been name of place but not in this kind of sentence. Why? השמחים here is the subject and for translate ללא דבר to description adj you should place verb that doesn't exsist (or change ל prefix of ללא to מ that ordering place (מ המקום). ).

Moreover (contextual) - if we take NIV translate we missing the cosmopolitan meaning of Amos prophets in this section. As for most of the old testement we can trust on the niqud system for the right meaning and benefit from the moral that we can learn from it to be modest, humble, unpretentious with our life.

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