Abraham's servant is on a mission to find Isaac a wife, and he is blessed in that work. Upon Rebekah's fulfilling of the sign conditions of the servant's prayer to YHWH (Gen 24:12-20), the servant provides two immediate gifts to her in Gen 24:22 (NKJV, bold added):

So it was, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a golden nose ring weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels of gold.

But translations vary on whether this was a ring for the ear, nose, or possibly otherwise:

  • Ear ring: AKJV, Douay-Rheims, KJV, KJB2000, Webster's
  • Nose ring: NET, NIV, NKJV, NLT, GWT, ISV
  • Pendant (Not a ring at all): Jubilee
  • Ring (uncommitted location): All other versions on that source page (as of the original posting of this question)

Now as I note in another question about earrings and idolatry, I am aware that the term used in this verse for the ring is:

נֶזֶם (nězěm), which may also mean merely ring or nose-ring, according to both Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson, and Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000) and Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977).

So linguistically, I grasp why there is variation in the translations. What I am curious to know is:

  1. The older English translations (KJV, Douay-Rheims) favored earring, whereas newer one's favor either nose ring or non-commitment in translation. Is there a documented reason for this shift in translating this passage?
  2. Based on current knowledge of the historical, cultural context regarding jewelry and marriage transactions, what is the most likely type of "ring" this would have been: a single earring (the word נֶזֶם is singular in the text), a nose ring, or some other type of ring (and if so, where would it have been worn—a neckless hoop, a head ring, etc.)?

Ellicott commentary on Genesis 24:22 "(22) Earring.—Really nose-ring; for in Genesis 24:47 the man places it on her nose, wrongly translated face in our version. The word occurs again in Ezekiel 16:12, where it is rendered jewel, and again is placed “on the nose;” it is also similarly translated jewel in Proverbs 11:22, where it is placed in “a swine’s snout.” It was hung not from the central cartilage of the nose, but from the left nostril, the flesh of which was pierced for the purpose; and such rings are still the usual betrothal present in Arabia, and are commonly worn both there and in Persia, made not only of gold and of silver but of coral, mother-of-pearl, and even cheaper materials. (See Quotation in Note on Genesis 24:16.) Its weight, about a quarter of an ounce, would make it not more disfiguring than many of the personal ornaments worn at the present time."

It seems some newer translations had access to the same knowledge Ellicott did concerning the mistranslation of nose and face and other verses where it's used as a nose ring.

Based on Ellicott's understanding, the nose ring is more likely to be given as a betrothal gift.

  • FYI, I found the commentary you referred to online here: studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/genesis-24.html While the answer is useful, it is very unfortunate that Ellicott gives no citations for where he is getting his information from. – ScottS May 13 '19 at 19:50

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