Genesis 22:13 (MT) reads:

וַיִּשָּׂ֨א אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֶת־עֵינָ֗יו וַיַּרְא֙ וְהִנֵּה־אַ֔יִל אַחַ֕ר נֶאֱחַ֥ז בַּסְּבַ֖ךְ בְּקַרְנָ֑יו וַיֵּ֤לֶךְ אַבְרָהָם֙ וַיִּקַּ֣ח אֶת־הָאַ֔יִל וַיַּעֲלֵ֥הוּ לְעֹלָ֖ה תַּ֥חַת בְּנֽוֹ׃

And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son. (JPS)

The bolded word, אַחַ֕ר, is a source of debate in this verse.
There are three Hebrew words that look similar to each other, and could all potentially fit in as suitable variants for this verse.

The first possibility is the word אחר 'âchar, or aw-khar', as the MT reads. It could be translated as any of H309, H310, or H311.

A second possibility is the word אחר 'achêr or akh-air'. This differs from the Masoretic reading by a small change in vowelization of the Hebrew letter heth in this word, but does not require an emendation of the consonantal text. It can be translated as H312 or H313 .

A third possibility is the word אחד 'âchad or aw-khad', which may be supported by various ancient translations. This differs from the Masoretic reading in the final Hebrew letter, which would be changed from a resh to a daleth, and the vowelization may or may not be changed at all. It would be translated as H258 or H259.

Which of these is most likely to be the original reading, and what factors motivate your answer?


Some suggestions must be rejected right-away:

  • H309 is a verb, so presumably you're suggesting either a qal perfect 3ms or a qal participle ms. However, this root is usually used with a verbal complement (tarry to do something), as in Deut. 23:21, or transitively (to delay someone), as in Gen. 24:56. Neither of these is the case here.

  • H311 is just the Aramaic of H310, it does not apply in Genesis which is by and large Hebrew.

  • H313 is a proper name occurring only once, it cannot be used here.

  • H258 is a root attested once, in the hithpael. It is unclear what the qal would mean, but its usage in this verse is highly unlikely.

The remaining options are then:

  • H310, "after" (of place or time) was originally a substantive ("the back"), after which it became an adverb (spatial "at the back, behind" or temporal "then, afterwards") and finally a preposition ("at the back" or "after" something). See Joüon-Muraoka, §103a. They specifically refer to Gen. 22:13 for the adverbial sense. Although this would be the only place the adverb would be attested, substantive → adverb → preposition is a very common path of grammaticalization. Hence, there is no issue that there is no prepositional complement. Many English translations (KJV, NIV, ESV, NASB) with "behind him" suggest a prepositional reading, but one would expect a prepositional argument in this case. The issue with an adverbial reading is however that one may still wonder, "in the back of what?"

    Rashi based on the targumim suggests a temporal reading of H310: after the words of the angel in the preceding verse. This resolves that issue, but the chronology is already captured in the waw consecutive form וַיִּשָּׂא "(Abraham) lifted up (his eyes)", and having a temporal adverb in this place would be odd.

  • H312, "other" resolves the issue as well. It provides a very natural translation: Abraham saw another ram. Implicit would be that Isaac was the first ram. This captures the important aspect that the ram is offered instead of Isaac (also reflected by תַּחַת later in this verse). The main problem here is that the Masoretic pointing has to be adapted.

  • H259, "one" requires an emendation of the consonantal text, although several manuscripts and versiones attest it. The translation has no difficulties.

In my view, H259 must be rejected on the basis of lectio difficilior potior: when there are two options, and one is easier than the other, the easier must be rejected. This is because a scribe may easily misread the more difficult reading for the easier, thus introducing corruption, but a change in the other direction would be less likely.

Although reading H312 is tempting, "another" would have to refer all the way back to vv. 9-10. There Isaac may be identified with a ram for offering. However, nowhere this comparison is made explicit.

The targumim and the Masoretic do not stand alone but are the result of a tradition of reading the texts in a certain way with a certain meaning. Although it is not impossible that this tradition has changed through time over the many centuries up to the vocalization of the texts, this is not very likely in the case of such an important text. Therefore, I would also tend toward H310 in favour of H312.

The issue remains whether we are to give H310 a spatial or a temporal reading. I still find Rashi's suggestion an odd reading of the text, but "behind him" cannot be maintained either. Perhaps we are to understand it as a spatial adverb, "in the back of his sight", i.e. one of the furthest things he can see. I would imagine that due to the thicket Abraham cannot see that far, say 10-20 metres, and at such a distance he would see the ram hidden in the bushes.

  • Excellent answer +1. I have some comments on this, but they will have to wait until I am at an actual computer later (I'm on my phone right now). – user22655 Aug 5 '18 at 11:54
  • 1
    See here page 321 (which is page 9 of the pdf). You might also like the interesting theory expressed in footnote 24 here. – user22655 Aug 5 '18 at 17:40
  • @רבותמחשבות thanks for the extra pointers. I find the approach in the PDF, to not try to force a rigid syntactic structure onto the sentence, interesting (it is compatible with several readings). – user2672 Aug 7 '18 at 4:49
  • I felt that it was very related to your approach in this answer, so I shared. – user22655 Aug 7 '18 at 12:09

The term אחר we've found in the Masoretic Texts can be translated as "(from) behind", and the Vulgate follows strictly this reading ("post tergum").

Differently, the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Peshitta, along with the Targumim (not to mention several Hebrew manuscripts), read the term אחר as equivalent to 'one', or 'only' (that is, 'a solitary ram').

However, the same term can be translate also with a temporal sense, 'after that', with a more fluent sense, probably. In this way translates Symmachus: "μετα τουτο".

  • 1
    Note that you didn't actually answer the question, which was about the original... – user22655 Aug 5 '18 at 12:39
  • Saying that a translation using אחר 'with a temporal sense' ("after that") has a 'more fluent sense' (my mistake: 'more fluid sense'), it would be clear toward what I'm inclined of. I might be wrong, but for me Symmachus' way of translate this preposition - in this instance - seems good to me. – Saro Fedele Aug 5 '18 at 16:14
  • 1
    I understand; try to clarify the post by editing it if you can... – user22655 Aug 5 '18 at 17:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy