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1 Kings 19:8

ויקם ויאכל וישתה וילך בכח ׀ האכילה ההיא ארבעים יום וארבעים לילה עד הר האלהים חרב

(KJV) And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

I know that both אכל and אכילה mean "food," but the latter appears only one time in the Old Testament. The word אכילה is the feminine equivalent of אכל.

Why does the Author choose to use אכילה in 1 Kings 19:8?

  • Maybe אכילה, being feminine, refers to a "small meal," a little version of אכל? Kind of like how שק means "sack" in Modern Hebrew whereas its feminine equivalent makes it a "small sack?" And this interpretation fits nicely with the context since a small (or at least relatively small) quantity of food is able to sustain Elijah for 40 days!
  • Or maybe both words mean the exact same thing?
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  • I think that speculation about the meaning of אֲכִילָה should be supported by comparison to other words with the form קְטִילָה. In Mishnaic Hebrew this would be the gerund of the verb אָכַל, but in the Bible this form is very rare – b a Sep 5 '18 at 8:09
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I don't know of any indications that the feminine counterpart of masculine nouns in Biblical Hebrew can be used as a diminutive. I previously suggested that the case of e.g. Modern Hebrew שׂק is not directly related to gender but to personal names (that this only seems to be possible with ־ת would support this, although I must say I do not know Modern Hebrew).

Rather, in Classical Hebrew we see traces of an older system where grammatical gender had some semantic function. In this system, feminine verbal substantives are often associated with collectives or abstract nouns; on the other hand, a feminine ending added to a masculine collective can indicate a particular item of the collection. Thus, in this system, gender interacts with plurality and definiteness (although it is as far as I know not clear exactly how this system worked originally). For a brief discussion about semantics of gender, see Joüon-Muraoka §134n–p.

Seeing that we have a personal pronoun with demonstrative force here (היא), I would suggest that the feminine here indicates the particular food with regards to the general אכל-event that is introduced by the verb (ויאכל). I had a quick look at the instances of אכל and almost all talk about food in general, supporting this. (The occurrence in Gen. 41:36 is translated with a demonstrative in the KJV, but this demonstrative is absent in the Hebrew.)

In all likelihood, had the text used אכל in 1 Kgs. 19:8, this would have been understood the same way. Although it is possible that the feminine was used to exclude some other interpretations, e.g. that the eating and drinking continued during the forty days (excluded, because the feminine indicates a single unit of food and will therefore be consumed in one meal).

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