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I have an assignment on the meaning behind the King James Version translation of Numbers 12:8:

With him [Moses] will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold;

I suspect that Psalm 106:20 and Hosea 12:10 as translated in the King James Version are also relevant with regard to understanding the Hebrew words “temunah” and “adameh”. So far, this is what my research has uncovered:

International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia – Similitude: In the King James Version means either "an exact facsimile" (Psalms 106:20 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) "likeness"; Romans 5:14, etc.), or else "the form itself" (Numbers 12:8; Deuteronomy 4:12,15,16 for temunah, "form" (so the Revised Version (British and American))); compare LIKENESS. the English Revised Version has retained the word in 2 Chronicles 4:3; Daniel 10:16 (the American Standard Revised Version "likeness"), while the English Revised Version and the American Standard Revised Version have used "similitudes" in Hosea 12:10 (damah, "be like"). The meaning is "I have inspired the prophets to speak parables."

Similitude (King James Dictionary): A likeness; image; representation: “They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image. Thus they changed their glory into the SIMILITUDE of an ox that eateth grass. They forgat God their saviour, which had done great things in Egypt” (Psalm 106:19-21).

Source: https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/similitude/

Having compared Numbers 12:8 in the King James Version with the New Living Translation, the NLT appears to infer that Moses actually saw the face of God. The English Standard Version suggests that Moses saw only a likeness of God. Perhaps the specific language of the KJV is key to understanding the theological meaning behind the original Hebrew?

I would like to know what “dark speeches” means, as well as the significance of the English word “similitude” as it applies within the context of Numbers 12:8.

  • 1
    If you are in school shouldn't you be consulting a lexicon rather than a "King James Dictionary"? Or is your school KJV only? – Ruminator Nov 1 '18 at 11:45
  • This is not a school assignment (I'm the wrong side of 60 for that). I did not choose the topic, nor the fact that the person asking me this question seeks insights based on the King James Version. My task is simply to respond to the question being asked. I am interested, however, in the significance of any differences between the KJV, the NLT and ESV translations. The key to finding an answer, I suspect, lies in understanding the meaning of the Hebrew words. – Lesley Nov 1 '18 at 14:36
  • Lesely I edited your question and changed "temura" to "temuna". However i'm unsure as to which word you are referring when you say "damah". As far as I can tell there is no such Hebrew word to be found in that verse! Can you perhaps double check your spelling? Or tell me the English translation and I'll find you the Hebrew original. – Bach Nov 1 '18 at 14:39
  • I got it from the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia which said the English Revised Version and the American Standard Revised Version have used "similitudes" in Hosea 12:10 (damah, "be like"). Likewise, the same source said the Hebrew word temunah means "form". I have zero knowledge of the Hebrew language - which is why I'm asking this question! – Lesley Nov 1 '18 at 14:45
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    Oh got it. These two words are very different and not at all similar. Like you said, temuna means form or image while אדמה prob means something else. The KJV however chose to translate the latter as "used similitudes". It is a rather rare Hebrew word, so there is no agreement among translations how to properly translate the word "adameh". I will leave it up to someone else ;) – Bach Nov 1 '18 at 14:51
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I believe the phrase you are representing as "adameh" is dark speeches. I'm not sure where you are getting this transliteration. In the lexicons I have access to, the Masoretic Text חִידָה is represented as something like chîydâh (Genesius), ḥîdâ (Holiaday and Köhler), and ḥî·ḏā or ḥî·ḏāh, with meanings like "riddle", "enigma", and "perplexing saying". The Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translates the word as riddle; the Judaica Press translation of Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg also translates the word as riddle. The Greek translation of the word in the Septuagint is αἴνιγμα (ainigma; i.e. "enigma").

The rabbinic commentary on the phrase by Rashi (1040-1105) reads:

in a vision but not in riddles: “A vision” refers to the vision of speech, for I express My communication to Him with absolute clarity, and I do not obscure it with riddles in the way it was said to Ezekiel, “Present a riddle” (Ezek. 17:2). I might think that it refers to the vision of the Divine Presence [itself]! Scripture therefore teaches, “You are not able to see My face” (Exod. 33:23). - [Sifrei Beha’alothecha 1:42:8, Tanchuma Tzav 13]


The word represented by "temunah" (similitude) is תְּמוּנָה, meaning "form" or "manifestation" (see, e.g., Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semitic Domains: Hebrew). In the King James Version it also translated as likeness (e.g. Exodus 20:4) and image (Job 4:16). It is distinct from the words that appear in Genesis 1:26 - And God said, Let us make man in our image (צֶ֫לֶם - ṣě·lěm), after our likeness (דְּמוּת - demûṯ). According to some of the same lexicons mentioned above it means something like form or manifestation. The JPS Tanakh translates the word as likeness; the Judaica Press translation inserts image. The Septuagint uses the word εἶδος (eidos) - the same word used, for instance, in Luke 3:22:

And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him ...

Rashi's commentary here is:

and He beholds the image of the Lord: This refers to a vision of the “back,” as it says,“and you will see My back” (Exod. 33:23). - [Sifrei Beha’alothecha 1:42:8, Tanchuma Tzav 13]


Dr. Bernard Levinson, in his commentary on the overall passage to which this verse belongs, writes:

God distinguishes Moses’ prophetic privileges from those accorded any other prophet. Moses can speak to God directly, in live dialogue rather than in dreams or visions.1

Augustine explained the passage:

It is shown later in the book of Numbers that even what he asked was granted to his desire, for thereby the Lord rebuked the sister of Moses for her obstinacy. The Lord appeared to the other prophets in visions and dreams but to Moses plainly and not by riddles. He added the words And he saw the glory of the Lord. Why then did God make such an exception of him, if not perhaps that he considered him such a ruler of his people, so faithful a minister of his whole house, that he was worthy, even then, of that contemplation, so that, as he desired, he saw God as he is—a contemplation promised to all his sons at the end of life (cf. 1 John 3:2)2


This is kind of a hodgepodge of information, but perhaps some of it is useful.


1 Oxford Jewish Study Bible (2nd ed.), p. 338
2 Letters, Vol III

  • – A hodgepodge of information is welcome when it actually focuses on the question being asked. Thanks for your input. – Lesley Nov 1 '18 at 17:39
  • I think this has some good information, but you don't expand on what I think is the main point, which is how the Bible describes Moses seeing God. You quote Exodus 33:23 (via Rashi). There is also Exodus 24:10 – b a Nov 1 '18 at 18:09
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One of the two terms Lesley seems to refer is חידת, 'to ideate, to arrange an enigma, or riddle'. In the passage at issue (Num 12:8) this term is put in an antonymous parallelism with the term מראה, 'to observe with clearness'. So, it couldn't be a trouble about his meaning.

The other term (תמנת) is often translated with 'representation', or alike. All the 'representations' possess, in fact, only a partial match with the 'real' object. An example could be useful. If we need a geographic map of a territory, we use a map that describe it, in a scale plan, that is a partial silhouette of the real region we have to explore. A lot of geographic (real) details are omitted - necessarily - in a scale-plan geographic map.

So, taking this difference (partial [representation] - full [real object]) into an account, it is preferable to define the term תמנת as 'syntetical, or partial description', or alike.

I hope this is useful for your research.

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In the "Modern Literal Version" of the bible, it is translated as . . .

12:8 With him I will speak mouth to mouth, even manifestly and not in dark speeches and he has beheld the form of Jehovah. Why then were you* not afraid to speak against my servant, against Moses?

MLV. (n.d.). MODERN LITERAL TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE (Nu 12:8).

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

  • As a newby may I know the reason for your downvote here? I thought it came into the realm of his question entirely. I don't understand the point system at all yet. At the rate I'm going I'm never going to reach 15 LOL! – Don Wood Nov 3 '18 at 2:30
  • I don't know who has down-voted your answer, but it wasn't me. Thing is, I'm not looking for how different translations render this verse, but what the original Hebrew words mean. I can see how they've been translated into English, but I want to drill down into the original meanings of the words to better understand the context of the Bible verse. Some folks on BH are very critical (sadly). For example, I don't understand why two people have voted to have my question removed. Perhaps they think it isn't clever enough, or irrelevant. This site can be hard work, at times. – Lesley Nov 5 '18 at 16:21

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