Autodidact asked: ‘What are ‘the days of eternity’ (yom olam) in Micah [5:1 (BHS)] asserting about the ruler?’
We’ve understand better the meaning of the term עלם/עולם (OLM/OULM [two variants commonly used in TaNaKh]) translated ‘eternity’ by NASB, along with a number of translations.
First of all, the basic meaning of עלם (OLM) is not ‘to be eternal’, but ‘to be indistinct, indefinite’, and, in reference to time, ‘and unsighted time’.
A homologous (in a semantic way) term in Akkadian (ancient Babylonian) was DA’AMU, ‘to became dark’ (Chicago Assyrian Dictionary [= CAD] III:1). From this term – probably – was derived, through a number of linguistical steps, the English verb ‘to dim’ (referring to ‘something hard to see at’).
Granted, also ‘eternity’ (NASB et al.) – from men’s viewpoint – could be included into the well established concept of ‘indistinctness’, because we humans cannot understand, or, simply imagine, fully, what can indicates a time without a start and/or an end. Nevertheless, there are other situations of ‘indistinctness’ that are not linked with ‘eternity’, necessarily.
For an example, we know – from the Bible account – that the earth had surely a start** (ראשׁית) inside the creation time-frame (Genesis 1:1). Still, Psalm 78:69 applies עלם (OLM) to the ‘earth’.
Also the physical ‘hills’ on the earth had a start, when God did perform the separation between waters and soil (Genesis 1:9). Still, Deuteronomy 33:15 applies עלם (OLM) to the ‘hills’ (very interestingly, this passage has the same two sequential terms used in Micah 5:1 - BHS [קדם > עלם]).
Again, was a ancient Israelite slave able to serve his master ‘eternally’? Exodus 21:6 says he may do עלם (OLM).
These examples would be sufficient to understand that the best translation of עלם(OLM) is one which revolves themselves around the concept of ‘indefinite, indistinct time’. Granted, sometimes עלם (OLM) is linked with ‘eternity’ (or alike), but other times not, as we have seen.
Returning to Micah 5:1 (BHS), Septuagint (LXX) translated the Hebrew term עלם (OLM) with αιωνος, that – strangely enough – has the same meaning of עלם (for one example, the αιωνος [‘era’, ‘epoch’] mentioned in Matthew 24:3 & 28:20 had a start and – according Jesus Christ – will have an end, also).
Probably, from עלם (OLM) derived a number of words that were utilized in the past, but, we also are using some of these derivative words.
For example, Latin language had (the ‘>’ simbol indicates samples of passages of this term in other languages):
- olim, ‘that time’, ‘time ago’ > Anglosaxon hwilum, ‘formerly, times ago’ > Old English whilom > Contemporary English while (as in the expressions like ‘long while ago’, or, ‘it takes a while to read’).
- velum, ‘a veil’ (that is ‘something that hide’) > English veil.
- gloom, that retains all the letters of עלם (OLM) [according John Parkhurst, ‘A Hebrew and English Lexicon’].
- hilma, ‘to hide’.
In view of the information above presented the ‘ruler’ cited by Micah had a time start. We may understand so on the basis of the MT verbal used there יצא (‘to go out’, ‘to go forth’, ‘to spring up’, et cetera), that implies, necessarily, an action that starts on a given time point. So, the Micah’s ‘ruler’ must possess a beginning. Then, in this case, the bynomial link between קדם and עלם point to a translation different from the concept of ‘eternity’. In other words, the origin of the Micah’s ‘ruler’ was ‘lost in the mists of time’, from the viewpoint of a common human.
These clues well refer – from the viewpoint of christian Bible commentators – to the Messiah Jesus Christ.
Then, the translators are justified to translate as a derivative of ‘to be eternal’ only if the Bible context permits so.
As regards Mac’s Musings assertions about the claimed lack of ‘precision’ of Hebrew language (regarding abstract concepts), I think Ruminator was right when he seemed to doubt about that.
Mac’s Musings said: “Hebrew does not have any abstract nouns for a start. As stated above, Hebrew is excellent (and precise) for spiritual ideas and action but not abstract thought.”
It seems a hasty conclusion, because to assert so we should have a corpus of Hebrew texts at least of a size alike the ancient Greek texts have. Unfortunately, the amount of Hebrew texts (at our disposal, today) is a risible fraction compared to the huge amount of ancient Greek texts.
But, even supposing the two corpora of texts (ancient Hebrew vs ancient Greek) were alike (in amount of texts), we have to ask ourselves, ‘what an abstract noun is, really’? And, ‘did ancient Hebrew language possess abstract nouns?’
Cambridge Dictionary (online): “A noun that refers to a thing that does not exist as a material object”.
This being the case, we may easily test the Mac’s Musings claim with the following couple of reference-book’s definitions of ‘abstract noun’:
Collins Dictionary (online): “A noun that refers to an abstract concept, as for example ‘kindness’”.
Just a moment. Ask ourselves: ‘Has the Bible Hebrew language a specific term for ‘kindness’’?.
Surely it has. It is חסד, and it mentioned on hundreds of occurrences in TaNaKh.
MacMillan Dictionary (online): “A common noun that refers to a quality, idea, or feeling rather than to a person or a physical object. For example ‘thought’, ‘problem’, ‘law’, and ‘opportunity’ are all abstract nouns.”
Oops! Sorry, but the TaNaKh do possess them all:
‘thought’ = חשׁב (as in Gen 6:5);
‘problem’ = חוד (as in Pro 1:6);
‘law’ = תורה (as in hundreds of occurrences in TaNaKh). Today, it is worlwide used the term ‘Torah’.
‘opportunity’ = תאנה (as in Judges 14:4).
So, avoiding to expand this argument to other topics, like Hebrew subjective and non-subjective tenses, along with the 3D structure of prepositions, and so on, we may conclude that ‘Biblical’ Hebrew has abstract nouns, because also that people (ancient Israelites) – like all people - needed to think and to speak/write through abstractions, in certain cases).
I hope these information will help.