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In Psalm 2:9 is the verb תְּ֭רֹעֵם from the root רָעָה shepherd (basis for translation of LXX) or רָעַע break (MT Masora)?

תְּ֭רֹעֵם has multiple homonyms, three based on the root רָעָה and two off the root רָעַע. Two of these five make sense, the root רָעָה shepherd or רָעַע break.

  • Most modern translations including the KJV follow the Masoretic Text (MT) and translate this verb as "You will break them" or a synonym.
  • However, the Septuagint (LXX) translates assuming different vowels from the MT and assumes תְּ֭רֹעֵם, translated ποιμανεῖς αὐτοὺς ("You will shepherd then") and,
  • the Vulgate reges eos ("You shall rule them," i.e. shepherd).
  • Rev. 19:15 appears to quote the LXX ποιμανεῖ αὐτοὺς ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ, only changing person from 2nd to 3rd, and is usually translated in the modern English translations, "he will rule them with a rod of iron" (ESV).

Is there an objective way to determine how to translate this verb תְּ֭רֹעֵם?

Psalm 2:9 has synonymous parallelism.

Synonymous parallelism Synonymous parallelism occurs the most frequently and is the best known of the three categories. Synonymous parallelism, according to most interpreters, is the repetition of the same thought in two different phrases using two different, yet closely related, sets of words. Psalm 2 is, with only minor exceptions, constructed out of synonymous lines.

Why do the nations conspire
  and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
  and the rulers gather together
against the LORD
  and against his Anointed One.
“Let us break their chains,” they say,
  “and throw off their fetters.”

Longman, T., III. (1988). How to Read the Psalms (p. 99). IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press.

In verse 9 we have:

 תְּ֭רֹעֵם בְּשֵׁ֣בֶט בַּרְזֶ֑ל 
 כִּכְלִ֖י‬ יֹוצֵ֣ר תְּנַפְּצֵֽם׃
 (Psalm 2:9, BHS-MT2003)

So then, we are left with what does נפץ mean? The predominant using in the MT favors shatter or break, but in can mean crush, as is an alternative of συντρίβω in the LXX. It is much more common for a potter, when dissatisfied with a vessel, to smash the wet clay back together and reshape it, so that the clay is not waisted rather than to waist a pot by breaking it. Thus, in the parallel the question still remains and leans toward what a potter does as the first step of reshaping a vessel.

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  • Yet another of the numerous differences between the MT and LXX!!!
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 23:09
  • You have different texts based on competing Hebrew vorlages written in different times and places. What would be the criteria for objectively picking one over another? These issues are ultimately decided by theology and other arguments, rather than from the texts themselves.
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 5:55

2 Answers 2

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For the quotations of Psalm 2:9 in Revelation, given that John is writing inspired text, I would conclude that "shepherding/ruling" is correct in those contexts.

Verses below based from NA28

Revelation 19,15b ...and he himself will shepherd/rule ποιμανεῖ them with a rod of iron...

Revelation 12,5a And she bore a son, a male, who is fixing to shepherd/rule μέλλει ποιμαίνειν the nations with a rod of iron...

Revelation 2,27a And he will shepherd/rule ποιμανεῖ them with a rod of iron...

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Malbim and Radak translate תְּ֭רֹעֵם as breaking, seeing a parallel/contrast between the first and last words of the verse.

תְּ֭רֹעֵם is breaking or puncturing while left intact, while תְּנַפְּצֵֽם is to shatter, where the shards scatter.

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  • But what the potter does can also be debated. See edited question.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Mar 17 at 21:54

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