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Proposed correction of the Hebrew text

I know a professor of religious sciences who saw problems with Job 26:12-13 considering it a hapax, especially in the following verse.

ברוחו שמים שפרה By his wind the heavens were made fair;

He sees a problem with this structure since it escapes the parallelism in which it is inserted, his proposal is to do it like this

ברוחו שמ ים שפרה

It is based on Chaim Cohen's work, Biblical hapax legomena in the light of Akkadian and Ugaritic. Claiming that the scribes lost the original meaning of the word שפרה, which originally in the Akkadian language would mean “net” but tradition came to understand it as sweeping or beautified, he also considers שמים wrong because they would be two words that ended up joining over time and coincidentally formed a word, שמ would be by or put and ים would be sea or Yam

So it would look like this

בכחו רגע הים ובתובנתו מחץ רהב׃ ברוחו שמ ים שפרה חללה ידו נחש בריח׃

With his strength he shook the sea or Yam And with his dexterity, he harmed Rahab With his wind he caught Yam or sea in his net The primeval serpent pierced his hand

Has Judaism seen criticism of this text and how do they respond? Does anyone disagree? This professor knows Hebrew so he seems to be an authority on the subject, you can't say he doesn't understand the issue.

He has published an article about this text but it is in Portuguese, for those who don't know I'm from Brazil, I can insert the article if you want to know more in depth but you will have to know Portuguese or know someone who knows Portuguese.

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    Iyov is one of the books of Tanach noted for its wealth of hapax legomena, but in this case classical commentators (e.g. Rashi and Metzudas David) tend to view "שִׁפְרָה" as meaning that HaShem spread the heavens out as a beautiful canopy, emanating from the ש-פ-ר root (with a sense similar to "וְנָטָה אֶת שַׁפְרִירוֹ" in Yirm'yahu 43:10, describing a canopy).
    – Fred
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 18:36
  • Do you mean to say that this professor feels the need to maintain parallelism with the word "ים" in both 26:12 and 26:13? I don't understand why he feels compelled to amend the text on that basis, since you repeatedly see "ים" and "שמים" contrasted in Iyov (e.g. 9:8, 11:8-9, 14:11).
    – Fred
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 18:38
  • It rests more on the question of words originally having another meaning. שִׁפְרָה originally according to Chaim Cohen would have a meaning of “net” and not to beautify or sweep and this would fit in the parallelism that surrounds it and the שמ ים that is together in the Masoretic text accidentally the copyist united them and gave in a single word, that is, loss of the original meaning of the word and error when copying another one formulated a loss of meaning in the text in which it was strange to read
    – Thales
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 18:46
  • @Shmuel Thanks for editing my question by inserting a link to queries in the content, I'm still learning
    – Thales
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 19:30
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    @conceptualinertia It's not a problem. This effort by Professor Tur Sinai strikes me as an example of the phenomenon in the field of higher criticism (other fields are also not immune to this) where a scholar comes up with some emendation or other notion, falls in love with their own idea, and then becomes blind to its glaring shortcomings. Another example of this: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/73933/…
    – Fred
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 21:46

2 Answers 2

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I am not a dikduk expert but by my reading the text in front of us fits well and there's no evidence for changing it.

First, this verse, Job 26:11, is part of a sequence of verses that describes G-d's power and formation of the Earth, the Heavens, and the Water.

So 26:7 describes G-d hanging the earth on nothingness:

נֹטֶ֣ה צָפ֣וֹן עַל־תֹּ֑הוּ תֹּ֥לֶה אֶ֝֗רֶץ עַל־בְּלִי־מָֽה -- He stretched the North over chaos, he suspended the the Earth on nothingness

26:8-9 then move on to the heavens (both physical and spiritual) describing G-d's creation of clouds and his hiding of the heavenly Throne.

The four verses 26:10-13, then go back and forth discussing G-d's guidance and power over the seas and the heavens.

26:10 discusses G-ds control of the seas on Earth through the boundary between water and land and light (above the water surface) and darkness (below the water surface).

26:11 discusses G-d's power as it relates to the heavens.

26:12 turns back to the seas this time emphasizing G-d's power over the sea.

Finally, in 26:13, Job describes G-d's use of the wind to control or create beautiful boundary for the heavens (see Ibn Ezra ad loc.) The reference to the escaping serpent is relevant to both the heavens and the waters as explained by the Malbim on this verse.

In summation, the verses in Job 26:10-13 go back and forth multiple times between heaven (aka, the upper waters in Genesis 1) and seas of Earth (aka, the lower waters). The opening and closing verses focus more on G-d's guidance and control. The two middle verses focus on G-d's power.

שפרה in turn is not really a Hapax Legemon, but rather a variation on known words, as explained by Rashi and Ibn Ezra on the spot.

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  • You are forgetting that the structure of the text deals with cosmogonic objects, Yam, Rahab, primeval serpent. Referring to mythologies of the Levant, or what would Rahab be? The prostitute who helped in the conquest of Canaan? Or pride and insolence? So correlating with God's creations or his divine aspect doesn't seem to make sense. However, verse 3 deviates from the pattern of what was being presented before and after, it has no cohesion, while reinterpreting שפרה and admitting that there was a failure in the transmission of שמ ים can elucidate and thus give cohesion to the parallelism.
    – Thales
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 23:04
  • @Thales I think you are presuming meaning that is not all obvious. Clouds and water are not cosmogonic objects. The Jewish commentaries have various explanations on what Rahab and the Serpent are without interpreting them as cosmogonic. But regardless, the parallel still works. Sea, Heaven, Sea, Heaven. The last Sea compares his power over the sea with his power over Rahab. And the last Heaven compares his power over heaven with his power over the Nachash. Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 23:18
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    @Thales In your professor's version the verses go Sea, Heaven, Sea, Sea. That just doesn't fit well. Either group all of the sea verses together or alternate consistently. According to your position, it is awkward. I'm also not sure how you are translating רגע הים (quieting or stilling the sea). Why do you think that parallel with מָ֣חַץ רָֽהַב works better than 26:13? Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 23:22
  • The 4 objects refer to cosmological beings, Yam in the mythology of the Levant represents the indomitable sea, chaos. Rahab represents a kind of sea monster, then we have the untamed sea again and at the end a monster, of course I am leaning towards those who claim that Job was influenced by the surrounding myths. Heaven in their midst as it is in the Masoretic text is not standard.
    – Thales
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 23:31
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    @Thales 1) In your version, why is Yam mentioned twice but the other two are only mentioned once. 2) הַיָּ֑ם is The sea, not a proper name, Yam. 3) In which texts is heaven not in the middle of the sea discussion? It seems to me that you are proposing a different parallelism but not really explaining why mine is invalid and acknowledging that mine fits the Masoretic text better. So if we have a valid parallelism with the text before us, why would we change the text to fit some other theoretical parallelism? Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 23:59
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Conceptual Inertia posted a good answer on parallelism and hapax legomena. But just to add a couple of points:

Dr. Chaim Cohen (Biblical Hapax Legomena in the Light of Akkadian and Ugaritic, 1978) observed that the Hebrew "שפרה" is a possible cognate of the Akkadian "šaparru" (meaning "net"). However, this does not imply that the two words share the same meaning. Often, the definitions of cognates diverge in their respective languages, including Semitic languages as closely related as Hebrew, Akkadian, and Ugaritic.

As Rashi1 and the Metzudas David observe in their commentaries on Job 26:13, "שִׁפְרָה" bears a similarity with the Hebrew word "שפריר" (a noun meaning "canopy", cf. Jeremiah 43:10, "וְנָטָה אֶת שַׁפְרִירוֹ") and may be a pi'el conjugation ("He canopied the heavens"). There's a degree of similarity in meaning between "canopy" and "net" that is consistent with what you'd expect of Semitic cognates.

It seems Cohen disregarded this and chose to simply apply the precise Akkadian translation of "šaparru" directly to the Hebrew in Job 26:13. Professor Naftali Herz Tur-Sinai took this further and suggested splitting שמים into two words (שָׂם יָם), which he felt would make the verse more consistent with Cohen's translation:

ברוחו שם ים שפרה

Which Prof. Tur-Sinai interprets to mean:

With His wind, He caught the sea in His net

There are a number of problems with this, however. First of all, this emendation appears highly speculative. It is ostensibly motivated to by a preference for associating a net with the sea rather than the heavens (which presupposes that Cohen's translation of "net" is compelling, which it is not), as well as a desire to impose a polytheistic Levantine mythological milieu onto Job.

Secondly, Tur-Sinai's hypothesis would require that שפרה also be emended to "בְּשִׁפְרָתוֹ" as a noun with a prepositional prefix and possessive suffix. None of this is indicated in the text.

Thirdly, Akkadian has many different words for "net", and "šaparru" carries the sense of a net used for transporting something over land rather than for catching something or for use in the water.

Incidentally, Tur-Sinai's use of the past participle "שָׂם" ("placed" or "put") seems a bit unusual in this context. In Biblical Hebrew, when "שָׂם" or other conjugations of its root operate on large features of geography or nature (the land, the sea, the sky, countries, cities, etc.), and specifically when those features are the direct object of an independent clause, they typically mean "made" or "transformed" rather than "placed" or "put" (e.g., "Who made [שָׂם] the whole world?" Job 34:13, where "world" is the direct object2).

By contrast, when describing the Almighty's physical movement of these large features of geography, the verses tend to employ a variegated assortment of different verbs, some of which appear in this very chapter (26) of Job ("נֹטֶה צָפוֹן", "תֹּלֶה אֶרֶץ", "רָגַע הַיָּם") and elsewhere ("הַמַּעְתִּיק הָרִים" in 9:5, "הַמַּרְגִּיז אֶרֶץ מִמְּקוֹמָהּ" in 9:6, "נֹטֶה שָׁמַיִם" in 9:8, as well as other conjugations of נתן, שלח, רקע, etc.). If Job 26:13 is indeed describing placing the sea into a net, one might have expected some such verb to appear. Alas, it does not.

Finally, the word "שָׁמַיִם" ("heavens") that appears in the Masoretic text of Job 26:13 also shows up hundreds of times throughout the Bible. On the other hand, there are zero Biblical appearances of word pair ("שם ים") with which Tur-Sinai wishes to replace it. This itself renders Tur-Sinai's emendation improbable.

Professor Tur-Sinai's approach to this verse seems to require a lot of unnecessary tinkering. Even if one insists on using Cohen's speculative translation of "שפרה" as "net", it would be far less linguistically problematic to just use it as is ("With His wind, the heavens are a net"3) and leave the text alone.


1Note that Rashi (on Job 26:12 and Isaiah 27:1) identifies both "רָהַב" and "נָחָשׁ בָּרִחַ" as allegorical references to Egypt, the former based on the identification provided by Isaiah 30:7 ("וּמִצְרַיִם הֶבֶל וָרִיק יַעְזֹרוּ לָכֵן קָרָאתִי לָזֹאת רַהַב הֵם שָׁבֶת")

2As opposed to where the large geographical feature is the indirect object, as in Psalms 89:26, where the meaning is "placed"

3Cf. Isaiah 40:22, "הַנּוֹטֶה כַדֹּק שָׁמַיִם"

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  • In the professor's article in question, there is the opposite, it was Tsu-Sinai and not Cohen who first suggested that שפרה means network, Cohen refines Tsu-Sinai's understanding by suggesting that there was a slip by the copyist later, losing the original understanding of שפרה ended up uniting what before would be two words שם ים, making the meaning of the verse something totally new. I will present your text to the professor and wait if he is convinced or bring his counterarguments.
    – Thales
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 10:03
  • @Thales Perhaps I got the Cohen and Tur-Sinai's positions mixed up. I don't have direct access to their writings, and was relying on a combination of what you wrote about their positions and what I found on this site. Anyway, I just added something to the answer about different Akkadian words for "net".
    – Fred
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 10:09
  • @Thales Has the professor responded?
    – Fred
    Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 23:11
  • Reply did but as the references you gave are primarily from religious authorities like Rashi he didn't feel compelled to respond objectively, he just said he agrees with Cohen's conclusions. I consider him a professor who is very closed in his conclusions, especially when the counter-argument is based on religious literature, kind of wanting to be refuted by others like him.
    – Thales
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 0:07
  • @Thales That's weird. I cited Rashi and another commentary once, and it was not critical to my thesis. I marshaled many arguments based on direct analysis of the text, logic, and the actual connotation of the proposed Akkadian cognate. None of which were dependent on "religious authorities." But one mention of "Rashi and the Metzudas David" was enough of a pretext to allow your professor to ignore all my points and continue blindly along the primrose path forged by a different group of authorities. How ironic.
    – Fred
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 0:19

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