Wednesday, January 26, 2011

God's Hornet

In Exodus 23:28 the Lord promises to assist with the driving out of three Cannanite nations through the use of a tsir-aw צִּרְעָ֖ה, the definition of which is the stuff of a fascinating discussion.(summarized by Prof. Haim Genizi).

Here's how the ancient and medieval interpreters took it:

  • Saadya Gaon: Sickness of some kind
  • Rashi: Insect, presumably a hornet
  • Ibn Ezra: A plague, connected to tzara'at [=leprosy]
  • Ramban: A bee

The modern interpreters have other ideas:

J. Garstang: The word bee is a metonym for Egypt, because it was used as a symbol for the country itself. The bee hieroglyph was first used to denote the king of Lower Egypt (the king of Upper Egypt was denoted with a reed), and is found on inscriptions from the First Dynasty down to the Roman period. Gerstrang reasons that the verse is promising that Egypt will help pave the way for conquest, and indeed letters and the like have been found suggesting that Egypt had dominion over the Canaanite people in ways that likely weakened their kings. For skeptics, this is a subtle example of vaticinium ex eventu.

Robert Alter: Observing the previous verse [Ex. 23:27] in which God promises to send his "terror" [ אֵֽימָתִי֙] Alter proposes that tsir'aw be emended ra'ats, which means Smash. (its a rearrangement of two letters) As he says, this change produces a parallel (much of the section seems to be written in verse) with "terror" suggesting that God will send his terror, and smash the opposition.

Search for more information about vaticinium ex eventu. at

No comments: