Saturday, February 14, 2015

Some Thoughts from the Late "Bar Enosh" on Exodus 3:14

I've pasted together some thoughts from Brother "Bar Enosh." This material was all gathered and posted by the late brother on another forum:

There is no connection with Exodus 3:14 [and John 8:58], because the Hebrew does not say "I Am." It says *ehyeh* which means "I Will Be/Become." As William Propp says in the Anchor Bible's commentary on Exodus 3:14 (1999), "The imperfect of *hyy* [*ehyeh*] always refers to the future. If one could say 'I am that I am' in Hebrew at all, it would probably be through some such barbarous circumlocution as *anoki hu asher anoki hu*'." (page 204)

The ancient translators Theodotion and Aquila had no problem expressing *ehyeh asher ehyeh* as ESOMAI hOS ESOMAI. There is little reason to believe that God is speaking "absolutely" here, rather than enigmatically, both revealing and concealing. In the context of Exodus 1-3, "I will be who/what I will be" is particularly relevant.

Finally, my dear brother "Bar Enosh" wrote:

Because of the situation with Hebrew verbs, or rather our present
understanding of them (or lack thereof), there are times when context
provides key to meaning. What is the context of Exodus 3, if not
what God is going to do in the future for His nation?

I notice that even most translations that, for whatever reason, want
to render EHYEH as "I Am" in Exodus 3:14 translate that same word
as "I will be" just 2 verses prior (3:12)! Why the inconsistency?
If it is "I will be" in Exodus 3:12, it makes sense for it to be "I
Will Be" in verse 14, I would think.

And in fact, that is how many independent, Jewish and other
translations render EHYEH ASHER EHYEH, including the translations in
several commentaries (i.e., _The Anchor Bible: Exodus 1-18_ by
William H.C. Propp: "Then Deity said to Moses, 'I will be who I will
be.' And he said, 'Thus you will say to Israel's Sons: "I-will-be
has sent me to you."'")

"I Am" does not faithfully represent the LXX, the first translation
of Exodus 3:14 into another language. Even though the verse has EGW
EIMI ("I am"), that is not the conclusion of the verse, which
continues, hO WN, "the Being/Self-Existant One." Later translators
in the LXX tradition (e.g., Theodotion) recognized that this
understanding of the LXX translators was not the most faithful
rendition of the Hebrew, and rendered Exodus 3:14 as ESOMAI hOS
ESOMAI, corresponding to "I will be Who I will be."

People will understand or appreciate the context of Exodus 3
differently and thus render Exodus 3:14 differently. But I think it
to be safe ground to interpret the context as relating to God's
future acts involving Moses and Israel.


Duncan said...


Thank you for posting these comments. I heartily agree that "I AM" just does not fit. I also agree that these comments are not wrong, but there is some omission.

Let me demonstrate by quoting Genesis 40:4.

(Bishops) And the chiefe steward gaue Ioseph a charge with them, & he serued them: and they continued a season in warde.

(JPS) And the captain of the guard charged Joseph to be with them, and he ministered unto them; and they continued a season in ward.

(NWT) Then the chief of the bodyguard assigned Joseph to be with them that he might wait upon them; and they continued in jail for some days.

A different context but I think even with this taken into account the word selected shows HAYA in its imperfect sense much more fully than:-

(ABP) ...And they were some days under guard. (not to say that this is in error)

Coming back to overall context:-

(Exodus 3:15) . . .YHWH the mightiest of your forefathers, the mightiest of Abraham, the mightiest of Isaac, and the mightiest of Jacob, has sent me to you. "This is my character for a distant time and this is my memorial for a generation and a generation."

So this is explaining what has been so far and what will continue to be.

In the imperfect in it's full sense is not just "will" but "continue" (continuation of things already started but not finished) . I see no problem in using:-

I continue to become what I continue to become.

From a western perspective we concentrate on what will happen next - but I do not see this specifically in the given verses - It is telling what has happened so far & what will continue to happen (Jehovah will continue to unfold/adapt/develop with Israel, Just as he has been doing with these predecessors).

This just highlight the fact that there is no word for word translation possible for many Hebrew sentences into English without a large expanse of qualification, foot notes & a working understanding of the imperfect.

Duncan said...

Interestingly, the JMNT translates this way from the greek:-

Mat_22:32 "'I, Myself, am (continuously exist being) the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of dead folks, but rather of continuously living people."

Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, I also appreciate the link and additional information. Translating Exod 3:14 is complex, but there's the issue of how we understand the Hebrew imperfective too. No universal agreement exists about these matters, but Saner's thesis helpfully examines the significant questions. Please see

As for the Greek imperfect, we have to consider its aspect along with the Aktionsart of the verbal form.

Best regards,


Edgar Foster said...

For comparison's sake:

"The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be their attendant, and he served them. They spent some time in custody" (NET).

"and the chief of the executioners chargeth Joseph with them, and he serveth them; and they are days in charge" (YLT).

"And the high chamberlain assigned Joseph to them and he ministered to them, and they stayed a good while under guard" (Robert Alter).

Duncan said...


A new post worth reading.

Edgar Foster said...

Thanks, Duncan. I do have this grammar and I used the work to find examples of the construct state when we hashed out that issue.