Thursday, June 25, 2015

QANAH (Proverbs 8:22) and BARA

Admittedly, the exact sense of QANAH in Prov. 8:22 is highly contested. But there appear to be good reasons for understanding the Hebrew word as "created" in this verse:

"Some scholars question whether the first verb mentioned in v. 22a (QANAH) means anything more than 'to acquire, possess,' but the evidence from Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Hebrew is clear that 'to create' is one of its meanings. In Ugaritic, the fivefold repeated epithet of Asherah, QNYT 'LM, can only mean 'creator of the gods.' In Phoenician, 'L QN 'RS (KAI 26.iii.18) can only mean 'El, creator of the earth.' A similar epithet appears in Gen 14:19, 22, where El Elyon is called 'creator of heaven and earth.' In Deut 32:6 QANAH is parallel to 'to make' and 'to establish.' Thus, the Hebrew verb QANAH, in addition to the meaning 'to acquire, possess,' can also mean 'to create'" (Richard J. Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary, p. 96).

On the other hand, BARA does not necessarily convey a sense of creating something EX NIHILO. A brief search in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament confirms this point. See TDOT 2:242-249.

TDOT notes that the LXX translates BARA by KTIZEIN ("to create") 17 times and POIEIN ("to make") 15 times. Other Greek terms that are used to render BARA are ARXEIN ("to begin"), GENNAN ("to beget"), KATADEIKNUNAI ("to show clearly, make known, establish"), DEIKNUEIN ("to show"), GINESQAI ("to become") and KATASKEUAZEIN ("to build, create"). But KTIZEIN is evidently not used in the LXX book of Genesis, though "the Hexaplaric translations choose KTIZEIN as a technical term" (2:246).

At any rate, BARA is certainly employed in Gen. 1:27 to describe a divine creation that is not produced EX NIHILO. Ps. 104:30 also does not allude to CREATIO EX NIHILO when it speaks of God creating animals through His emanative spirit of holiness. See also 1 QH 1:7; 1 QH 4:38; 1 QS 3:17-18. These Qumranic texts use BARA in a way that does not imply divine creation from nothing (EX NIHILO).

Additionally, Clifford (whom we quoted earlier) adds:

"In Biblical Hebrew, QANAH had two distinct senses--'to possess (by far the most common meaning) and 'to create, beget'" (Clifford, 96). Clifford himself seems to prefer the latter sense for QANAH in Prov 8:22 (94-96). But see the commentary on Proverbs by Michael V. Fox.


Sean Killackey said...

The text either says, "Jehovah possessed me as the beginning of His ways," which would still indicate that Wisdom did not always exist thus the context would indicate that Jehovah created Wisdom. That combined with the traditional interpretation that Jesus is referred to here would seem to suggest that, "Jehovah produced me as the beginning of his way," would seem to be the best option.

Edgar Foster said...

Sean, in that regard, see the comments by Fox at

He backs the "produced/created" understanding.

Duncan said...

Urgatic/phonecian witnessed are relatively late between 800 & 700 bce so the commentators argument only has weight for those subscribing to a documentary hypothesis on the book of genesis.

I am always suspicious of a double definition - KATASKEUAZEIN ("to build, create"). To equip or furnish fully.

From comments on Plato's Protagoras, a translation 317

kataskeuazein means to ‘set up’ as in, especially, to set up a piece of furniture or equipment. ‘Prepare a council’ sounds different.

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, maybe I should make the 1 post, 2 posts, in order to lessen any confusion from the discussion. Originally, I was talking with someone about BARA and QANAH. But without the full context of that dialogue, it may be hard to follow the conversation.

At any rate, the commentator (Clifford) specifically is focusing on Prov 8:22 when he mentions Ugaritic, Phoenician and Hebrew. While it is difficult to date Proverbs, one scholar likes 700 BCE or maybe even 800 will work. Either way, if Clifford is working with one of these dates, he would have no problem invoking Ugaritic or Phoenician witnesses. So, to be clear, his mappeal to these sources is not based on the DH. However, I take the blame for any confusion resulting from this blog entry.

Secondly, words generally seem to mean something within contexts. Hence, they don't have one set definition, but the setting for a term determines what it means. The first link that you provided (from the Hebrews commentary) defines KATASKEUAZEIN as "construct," and points out that it refers to the activity of building something in Heb 3:3-4. Both KJV and NASB use some form of the verb "build" to render this verb.

The commentaary on Hebrews says that KATASKEUAZEIN means "furnish" in Heb 11:7, but there's no reason why it could not also mean "built" or "constructed" (NET Bible) there.

Granted, the word could mean "set up" in Plato, but we must examine the matter synchronically and contextually. For example, note how Aristotle uses MORFH, but then contrast Paul's usage in Philippians 2:6. As with English, Greek and Hebrew denotations and connotations morph over time.

Duncan said...

Sorry about the mix up Edgar.

KATASKEUAZEIN I agree that it can mean built or construct but a definition in the commentary of create seems too large a shift.

I still have a problem with this whole idea of synchronic dating of anything from significant antiquity without a large data set for comparison.

Edgar Foster said...


As I read the original blog entry again, it's TDOT which states that the OG/LXX renders BARA with KATASKEUAZEIN. See Isa 40:28; 43:7. When used that way, it could then mean "to create," but not always. See

Compare Isa 45:7 in LXX.

I believe it's obvious that we have some large data sets for many words, but maybe not for others. I'm not sure how large the set should be, but I have looked at the data for words like MORFH, STAUROS or QEOS (THEOS). We seem to have plentiful examples for these words in specific periods.

Duncan said...

Well for example, theos is a can of worms in first century data across the roman empire.

I would go as far as to say that the comments here do not go far enough. Theos meant Roman governors like pilot. Apotheos (appointed of gods) was exactly that, one who had the authority to set up governors based on the older Persian method of rulership. According to this history a translation of El into theos allows for the idea of judges in the hebrew also.

Stauros is quite strait forward as is morhpe.

Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

As your first link brings out, it's no secret that QEOS meant different things to different audiences. That much seems true, but polysemy or homonymy are common features for most words. However, neither the former nor the latter (homonymy) threaten the synchronic approach. For example, the English word God/god" doesn't mean the same thing for all English speakers either. But I don't see how the polysemous nature of "God/god" would prevent us from learning what the word meant during the 20th/21st century some 2000 years later. After all, analyzing LOGOS synchronically teaches us that the word had at least 10 established senses before and during the Hellenistic era. Synchronism and ploysemy/homonymy can work hand in hand.

Linguists also differentiate sense from reference (Sinn und Bedeutung). There's a difference between what QEOS means/meant and what the word references in varying contexts. Philo uses the word to reference parents, but QEOS doesn't mean "parent." Elohim refers to judges, but it doesn't mean "judge/judges."

The huge debate about STAUROS is whether it signifies "A cross" or an upright stake. That heated discussion is still taking place within the scholarly world.

I would also respectfully submit that MORFH is not that straightforward if you examine the word diachronically and synchronically. Aristotle equates the word with OUSIA; Paul the Apostle apparently does not. In Homer, the word can reference someone's beauty, but I don't find that use of the word in the NT.

Duncan said...

God means deity or supreme being of some form. When is God ever used for a judge? If we want to mean God like, then we say like a God in any version of modern English for any culture.

This is not a fair comparison.

Duncan said...

The irrelevant debate about stauros and crux will continue adnausium. Since neither should be venerated. Many hot debates are mis directions.

Sorry for the synacism but I have just been watching this unrelated but IMO relevant video.

Edgar Foster said...

People sometimes use the word "god" for people like Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey. Or they speak about someone being the god of a particular sport/craft. We normally don't call jusges "god" in English and my point is that the Hebrews/Israelites didn't define elohim as judge or parent either, but they evidently thought the word could reference a judge or parent. I can use the word "god" to reference my dog; but that does not mean "god" signifies/denotes "dog."

Philo refers to parents as gods and he calls Moses a god. He does not just say that these personages are godlike, even if that is what he meant.

Edgar Foster said...

I'm also contending that what "God/god" means to one of Jehovah's Witnesses is not what it necessarily means to a Baptist or Hindu.

Duncan said...

El as mighty in authority fits all of the above. Elohim as mightiest in authority also fits. If theos comes from similar origins then theos would be mighty in a respective domain or occupation. I know you are not convinced as to this definition but it fits better than any other in a concrete language.

Edgar Foster said...

I don't want to cover old ground again, but if Elohim is applied to judges, angels, and parents, then I'm confused about defining the word as "mightiest in authority." But the major point I'm trying to make is that there's a difference between the sense of a word and its reference. So although Elohim could be applied to parents, or QEOI could refer to parents--neither word has that sense or meaning.

Now if you limit the might to a specific domain, then I readily grasp what you're saying, whether I agree or not. But QEOS does not have the same linguistic origins as Elohim. Hellenistic Jews apparently made the semantic connection between the Hebrew and Greek word for God/gods.

Duncan said...

Sorry if my explanation is not clear. El as mighty in authotity. Elohim as mightiest in authority. Like theos in comparative level to ho theos. I would not expect a parent to be referred to using ho theos. Do you know of any instance of such usage?

Edgar Foster said...


I don't have an example of someone calling a parent "ho theos," but there is the passage from Philo of Alexandria, who speaks of parents as theoi. Please see

Grammarians also point out that we can't always draw a hard-and-fast distinction between the anarthrous and articular theos.

Finally, we know that some ancient rulers self-identified with the honorific title, ho theos.

Duncan said...

The rulers aspect does not contradict my point. We know how apo theos became apotheosis over time. It's a story as old as gilgamesh, at least.

We know how caesar was critisize at home for allowing this to mean rather more than an honour in the provinces.

Edgar Foster said...

I'm just trying to address your point that Elohim/ho theos mean "mightiest in authority." I don't find that to be the case when you have writers using ho theos and theos interchangeably (to mean the same thing). Context is king.

It's even more apparent that Elohim does not have this meaning, if it's truly applied to angels and judges or it seems clearly applied to Melchizedek in the DSS.

Duncan said...

Again the philo point does not contradict as parents being the mightiest in authority to children. Deut 21:18-21.

Edgar Foster said...

Parents aren't mightiest in an absolute sense to their children (only God commands absolute respect)--nor are they usually mightiest in society (parents must subject themselves to laws and rulers). Only El Elyon YHWH is the mightiest in authority, universally or absolutely speaking.

Edgar Foster said...

Contextually, Philo's point in calling parents "gods" is not to accentuate their authority per se, but he's emphasizing the respect that parents deserve for all they do and for the role they play in our lives. Furthermore, they have "created" us as it were as God created the world (ex nihilo).

Duncan said...

On another point with philo - Philo speaks of him (Melchizedek) as "the logos, the priest whose inheritance is the true God" ("De Allegoriis Legum," iii. 26).

Duncan said...

(1 Corinthians 15:24) ... when he has brought to nothing all government and all authority and power.

Duncan said...

How does a parallelism between god (gods) contradict me?

Is it directly calling the parents gods or just comparing a function?

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, two points that I've tried to address in our discussion is whether Elohim/Theos means "mightiest in authority" and I've also tried to show that these Hebrew and Greek terms for "God/god" mean various things depending on the context of utterance, and furthermore, sense and reference should not be confused either term. Elohim is applied to God, false gods, judges, and angels. But it doesn't mean judge or angel or parent.

Duncan said...

As you say God (singular), gods (plural), judges (plural) & angels (plural). Elohim as a group of El or elohim as a single entity. I presume you know of the Akkadian en for the gods and the en.en.en.(en.) Of the anu.

The definitions are highly questionable but the near Eastern usage is not.

It is interesting how the cannanites adopt en.lil but title him as El.lil.

This is as far as I can go on this particular discussion.

Duncan said...

As for Eloah. Doesn't TWOT say "it is probably akin to the term EL"

Most reference works and studies come from the basis of the Hebrew roots as traditionally understood (three letter) but there are those who work with 2 letter roots and from this perspective this group of meanings come from EL. Might and authority, the essence of the pictographs within this root. Those who claim that the root (3 letter) being "fear" miss the possibilities of the 2 letter - that it is a fear related to might and authority & I think sometimes hairs are being split - there is no future work in a conclusion.

Edgar Foster said...

The discussion of Elohim and related terms can be found in TDOT at this link:

The whole discussion is not tidy at all. A number of suggestions for how Eloah, Elohim and El are related have been proposed. The Dictionary of the Old Testament (not TDOT), says that while Eloah and Elohim are "clearly related," scholars still debate whether these words derive from El. Granted, this dictionary associates EL with power/authority, but even if that's correct, my point has been that the meaning of El (and related terms) did not remain the same at every period in Jewish history (i.e., he synchronic meaning).


I also like Marvin Pope's analysis of El. He paints a complicated picture of the word's etymology.

Duncan said...

The TDOT states that the reason for the plural usage is unclear but I would have thought it quite obvious based on the Akkadian usage of bël bëli and the way it is inscribed. It runs all the way through near eastern culture cf Isaiah 6:3. repetitions of 2, 3 or 4 to indicate special-ness.

This is far from unique to the Hebrew.

I do agree that you average Hebrew would not know the roots of the words but as to priests and scribes that may be another matter altogether, but we can only speculate.

Thanks for the links, although, I have probably already read them but I always hope for another snippet I have missed.

Duncan said...

It's a pity that "El in the Ugaritic texts" does not have all the relevant pages available but just to clarify my thinking.

"The oldest Semitic word meaning "God" is El. Linguists believe its base meaning is strength or power. "El" is the Strong One, or the Deity (God). It occurs 238x in the Bible, and is first used in Genesis 14:18 in the phrase "God Most High" [El Elyon].
The Canaanites called their chief deity El, the Mighty Bull. After the Israelites entered Canaan, they adopted this generic word "El" for their God, though "Elohim" took precedence. In some Canaanite myths, one of El's sons was the notorious Ba'al, the nemesis of the true God throughout much of Israel's history."

"the mighty bull" & this is exactly what the proto-semitic symbols portray.

KJV Gen 49:24 But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:)

NWT Gen 49:24 And yet his bow was dwelling in a permanent place, and the strength of his hands was supple. From the hands of the powerful one of Jacob, from there is the shepherd, the stone of Israel.

Litterally "the mighty bull of Jacob"

eloah has this two letter root and allon at Isa 2:13 the mightiest and strongest of the trees "the bull tree". The only tree that I have ever seen that looks significantly bigger is the giant red - which I doubt they would have seen.

Duncan said...

YLT Num 23:22 God is bringing them out from Egypt, As the swiftness of a Reem is to him;'em

Edgar Foster said...

Yeah, it is a shame that Pope's work is not more accessible online. The work is published by Brill and that means it's expensive.

I've allowed the last 2 posts because I believe they're informative. However, I will not be adding anything else to this thread. It seems that we've exhausted discussion about QANAH and BARA, et al. Thanks for your contributions.