Friday, January 22, 2016

The Concept of "Fear" in Jonah 1:3ff

The salience of the concept "fear" in Jonah 1 recently stood out to me:

The prophet Jonah possibly sought refuge in Tarshish because he morbidly feared the inhabitants of Nineveh (Jonah 1:3).

But then Jonah 1:5 (ESV) states: "Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god."

Afterwards, there is Jonah 1:9-10 (ESV): "And he said to them, 'I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.' Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, 'What is this that you have done!' For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them."

"And they lift up Jonah, and cast him into the sea, and the sea ceaseth from its raging; and the men fear Jehovah — a great fear, and sacrifice a sacrifice to Jehovah, and vow vows" (Jonah 1:15-16 YLT).

A) Jonah presumably refused to accept his prophetic commission from Jehovah because he feared the Ninevites.
B) The mariners fear the tempest caused by Jehovah, but invoke their deities for deliverance.
C) Jonah discloses his reverential fear of Jehovah.
D) The mariners become "exceedingly afraid" (in a somewhat morbid sense) after Jonah reveals that he is a Hebrew, a worshiper of YHWH.
E) After the storm calms, the mariners now reverentially fear Jehovah, "a great fear," and offer sacrifices to Him--and they make solemn vows to the God of heaven.

Notes to follow later.


Duncan said...

σέβομαι at 1:9

εφοβήθησαν 1:16

Edgar Foster said...

I don't know if you'd disagree wiuth my analysis of these veses, but it was solely based on the Hebrew text and translations. Granted, the LXX uses σέβομαι in 1:9 and another word in 1:16. However, different words are capable of conveying similar or the same concepts. Additionally, the importation of concepts is not limited to words: this was Barr's criticism of Boman's work and it's why he severely criticized TDNT. But σέβομαι is able to describe a certain type of fear, per LSJ and others. See

Duncan said...

It could be as you say, but it could be that the lxx translator just missed the point or even thought that the Hebrew must be in error. It would not be a difficult passage to translate in a uniform way. Do these languages really all work just like English.

Even though the Greek lexicon is larger than the Hebrew do the Torah translations display these kind of loose word selections?

So I agree with your analysis of the passage but am not so sure about the lxx translator and his understanding.

There is still plenty of evidence today that some, if not all of Barr's criticisms are unfounded based on more contemporary languages but I see no point in visiting this argument again.

Edgar Foster said...


I don't think Greek, Latin, Hebrew-Aramaic exactly act like English. Having that view would lead a translator or exegete into a number of fundamental mistakes.

I'm not going to revisit the Barr discussion right now since I've got many inches of snow to shovel from my driveway and yard. :) But while it might take some work to show, and still not all scholars will agree, I believe a case could be made for harmonizing the LXX with MT Jonah 1:9.

Duncan said...

A more recent work demonstrating some difference between Hebrew and Greek - “La violence monothéiste” Jean Soler 2008. Focusing on the conception of opposites.

Edgar Foster said...

Thanks for the reference. I agree that Hebrew and Greek differ in substantive ways, but it's the concrete/abstract dichotomy that I/Barr question.

Duncan said...

There are a number of aspects of the MT diacritic markings that IMO were not in the original oral communicarion. King Saul - king sheol, one and the same and the usage relating to character is clear. What would be the point of writing the paleo script if one cannot communicate adequate information without the oral component.

Edgar Foster said...

My concern is different, but I find it difficult to judge the original Hebrew text (its composition and style) by the MT since the latter is a medieval production (along with its distinct markings).

Hebrew also changed over time, as Robert Alter writes in his Genesis commentary. And despsite the MT markings, we're still left with questions, which the scribes attempted to address in the MT marginalia.

Duncan said...

I do not think in terms of a dichotomy but rather old and newer. My observations make me think that through language exchange and interaction comes higher levels of abstraction. Sometimes etymology does come in useful:-

I think originally the lyft was just the weaker vs the stronger. The weak side over time becoming associated with one side of the body more than the other and then is seen to indicate a side not a level of power. The side then cloud's the issue as a persons left is not necessarily their weaker side.

Also the number of words from differing roots with the same spelling which is very prominent in English. Not unheard of in ancient Hebrew but of considerably lower frequency. Sometimes I see papers trying to impose the same level of word sharing in Hebrew & it seem mostly unfounded - more of a word game when the implications do not fit their theory on the context of, or within, a sentence.

Duncan said...

This is also why I am not surprised that you claim a higher level of concrete thinking in ancient Greek, but Hellenization or any cross cultural/language event produces a higher level of abstraction and makes deciphering without the cultural background of the period almost impossible.

My favorite modern example:-