Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Hebrew Word "Dabar/Davar" and Benner

My comments address http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/emagazine/002.html

None of what I am about to "speak" is meant in a spirit of bitterness or animosity. Nor am I simply being nitpicky, since I well know my imperfections, and constantly try to make the necessary adjustments. Just ask my wife.

The referenced link partly focuses on davar, which Jeff Benner defines as "speak." But one needs to distinguish between the verb form versus the noun, davar. To simplify, Gesenius primarily defines the noun as "a thing" or "a word." The dictionary gives more senses for the term, which the reader may consult in Gesenius.

On a related note, Benner contends that midvar/midbar ("wilderness") communicated order to the so-called Hebrew mind. That is supposedly why Bible writers used midvar. Quite frankly, this concept seems to be a contemporary imposition on the ancient Hebrew text.

TDOT claims that the word origins for midbar are less than clear, but a nexus with davar "is highly unlikely," so it is recommended that midbar possibly has some relation to dober or rbd. See https://books.google.com/books?id=6kjpsU4Lhg8C&pg=PA91&dq=meaning+of+midbar+in+the+bible&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiCp5D1-vDUAhVIwiYKHf5CC1QQ6AEIRzAG#v=onepage&q=meaning%20of%20midbar%20in%20the%20bible&f=false

Some link midbar with good pasturage (1 Sam 17:28). After discussing midbar having associations with "grazing land," TDOT adds: "This aspect of midbar carries positive connotations. Pastoral romanticism and love (Cant. 3:6; 8:5) blossom in these remote pastoral settings (Jer. 9:1 [2]; Ps. 55:8 [7])."

There are also places at which Benner wants to translate davar as "order." Depending on the context, I would agree that "order" might be an appropriate rendering at times. However, what about using "order" at Numbers 1:1?

"And Jehovah spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying," (ASV)

What about Genesis 8:15 or 17:3? I don't believe "order" works in these verses or in Lev. 24:2. However, there are passages where the rendering could work.

It appears that Benner reads a little too much into the expression, "ten commandments." I can accept "ten orders": that is fine. But his further commentary goes well beyond lexical observations, and it is instructive how the Jewish tradition understood the Hebrew expression.

LXX translates Deut. 4:13 with τὰ δέκα ῥήματα ("the ten words/things")--hence, the Decalogue in English. The Targum of Jonathan Deuteronomy speaks of "Ten Words which He wrote upon sapphire tablets." Compare Exod 20:1; 34:28.

Lastly, I might also correct "speach" on his website to speech.


Duncan said...

Gen 8:15?

"The word "davar" is commonly found in the Biblical text meaning "speak" as in the phrase "vayidaber YHWH el moshe l'mor" (and YHWH spoke to Moses saying). The ancient Hebrew understanding of "speaking" or a "speech" is an ordered arrangement of words."

A list of instructions - procedures.

Duncan said...

Gen 17:1 also procedure - list of instructions.

Duncan said...


There is a major flaw in all of this as these lands did not look the way they do today.

As a comparable example see:-


These people lived in a culture not a civilization. Western historians pictured this as a wild uninhabitable place inhabited by a few savages - ALL FALSE.

Duncan said...


Duncan said...

An important example:-


Duncan said...


Duncan said...

ABP Deut 4:13 translates as "ten discourses"

Edgar Foster said...


Regarding Gen. 8:15; 17:1:

NET translates Gen. 8:15 (as many Bibles do), "Then God spoke to Noah and said"

Okay, maybe "order" might work here, but is "God gave Noah a list of procedures" what Moses intended? Notice the two instances of speech acts in this verse. Speaking appears to be more in line with the cotext.


17:1--"When Abram was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to him, saying, "I am God Almighty. Live in My presence and be blameless" (HCSB).

List of instructions hardly fits this passage either. "I am God Almighty . . ." is not a list of instructions. The verse is clearly establishing discourse whereby El Shaddai does outline his purpose for Abraham, but that establishment of discourse probably should not be confused with the direction that ensues.

καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ θεός σου (LXX)

17:1 (Targum Onkelos) "And Abram was son of ninety and nine years: and the Lord was revealed to Abram, and said to him, I am El-shadai; serve before Me, and be perfect;"

Edgar Foster said...

Personally, I see nothing wrong with how the environment and society.org described the ancient Israelite wilderness. It was a mix of elements, certainly not just an orderly place for them. TDOT does not portray the ancients as savages nor does it say midbar always represented uninhabitable land. Please review my blog post for details. I will read the links you posted.

Duncan said...

The question is which parts were orderly - the well managed or the degraded. It was the pastoralism as an aftermath of agriculturalism that turned the environment into something unnatural and out of balance.


The south american evidence fits with these modern principles. In the overall sense this is highly ordered. The principles are in use in the Chinese restoration.

Duncan said...


Duncan said...

"The wilderness, a place of order, is very different from the ‘waste’ place and the ‘desolate’ place described by Jeremiah:
Jeremiah 44:6 ‘My fury and My anger were poured out in the cities of Judah and in Jerusalem; they are wasted (chorbah) and desolate (shamem)

‘wasted’, chorbah, means a dry wasteland, also a place that has been laid waste and made desolate.
‘desolate’, shamem, means desolate, as when a wind blows over the land and pulls the moisture out of the ground drying it up, making it a place of ruin or desert."

Edgar Foster said...

IMO, it always come back to cotext (literary context). Midbar could have positive connotations in some verses, but negative ones elsewhere. The word clearly does not represent order each time writers use it. Here is one perspective; not that I agree with it all, but see https://etd.ohiolink.edu/rws_etd/document/get/osu1180543213/inline

Compare Isa 35:1.

DSS and midbar: https://www.academia.edu/30299373/The_Wilderness_Motif_in_the_Dead_Sea_Scrolls

Job 1:19; 24:5; 38:26. Cf. Prov. 21:19. TDOT briefly discusses these occurrences.

Duncan said...

The way midbar is colored throughout the biblical text is varied but one must be very careful not to make assumptions. Jer 2:2 when referring to not sowing does not necessarily equate to the wilds.


The amazonian examples demonstrate peoples who lived in a semi nomadic sense. Moving every few years to a new location as demonstrated by the shear number of locations where terra preta is being found.


The Sheep & the goats


Goats in a mature forest are ok but with an immature or re-emergent one, sheep would be better. This was probably recognized & why the contrast was used.

The Torah understanding of midbar could be very different to the Isaiah perception - the transition from the semi nomadic to the city dweller. It is no different today & this is why I linked the BBC trailer for unnatural history.


See the picture at the top - there are many of such structures being uncovered by deforestation of this "pristine" wilderness.

Duncan said...


Duncan said...


See section from 32:00 with particular attention to the conversation at 33:00.

I have seen this myself and it follows a temperate variation of the archaeological evidence of working "Wilderness" - a highly ordered system.

Duncan said...

Also from 43:00 regarding horticulture.

Edgar Foster said...

I will have to look at some of the information later, but nothing I have seen thus far supports viewing the ancient wilderness in which Israel trekked as a highly ordered system. Even Jeremiah 2:6 reads:

“They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord
Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt,
Who led us through the wilderness,
Through a land of deserts and of pits,
Through a land of drought and of [b]deep darkness,
Through a land that no one crossed
And where no man dwelt?’ (NASB)

Compare Isa. 40:3.

As Jeremiah indicates, and a number of commentators remark on this point, Israel often called to mind their wilderness wanderings when using midbar or the Greek, eremos. There is a reason why 40 years in the wilderness/desert was a punishment. Israel moaned and groaned, complaining about the hard condition of the midbar. Lastly, we have to be careful that we do not impose contemporary ideas onto the biblical texts.

Edgar Foster said...



Duncan said...

Where are the references to the Torah - Jeremiah and Isaiah write from a different perspective. Where are all these referred to in Torah (pits? deep darkness? No one crossed?). Reminiscent of the answer to the question - how tall was Goliath?

Duncan said...

ABP Jer 2:6 And they said not, Where is the lord , the one directing us from out of the land of Egypt, the one steering us in the wilderness, in [land a vast and untrodden], in a land water-less and unfruitful, in a land in which no [traveled through in it man], and no [dwelt man] there?

Duncan said...

Midbar comes from Aramaic??? The documentary hypothesis all over again.

Duncan said...


Abraham & the trees of Mamre etc?

Duncan said...

So does Micah 2:12 have to say pasture - as we understand it today?

Duncan said...

I have no problem with what Isaiah 40:3 is saying for its time.

Edgar Foster said...

I referred to the Torah in my earlier comments. The whole book of Numbers--as the title suggests-is about Israel's wilderness wanderings. Was the wilderness/desert a place of order for those sons of Jacob, who wandered 40 years? See also Gen 37:22; Exod 16:1-3; Numbers 14:33-34; 16:13; 20:4-5; 21:5; Deut 32:10. Compare Exod 17:2, 7. The Numbers account hardly makes sense if Moses presupposed or conceived the wilderness to be orderly and relaxing.

On Micah 2:12, I do not believe we should read contemporary meanings into any of these verses. We must beware of anachronistic retrojections. And I don't believe midbar comes from Aramaic.

One other source I found: https://books.google.com/books?id=HLPa3RgMST4C&pg=PA38&dq=midbar+wilderness&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj01N3OufXUAhWGNSYKHUKBBUwQ6AEIJDAA#v=onepage&q=midbar%20wilderness&f=false

Edgar Foster said...

Also Ex. 17:1; Lev 16:22.

Edgar Foster said...

From Robert Alter:

Often what happens is that the second term, where the [biblical] poet has room for introducing a compound form or a compact cluster of nouns or nouns and qualifiers, is an elaboration of the first term that makes its meaning more vividly present to the imagination, as in this prophetic image of the return from exile: “They shall renew ruined cities, / the desolations of generations untold” (Is. 61:4). The general idea, that is, of cities laid waste becomes an emphatic picture of ruins that have stood in their desolation from time immemorial. In some cases, the second, elaborated term is a striking dramatization of the first, as in another line from Moses’ valedictory song: “He found him in the wilderness land, / in the waste of the howling desert” (Deut. 32:10). It is clear that the general geographical indication “wilderness land” (’eretz midbar) undergoes a forceful realization in the second verset, with its intimation of howling winds, jackals, or whatever; its onomatopoeic alliteration, yeleil yeshimon; and its oblique allusion to the primal void and chaos (tohu) in the word rendered here as “waste.”

See http://disjectamembra2014.blogspot.com/2014/09/robert-alter-art-of-biblical-poetry.html

Duncan said...


Duncan said...



Edgar Foster said...

You might find this dissertation worth reading. I am including 2 paragraphs from the study and the link:

Moses, for example, was a Hebrew son raised by the daughter of an
Egyptian Pharaoh, who encountered God while tending sheep. Shepherds
at this time lived passed the margins of civilized settlements, living like nomads and wandering from pasture to pasture with their flock. God told Moses to lead his people out of Egypt and so he did, into a place often called the desert, but also sometimes the wilderness.

This place is given more than one name in Hebrew texts, but none really has the same meaning as our word ‘desert’. We got to ‘desert’ from the Latin Vulgate translation of the bible which uses desertum to name this place, referring to solitude not a sandy expanse. Our word ‘wilderness’ comes closer to the Hebrew words, though is not quite the same. In Hebrew, the place of the Exodus was called Jeshimon, meaning a desolate place, a waste space that was unproductive and uncultivated. It is also sometimes called
Midbar, a name that comes from the root dabar meaning to lead in the
sense of cattle or sheep to pasture, and was therefore the place where the tracts of pasture lay – a place shared between the nomads with their flocks and the wild beasts.


Duncan said...


All possible on a small scale but how many wandered the desert with how much livestock?
As an earlier video posted stated - "like maggots on the land", not to mention the water requirements. This was not the wanderings of a people but rather a people carrying an unessasary load that the land could not stand. The people ate manna but what about the livestock. It is no surprise that the fat was burned on the alter when the livestock have eaten everything else.

Duncan said...


Edgar Foster said...

I don't have more to add right now, but the point I was trying to establish concerning midbar is apparently supported by the overall evidence (i.e., not always a place of serenity and order for ancient sons of Israel, but mostly the opposite).

The implications from midbar are that the livestock had pasture to graze. TDOT clearly draws out these connotations.

On the fat, here is what I mean by spiritual and sociocultural importance. Offering fat was about more than nothing else being left. Like the fat of the land, Jehovah deserved fat because it was the best. They offered blood since God is our source of life and the one who forgives sin. Hence, the ark's mercy seat.

Duncan said...

How many trees do you think would have been left in this place if continually burnt on the alter. Bedouins with livestock are known to burn the dried dung. This place had scrub desert, not pasture. Acacia was the wood used as it can withstand the environment and the onslaught of livestock. The hardship was not the environment but the circumstance.

Edgar Foster said...

Why would Israel have continually been burning trees on the altar? They had grain offerings, but only blood could be offered for atonement of sins.

There were probably other reasons that acacia was selected for tabernacle use, including its availability and symbolic import. I am not blaming wildernesses/deserts per se, but I see no inherent order being depicted for wildernesses/deserts either. Call if circumstance, if you wish, but there was a reason Israel was given the punishment of trekking wilderness territory, not orchard land or a forest.

The famed Desert Fathers also come to mind. They sought refuge in the desert, away from mundane concerns, plus it was a form of monastic/ascetic activity. Something about deserts and wildernesses.

Duncan said...

Wood as opposed to fat. Fat works like the wax in a candle. If also gives of black smoke. Blood does not readily burn. Grain does but extremely quickly. But one has to wonder where the grain came from?

Edgar Foster said...

More than one commentator maintains that Israel either had a tough time acquiring grain in the midbar or they offered grain in Canaan only.

Duncan said...


Could this be the grain? It would fit with the climate.

Edgar Foster said...

I'm open to the possibility, but I wonder what evidence we have that leads us to believe sesame grew in Sinai. Is it a viable possibility?


Another question is what scripture indicates about the nature of grain Israel used for these offerings.

Duncan said...


Edgar Foster said...

I have been looking for the ancient evidence that sesame grew in Sinai. Keep reading about Egypt or related areas, but nothing on Sinai yet. I think the last link deals with later times and later sowing activities.

Duncan said...

It is later but it argues against sesame but it still leaves a problem even with wild wheat. So many seeds denature in the temperatures. The amount of wheat that could be collected. Its sparseness. I have found several bloggs pondering this problem.

Edgar Foster said...

Michael Fox: https://www.academia.edu/2253167/_Jeremiah_2_2_and_the_Desert_Ideal_CBQ_35_1973_441-50