Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Who is a person under the Hebrew law?

Here is something that I am puzzling over. In the preface to the NRSV, the translators are explicit in saying that the term in English must indicate to whom the word is referring. i.e. does the word used in Hebrew or Greek refer to only men, or to all human beings.

Typically, one might say that ish in Hebrew refers to a male, head of a house. But I am not at all sure about that. Here is the passage which puzzles me. It is clear that translators of different Bible versions are not too sure either. In the NRSV, verse 14 has "a man" but in verse 18, it says "anyone."
    10 No lay person shall eat of the sacred donations. No bound or hired servant of the priest shall eat of the sacred donations; 11but if a priest acquires anyone by purchase, the person may eat of them; and those that are born in his house may eat of his food. 12If a priest’s daughter marries a layman, she shall not eat of the offering of the sacred donations; 13but if a priest’s daughter is widowed or divorced, without offspring, and returns to her father’s house, as in her youth, she may eat of her father’s food. No lay person shall eat of it. 14If a man וְאִישׁ eats of the sacred donation unintentionally, he shall add one-fifth of its value to it, and give the sacred donation to the priest. 15No one shall profane the sacred donations of the people of Israel, which they offer to the Lord, 16causing them to bear guilt requiring a guilt-offering, by eating their sacred donations: for I am the Lord; I sanctify them.

    17 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 18Speak to Aaron and his sons and all the people of Israel and say to them: When anyone אִישׁ אִישׁ of the house of Israel or of the aliens residing in Israel presents an offering, whether in payment of a vow or as a freewill-offering that is offered to the Lord as a burnt-offering, 19to be acceptable in your behalf it shall be a male without blemish, of the cattle or the sheep or the goats. 20You shall not offer anything that has a blemish, for it will not be acceptable in your behalf.

However, in the ESV and the TNIV, verse 14 and verse 18 both have "anyone." Ish in the Hebrew may refer to any "participant", or any "man." The translators disagree on this. This appears to me to be a fundamental problem. We do not know if a woman is a person before the law.

This is the type of question that David Stein writes about here and in comments on this post. I hope that Joel Hoffman will also weigh in with comments. I would appreciate any insight into who ish is in the Hebrew law.

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