Thursday, March 05, 2009

Rarely used words in the Psalter - 20 - lions

One Lion is rare - but lion is used to translate several words in the Hebrew Bible.

In Psalm 91:13 שחל is used just this one time in the Psalter. It is used 3 times in Job 4:10, 10:16, 28:8, and twice in Hosea 5:14, 13:7 and once in Proverbs 26:13. The more common words כפיר (young - or per Tur Sinai, large lion) and ארי (lion) occur 6 times each in the psalms and many times in the rest of the Bible. (And there are more.)

How do we know what these words mean? Partly by the fact that they are used in parallels. Here's Hosea 5:14.

כִּי אָנֹכִי כַשַּׁחַל לְאֶפְרַיִם
כְּפִיר לְבֵית יְהוּדָה
אֲנִי אֲנִי
אֶטְרֹף וְאֵלֵךְ
אֶשָּׂא וְאֵין מַצִּיל
Here I have marked the lion words and the acts that seem to correspond - (Tur Sinai gives beast for the first word.)

For it is I who am as a lion to Ephraim
and as a young lion to the house of Judah
I, even I Myself will tear and depart
I will carry away and none shall rescue

Do I sense that the young lion tears and departs and the שחל carries away.

How do we interpret the phrase the Lion of Judah given this background? Is the genitive subjective, objective, attributive or of apposition, or should it be considered an accidental genitive? It seems God himself is Judah's Lion and is necessarily a force that both corrects and heals.

Let's test further with Job 4:10-11 where we find all three words and two more לביא (used fourteen times in the Bible - once in Psalm 57:4) and ליש (only 3 times and not at all in the psalms)!

שַׁאֲגַת אַרְיֵה וְקֹול שָׁחַל
וְשִׁנֵּי כְפִירִים נִתָּעוּ

The lion's roaring and the aged lion's voice
and the teeth of the young lions are destroyed
לַיִשׁ אֹבֵד מִבְּלִי־טָרֶף
וּבְנֵי לָבִיא יִתְפָּרָדוּ

The old lion perishes for lack of prey
as the lion's-children are scattered

Notice how the old lion perishes because the young have failed to leave their torn carcasses lying about. And note too the roaring that is attributed to the אַרְיֵה. The word נִתָּעוּ is a hapax - interpreted by BDB as from נתץ through the influence of Aramaic (but see comment).

The search widens, however, so let's try another test, Psalm 57:4

נַפְשִׁי בְּתֹוךְ לְבָאִם אֶשְׁכְּבָה לֹהֲטִים בְּֽנֵי־אָדָם
my life is among lions
and I lie with those on fire
the children of dust
שִׁנֵּיהֶם חֲנִית וְחִצִּים וּלְשֹׁונָם חֶרֶב חַדָּה
their teeth like spears and arrows
and their tongue a sharp sword

Here we have teeth also - but they are those of the children of dust. Perhaps lions were used metaphorically in many places.

With Psalm 91:13 we seem to be able to live with the same interpretation of these words.
עַל־שַׁחַל וָפֶתֶן תִּדְרֹךְ
תִּרְמֹס כְּפִיר וְתַנִּין

you will make your way over lion and adder
you will trample young lion and dragon

Psalm 91 is an answer to Psalm 90, the prayer of Moses that begins Book IV of the Psalter. But we still have only a touch of אַרְיֵה the most common word for lion - part of the circles of animals in Psalm 22. Here we see the tearing action attributed to the אַרְיֵה as well as its roaring. So I guess we have illustrated that we could bear with the possibility that these are all words which may mean 'lion' of various sorts.

פָּצוּ עָלַי
פִּיהֶם אַרְיֵה טֹרֵף וְשֹׁאֵג

They gape at me
their mouths a lion tearing and roaring

This is a word that is rare yet not rare - I will not continue for now the extensive set of examples that could be collected...

reference: Tur Sinai - Commentary on Job 1967

1 comment:

Bob MacDonald said...

Note: re נִתָּעוּ Tur Sinai in his Commentary on Job writes: it should not be emended to destroyed but simply means to wander about in accordance with Ibn Ezra's commentary - a short relative clause: A lion's roaring, crying of a beast, teeth of lions that roam about...

That allows the roaming to match the scattered about in the following verse.