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A comparison of the vocabulary in the Noahic and Abrahamic covenants

Contents

Introduction

This study looks at the vocabulary of the descriptions of the covenants with Noah and Abraham (Genesis 6-9 and 17). Numerous distinctive words and phrases are noted, together with their usage elsewhere in the Old Testament. It will be shown that the two covenant descriptions share a significant number of distinctive phrases, suggesting common primary authorship. Moreover, the phrases selected are quite distinctive of the Pentateuch as a whole, and are found rarely if at all in later Old Testament books. This therefore provides some linguistic evidence for asserting that the Pentateuch originates from a different author than the prophetic or wisdom literature.

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Hebrew passages concerned

Noah (Genesis 6-9, portions)

 Transliteration
6:9. ’êlleh tôwledôth nôach nôach ’îysh tsadîyq tâmîym hâyâh bedôrôthâyv ’eth-hâ’elôhîym hithhallekh-nôach
6:10. vayyôwled nôach shelôshâh bânîym ’eth-shêm ’eth-châm ve’eth-yâpheth
   
7:1. vayyô’mer YHVH lenôach bô’-’attâh vekol-bêythekhâ ’el-hattêbâh kîy ’ôthekhâ râ’îythîy tsadîyq lepânay bedôwr hazzeh
7:2. mikkol habbehêmâh hattehôwrâh tiqqach-lekhâ shibe‘âh shibe‘âh ’îysh ve’ishetôw ûmin-habbehêmâh ’asher lô’ tehôrâh hiv’ shenayim ’îysh ve’ishetôw
7:3. gam mê‘ôwph hashshâmayim shibe‘âh shibe‘âh zâkhâr ûneqêbâh lehayyôwth zera‘ ‘al-penêy kol-hâ’ârets
7:4. kîy leyâmîym ‘ôwd shibe‘âh ’ânôkhîy mametîyr ‘al-hâ’ârets ’arbâ‘îym yôwm ve’arbâ‘îym lâylâh ûmâchîythîy ’eth-kol-hayeqûm ’asher ‘âsîythîy mê‘al penêy hâ’adâmâh
   
7:13. be‘etsem hayyôwm hazzeh bâ’ nôach veshêm-vechâm vayepheth benêy-nôach ve’êsheth nôach ûshelôsheth neshêy-bânâyv ’ittâm ’el-hattêbâh
   
7:19. vehammayim gâbeme’ôd me’ôd ‘al-hâ’ârets vayekhuççû kol-hehârîym haggebôhîym ’asher-tachath kol-hashshâmayim
   
8:17. kol-hachayyâh ’asher-’ittekhâ mikkol-bâsâr bâ‘ôwph ûbrbbehêmâh ûbekol-hâremeshârômês ‘al-hâ’ârets havetsê’ ’ittâkh veshâretsû bâ’ârets ûphârû verâbû ‘al-hâ’ârets
   
8:21. vayyârach YHVH ’eth-rêyach hannîychôach vayyô’mer YHVH ’el-libbû lô’ ’ôçiph leqallêl ‘ôwd ’eth-hâ’adâmâh ba‘abûr hâ’âdâm kîy yêtser lêb hâ’âdâm ra‘ minne‘urâyv velô’-’ôçiph ‘ôwd lehakkûth ’eth-kol-hay ka’asher ‘âsîythîy
8:22. ‘ôd kol-yemêy hâ’ârets
    zera‘ veqâtsîyr
    veqôr vâchôm
    veqayits vâchôreph
    veyôwm vâlaylâh
    lô’ yishbôthû
   
9:1. vayebârekh ’elôhîym ’eth-nôach ve’eth-bânâyv vayyô’mer lâhem perû ûre ûmile’û ’eth-hâ’ârets
   
9:7. veattem perû ûre shiretsû bâ’ârets ûrebû-bâh
9:8. Ç vayyô’mer ’elôhîym ’el-nôach ve’el-bânâyv ’ittôw lê’môr
9:9. va’anîy hinenîy mêqîym ’eth-berîythîy ’ittekhem ve’eth-zareakhem ’achareykhem
9:10. ve’êth kol-nephesh hachayyâh ’asher ’ittekhem bâ‘ôph babbehêmâh ûbekol hayyath hâ’ârets ’ittekhem mikkol yôtse’êy hattêbâh lekol hayyath hâ’ârets
9:11. vahaqimôthîy ’eth-berîythîy ’ittekhem velô’-yikkârêth kol-bâsâr ‘ôwd mimmêy hammabûl velô’-yihyeh ‘ôwd mabbûl leshachêth hâ’ârets
9:12. vayyô’mer ’elôhîym zô’th ‘ôwth-habberîythasher-’anîy nôthên bêynîy ûbêynêykhem ûbêyn kol-nephesh hayyâh ’asher ’ittekhem ledôrôth ‘ôwlâm
9:13. ’eth-qashethîy nâthattîy be‘ânân vehâyethâh le’ôwth berîyth bêynîy ûbêyn hâ’ârets
9:14. vehâyâh be‘anenîy ‘ânân âal-hâ’ârets venireathâh haqqesheth be‘ânân
9:15. vezâkharetîy ’eth-berîythîy ’asher bêynîy ûbêynêykhem ûbêyn kol-nephesh hayyâh bekol-bâsâr velô’ yihyeh ‘ôwd hammayim lemabbûl leshacheth kol-bâsâr
9:16. vehâyethâh haqqesheth be‘ânân ûre’îythîyhâ lizekôr berîyth ‘ôwlâm bêyn ’elôhîym ûbêyn kol-nephesh hayyâh bekol-bâsâr ’asher ‘al-hâ’ârets
9:17. vayyô’mer ’elôhîym ’el-nôach zô’th ‘ôwth-habberîythasher haqimôthîy bêynîy ûbêyn kol-bâsâr ’asher ‘al-hâ’ârets

Abram (Genesis 17)

 Transliteration
1. vayehîy ’abrâm ben-tishe‘îym shânâh vethêsha‘ shânîym vayyêrâ’ YHVH ’el0’abrâm vayyô’mer ’êlâyv ’anîy-’êl shadday hithhallêkh lephânay veheyêh tâmîym
2. ve’ettenâh berîythîy bêynîy ûbêynekhâ ve’arebeh ’ôwthekhâ bime’ôd me’ôd
3. vayyiphôl ’abrâm ‘al-pânâyv vayedabêr ’ittôw ’elôhîym lê’môr
4. anîy hinneh berîythîy ’ittakh vehâyîythâ le’ab hamôwn gôwyîm
5. velô’-yiqqârê’ ‘ôwd ’eth-shimekhâ ’abrâm vehâyâh shimekhâ ’abrâhâm kîy ’ab-hamôwn gôwyim nethattîykhâ
6. vehiphrêthîy ’ôthekhâ bime’ôd me’ôd ûnethattîykhâ legôwyim ûmelâkhîym mimmekhâ yêtsê’û
7. vahaqimôthîy ’eth-berîythîy bêynîy ûbênekhâ ûbêyn zareakhâ ’achareykhâ ledôrôthâm ‘ôwlâm lihyôwth lekhâ lê’lôhîym ûlezareakhâ ’achareykhâ
8. venâthattîy lekhâ ûlezareakhâ ’achareykhâ ’êth ’erets megureykhâ ’eth kol-erets kena‘an la’achuzzath ‘ôwlâm vehâyîythîy lâhem lê’lôhîym
9. vayyômer ’elôhîym ’el-’abrâhâm ve’attâh ’eth-berîythîy tishmôr ’attâh vezareakhâ ’achareykhâ ledôrôthâm
10. zô’th berîythîy ’asher tishmerû bêynîy ûbênekhem ûbêyn zareakhâ ’achareykhâ himmôwl lâkhem kol-zâkhâr
11. ûnemaletem ’êth besar ‘ârelathekhem vehâyâh le’ôwth berîyth bêynîy ûbêynêykhem
12. ûben-shemônath yâmîym yimmôwl lâkhem kol-zâkhâr ledôrôthêykhem yelîyd bâyith ûmiqnath-keçeph mikhôl ben-nêkâr ’asher lô’ mizzareakhâ hû’
13. himmôl yimmôwl yelîyd bêythekhâ ûmiqnath kaçephekhâ vehâyethâh berîythîy bibesarekhem liberîyth ‘ôwlâm
14. ve‘ârêl zâkhâr ’asher lô’-yimmôwl ’eth-besar ‘ârlâthôw venikhrethâh hannephesh hahiv’ mê‘ammehhâ ’eth-berîythîy hêphar
15. Ç vayyô’mer ’elôhîym ’el-’abrâhâm sâray ’ishtekhâ lô’-thiqrâ’ ’eth-shemâh sârây kîy sârâh shemâh
16. ûbêrakhetîy ’ôthâh vegam nâthattîy mimmennâh lekhâ bên ûbêrakhetîyhâ vehâyethâh legôwyim malekêy ‘ammîym mimmennâh yihe
17. vayyippôl ’abrâhâm ‘al-pânâyv vayyischâq vayyô’mer belibbôw halleben mê’âh-shânâh yivvâlêd ve’im-sârâh habath-tishe‘îym shânâh têlêd
18. vayyô’mer ’abrâhâm ’el-hâ’elôhîym lôw yishmâ‘ê’l yihyeh lephâneykhâ
19. vayyô’mer ’elôhîym ’abâl sârâh ’ishtekhâ yôledeth lekhâ bên veqârâ’thâ ’eth-shemû yitschaq vahaqimôthîy ’eth-berîythîy ’ittôw liberîyth ‘ôwlâm lezare‘ôw ’acharâyv
20. ûleyishmâ‘ê’l shema‘tîykhâ hinneh bêrakhetîy ’ôthôw vehiphrêythîy ’ôthôw vehirebêythîy ’ôthôw bime’ôd me’ôd shenêym-‘âsâr nesîy’im yôwlîyd ûnethattîyv legôwy gâdôwl
21. ve’eth-berîythîy ’âqîym ’eth-yitschâq ’asher têlêd lekhâ sârâh lammôw‘êd hazzeh bashshânâh hâ’achereth
22. vayekhol ledabber ’ittôw vayya‘al ’elôhîym mê‘al ’abrâhâm
23. vayyiqqach ’abrâhâm ’eth-yishmâ‘ê’l benôw ve’êth kol-yelîydêy bêythôw ve’eth- kol-miqnath kaçepôw kol-zâkhâr be’aneshêy bêyth ’abrâhâm vayyâmâl ’eth-besar ‘ârlâthâm be‘etsem hayyôwm hazzeh ka’asher diber ’ittôw ’elôhîym
24. ve’abrâhâm ben-tishe‘îym vathêsha‘ shânâh behimmôlôw besar ‘ârlâthôw
25. veyishmâ‘ê’l benôw ben-shelôsh ‘esrêh shânâh behimmôlôw ’êth besar ‘ârlâthôw
26. be‘etsem hayyôwm hazzeh nimmôwl ’abrâhâm veyishmâ‘ê’l benôw
27. vekol-’aneshêy bêythôw yelîyd bâyith ûmiqnath-keçeph mê’êth ben-nêkhâr nimmôlû ’ittôw P P P

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Key phrases highlighted

Key Phrase 1: Establish covenant, haqimôthîy ’eth-berîythîy

The verb most commonly linked with the setting up of a covenant is kârath, cut. Occasionally other verbs are used to refer to this, one being qûm, which when used as here in the Hiphîyl form means establish. This phrase is used 4 times during the Noahic covenant, 3 times in the Abrahamic, 3 times elsewhere in the Pentateuch (once each Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy), and twice in the entire remainder of the Old Testament, both times in Ezekiel. However, the Ezekiel uses are not strictly parallel to the earlier ones, with various additional pronoun additions made to the original phrase. They therefore represent embellishments on the original formula rather than reproductions of it.

Key Phrase 2: Grant/provide covenant, ’ettenâh berîythîy

This is again an unusual verb to use in connection with the setting up of a covenant. It is restricted in use to once with Noah (having particular reference to the sign of the covenant), once with Abraham, and once in Numbers. It does not occur outside the Pentateuch.

Key Phrase 3: You and your offspring after you, ’attâh vezareakhâ ’achareykhâ

This phrase, in the form given or closely related ones, appears only in the Pentateuch. For example, a related form is between me and between you and between your offspring after you. Specific uses are: Similar phrases, omitting the you and part of the phrase and so highlighting only the future generations, are found once in Genesis, twice in Deuteronomy, and once each in 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles. However, the context of these is somewhat different.

Key Phrase 4: Greatly greatly, me’ôd me’ôd

As an individual word, me’ôd is used extensively throughout the Old Testament. However, in the intensive (repeated) form shown here, it is quite rare. It is used 5 times in Genesis (once with Noah and three times with Abraham), once each in Exodus, Numbers, 1 and 2 Kings, and three times in Ezekiel.

Key Phrase 5: Generations, dôrôth

The (singular) word dôwr (or dôr) is used regularly throughout the Old Testament, meaning either a generation or a more general period of time. Twice it appears to refer to a habitation, ie a group of people living in one particular physical rather than temporal situation. When used to indicate a specific generation, it can mean simply the group of people living at one time, but in a significant number of cases refers to a group of people as characterised by a particular quality, usually moral. In this singular form there are 111 uses, over half of which are in the Wisdom literature, with about 20 in each of the Pentateuch and Prophets and most of the rest in Joshua or Judges. The most common use is to refer in a general sense to an indefinite period of future ages, but it is important to note here that the plural form is not used to signify this, but rather one of several alternative singular forms such as generation to generation (dôr ledôr) or to generation and generation (ledôr vâdôr).

However, use of the plural form dôrôth is much more specific. It is almost always used to signify a succession of generations (though sometimes with the implication of "posterity"). It is used in this way 45 times, of which 42 are in the Pentateuch, 2 in Joshua, and 1 in Job. A single use in Isaiah 51 has the idea of former ages, ie is retrospective rather than prospective. Hence, as a word meaning current and future generations, it is essentially restricted in use to the Pentateuchal books. Considering its use in more detail, we have:

There is an alternative plural form dôwrîym which appears in Psalm 72 to signify future ages, in the phrase dôwr dôwrîym.

Key Phrase 6: That person will be cut off, nikhrethâh hannephesh hahiv’

(Note that in common with much of the Pentateuch, the pronoun is written with the consonants for the masculine relative pronoun hû’ but pointed as though for the grammatically correct feminine form hîy).

This phrase has an essentially technical use within the Pentateuch, being most commonly found within Leviticus and Numbers. The Abraham reference is interesting since it is the first such use (of 13 total). It is not found outside the Pentateuch. Similar phrases, for example the plural form, or the related form nikhrâh hâ’îysh hahû’ (that man will be cut off) are found a further 10 times.

More generally, the Niphal (simple passive) form of the verb KRT (ie. to be cut off from) is found most commonly in the Pentateuch. Outside of this, it is only found in the Wisdom literature and prophets, not the later historical books. Other verb stems from KRT are differently distributed, for example the Hiphîyl (causative active) form is found very frequently in the prophets and very rarely in the Pentateuch. The first use of the Niphal form is in the Noah account given above.

Key Phrase 7: Be fruitful and multiply, perû ûre

This is another characteristic phrase within Genesis, and occurs only once outside the Pentateuch. It occurs almost always as a spoken word from Yahweh, either prophetic (you will be fruitful and multiply...) using the Qal verb stem, or causal (I will make you be fruitful and multiply) using the Hiphîyl stem. A summary of usage is: The separate verbs pârâh (be fruitful, bear fruit) and râbâh (multiply, become great or numerous) occur quite frequently throughout the entire Old Testament.

Key Phrase 8: On that self-same day, be‘etsem hayyôwm hazzeh

This phrase is used predominantly in the Pentateuch - in summary we have: A similar phrase ‘ad-‘etsem hayyôwm hazzeh (until the selfsame day) is used three times, once each in Leviticus, Joshua and Ezekiel.

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Analysis

Key

A1: Noah account
A2: Abraham account
A3: Pentateuch total
B: Joshua/Judges
C: Later historical books
D: Wisdom literature
E: Prophetic books

Item A1A2A3 BCDE Comments
Key phrase 1 4 3 10       2 The prophetic uses (Ezekiel) are similar but not strictly parallel
Key phrase 2 1 1 3          
Key phrase 3 1 5 10         A similar phrase with different intention is also found in the later historical books but not the Wisdom or prophetic literature
Key phrase 4 1 3 7   2   3  
Key phrase 5 2 3 42 2   1 1 The single prophetic use (Isaiah) has a different connotation
Key phrase 6   1 13          
[ KRT Niphal 1 1 27     6 11 ]
Key phrase 7 3 1 11       1  
Key phrase 8 1 2 11 1     2  

Clearly, each of these phrases is concentrated entirely or predominantly in the Pentateuch, and in particular appear in both the Noahic and Abrahamic covenants. Phrase 6 does not appear in the account of Noah, but is included for general interest and since the Niphal form of the underlying verb is used here.

Language issues