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The word tsûr (rWc)

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Background

The purpose of this page is to explore the Old Testament and other usage of the word tsûr (rWc). The word may be translated as rock, cliff, or mountain. On many occasions it simply means a literal rock, stone, etc, but on some occasions is used figuratively of God or of other gods. The word is related to Ugaritic ghûru (Guru, Guru) and Aramaic tûrâ.

It is also found as a name element, for example in the name Zurishaddai (y;D;vyIrWc). It is likely that usage in names has reference to deity rather than literal stones. The importance of this is that during the 2nd millennium BCE, the theme of mountains as gods was prevalent in the Middle East as a whole. In particular, many of the most important gods of Anatolia and the north-west Semitic speaking groups in the second millennium were deified mountains. It is therefore important to see how the Old Testament usage matches this.

The following sections look at this word firstly in terms of the changing pattern of use through the Old Testament, and secondly as a name element. The conclusion in both cases is that usage around the time of the Exodus is significantly different to usage at other times. At this time (in the Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32) we find frequent figurative use to symbolise deity, and in particular, use with reference to the gods of other nations. Both of these uses dwindle almost to nothing after the time of David.

As a name element, both amongst Israelites and other nations, tsûr is found only at the time of the Exodus. Four prominent Israelites, and two or perhaps three nonIsraelites, are so called at this time, and none at any other time.

In terms of the religious and cultural background, then, the period of the Exodus and the song of Moses fits most comfortably in a second millennium context. By the time of David, whilst many of the themes and ideas of the Song of Moses are recapitulated, the use of tsûr as a generic reference to deity had almost vanished.

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General usage in the Old Testament

The following table summarises the uses of tsûr within the Old Testament, considering literal and figurative usage, and categorised in terms of prose and poetic sections. Out of a total of 78 uses, 15 are to be found within the two songs of Moses (Deuteronomy 32) and David (2 Samuel 22-23 and Psalm 18).

Category The God of Israel Gods in general Literal rocks Total
Poetic use 24 5 11 40
Prophetic use 3 0 13 16
Prose use 0 0 22 22
Total 27 5 46 78

In prose sections, then, the meaning is always that of literal rocks. In poetic sections, the term is normally (but by no means entirely) the figurative one relating to deity. The prophetic sections tend strongly towards the prose use.

Uses broken down in terms of source books are as follows:

Location The God of Israel Gods in general Literal rocks Total
Pentateuch 0 0 6 6
Song of Moses (Deut 32) 4 3 1 8
Joshua/Judges 0 0 5 5
Samuel 5 1 2 8
Kings/Chronicles 0 0 1 1
Psalms 15 1 10 26
Other Wisdom literature 0 0 8 8
Isaiah 3 0 9 12
Other prophets 0 0 4 4
Totals 27 5 46 78

This shows that usage is concentrated into a few areas - the Song of Moses has over 10% of all uses, for example. Another concentration is found in David's song of 2 Samuel 22 (and Psalm 18, which is parallel to David's Song), in which many of the same themes and phrases appear. The same themes are again picked up in other Psalms. The connections between the ideas of El/Elohim, Yahweh, Rock and salvation may be traced in the specific quotes section below. Later uses are almost entirely quotations or allusions to the earlier uses, and in general it is seen that use of this word in a figurative way to apply to deity dwindles as the Old Testament progresses.

In particular, use of tsûr with reference to other gods is confined to the Song of Moses. The Song of David / Psalm 18 references quoted are rhetorical affirmations of the absolute supremacy of Yahweh, rather than comparisons of the relative strength of Yahweh and other gods.

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Usage as a name element

There are 4 Israelites whose names contain tsûr as a name element, and two (perhaps three) non-Israelites. All of these individuals are from the time of the Exodus - the name element is not found at any other point of the Old Testament.

Israelites

Elizur (’Elîytsûwr)
rWcyIl/a, "El of (the) Rock". He was the representative of the tribe of Reuben, named in Numbers 1:5.
Zurishaddai (Tsûwrîyshadday)
y;D;vyIrWc, "My Rock is the Almighty". He was the representative of the tribe of Simeon, named in Numbers 1:6.
Pedahzur (Pedâhtsûwr)
rWch"d>P, "The Rock has ransomed". He was an important figure in the tribe of Manasseh, named in Numbers 1:10.
Zuriel (Tsûwrîy’el)
lEayIrWc, "My Rock is El". He was the leader of the Merarite Levites, named in Numbers 3:35.
All of the above are prominent figures at the time of the Exodus, and none of the names are to be found at any other place in the Old Testament.

The name Zuar (Tsûw‘ar, r;[Wc), is possibly related, though the more obvious derivation is from Tsa‘ar with the derived meaning "little one". He was an important figure in the tribe of Issachar, named in Numbers 1:8.

Others

Zur (Tsûwr)
rWc, "Rock". He is a Gibeonite, presumably from around the time of the Conquest and certainly well before the time of Saul, named in 1 Chronicles 8:30 and 9:36.
Zur (Tsûwr)
rWc, "Rock". There are two uses of this name in connection with Midianite leaders. The first is in Numbers 25:15, being head over a chief house in Midian, and the father of a Midianite woman who was killed. The second is in Numbers 31:8 and probably refers to the same person: the individual here (repeated in Joshua 13:21) is of one of the Midianite leaders killed by the Israelites in the last stages of their approach to the Jordan.

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Specific quotes

This section looks at the poetic uses of tsûwr in a little more detail, showing how clusters of related ideas reappear through the OT.
Deut 32:3,4 (The Song of Moses)
For I proclaim the name of Yahweh: Ascribe greatness to our Elohim. He is the Rock, His work is perfect;
Deut 32:15 (The Song of Moses)
But Jeshurun ... forsook Eloah who made him, and scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation.
Deut 32:18 (The Song of Moses)
Of the Rock who begot you [Israel], you are unmindful, and have forgotten El who fathered you.
Deut 32:30,31 (The Song of Moses)
How could one [enemy] chase a thousand [Israelites], And two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and Yahweh had surrendered them? For their [the nations] Rock is not like our Rock.
Deut 32:36,37 (The Song of Moses)
For Yahweh will judge His people ... He will say: ‘Where are their elohim, the Rock in which they sought refuge?'
1 Samuel 2:2 (Hannah's Song)
No one is holy like Yahweh, for there is none besides You, nor is there any Rock like our Elohim.
2 Samuel 22:3 (David's Song)
Yahweh is my rock (çela) and my fortress and my deliverer; The Elohim of my Rock, in whom I will trust.
2 Samuel 22:32 (David's Song)
For who is El, except Yahweh? And who is a Rock, except our Elohim?
2 Samuel 22:47 (David's Song)
Yahweh lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let Elohim be exalted, the Rock of my salvation!
2 Samuel 23:3 (David's Song)
Elohim of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spoke to me: ‘He who rules over men must be just, Ruling in the fear of Elohim.'
Psalm 18:2 (parallel to David's Song)
Yahweh is my rock (çela) and my fortress and my deliverer; My El, my Rock, in whom I will trust.
Psalm 18:31 (parallel to David's Song)
For who is Eloah, except Yahweh? And who is a Rock, except our Elohim?
Psalm 18:46 (parallel to David's Song)
Yahweh lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let Elohim of my salvation be exalted.
Psalm 19:4 (Of David)
O Yahweh, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 28:1 (Of David)
To You I will cry, O Yahweh my Rock.
Psalm 31:1,2 (Of David)
Yahweh ... be my Rock of refuge.
Psalm 61:1,2 (Of David)
O Elohim ... Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.
Psalm 62:1,2 (Of David)
Elohim ... He only is my Rock and my salvation.
Psalm 62:6,7 (Of David)
Elohim ... He only is my Rock and my salvation... In Elohim is my salvation and my glory; the Rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in Elohim.
Psalm 78:35 (Of Asaph)
Then they remembered that Elohim was their Rock...
Psalm 89:26 (Of Ethan)
He shall cry to Me, ‘You are my Father, My El, and the Rock of my salvation.’
Psalm 92:15 (for the Sabbath day)
Yahweh is upright; He is my Rock...
Psalm 94:22
But Yahweh has been my defense, And my Elohim the Rock of my refuge.
Psalm 95:1
Oh come, let us sing to Yahweh! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Psalm 144:1 (Of David)
Blessed be Yahweh my Rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.
Isaiah 17:10
Because you have forgotten Elohim of your salvation, and have not been mindful of the Rock of your stronghold, therefore you will plant pleasant plants and set out foreign seedlings.
Isaiah 30:29
...gladness of heart as when one goes with a flute, to come into the mountain of Yahweh, to the Rock of Israel.
Isaiah 44:6,8
Thus says Yahweh, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, Yahweh of hosts ... Is there Eloah besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.
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