Friday, July 5, 2013

Jerome on Genesis 32:29 - 30

There is a translation of Jerome’s Hebrew Questions on Genesis done by C.T.R. Hayward and published by Clarendon Press at Oxford. The text of the “Questions” is not very long, and probably not valuable on the whole to most readers. There are not a lot of profound exegetical thoughts, for example. On the other hand, it is useful to show the state of the Hebrew and Septuagint texts in Jerome’s day.

Gen. 32:28-9 And he said to him: What is your name? And he said: Jacob. Moreover he said to him: Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but your name shall be called Israel, because you have prevailed with God, and with men you shall be strong. Josephus, in the first book of the Antiquities, thinks that Israel is so called because he stood against the angel: after careful and wide research I have not been able to find this in the Hebrew. And why should I have to seek the conjectures of individuals when the One who imposed the name Himself explains the etymology: Your name, He says, shall not be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name. Why? Aquila explains it as hoti erxas meta theou; Symmachus as hoti erxo pros theon; and the Septuagint and Theodotion as hoti enischusas meta theou. For sarith, which is derived from the word Israel, means prince. So the significance is as follows: your name shall not be called 'One who Trips Up', that is, Jacob; but your name shall be called 'Prince with God', that is, Israel. For just as I am a prince, so you also shall be called a prince in that you have been able to wrestle with Me. Now if you have been able to fight with Me, who am God or an angel (for many people interpret this in different ways), how much more will you be able to fight with men, that is, with Esau, whom you ought not to dread? Now in the Book of Names, the statement which explains Israel as meaning 'a man seeing God' or 'a mind seeing God', a cliche of almost everybody's speech, seems to me to explain the word not so much accurately as in a manner that is forced. For Israel in this verse is written in these letters, iod, sin, res, aleph, lamed, which means ‘prince of God’, or, ‘directed one of God’, that is, euthutatos theou. But ‘a man seeing God’ is written with these letters: ‘man’ is written with three letters aleph, iod, sin (so that it is pronounced is), and ‘seeing’ with three, res, aleph, he, and is pronounced raa. Then el is written with two letters, aleph and lamed, and means ‘God’ or ‘strong one’. So although those men are of powerful influence and eloquence, and the shadow of those who have understood Israel as ‘man or mind seeing God’ weighs down upon us, we are led rather by the authority of Scripture and of the angel or God who called him Israel, than by the authority of any secular eloquence.

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