Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Shema Deut 6:4

Any look at a modern translation of Deut 6:4 will reflect the uncertainty that translators have concerning the proper translation of the verse. One rendering is, of course, given in the text, but usually several other possibilities are given in the margin.

A literal translation is: Hear, Israel, Yhwh our God Yhwh one. The verse is made up of three phrases. The first is straightforward, and all translations agree on the proper rendering. It is made up of the second person singular imperative, and a noun in the vocative; thus, Hear, O Israel. The other phrases are made up completely of nouns (not unusual in Hebrew, as a form of the verb "to be" is understood). Several ways of rendering these phrases are possible. One way is to consider them as parallel statements: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one. Another is to consider them as distinct clauses, with the second modifying the first: Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone. Another way is to consider them as linked clauses: Yahweh our God is one Yahweh. All of these are grammatically possible, though the second option is usually dismissed, since it requires a use of the cardinal number one in an adverbial fashion, which the standard grammars and lexicons do not seem to recognize. The only standard grammar that gives any particular discussion of this verse is Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Bruce Waltke and Michael O'Connor, paragraph 8.4.2g.

However, in an article published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47 (2004): 193-212, and available online at Daniel Block argues convincingly for the rendering "Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone." Arguing partially from the fact of grammatical possibility, but mostly from contextual considerations that this rendering makes the best sense. For those with more than passing interest in the issue, I recommend Block's article.

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