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A city and a mother in Israel

December 10, 2012

In response to the study of Isaiah in Greek, I will try to dash off a few words. But I don’t expect to be converted to facebook overnight. Of course, I do use facebook, but only as a mother. I am, in fact, a “mother in facebook” It is the way I can lurk on my kids activities. I know they are alive without having to phone them every single night. But I don’t used facebook for much else.

Anyway, I noticed that in Isaiah 1:26, there is an expression μητροπολις πιστη σιων the “faithful metropolis of Zion.” But it is much better translated as “the mother city of Zion” as is done in the NETS, since this ties it in with the notion of both the city and the people as being the “mother.” In 2 Samuel 8:1, there is a phrase, not a place, but a phrase metheg ammah, the “bridle of the mother” understood by some translators as the “capital city.” Often Jerusalem is the “mother,” sometimes the divorced “mother” or the “adulterous” mother –  unfortunately. But also Deborah is a “mother in Israel” bringing peace and justice, as prophet and judge.

The expression has lasted over the millennia, and today there is still the expression,

ir va’ em be’yisrael

עיר ואם בישראל

a city and mother in Israel

This refers to a Jewish “mother-city” a cultural centre for the Jewish people. Some Jewish mother cities outside of Israel are Thessaloniki, Minsk, Prague and Krakow.

The symbol of “mother” does not mean that every woman must be a mother. Many famous women in the Hebrew Bible were not. Nor is it that women are the matriarchal original leaders. It is about metaphor, and understanding that metaphor is just that, metaphor. It is also about how powerful gender, and grammatical gender, are in the poetry of a language.

When being a woman no longer means that some Christians somewhere are busy trying to build a wall around you, then I will dance with the poetry of language. Take me up on it!


Yesterday, William Verner mentioned that 2 Samuel 20:19 has the expression “a city and mother in Israel.” Thank you.

יט  אָנֹכִי, שְׁלֻמֵי אֱמוּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל;

אַתָּה מְבַקֵּשׁ, לְהָמִית עִיר וְאֵם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל–

לָמָּה תְבַלַּע, נַחֲלַת יְהוָה

We are of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel;

seekest thou to destroy a city and a mother in Israel?

why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the LORD? JPS

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2012 8:11 am

    Thank you for this post! It seems that Moisés Silva rendering the Greek “the faithful mother city, Zion,” is following Brenton, who had “the faithful mother-city of Sion.”

    Curiously, and inconsistently, Brenton has for the Greek Joshua B the following:

    “Gabaon [was] a great city as one of the chief cities” for the phrase in 10:2 μεγάλη πόλις Γαβαων ὡσεὶ μία τῶν μητροπόλεων

    “the metropolis of the Enakim” for the phrase in 14:15 μητρόπολις τῶν Ενακιμ αὕτη.

    “and Joshua gave him the city of Arboc the metropolis of Enac” for the clause in 15:13 καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ Ἰησοῦς τὴν πόλιν Αρβοκ μητρόπολιν Ενακ

    “Cariatharboc the metropolis of the sons of Enac” for the phrase in 21:11 τὴν Καριαθαρβοκ μητρόπολιν τῶν Ενακ

    Leonard J. Greenspoon for NETS consistently has “mother-city” for the noun phrase in Joshua B.

    Then in Greek 2 Samuel (KAIGE, not OG), Brenton has this:

    “but thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother city in Israel” for the clause in 20:19 σὺ δὲ ζητεῖς θανατῶσαι πόλιν καὶ μητρόπολιν ἐν Ισραηλ·

    Paul D. McLean for NETS follows Brenton in this.

    For Old Greek Addition E Esther (Brenton only translates Alpha?), Karen Jobes for NETS makes the phrase ταῖς μητροπόλεσιν in 9:19 “the large cities.”

    When the English translators of the Greek translators for the LXX render the maternal metaphor, much is gained of course!

    BTW, the fb group is open, viewable by the public I think. If you follow the discussions there, you’ll notice that there’s not as much space as blogging allows for extended observations and comments. Hope you won’t mind that I just posted a link to this blogpost of yours. Hopefully, folks won’t mind coming over here to discuss your points.

  2. December 10, 2012 11:25 am

    Dance on, Sue

  3. December 11, 2012 4:10 pm

    Thanks for bringing that out. Any thoughts on how the LLX ended up with “piste”?

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    December 11, 2012 11:19 pm

    אָמַן aman in Hebrew is the normal way to say faithful.


  1. group reading of Greek Isaiah « BLT
  2. Keep ‘em coming back with the December Biblical Studies Carnival | Words on the Word

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