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doe or hart?

August 26, 2013

Another pesky Hebrew gender question. Here is the King James for the first verse of Psalm 42:

As the hart panteth after the water brooks,

so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

A hart, as everybody knows, 😉 is a male deer. And the Hebrew word looks like a masculine word. Jerome translated it:

quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum

ita desiderat anima mea ad te Deus

As the buck desires springs of water,

so my soul desires you, O God.

He translated ‘ayel as cervus with a masculine ending. But Pagninus translated it cerva, with a feminine ending:

Quemadmodum cerva desiderat ad torrentes aquarum,

Ita anima mea desiderat ad te deus.

As the doe desires torrents of water,

So my soul desires you, O God.

And here is the ambiguous Hebrew:

כְּאַיָּל, תַּעֲרֹג עַל-אֲפִיקֵי-מָיִם–

כֵּן נַפְשִׁי תַעֲרֹג אֵלֶיךָ אֱלֹהִים

I have to confess that I don’t really know how to transliterate this smoothly into Roman letters, but here are the first two and most relevant words – Ke eyal ta’arog. The word eyal is considered masculine but the verb agrees with the feminine. And so the Septuagint translates it into Greek with a feminine noun and the New English Translation of the Septuagint translates it into English with a feminine:

ον τροπον επιποθει η ελαφος επι τας πηγας των υδατων

ουτως επιποθει η ψυχη μου προς σε ο θεος

Just as the doe longs for the springs of water,

so my soul longs for you, O God.

Here the Greek word elaphos, a Greek word of common gender, is preceded by the article in the feminine, indicating that it is a female deer. Here are the first two lines of the psalm in song.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2013 3:42 pm

    Brilliant post! I guess you have seen the NET Bible note:

    Since the accompanying verb is feminine in form, the noun אָיִּל (’ayyil, “male deer”) should be emended to אַיֶּלֶת (’ayyelet, “female deer”). Haplography of the letter tav has occurred; note that the following verb begins with tav.

    But, of course, the NET English translation does not have “a doe” but rather the generic “a deer.”

    For Proverbs 5:19, where the deer must be female (because of the Hebrew noun and its grammar and contextual semantics), Jerome not surprisingly has

    cerva carissima

    and Pagninus

    cerva amorum

    and the LXX translator

    ἔλαφος φιλίας (the feminine noun used for the Psalm).

    For the NETS (the New English Translation of the Septuagint), Johann Cook renders the Greek of the Proverb into English as

    the fawn of your love (and why not the doe, as Albert Pietersma has for the NETS Psalm?)

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    August 26, 2013 8:00 pm

    Thank you for this additional information. I hadn’t seen it before. You have also given a good example of how Pagninus imitates the Hebrew grammatical construction.

    I have been thinking about how Hebrew poetry might represent the soul as feminine so “doe” would fit that. It would be interesting in English to have the correct Hebrew gender represented.

  3. August 27, 2013 11:13 am

    Well, there’s more. The Hebrew of Psalm 29:9a causes Jerome and also the NET Bible translators to do some very quirky things.

    First, here’s the best translation, I think. It’s Robert Alter’s:

    “The LORD’s Voice brings on the birth-pangs of does

    This is, semantically, not far from the KJV:

    “The voice of the LORD maketh the hinds to calve”

    The LXX has this:

    φωνὴ κυρίου καταρτιζομένου ἐλάφους

    (for which Brenton has this English – “The voice of the Lord strengthens the hinds)

    Paginus has this:

    “Vox Domini parturire facit cervas

    (which could be translated as “The voice of the Lord will cause the does to be in labor”)

    But, in considerable contrast, Jerome makes it the following (and notice the male deer):

    “vox Domini obsetricans cervis

    (which leads the Douay-Rheims translator to have this English – “The voice of the Lord prepareth the stags)

    And the NETS Bible translator, from the Hebrew, has this:

    “The Lord’s shout bends the large trees

    which requires this footnote to explain the peculiar departure from the Hebrew:

    tc Heb “the deer.” Preserving this reading, some translate the preceding verb, “causes [the deer] to give premature birth” (cf. NEB, NASB). But the Polel of חוּל/חִיל (khul/khil) means “give birth,” not “cause to give birth,” and the statement “the Lord’s shout gives birth to deer” is absurd. In light of the parallelism (note “forests” in the next line) and v. 5, it is preferable to emend אַיָּלוֹת (’ayyalot, “deer”) to אֵילוֹת (’elot, “large trees”) understanding the latter as an alternate form of the usual plural form אַיָּלִים (’ayyalim).

    The logic that the NET Bible translator offers contradicts the earlier part of the Psalm, which gets translated as follows:

    29:5 The Lord’s shout breaks the cedars,
    the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.

    29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf
    and Sirion like a young ox. [NET Bible]

    Why would the Lord’s shout cause calf skipping and ox skipping but not send a doe into labor to give birth to her fawn? Is the NET Bible translator also looking at Jerome’s Latin? And what is Jerome (and his DR translator) looking at?

  4. August 27, 2013 1:41 pm

    I would say that the NET Bible’s fallacious reasoning is in claiming that the verb form means “not A but B” when it is only used seven times in the Hebrew Bible, in this broad sense. We need to look at the broader semantics here. With this verb, it seems that both the Qal and the Polel can mean “be in labor”, and the Qal is a little more common. But the Polel in general is most commonly a causative form, and there is no double causative in Hebrew (unlike Turkic languages). So what would be the causative form of this verb? How would a Hebrew say “cause to be in labor”? Surely with just the verb form we find here.

    But I do see the argument from the parallel line. A reference to trees fits the context better.

  5. August 27, 2013 2:52 pm

    the argument from the parallel line.

    Couldn’t there be a larger parallel going on? Sort of a chiasmus in Hebrew, the second line of v9 referring back to v5 and the first line of v9 to v6? Couldn’t the parallels be the effects of the voice of the Lord upon animals and upon trees?


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