Skip to content

Amos 6:1 in the LXX

September 2, 2013

There are several curious matters in the vocabulary of Amos 6:1  in Hebrew, in Greek and in English. I don’t know what to make of it, but will wade through some of them and see where they lead, back to neqabah and ἀρχή – arché – eventually.

הוֹי הַשַּׁאֲנַנִּים בְּצִיּוֹן

וְהַבֹּטְחִים בְּהַר שֹׁמְרוֹן;

נְקֻבֵי רֵאשִׁית הַגּוֹיִם,

וּבָאוּ לָהֶם בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל.

Woe to them that are at ease in Zion,
and to them that are secure in the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel come!
First, at the beginning of line 3 there is the word  נְקֻבֵי – neqabi  – derived from neqab, the same root as neqabah, which means female. We can note that Larry Crabb chose to say that women are “bored or punctured,” and men have important things to do. But why did he not refer to the figurative use of neqab and bring attention to the fact that the neqabi, are, in this verse, “notable men.” Some translation say that they are “elite men.” I would recommend this to Larry Crabb if he were to do a second edition of his book. He could drop the illustration of a box bored with a hole by some wood working tool, and compare women to “notable men.” We would all be so much more comfortable. Thanks to Bob MacDonald for bringing this to my attention in a comment. He helps to render Hebrew safe for women after all. 
The next issue of note in this verse occurs in the second word in line 3. The notable men are of the “first” of the nations. They are from the רֵאשִׁית resheit (from rosh – head or first) of the nations, but this is not usually translated as the government of the nations. The nations are those other nations, the gentile nations. At least, that is what I read. Resheit is the same word as in Gen. 1:1, בְּרֵאשִׁית beresheit. The men are from the “best” or “first” of the nations, the model of the nations, the upright among nations, but not the ruler of other nations.
Now let’s see what strange things happen in the Septuagint translation for Amos 6:1,
ουαι τοις εξουθενουσιν σιων
και τοις πεποιθοσιν επι το ορος σαμαρειας
απετρυγησαν αρχας εθνων
και εισηλθον αυτοι οικος του ισραηλ

Neqabi, at the beginning of the third line, is translated with απετρυγησαν apetrugésan, an obscure Greek word which seems to have something to do with the harvest, in Greek τρύγησις – trugésis. Was neqabi understood as “plucking” or “gathering” the harvest?

And רֵאשִׁית is translated into αρχας, the plural accusative of ἀρχή, so that makes it “beginnings” or perhaps the “powers” or “governments” of the nations. Although ἀρχή in the singular is not usually associated with government or authority, in the plural it is. It does not refer to any singular person who is a ruler, but to the seat of power, the abstract government.

This is interesting to some people, because rosh “head” is kephale in Greek. Άρχή arché is usually considered to be a synonym for kephale, here is translates the Hebrew rosh “head” and means beginning, or origin, whereas ἀρχῶν archon, meaning a person who is a commander or ruler, is not a synonym for kephale. Nonetheless, in the plural ἀρχή suggests “powers” or “governments” in an impersonal way. I am looking in particular at the translation of the third line, 

נְקֻבֵי רֵאשִׁית הַגּוֹיִם

neqabi resheit hagoyim

notables of the first of nations

απετρυγησαν αρχας εθνων

apetrugésan archas ethnon

plucked the powers of nations

And here is this verse in three different English translations of the Septuagint. The first is from Charles Thomson, the first translator of the Septuagint into English, and retired secretary of the American continental congress, printed in 1808 by Jane Aitken.

Alas for them who despise Sion
and have put their trust in the mount of Samaria.
They have gathered as a vintage the governments of nations
and gone in.

The second is Lancelot Brenton’s, published in 1851,

Woe to them that set at nought Sion,
and that trust in the mountain of Samaria:
they have gathered the harvest of the heads of the nations,
and they have gone in themselves.

The third is from the NETS,

Alas for those who count Sion as nothing

and for those who trust in the mountain of Samaria.
They have harvested the rule of the nations
and entered for themselves.

I am wondering how easy it would be to see the singular resheit as a plural. Did resheit get mistaken for roshim? I don’t even know if that is likely.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2013 3:02 pm


    Might απετρυγησαν be associated with απετρος, “without stones,” perhaps meaning “disarmed”? Just a thought and perhaps a rather problematic thought at that. This idea doesn’t fully account for form but it does work in the context.


  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 2, 2013 5:46 pm

    I checked with a few commentaries in google books, and they mentioned apotrugaw, to pluck grapes. It is an exact fit.

    ἀποτρυγάω has as its regular aorist απετρυγησαν. So the Greek verb is not a problem, at least in my view, but the connection between neqabi and “plucked.”

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 2, 2013 5:52 pm

    PS Who is Claude?

  4. g2-c569a904b073a040d58563f538efeafc permalink
    September 2, 2013 11:20 pm

    Sorry Suzanne. I’m having trouble thinking and typing at the same time these days.


  5. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 2, 2013 11:25 pm

    That’s okay. 🙂 Same here.

  6. September 3, 2013 10:43 pm

    It makes sense to me to use harvest imagery along with a word that means notable, elite, “The men are from the “best” or “first” of the nations, the model of the nations, the upright among nations.” We have the same connection in the English idiom the cream of the crop. These elite men are what the nation yields.

    If we understand “beginnings” in the same metaphorical field, that suggests “root” or “source” for arche, which certainly seems compatible with how I’ve heard this word interpreted when talking about the arche of God. The “first” growth of a plant is at the root, not at the top.

    And note that chapter 5 sounds agricultural notes throughout: 5:11, 5:17, 5:22.

    I’m not sure whether these nations are of Israel or of the Gentiles. I know in some cases (though maybe not this specific word) the same Hebrew word can be used for either, and you have to tell by context. Reading further in the chapter, it seems the prophet is inveighing against the elite of Israel (of the Northern Kingdom, according to the NAB’s Introduction), who are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph (v6) and shall be the first to go into exile (v7).

  7. Andrew permalink
    October 4, 2013 11:21 am

    The Septuagint makes the ESV clearer:

    … the notable men of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel come!


    … the House of Israel, to whom they come

    .. which is idiomatically the same as suggesting the House of Israel gathers the harvest (of these heads of state) and then enters in (as well) with them.


  1. Words on the Word | Septuagint Studies Soirée #2
  2. my favorite BLT posts of 9/2013 | BLT

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: