Friday, 8 May 2009
The King James version does not contain the word "brother-in-law." Interestingly enough, the NIV does--in the phrase, "fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law," translating the Hebrew word yabam. The KJV had rendered this "perform the duty of an (thy, my) husband's brother."
In English usage, a brother-in-law could be:
a sister's husband
a husband's sister's husband
a wife's sister's husband
a wife's brother
a husband's brother (the only possible application of yabam)
So the CBT cut the lexical content of this Hebrew word by 80% in replacing a specific term for a family relationship with a term that could mean four other things--and they only used it for this Hebrew word.
Well, almost. In Judges 4:11, the NIV reads:
Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses' brother-in-law, [or father-in-law] and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.
What this really means is that the CBT was very confused over the meaning of the Hebrew word which they preferred to translate 'brother-in-law', but realized could possibly carry the meaning of 'father-in-law'. Actually, Hobab may not have been either one in relationship to Moses.
While a man can have three different kinds of brothers in law, he can only have one kind of father-in-law: his wife's father. We know whom Moses married, and we know who her father was. It couldn't be much clearer:
Exodus 2:21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage.
OK, so Moses married Zipporah. Who was her father? Back up a few verses:
18 When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, "Why have you returned so early today?"
19 They answered, "An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock."
20 "And where is he?" he asked his daughters. "Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat."
Pretty clear, isn't it? Moses' only father-in-law, at least through his wife Zipporah, was Reuel. Does the Bible ever come out and call him Moses' father-in-law, though? Well, as it happens, In Numbers chapter 10 the NIV reads:
29 Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses' father-in-law, "We are setting out for the place about which the LORD said, 'I will give it to you.' Come with us and we will treat you well, for the LORD has promised good things to Israel."
Now, here the NIV gave no footnote casting doubt as to whether the translation should be 'father-in-law' or 'brother-in-law'. And this even though it's not clear whether it is Hobab or Reuel who is being so labeled. So why the note in Judges 4:11, rather than here? Obviously Reuel was Moses' father-in-law, which would make his son Hobab a brother-in-law.
Or was he? Remember, the word for 'son' in Hebrew often means 'descendant'. And men could be called patronymically by their grandfather's name as well as their father's. So what if Hobab were a nephew of Zipporah? Then he would be Moses' nephew too--no 'in-law' enters the picture, at least in English usage.
But we aren't after English usage here, but Hebrew. And in Hebrew, one does not use the same word for the son of one's brother, and the son of one's wife's brother. They are two completely separate relationships. But the Hebrew does have a word which corresponds to the English term 'in-law', and that word is khathan. Even as in English, in which 'my in-laws' is a general term that can refer either the grandparents of my spouse's siblings' children, or their parents, the various declensions of the Hebrew word can refer to any relative on the wife's side: father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, even nephew. It comes from a verb meaning "to give a daughter away in marriage."
So what was Hobab in relation to Moses? Well, since we don't know any more about him than what's in the verse above, we really can't say. Most likely, though, he was Zipporah's brother. But who was Jethro, whom both the NIV and KJV unequivocally call Moses' father-in-law?
Jethro enters the scene in Exodus 3:1, which is a whole forty years following the events of the previous chapter. There we see Moses tending the flocks of Jethro, the priest of Midian--his khathan. Since these flocks most recently belonged to Reuel, it's pretty obvious that in the intervening years, Reuel had died and passed on both his position and his possessions to his firstborn son Jethro. The English Bible reads too much into the Hebrew term: Jethro was not Moses' father-in-law, but his brother-in-law.
Now, is this some new revelation that didn't even make it into that pinnacle of linguistic accuracy, the TNIV? Well, no. In the Greek, there are actually words that distinguish between a father-in-law and other in-laws. John 18:13 states:
Annas . . . was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.
The word used is penqero, which is the masculine form of a word meaning a wife's parent. Pretty specific, huh? And guess which word is used in the Greek LXX translation of Numbers 10 and Judges 4? It's gambro--a word meaning, like khathan, nothing any more specific than 'in-law'. So, over 2000 years ago, Jews translating the Bible knew that Hobab wasn't Moses' father-in-law. Reuel we know from context to be a penqero. But how about Jethro?
Well, first of all, the term 'father-in-law' is used twice in Genesis chapter 38, speaking of Tamar's late husband's father Judah (side note: he was still her father-in-law as long as he had a son who could perform the duty of the husband's brother to her). No question about the relationship here; and, no surprise, the LXX reads penqero. But when we come to Exodus 3, and later in Exodus 18, no more penqero. Jethro is just a gambro.
Then we get on to Judges chapter 19, where another relationship is well-defined as that of a man and his sub-wife's father. The Hebrew, not having such a specific word, has to use an appositive to clarify:
His father-in-law, the woman's father, prevailed on him to stay.
his father-in-law, the woman's father, said, "Now look, it's almost evening."
How does the Greek version read, which does have a specific word? Gambro. They perfectly translate the ambiguity of the Hebrew word, to fit a context that's unambiguous in either language.
There's one more use of 'father-in-law' in Scripture that's unambiguous. That's in 1 Samuel 4:19--
[Eli's] daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth.
Here, there is no sense in being ambiguous, so the LXX translates khathan as penqero. And the word for 'daughter-in-law', by the way, in both Hebrew and Greek carries the idea of 'a woman brought into the family by marriage'.
In-law problems? Not really; the Bible is very clear as to who was a father-in-law versus who was an in-law of a lower generation. And it was that way 2000 years ago, in translation.
So the KJV didn't get it right--but here, the NIV was no improvement at all.
UPDATE 2/2012: Apparently the CBT can blame this on the Masoretes, who inserted the vowels of khathan in such a way as to specify the meaning of penqero.
See also this subsequent post on the topic.