Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hosea 11:4, "I lead them with Cords of Human Kindness"

Rembrandt Drawing

Here is a second drawing by Rembrandt of a child learning to walk. To me, it is reminiscent of God's nostalgic remembrance in Hosea 11:4 of teaching baby Israel to walk, "I lead them with cords of human kindness." Of course, the MT switches to an image of kindness to an ox by the end of this verse, but the first bi-colon may still be dealing with teaching a baby to walk. (Indeed, if the emendation in NAB, NJB, NRSV are correct, all of v. 4 is wrapped up in the image of caring for a baby.) Are the "cords of human kindness" of Hosea 11:4 something like the cords in Rembrandt's drawing, or is this a totally anachronistic thought? I don't think that it is beyond the realm of possibility to imagine that cords for babies might have been invented in ancient times. Comments?

Fascinatingly, the NET translates the verse: "I led them with leather cords." Taking their lead from the HALOT lexicon, they argue: "It is better to relate [the Hebrew here] to II אדם 'leather' (see HALOT 14 s.v. אדם), as the parallelism with II אהבה ('ahavah, 'leather') suggests... This homonymic root is well attested in Arabic 'adam ('skin') and 'adim ('tanned skin; leather')."

In my own opinion, "humane cords" is still the best translation of Hosea 11:4, but there may well be poetic ambiguity here, so that the text may well have nuances of both "leather" and "human kindness." To speak of leather cords is a natural sort of diction, and the fact that a Semitic word for "leather" has a homonym meaning "human" or "humane" is very nice, poetically speaking, in terms of what Hosea is trying to convey here in this verse.


Blogger Eliz F said...

Wow--you may remember that I preferred the ox translation in class, but this picture and post are making me rethink cords of human kindness--I just couldn't picture what in the world that could MEAN before. I think I've been converted!

Mon Apr 30, 05:36:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I just wish I could find some similar image in an ancient relief or drawing! ---SLC

Mon Apr 30, 08:35:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I originally thought that this was a pretty wild interpretation b/c I assumed that some kind of device to help a baby learn to walk would be a pretty recent invention. This Rembrandt drawing certainly challenges that and I stand corrected. However, I'd like to see a bit more evidence before I'm willing to go with this interpretation for the text as the author's intention. I would be nice to see some evidence of cords used to help teach babies to walk in the Middle East and it would be really nice to see some ancient evidence.

This raises an issue for me about interpretation. Do we need to be able to say that "yes, this is what the author intended" for it to be a valid interpretation? Can this interpretation have some meaning even if we cannot actually prove that they used such cords for this purpose in ancient Israel?

I encounter this in Psalms 9 and 46. The headers of both psalms mention an instrument called an עלמות (I hope that Hebrew comes through on the blog, if not, it's almuth). The New Jerusalem Bible translates it as an oboe. The oboe as we know it is a Western invention of the 19th century. There were oboes, like the baroque oboe, before that, but only for a few hundred years, so it's a pretty modern idea. The oboe is too new of an instrument and from a completely different culture for it to be what the author actually meant. The closest we could say is that it might be a double-reed instrument. If we want to actually translate the word and make a guess or an approximation, there are lots of other instruments that would likely be closer than the extremely modern and mechanical oboe. The Mizmar or the Zurna for instance. However, despite the fact that I know this, I still like the oboe translation. I hold it dear to my heart because I play the oboe. I know that the psalmist didn't actually mean for the psalm to be played on the same instrument that I play, but that doesn't really matter, that interpretation still means something for me. Is that valid?

Tue May 01, 09:02:00 PM GMT-5  

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