Oath Formulas in Biblical Hebrew (Part 2): The Curious Case of Ruth 1:17

Naomi and her Daughters exhibited 1804 by George Dawe 1781-1829

In a previous post we introduced the concept of Hebrew oath formulas using Blane Conklin’s book, Oath Formulas in Biblical Hebrew.1. We learned how an oath is more than a promise because an oath commits the oath-taker to certain consequences or sanctions if it is broken.

We also examined the anatomy of oaths and learned that they are composed of two parts: 1) a statement of sincerity called an “authenticating element” (e.g., I solemnly swear…); and 2) the content of the oath (e.g., …to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth). And lastly we surveyed the five different types of oaths found in the Hebrew Bible:

  1. Raising of a hand
  2. Swearing
  3. Invocation of witness(es)
  4. “By the life of X”
  5. “Thus will X do to Y, and thus will X add”

In this post we look at the particular oath formula used in Ruth. 1:17. This will help us see how a better understanding of oath formulas sheds light on some thorny linguistic issues that have long puzzled both grammarians and translators alike. But first, some context.


The opening scene of the book of Ruth is dire, as famine forces Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion to abandon their home in Bethlehem in search of provisions in the foreign but fertile lands of Moab. Hoping for peace and prosperity, the family finds loss and heartache instead.

Soon after arriving in Moab, Elimelech dies. After their father’s death, Mahlon and Chilion marry two Moabite women. Mahlon marries Ruth, and Chilion marries Orpah, but tragedy soon strikes again, this time turning the Moabite newlyweds into widows. Within the space of ten years, both Ruth and Orpah lose their husbands, and Naomi her husband and sons.

Upon hearing of God’s provision in Israel–as the famine had ended–Naomi decides to return home to Bethlehem. But before leaving, she instructs Orpah and Ruth to return to their own Moabite families, so that they might find new husbands to care and provide for them. Orpah follows her mother-in-law’s instruction and returns home, but Ruth resists, speaking these words in Ruth 1:16–17:


“If anything but death” vs. “If even death”

As it stands, verse 17c (the final clause of 17 marked in blue) is difficult to understand in Hebrew. I’ve provided a literal translation of this clause above (leaving the particle כִּי untranslated for now, but more on that below). The confusion is evident when comparing English translations:

  • ESV: “May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
  • NRSV: “May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”
  • NASB: “Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”
  • NIV: “May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
  • KJV: “the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
  • JPS: “Thus and more may the Lord do to me if anything but death parts me from you.”

Notice that while the ESV, NASB, KJV, and JPS have something to the effect of “if anything but death,” the NRSV and NIV have “if even death”. At issue, according to Conklin, is whether, in Ruth’s view, death will or will not be included in the things that may ultimately separate her and Naomi.2

Moreover, notice that each English version adds a word or two (e.g., “anything but” or “even”) in order to make sense of this enigmatic Hebrew clause. Yet, it is unclear where these words find their source in the Hebrew text.

Are the English versions justified in adding these words? If so, which versions get it right? And if not, how do we make sense of these clauses?

Is v.17c really a protasis?

Despite their differences, all of the translations above begin v.17c with the English conjunction “if.” This means that each version takes this clause to be the protasis of a conditional sentence. (In grammar-speak, the protasis is the if-clause, or the condition, while the then-clause, is the apodosis, or consequence.)

As a result, we naturally infer that the preceding clause (17b) is the apodosis (“[then] may the Lord do so to me and more also”). Yet Conklin highlights a couple of reasons why 17b-c in Hebrew is likely not a conditional sentence at all.

Clause Order

For starters, in contrast to 17b-c, conditional sentences in Biblical Hebrew almost always follow the order protasis-apodosis (i.e., if-then). Indeed, Conklin observes only three clear exceptions where the pattern is reversed (i.e., then-if), namely Genesis 18:28, 30; 42:37.3

Thus, the highly usual order of the (so-called) conditional clauses in 17b-c, though not impossible, leads one to question if another interpretive option is available.

Conditional כִּי?

Another reason for questioning the conditional interpretation centers on the function and translation of the particle כִּי that occurs at the beginning 17c. As noted above, English versions typically translate this כִּי with the English conjunction “if.” Yet, Conklin argues, an alternative view is preferred.

Although there are indeed clear instances in the Hebrew Bible where כִּי functions as a conditional particle (albeit a relatively small percentage), virtually all of these cases occur in the casuistic legal contexts of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.4 Hence, for Conklin, since Ruth 1:17 is clearly not a case of casuistic law, the conditional interpretation of כִּי is at best suspicious.

But the questions still stands: if כִּי does not function as a conditional particle in 17, what then is its function?

Outside of casuistic legal contexts, כִּי is used to accomplish a few other functions, the most common ones being:

  • A connective which marks the following clause as the motivation or reason for what precedes, in which case כִּי is typically translated as “for” (e.g., “Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand”).
  • A complementizer which introduces an object clause of a verb of speech, perception or cognition, usually translated as “that” (e.g., “he said that”)

According to Conklin, it is improbable that כִּי functions as a motivating/reason connective in 17c since, if anything, the preceding clause (i.e., “May the Lord do so to me and more also”) provides the reason for the following כִּי clause, not vice versa.

He therefore concludes, “[t]he logic of the situation renders the motivational function unlikely”.5 Rather, he contends, a better option presents itself once we take into account that 17b-c is a particular type of Hebrew oath formula.

“(I swear) that only death will separate”

In short, Conklin suggests that כִּי in 17c is best understood as a complementizer. That is to say that כִּי introduces an object clause of a verb of speech, perception, or cognition, and is best translated as “that”. But is there a verb that meets this description in 17c?

At first glance, it seems that the complementizer function is highly unlikely here simply because there doesn’t seem to be a verb that meets this description. Yet this is precisely where an understanding of Hebrew oath formulas makes all the difference.

For starters, Hebrew oaths often involve highly formulaic and elliptical expressions. In other words, for ancient Hebrew speakers and readers, oath formulas were so well established that one need not include every word or phrase for the oath to be understood as such.

Given this fact, it is likely that the clause in question involves an elided or implicit oath authenticator שָׁבַע (“to swear”), a Hebrew verb of speaking, which requires a complementizer כִּי to introduce its object.6 As a result, the translation of Ruth 1.17 would read as follows:


In support of this view, Conklin highlights the fact that when שָׁבַע is overtly used as an oath authenticator elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, it is followed by the complementizer כִּי, as in Amos 4.2:


Alternatively, other oaths exist in which כִּי follows an authenticator that does not require a complementizer. As with Ruth 1.17, the most straightforward way of making sense of these instances is to understand them in light of an implicit שָׁבַע where כִּי is a complementizer, as in Genesis 42.16:


Furthermore, as Conklin observes, when שָׁבַע is not elided, no other authenticator is used (e.g., Amos 4.2), but when שָׁבַע is elided an additional authenticating element is always present, e.g., “May the Lord do so to me” (Ruth 1.17); “by the life of Pharaoh” (Gen. 42.16). In other words, the void left by the elision of שָׁבַע is always filled by an alternative authenticating expression.7

For these reasons and others, Conklin argues that the obscure Hebrew grammar found in Ruth 1.17 and elsewhere is clarified when we take into account the sometimes peculiar linguistic features of Hebrew oath formulas. Whether or not you agree with all of his arguments, his case is thought-provoking and informative, facilitating a better understanding of the form and function of oath formulas in Biblical Hebrew, and indeed their importance for both ancient readers and modern interpreters.

Conklin’s book and other specialized resources for the study of biblical Hebrew are available on Logos 7 in the Hebrew Studies Library Expansion, and make a great additional to any biblical scholar’s library.




Josh Westbury (PhD, Stellenbosch), a scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software.

  1. Blane Conklin, Oath Formulas in Biblical Hebrew, edited by M. O’Connor and C. L. Miller (Linguistic Studies in Ancient West Semitic 5; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2011).
  2. Ibid., 2.
  3. Ibid., 33.
  4. Ibid., 46.
  5. Ibid., 50.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.

Why should we care about the Dead Sea Scrolls?


The big news of last week was the announcement by Hebrew University, and Craig Evans here on theLAB, that a 12th Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) cave was discovered just last month.

But why are the DSS important? I’ll look at three main reasons below. But first we need to ask, what are the DSS?

What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The term ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ actually refers to a wealth of archaeological treasures discovered in a specific region of the land of Israel, running from Jericho to Masada (a straight-line distance just under 40 miles, and about 66 by car). These finds trace their origins back to the fourth century BCE, and up to the second century CE. Various inhabitants of this region left traces of their existence behind, including ancient ruins, pottery, caves, parchments, papyri, linen, coins, tools, and more.

History of Discovery

One day in late 1946 or early 1947, a 15-year-old shepherd boy wandered into a wadi, or canyon, looking for a lost sheep. When a well-placed toss of a rock into a cave mouth on the cliffs brought the sound of breaking pottery, he went to investigate. The scrolls he found and brought back to show his family were the first of the most important finds in modern biblical archeology. This wadi, which has yielded the majority of the manuscript treasures, is the now-famous Wadi Qumran located near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea.

The area was thoroughly excavated in the 1940’s and 50’s by both local and Western explorers and archaeologists. Although hundreds of caves were explored, only eleven had yielded manuscript treasures now identified as the Dead Sea Scrolls. That number has now increased to 12 with the recent archaeological work undertaken by Randall Price, Oren Gutfield, and Ahiad Ovadia. Although they did not find any entire scrolls with writing, the pottery fragments, parchments, papyri, and linen coverings indicate clearly that this twelfth cave deserves to be numbered with the other eleven.

The DSS Manuscripts

To date, there have been 600 manuscripts discovered among the 12 caves. Cave 4, however, contained the greatest concentration, yielding 400 manuscripts of which 100 are biblical. The only book of the OT not represented in this collection is Esther. One of the greatest treasures discovered among the DSS is a nearly complete scroll of Isaiah, known as the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsa). The biblical material in the DSS collection is an important witness to the textual transmission of the OT.

But biblical material makes up a smaller percentage of the texts. The DSS also contain a large amount of apocryphal and pseudepigraphal works. These include Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, the Letter of Jeremiah, 1 Enoch, Jubilees, and The Testament of Levi. In additional to these, there are the so-called Sectarian Manuscripts which concern life in the religious community at Qumran, including the Manual of Discipline and the Thanksgiving Hymns.

Finally, the DSS collection includes commentaries on various books of the OT, including the famous Habakkuk commentary. This text presents fascinating insights into the interpretive practices of the Qumran community. The commentary follows a verse-by-verse approach, and centers on a figure called “The Teacher of Righteousness” who is persecuted by a wicked priest.


And yet as interesting as the DSS are in archaeological and historical terms, why are they significant to biblical scholars today?

Why do the Scrolls matter?

We can consider the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls along three main points of interest: texts, people, and hermeneutics.

The History of Textual Transmission

First, the texts enjoy a unique position in the history of the transmission of scripture. They are the oldest surviving manuscript witnesses to the OT, nearly 1,000 years older than the earliest known witnesses prior to 1946. This is significant in and of itself, but it also means that the DSS can be compared to other textual witnesses, including the Septuagint and Masoretic Text, to gain insight both into pedantic issues of grammar, punctuation, and spelling, and into bigger-picture questions of pre-Christian Judaism in the intertestamental period.

Indeed, one of the most significant aspects from a textual perspective is that the DSS confirm the early history of the Masoretic form of the text of the OT. Prior to the discovery of the DSS, the MT was dated by many scholars to, at the earliest, the 2nd century CE. Now, however, the evidence points to a provenance many centuries prior.

This gives modern biblical scholars a deeper level of confidence that the text before them, in their critical editions or otherwise, has been faithfully and accurately transmitted by real people living centuries ago, who were motivated by legitimate zeal for God.

Real People in History

This bring us to our second point, that there were real people behind the production of the DSS who left footprints of their existence in the scrolls. The way of life followed by the Qumran community is proscribed in texts such as the Manual of Discipline, and the songs they sang together are found in the Thanksgiving Hymns. Thus the DSS offer a perpetual reminder of the vital importance of remembering that real flesh and blood people once inhabited this region, and lived their lives in strict adherence to their particular interpretation of the OT.

The scriptures were a life-and-death matter for these people. They took their sacred books so seriously that they were willing to live in the desert regions of Israel and separate from the Temple in Jerusalem. That alone was a radical departure from the typical Judaism of the day, matched only by the radical interpretations of scripture presented by the authors of the NT.

Ancient Interpretations of Scripture

This leads to our third and final point concerning hermeneutics. As an interesting comparison, while the Qumran community took to the arid regions of ancient Palestine to practice their particular form of Judaism, the Christian community initially tried to remain within the ancient synagogue, viewing Christ as the long-awaited Messiah now come for his people. Both groups relied upon their particular views of the OT scriptures to shape and inform their approach to daily life, and the life to come.

What we find in the DSS non-biblical manuscripts is the attempt by pious Jews to grasp the significance of the OT for the times in which they lived. Their commentaries on various books of the OT and their documents dictating life in the community attest to the power of scripture in the lives of these people so many years ago. However, there are crucial differences between the interpretive practices of the Qumran scribes and the writers of the NT books, and herein lies the greatest potential for fruitful research into the DSS.

Scholarly work on either the DSS or the NT requires engagement with the other set of texts. One cannot do serious research into the NT without considering the DSS, nor the other way around. These texts are both crucial witnesses to the Judaism leading up to and during the time of Jesus.

They mutually inform each other on many issues, including the sayings of Jesus; Messianic expectations during the Roman occupation; and the concept of “grace” in the Second Temple period. A particularly good example of this last point is the recent study by John Barclay, Paul and the Gift, where the DSS present a key dialogue partner with Paul on the theme of God’s charis, or grace.

Why the DSS should matter to you

In sum, the DSS are an essential witness to the text, people, and interpretive practices of at least one type of Judaism in the period preceding the arrival of Christ in ancient Palestine. That alone is enough to warrant, at the very least, a strong familiarity with their history and teachings.

To begin your foray into the DSS, I suggest starting with the classic translation and introductions in Geza Vermes’s The Dead Sea Scrolls in English. For a helpful recent introduction to the DSS, get a hold of Joseph Fitzmyer’s The Impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Both resources, and many more, are fully tagged and searchable in Logos 7.

But apart from reading a translation and some introductory material, how does one best study the DSS, especially when doing serious research? That will be the topic of my next post.

Please consider subscribing to theLAB to stay abreast of the latest news from Qumran, and to read compelling articles by biblical scholars from around the globe on all topics related to academic study of the Bible.

Last Call for ISBL/EABS: Proposals Due Next Week


How about heading to Berlin this summer to present your latest piece of biblical research?

ISBL and EABS are meeting jointly this year in Germany’s capital, which affords a fantastic opportunity to meet scholars from across Europe and the world in one of the most beautiful and historic cities on the Continent.

But get your proposal(s) together quickly, because the open call for papers ends next week, on February 22, 2017.

All program units are listed on the SBL website.

Logos will be present at the meeting showcasing their latest tools and resources, including Logos 7 and the free Logos Basic platform.

Stop by the booth to meet theLAB editors, and to discuss future scholarly contributions to the blog, or contact us in advance if you wish to set up a meeting.

Hope to see you in Berlin.


Parchments found at new Dead Sea Scrolls Cave


Photo credit: Randall Price

Craig A. Evans, Ph.D., D.Habil., is the John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins at Houston Baptist University in south Texas. Evans has published extensively in the area of the historical Jesus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and archaeology. He earned his Ph.D. under William Hugh Brownlee, one of the very first scholars to lay eyes on the Scrolls. Evans is a member of the Scholars Initiative concerned with the significance of the ancient biblical artifacts housed and conserved by the Museum of the Bible. Evans is also featured in several Faithlife Mobile Education courses, including the acclaimed video Archaeology and Jesus.

A New Cave, an Old Controversy: Dramatic New Discovery in Israel will Re-Ignite Debates

By Craig A. Evans

The last Dead Sea Scrolls cave, linked to the ruins on the marl shelf at the mouth of Wadi Qumran, was discovered in 1956, bringing the total number of caves to eleven — eleven caves containing the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, ceramic jars, and a number of other artifacts.

Examine the DSS interactively on Logos. >>

For sixty years archaeologists and looters have been searching for a twelfth cave. Would another one ever be found? Most didn’t think so. This is what makes the announcement from Hebrew University so astounding: A twelfth cave has been discovered!


Photo credit: Randall Price

Playing in the dirt

One of the Operation Scroll volunteers was archaeologist Randall Price, who today serves on the faculty of Liberty University. One of the briefly examined caves in 1993 — cave 53 — caught his attention.

Last year Price received permission to excavate that cave. Last month (January 2017) he, Oren Gutfeld, Ahiad Ovadia from Hebrew University, and a number of volunteers did so. Among the volunteers was sixty-five year old Cary Summers, President of the Museum of the Bible, whose exhibits and extensive collection will open to the public in November.

“You are never too old to play in the dirt,” Cary told me in a recent email. As a veteran volunteer digger myself, I know what he means and I couldn’t agree more. As it turns out, Cary chose the right dirt to play in.


Photo credit: Randall Price

Study the Dead Sea Scrolls on Logos. >>

The discovery in Cave 12

Price and his team made a truly significant discovery. Although the cave that the archaeologist and his team excavated had been looted (and the looters left behind a couple pick-axes), what was unearthed was quite important. Price and has team recovered six jars identical to the jars found in several of the other Qumran caves. These ceramic jars were designed to contain scrolls.

The condition of the some of the better-preserved Scrolls strongly supports the widely-held view that the jars were indeed intended for that purpose. Most of these jars are on display in Jerusalem’s Shrine of the Book and in Kando’s famous antiquities shop in Bethlehem. Although there are doubters, most scholars are convinced that these ceramic jars at one time contained many of the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Photo credit: Randall Price

The jars in ancient sources

In fact, ancient sources actually refer to ceramic jars used for this very purpose. Long ago the prophet Jeremiah was instructed to “take these deeds … and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time” (Jeremiah 32:14). In a first-century apocryphal writing Moses is commanded to “take this writing so that later you will remember how to preserve the books that I shall entrust to you. You shall arrange them, anoint them with cedar, and deposit them in earthenware jars … ” (Testament of Moses 1:16–17).

Long before the Scrolls were found in modern times in the caves near the Dead Sea, ancient scrolls were found in the general vicinity. Fourth-century Church historian Eusebius reports that third-century Origen somehow got hold of a biblical scroll “found at Jericho in a jar” (Hist. Eccl. 6.16.3).

We will never know if Origen’s scroll came from the ancient library partially preserved in the celebrated eleven caves in and around Qumran, discovered from 1947 to 1956. But the report of a discovery of a scroll in a jar at least attests the ancient practice.


Archaeologists Oren Gutfeld & Ahiad Ovadia in the cave. Photo credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld

Cave 13 discovery on the horizon?

It is hard to believe it, but Price and his team seem to have discovered a twelfth cave, something Scrolls scholars have been dreaming about for sixty years. And not only that, Price thinks there may even be a thirteenth cave near the Qumran ruins.

Unlike the newly discovered Cave 12, the mouth of the suspected thirteenth cave is concealed — which means there is a chance that it has not been looted. If that is the case, more texts could be discovered. If that happens, who knows what new things we might learn?

Of course, new scrolls have been coming to light from time to time for decades. Often they have been in possession of bedouins, reaching all the way back to those heady days of discovery and exploration in the 1940s and 1950s. The caves from which these scroll fragments were derived usually cannot be determined.


Photo credit: Randall Price

Parchment, Papyri, and Linen!

This is what makes Price and team’s discovery so important. He and his team have discovered what likely will be confirmed as Qumran’s Cave 12. Not only were six scroll jars recovered, but small fragments of parchment and papyrus, as well as at least one linen used for wrapping scrolls.

Scientific testing of the ceramic should confirm its link to the ruins and Qumran and to some of the other jars found in nearby caves. DNA testing of the parchment could confirm links to some of the scrolls whose origins have to date not been determined. The presence of the jars and the linen wrapper confirms that Scrolls used to be in this cave (and same applies in the case of Cave 8).

This is truly exciting. I might add that the recovered artifacts of the new Qumran cave will be of interest to scholars of great antiquity as well, for Price and his team also recovered Neolithic remains, including arrowheads and knives.

Linking worlds together

The caves, the ruins, and the scrolls of Qumran are important because they link the Old Testament and Jewish world to the world of Jesus, the Christian Church, and the writings of the New Testament. These discoveries near the Dead Sea also link sacred texts with hard evidence. The texts clarify the hard evidence, and the hard evidence clarifies the texts.

What archaeological evidence shows is that the ancient narratives of our old scriptures reflect an ancient world that actually existed, not a fairytale world of imagination and fiction. Thanks to archaeology, which in the last century or so has uncovered a great quantity of manuscripts, we now know that the ancient texts do indeed speak of real people, real places, and real events.

Judaism in the time of Jesus

The Qumran Scrolls are also important because they shed a great deal of light on the Judaism of Jesus’ day and a great deal of light on specific teachings of Jesus and his early followers.

For example, an Aramaic scroll from Cave 4 speaks of a coming figure who will be called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High” who will be “Great” and who will reign forever. The parallels with the Annunciation of Luke 1 are obvious. Another scroll from Cave 4 anticipates the coming of God’s Messiah who give sight to the blind, heal the wounded, raise the dead, and proclaim good news to the poor. The parallels to Jesus’ reply to John the Baptist are quite apparent.

Even Paul’s “works of the law” terminology finds an important parallel in a Cave 4 letter concerned with legal matters.
The Melchizedek Scroll from Cave 11 forecasts the coming of one who seems to be God himself, possessing the power to forgive sin, heal, and defeat Satan. Examples like these — and there are many more — should make it clear how important the Scrolls are.


Photo credit: Randall Price

The controversy is re-ignited

Of course, this startling new discovery will almost certainly re-ignite the controversy over who owns the Dead Sea Scrolls? Do they belong to Israel (when first found, Qumran was part of Jordan), or do they belong to the Palestinians? It was this hotly debated political issue that led to the new discovery.

The organized, authorized search for new Scrolls caves started with the dispute over the West Bank and the fear that Israel would lose access to the famous Dead Sea caves that to date have yielded about 1,000 documents, including and especially the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, which have been described as “the greatest archaeological find of the twentieth century.”

On the chance that Israel might lose access to this desolate region, in 1993 Operation Scroll was launched. Manned by members of the Israel Antiquities Authority (under the direction of IAA chief Amir Drori), the Israel Defence Forces, and a number of archaeologists and volunteers, Operation Scroll explored and recorded hundreds of caves along the western bank of the Dead Sea, including Jericho to the north. A few odds and ends were discovered but nothing earth-shaking, at least nothing that could count as another Dead Sea Scrolls cave.[1]


Photo credit: Randall Price

New treasures, new troubles

I am deeply grateful to Dr Price for sharing with me the details of his important discovery. I also share his hope that Cave 12 will not be the last Qumran cave to be discovered. Who knows what new treasures will be unearthed? And, who knows what new political trouble these new discoveries will generate? We live in interesting times.


Dr. Evans with Cave 4 in the background. Photo credit: Greg Monette

Dr. Evans has an outstanding series of online education courses, including Archaeology and the NT, The DSS and the NT, and a new course under development, Archaeology in Action: Jesus and Archaeology, only available on Logos.

[1] For a report of Operation Scroll, see Neil Asher Silberman, “Operation Scroll,” Archaeology 47/2 (1994) 27–28; idem, “Operation Scroll,” in K. D. Vitelli (ed.), Archaeological Ethics (London: Altamira Press, 1996) 132–35.


How the Vatican Library celebrates LXX Day


Marieke Dhont (PhD, KU Leuven & Université catholique de Louvain) is a Visiting Fellow at St. John’s College (University of Manitoba, Winnipeg) and specializes in Hellenistic Judaism.

February 8 marks International Septuagint day, a day to celebrate the Septuagint and encourage its study. This date was established in 2006 because Robert Kraft observed that it is the only one we have record of being historically related to the Greek Scriptures.

In a document dating to February 8, 533 CE, the Emperor Justinian grants his permission for the public reading of Jewish Scriptures in the Roman Empire in any language.

But where Greek is used he states that “those who use Greek shall use the text of the seventy interpreters, which is the most accurate translation, and the one most highly approved…” The text he refers to is, of course, the Septuagint.

In honour of Septuagint Day, I am eager to discuss ancient manuscripts of the LXX, in particular those manuscripts that have recently been made accessible to the public by the Vatican Library Digitization Project. This project greatly improves our access to ancient treasures that further our understanding of the Bible and its history.

FILE - in this Monday, Sept. 13, 2010 file photo, a view of the Vatican Apostolic Library, Vatican City. A Japanese information technology company has agreed to digitize 3,000 Vatican manuscripts in a deal to make some of the Catholic Church's most historic documents available online. The Vatican Apostolic Library says it hopes Thursday's announced agreement with Tokyo-based NTT DATA Corp. would protect fragile manuscripts for perusal by scholars worldwide. NTT DATA said it would digitize 3,000 manuscripts totaling 1.5 million pages over the next four years in a contract worth 18 million euros ($22.6 million). The company's president, Toshio Iwamoto, told a Vatican press conference, Thursday, March 20, 2014, he hoped NTT ultimately would make 82,000 manuscripts totaling 41 million pages accessible by computer. The Vatican Library, founded in 1451, is one of the world's most important research libraries. It has 180,000 manuscripts, 1.6 million books and 150,000 prints, drawings and engravings. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito, File)

The Vatican Apostolic Library

The Vatican Apostolic Library (Bibliotheca apostolica vaticana) contains a collection of manuscripts, incunabula (books printed before 1500), and printed books. The initiative to establish a public library was undertaken by pope Pope Nicholas V in the early 1450s.

Popes had always collected books for their own private libraries. In the Middle Ages, important collections of books were mostly confined to churches, monasteries, and wealthy individuals.

Pope Nicholas V (1447–1455), a humanist at heart who wanted to revive Rome, envisioned a public library for scholarly use, and so a Library as a distinct entity, with funds devoted to its existence, came into being in 1450. The collection is said to have consisted of 1,200 entries.

Nicholas’s death kept him from completing his dream, but the idea of a public library was taken up by pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484), who acquired many books and established a permanent area inside the Vatican palace to house the collections.

In 1475, the library prepared the first catalogue of its holdings. Over the next 600 years, the Vatican’s collection increased exponentially. To date, the Vatican Library houses approximately 80,000 manuscripts, 8,000 incunabula, and almost 2 million printed books.

Even though the collection of printed books is not large in number (the largest libraries in the world hold well over 30 million books), the percentage of rare and valuable works is much greater than is found in any other library of such proportions.

While the Vatican Library has always included Bibles, canon law texts and theological works, it specialized in secular books from the beginning. Its collection of Greek and Latin classics was at the center of the revival of classical culture during the Renaissance age.

The Vatican Digitization Project

Access to the Library nowadays is restricted. Fortunately, in 2010, the Vatican Library set up a large-scale project to digitize the entire collection and make it accessible to the public. On their website (see below), you can browse through photographs (albeit of varying quality) of manuscripts and incunabula for literally hours (even days!).

To date, over 13,000 manuscripts have been digitized. Among them are many important textual witnesses to the Septuagint. These photographs enable us not only to consult the Greek biblical texts for ourselves rather than relying on modern editions, but also to read and to interpret the marginal notes.

Looking at the real thing

Of course, one of the most well-known manuscripts of the Septuagint is the Codex Vaticanus. This manuscript was part of the library’s founding collection in 1450.

Let’s briefly take a closer look at two recently uploaded manuscripts in more detail. The first one is Codex Marchalianus (Vat.gr. 2125), also referred to by its siglum Q.

Q is dated to the sixth century. The text is written on vellum in uncial letters. This manuscript contains the Twelve Prophets, the Book of Isaiah, the Book of Jeremiah (with Baruch, Lamentations, and the Epistle), the Book of Ezekiel, and the Book of Daniel (the Theodotion version, with Susanna and Bel).

The manuscript includes about seventy items of an onomasticon of proper names in the margins of the texts of Ezekiel and Lamentations, as well as hexaplaric readings, as you can see in this picture of slide 204 of the manuscript, containing the text of Isaiah 11:16-13:2:


The Codex Marchalianus is important in the debate about the use of the tetragrammaton. At times, the marginal notes in Q attest to the use of the Greek transliteration ΙΑΩ for the Divine Name or the transcription of the tetragrammaton in Greek letters, ΠΙΠΙ.

In this picture of slide 205 of the manuscript, for example, we encounter the Greek tetragrammaton repeatedly in the left margin:


The second example, Chig.R.VII. 45, is known as Codex Chisianus 45 or Manuscript 88 according to Rahlfs’s catalogue of Septuagint manuscripts.

Mss 88 is a tenth century manuscript, written in minuscules on parchment. It purports to be directly derived from the recension of the Septuagint made by Origen in the third century CE. It contains Jeremia (including Baruch, Lamentations, and the Epistle), Daniel (the Theodotion version, including Susanna and Bel, and with comments by Hippolytus of Rome) as well as Daniel in the Old Greek, Ezekiel, and Isaiah.

Particularly interesting about this manuscript is that it includes both versions of the book of Daniel. The (earlier) Old Greek translation, of which few witnesses remain, had been supplanted by the Theodotion version by the first or second century CE.

Ms 88 was the only surviving version of Old Greek Daniel until the 1931 discovery of Papyrus 967. The Old Greek text starts on slide 148:


You can also see the tetraplaric colophon after Dan 12 on slide 180, with Susanna beginning just after on slide 181 with the first five verses obelized:



Therefore, in honour of the eleventh International Septuagint Day, I propose that we put our editions aside and read actual Greek manuscripts!

* All manuscript pictures are copyright of the Vatican Library.

** I wish to thank Bradley Marsh for alerting me when new manuscripts appear online.

*** For an exceptional research tool with access to over 87 LXX manuscripts (and growing), see the interactive Septuagint Manuscript Explorer, available on all higher Logos 7 base packages.

Teaching Hebrew that “Sticks”


Paul Overland (PhD, Brandeis University) is Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Ashland Theological Seminary.

There is a huge problem in the way that biblical Hebrew is currently taught: it doesn’t stick.

Polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, is better known by its household name “Teflon.” It’s the coating on cookware that prevents food from sticking to the pan, and it’s the perfect term to describe the phenomenon that occurs in learning biblical Hebrew using traditional methods.

Here’s the question: Can biblical Hebrew ever recover its “stickiness”?

Recover stickiness? When was Hebrew ever sticky?

Listen to what the experts in modern language pedagogy say about language and original stickiness. They tell us that, when operating as intended, all language is hopelessly sticky.

Take an example from my childhood in Japan: “Egg” is tamago. Ahsobi-mahshoh means, “let’s play!” After decades of non-use, those entries still stick in my active memory. Without them I could neither grocery-shop for Mom nor summon buddies to play ball in our neighborhood, three hours outside Tokyo. Still today, those entries are “stuck.”

Experts account for such decades-old stickiness by pointing out that words such as “tamago” and “ahsobi-mahshoh” illustrate language operating as it was intended, foreign or otherwise. Language is exchanging messages. When courses introduce a language this way, we call it “Communicative Language Teaching.”

In the same way, by virtue of being a language, Hebrew has always been sticky, from the outset. Until we came along and cleverly coated it with Teflon, that is.

How did we deprive Hebrew of stickiness?

When we transferred language into the laboratory, when we immobilized idioms like insects pinned to a board, when we distilled pronominal suffixes to charts and left them there—that was when we stripped Hebrew of its stickiness.

Granted, there will always be a place for linguistic analysis and examination. But after analysis, experts tell us that we must unleash Hebrew to operate as originally intended—to facilitate meaningful communication. Teflon discourages communication.

Can Hebrew regain stickiness?

Yes, Hebrew can regain stickiness. Specialists in Second Language Acquisition have blazed the trail. I stumbled across it when foraging for a bit of Modern Hebrew (MH) in anticipation of an Israel trip.

On Tuesday afternoons, Mrs. Shtul (the energetic wife of a retired rabbi) would guide our discussions. By posing simple questions, she unleashed us to exchange with each other (in the target language) our eager insights surrounding the Shema and Ahavta (Deuteronomy 6:4–9).

For us, Hebrew had grown sticky because those insights would remain corralled within us until we swung open the communication gate. And the gate was made of Hebrew. We yearned to use Hebrew, not just to learn it.

During that course a realization dawned. Just as we were employing modern Hebrew to exchange ideas, so others could utilize biblical Hebrew to do the same. We lacked only two things. First, we needed a collection of communication-topics that learners would want to talk about. Second, we needed to supply learners with situation-sufficient language so they would be able to exchange those messages.

But random conversation topics and ad-hoc language components do not a comprehensive course make. A scheme, a syllabus must ensure that conversation topics coordinate with vital elements of grammar plus high-frequency vocabulary. This would ideally result in ever-increasing language competence.

See how Logos Bible Software enhances Hebrew study. Watch Video >>

Pioneering a new curriculum

Thanks to a substantial grant from the Wabash Center in 2005, several instructors began to develop a biblical Hebrew curriculum utilizing Second Language Acquisition resources. Watching over us throughout was Dr. Diana Pulido, a highly-regarded specialist in the art of training teachers of Spanish. 1

While instructors test-piloted the Cohelet curriculum, two metrics dominated our attention. First, how were students responding to the new pedagogy? Second, could Hebrew instructors without training in either Modern Hebrew or SLA methodology conduct such a curriculum successfully?

As regards student response, learners found themselves pleasantly disarmed by the interactive approach fostered through sticky Hebrew. We heard of students who would keep on talking Hebrew out in the hallway after class was dismissed. Some asked that their Koine Greek please be taught like their Hebrew class. As Second Language Acquisition predicted, students preferred their language learning sticky. 2

As regards instructors, even without training in either Modern Hebrew or SLA methodology, teachers consistently returned highly positive reports. They admitted that their first-year learning curve reminded them of the investment required to teach any new course.

By the second year it typically leveled out. Most said that they certainly would not return to teaching “Teflon” Hebrew (via the Grammar-Translation method). It appears that the communicative pedagogy became as sticky for instructors as Hebrew became for students.

Several recent Hebrew textbooks offering insights into SLA are now available. Options include:

  • Randall Buth, Living Biblical Hebrew
  • John Cook and Robert Holmstedt, Beginning Biblical Hebrew (Baker Academic, 2013)
  • Hélène Dallaire, Biblical Hebrew (Hélène Dallaire, 2016)
  • Paul Overland, Learning Biblical Hebrew Interactively (Sheffield, 2014)

The crucial role of Logos Bible Software

Logos was instrumental in the Cohelet Project, and I surely recommend the Original Languages set of resources! Here’s an analogy to explain just how useful the program is. Boeing Aircraft Company is famous for extreme stress-testing of the metal (and now composition fiber) of its aircraft wings. Engineers deflect the customary curve of the airfoil up and down repeatedly, to the point that the wingtips threaten to touch. The process of developing the Cohelet Project textbook similarly tested the mettle of the Logos Bible Software.

If we could have broken Logos, it would have broken. After hundreds of morphological and syntactic searches, often with wildcard roots, the program held firm. Without the sophisticated search capabilities of Logos, the task of developing such a Hebrew textbook along communicative lines would have been as unthinkable as it would have been unbearable.

Logos also helps significantly beyond the curriculum development stage. From my experience in ministry, I’m persuaded that life is just too busy indulge playing Sherlock Holmes with a hardcopy of BDB, hunting down those elusive roots with weak radicals. Paper-and-ink sleuthing is enough to make my students abandon Hebrew altogether. So I require them to buy Logos, then strategically delaying its use until three months into the SLA language course.

See how to perform Hebrew clause searches in Logos Bible Software. Watch Video >>

What can we expect in the future?

Three opportunities in sticky Hebrew lie on the horizon: teacher training; new resources for advanced Hebrew courses and conversation; and digital enhancement of existing resources.

First, plans are under way for a two-week workshop for Hebrew instructors in the summer of 2017. It will enable Hebrew instructors to get comfortable using a communicative approach in their classrooms. (See the PDF flyer for the workshop at the bottom of this post.)

Second, materials are being developed that will enable instructors and advanced students to engage exegetical conversations concerning biblical passages they are exploring—all conducted in biblical Hebrew.

While the third opportunity (digital enhancements) may appear to orbit “in a galaxy far, far away,” that future is approaching at warp speed. It will be ushered in as enterprising virtual-world specialists venture to outfit existing graded-level stories in biblical Hebrew so they can blossom as interactive environments where learners will acquire language in the course of a role-playing game.

“Second Life” specialists will follow by creating a dedicated 3-D Hebrew island, complete with farmers and merchants, kings and clothiers, cooks and commoners, all beckoning the learner to carry on in biblical Hebrew. 3

Circling in a nearer future orbit is another form of digital enhancement. Existing resources will be enhanced so that the reader can hear any Hebrew word, phrase, or sentence pronounced. Imagine opening the digital edition of a communicative Hebrew textbook, and with only a click, hearing the embedded conversations spoken aloud, not to mention all word lists and Bible readings.

Some are already approaching this standard by providing textbook story episodes with illustration, caption, and audiation available on the web. 4 Perhaps one day Logos will issue a digitized communicative textbook of this sort, in which all Hebrew is audio-clickable.

See how Hebrew Bible Lemma searching works in Logos Bible Software. Watch Video >>

What’s the ultimate goal?

As fun as sticky Hebrew sounds (when was the last time “fun” and “Hebrew” appeared in the same sentence?), the end goal is not to inhabit some illusory island with a bunch of biblical Hebrew oral-revivalists. We don’t need conversational biblical Hebrew to order a kosher hamburger in Haifa.

The payoff, as Dr. Pulido enticed us at the start of the Cohelet Project, is of far greater worth. As learners acquire the language; as Hebrew achieves a level of automaticity within them; as they no longer must squander precious mental energies on lower-level decoding, they will release more of their native mental capacity for higher-level processing of what they are reading. In other words, students will read quicker with better comprehension.

Ideally, they will better be able to detect nuances latent in the text, i.e., those signals that so often unearth grand themes and delicate emphases. These are the very sorts of syntactic and lexical choices that so seldom clear the hurdle of translation; recall how artfully Isaiah and the psalmists craft their compositions.

Already instructors report that they themselves are reading Hebrew better since transitioning to communicative teaching. Learner-skill will commensurately climb as well. Ultimately, biblical Hebrew of a sticky sort will escort us into this new world of richer, more robust reading of the Hebrew Bible.

*There are literally hundreds of excellent resources and tools available for learning, and using, biblical Hebrew on Logos 7.

**New to Hebrew, or need a brush-up? Get the Logos Mobile Ed bundle Introduction to Biblical Hebrew.

*** For more information on learning biblical Hebrew interactively, visit Paul Overland’s website dedicated to the curriculum.



  1. For an account of that three-year journey, called the Cohelet Project, see “Can Communicative Principles Enhance Classical Language Acquisition?” in Foreign Languages Abstracts 44:3 (2011): 583–93 (written with the help of Lee Fields and Jennifer Noonan).
  2. See “Cognitive Style and Learning Strategies in Latin Instruction” by A. Deagon, pp. 27–49 in When Dead Tongues Speak: Teaching Beginning Greek and Latin, edited by J. Gruber-Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
  3. Cf. “Language learning in virtual worlds: Research and Practice,” by Randall Sadler and Melinda Dooly, pp. 159–82 in Contemporary Computer-Assisted Language Learning, Michael Thomas, Hayo Reinders, and Mark Warschauer, eds. (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013).
  4. http://www.learningbiblicalhebrewinteractively.com/Student, see Unit 2.1, Intro, Download Story Episode.

Peter Leithart’s Writing Confession

Photo by Zac Calvert Peter Leithart, senior fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College, speaks to Union students and staff about the importance of receiving gifts from God and sharing it with others.

Peter Leithart has just offered the best, and most honest, post on writing I’ve seen in some time. Writing is variously referred to as a craft, an art form, an obsession, or simply communication.

But Leithart makes it clear that writing, however you define it, is hard. And it’s not simply the writing or typing of words that is challenging. More to the point, the actual process of bringing a writing project to completion is daunting.

The candid nature of Peter’s post is surprising, given how prolific the man is. He has written numerous books on theology, pastoral ministry, and a few Bible commentaries. He knows what he’s talking about.

The true value in his post for anybody involved in writing, and especially scholars, is his delineation of the five stages in a book project. These include: ambition, contraction, panic, obsession, and wonder. There is a good mix of sound advice, humor, and sheer anxiety, including the following gem:

Panic is good. . . . Once you’ve had a good panic, you’re fine. Everything’s smoothly downhill from here.

For a solid introduction to Leithart, get the Peter J. Leithart Collection available on Logos, featuring six of his best works. Peter also has a superb set of lectures available as a bundle on Logos Mobile Ed, where you can see the man in action as he teaches through Sacramental Theology, Typological Hermeneutics, and Trinitarian Theology.

*Find other works by Leithart and related authors on the leading resource for biblical research, Logos 7, currently being offered with introductory discounts until February 6.

** Peter’s original post was on First Things and can be found here.

Hurtado on the Conversion of Paul


Larry Hurtado, Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, has just written an eloquent post on the significance of January 25th in the church’s calendar: the Feast of the Conversion of Paul.

His discussion of whether or not Paul was “converted” exemplifies a responsible academic approach to difficult issues of interpretation.

He ends the post with sound advice for how best to study the apostle Paul, who is “perhaps the most controversial figure in early Christianity.”

A number of Larry’s monograph-length studies of early Christianity are available on Logos, including his famous Lord Jesus Christ and How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?.

Oaths Formulas in Biblical Hebrew (Part 1)


The following is Part 1 of a two-part guest post by Josh Westbury (PhD, Stellenbosch), a scholar-in-residence at Logos Bible Software.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Oath”? Perhaps you think of a politician taking an oath of office, or a physician taking the Hippocratic Oath, or even someone who offers a testimony under oath in a court of law. But what exactly does the word oath mean? We might intuitively say that an oath refers to a promise. Yet an oath seems to imply something stronger. After all, whenever we make a promise we may not necessarily consider it to be an oath. In his recent book, Oath Formulas in Biblical Hebrew (Eisenbrauns, 2011), Blane Conklin provides a helpful distinction between promises and oaths:

An oath is more than a mere assertion or a mere promise. It also includes a statement of sincerity or earnestness: the person who swears the oath is committed to certain consequences or sanctions. At the very least, an oath (whether assertory or promissory) must satisfy the stakeholders that the person uttering the oath really means what she is asserting or promising (Conklin, 2).

In the Hebrew Bible, oaths served an important function, much like they do today. Although we might question what he means by a “mere” promise, Conklin is right to state that an oath provided a guarantee to the recipient that the oath-taker would fulfill his or her commitment. Failing to do so would put the oath-taker at risk of incurring punitive consequences (Conklin, 13).

Conklin observes that oath formulas consist of two basic elements: 1) a statement of sincerity, or an “authenticating element” and, 2) the content of the oath (Conklin, 4). So for example, in the familiar oath, “I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” the authenticating element is “I solemnly swear,” while the content of the oath is “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

The authenticating element involves language and imagery that both the oath-taker and recipient/witness believe to be uniquely authoritative, thereby confirming the truthfulness of the oath’s content. In short, the authenticating element is the distinctive piece of the formula that makes an oath more than merely a promise. Conklin identified five oath formulas in the Hebrew Bible, each distinguished by a unique authenticating element. Let’s look at these briefly.

Raising of a Hand

Today, when witnesses swear an oath to tell the truth in a court of law, they typically raise their right hand. Likewise, the raising of hands serves as an authenticating element in Biblical Hebrew oath formulas. Consider Abram’s oath to the king of Sodom in Gen. 14.22-23 (English translations from Conklin. Content inside brackets […] represents elided material):

Gen. 14.22-23


The origin story of how raising one’s hands came to be used as an authenticator remains unclear. It could have originated from the legal realm (e.g., raising one’s hands to testify), or, perhaps more likely, from the act of prayer (cf. Ps. 63.5, Dan. 12.7) (Conklin, 14). Whatever the case, by raising his hands in Gen. 14, Abram confirms to the king of Sodom that the promise that follows will be fulfilled (i.e., I will not take anything of yours, from thread to sandal thong).


Verbs of swearing are another means for authenticating an oath, in particular the verb שָׁבַע. According to Conklin, “The explicit use of a verb of swearing in the appropriate context puts the oath-taker in a legally binding state, subject to the penalties and sanctions for breaking an oath” (Conklin, 18).

Jer. 22.5


Verbs of swearing virtually always involve the oath-taker swearing “on” or “by” someone or something else (i.e., “I swear by X”). Moreover, Conklin notes that “… swearing ‘on’ or ‘by’ X, when the preposition בְּ is attached to X, signifies that X is being put at risk for the sake of affirming the veracity of the oath” (Conklin, 19–20).

Invocation of Witness(es)

One may also authenticate an oath by invoking a third party as witness to the oath. Consider the oath in Jer. 42.5:

Jer. 42.5


Although most oaths of this kind invoke Yahweh as witness, Conklin notes that this authenticating element likely finds its origin in treaty curses, as seen in the cognate literature (Conklin, 18). In other words, a third party is called on to bear witness to the actions of the contracting parties in a treaty, thus motivating them to keep their oath under threat of committing perjury (Conklin, 17).

“(By) the Life of X”

The most common authenticator used in the Hebrew Bible uses the expression “X חַי” or “(By) the life of X” (lit. “life of X”), where X stands for the life of a sacred entity. This authenticating element is related to the previous type–“Invocation of Witnesses”–in that the expression “(By) the life of X” invokes a third party as witness to the oath. However, unlike the previous type, the witness is always a sacred entity when the expression “X חַי” is used (Conklin, 24).

1 Sam. 14.39


Although most of these oaths invoke the life of Yahweh, this is not always the case, as in Gen. 42.16.

Gen. 42.16


“Thus Will X Do to Y, and Thus Will X Add”

Finally, twelve oaths in the Hebrew Bible employ the enigmatic expression, “Thus will X do to Y, and Thus will X add”, where X is typically a deity (usually Yahweh/Elohim), and Y is either the receiver/witness of the oath, or more commonly, the oath-taker himself.

1 Sam. 3.17


The content portion of the oath (highlighted in blue) may be introduced by a particle אִם, as in 1 Sam. 3.17, or more commonly, with the particle כִּי, as in Ruth 1.17, below.

Ruth 1.17


Conklin highlights that this oath formula in particular presents Hebrew grammarians and translators with a few linguistic puzzles, which, when not pieced together properly, may lead to misunderstanding and even mistranslation.

In a follow-up post, I will showcase some of these linguistic problems by looking at the example of Ruth 1.17 in more detail. Moreover, I will also present some of Conklin’s creative solutions to these problems, solutions that he argues provide improved interpretations to this and other difficult passages in the Hebrew Bible.

Goodacre and Still picked as NIGTC Editors

9780802872128-e1484253137516Just recently, Eerdmans released some very exciting news for their exceptional commentary series, the NIGTC.

Acclaimed NT scholars Mark Goodacre (Duke) and Todd Still (Baylor) are taking over as coeditors of the series, previously led by Howard Marshall and Donald Hagner.

Congrats to Mark and Todd, we expect great things from them and the NIGTC in the future!

The original Eerdmans press release can be found here.

12 of the 14-volume NIGTC series comes standard on every Logos Gold base package and above (O’Brien’s commentary was pulled for plagiarism issues; Longenecker’s Romans is now available separately, having just been released in 2016).