Hebrew Bible and ANE History Lists Commentary

News and Comments that relate to the Hebrew Bible and to my posts on various ANE and Hebrew Bible related mailing lists - Yitzhak Sapir

Thursday, February 09, 2006

רעו rcw in the Siloam Inscription

Update - Feb. 14: Bibliography updated. Feb.15: Bibliography updated, added paragraph following the quote of James Davila that surveys other views of this word in scholarship, added paragraph regarding spelling of this word in Jeremiah.

In the context of a discussion that dealt in part with matres lectionis - letters that sometimes stand for a vowel in the mostly consonantal script of the Hebrew language, I discussed the question whether the pre-exilic language spoken by the peoples of Judea ("Judaean" as it is called in the Bible) had final sounds in words, and if so, if it denoted them by the use of matres lectionis. The most common case in the Bible is the use of the masculine third person singular possessive pronoun, when joined to a word: "His servant" is עבדו cbdw and the final ו w denotes the sound. In pre-exilic inscriptions, we usually find a final ה h in these cases. One notable exception is in the Siloam Inscription,
Photo source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
where the digging of Hezekiah's tunnel is described in very dramatic words. We find the phrases: "each crew toward the other," "the men calling out to each other," "the stonecutters hacked toward each other." In each of these cases, "other" is written רעו rcw- "his fellow" - and is commonly translated in the singular. Sometimes, scholars have gone to great lengths to explain how the singular possessive ending was not written with an ה h as is common in pre-exilic inscriptions, but with what appears to be a later convention - the ו w. ...

Jim Davila on PaleoJudaica, wrote:

the vocalized form of רעהו rchw would have been *ricihu (with the normal u-vowel before the suffix assimiliated to the i of the noun, probably under the influence of the gutteral. Cf. BH recehu). This appears to have collapsed into the form riciw, which is a reasonable possibility. (It may also be that the word is plural, in which case the orthography would be unremarkable.)

This goes along the lines of Saenz-Baedillos, who reconstruct the pre-exilic pronunciation as recew (p. 66). In a full length study that investigates the situation anew and takes into consideration additional inscriptions discovered since Cross and Freedman's work, Zevit (1980) reads this apparently as a m.l. for . For support, he uses the Mesad Hashavyahu ostracon and reads the ו w in קצר ואסם qsr w)sm as a m.l. - "his harvest." This is criticized on linguistic grounds by Anson Rainey in his review of Zevit's work.

Perhaps the interest in reading it in the singular is based on Jer 6:21, but given the Vulgate's translation it may be possible to reconstruct שכן ורע ויאבדו ŝkn wrc wy)bdw and suggest that perhaps due to the use of the perfect where the imperfect would be expected, the ורעו wrcw received its second ו w from a redivision of the words. This suggestion can also explain the Qere/Ketiv as attempts to deal with the word.

As much as the reconstruction is interesting, I found his final comment more interesting. The common spelling of "his fellows" in the Bible is רעיו rcyw but the יו -yw suffix which is the common spelling for the masculine third person plural possessive pronoun is commonly written ו w in the pre-exilic inscriptions. So a reader who knew no better who came and read this inscription would interpret רעו rcw as "his fellows." This maintains the usage of ה h for third person singular possessive and ו w for third person plural possessive.

My רע fellow to the discussion questioned this and claimed that there is no such usage in the Bible of using the plural in the phrase of the form "each other." Fair enough, although I think that it is not necessary for pre-exilic inscriptions to have the exact same grammatical usage forms as the Biblical text and no additional ones. Indeed such usage does exist in the Bible:

Numbers 26:54 איש לפי פקדיו )y$ lpy pqdyw 1 Samuel 30:6 איש על-בנו ועל-בנתיו )y$ cl-bnw wcl-bntyw

Interestingly, the second case features בנו bnw for "his sons" - like the pre-exilic spelling. There is therefore no reason to question the use of this phrase with a word in the plural.

So what do I think it all mean in the end, if we use plural? It is a reference to each crewmen's fellows on the other side. This is how I would translate the Siloam inscription in light of all this:

[...] the tunneling; and this was how the tunneling was completed: As [the laborers employed] their picks, each crew towards the other, and with three cubits remaining, the voices of each man calling to his fellow crewmen on the other side [could be heard], since it got louder on the right [and lef]t; the day the opening was made, each stonecutter hacked towards the crewmen on the other side, pick against pick. And water flowed from the source to the pool [twel]ve hundred cubits, and the height of the rock was hundred cubits above the stonecutters' heads.

In the context of researching this, I had either made use of the following references and reviews or felt they pertain to this discussion:


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