Thursday, September 07, 2006

Nerdy Hebrew Moment; A Mystery Solved 

Years ago, back when my mother still taught Sunday school and I was in college and helped her out from time to time when I was home, we had a humorous disagreement about a Sunday School lesson. The lesson she was teaching her 3-5 year olds that Sunday, out of a teacher's resource book mind you, was about Isaac and Ishmael. The material from which she was teaching, and with which she had no reason to quibble until I came along, stated that the reason (in part) Ishmael had to be sent away from his family was because he was mean to Isaac. I took issue with this teaching and said it had no scriptural warrant, but was based in anachronistic fear. So, over the years, we've laughed about this and continued to argue. Me saying, "That's not right," and her saying, "But my book said it." Then we would laugh at the absurdity of it.

So then, last night at my youth group meeting, we're studying Genesis 21 and reading it aloud. One of the readers had a decidedly older translation of the text than my NRSV, and so when they got to verse 9 (which says in my NRSV, "But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac,") she read the word, "mocking", instead of "playing". I recalled the aforementioned history of the Sunday school lesson and almost blanched. Instead, I made a mental note of the verse number and told myself to look it up in Hebrew later.

So, today I did that. The Hebrew is a pun, as it so often is. The word translated as "mocking" in the KJV and as "playing" in the NRSV is matsacheq, which generally means "playing", "sporting", or "jesting", and is a derivation of the same root word for Isaac's name - Yitschaq, which means "laughter".

So, years later, I solved the mystery. The Sunday school lesson was using a different translation, a less amicable translation. I had no doubt it said that in the resource manual, I just couldn't figure out why. Now, I know, thanks to the Youth Group kids and some Hebrew classes. Now I can laugh with the Genesis author(s).



I always give thanks for Hebrew class.

By Anonymous jeffrey, at 4:53 PM  

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