The Fourth Part

Discussion in 'Bible Versions/Translations' started by Deacon, Mar 28, 2014.

  1. Deacon

    Deacon
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    A question came up in class two weeks ago.

    We were discussing Balaam's prophesies in Numbers 23

    Numbers 23.7-10 has Balaam’s first prophecy regarding the Israelites.


    From Aram has Balak brought me,
    Moab’s king from the eastern mountains:​
    “Come, curse Jacob for me,
    and come, denounce Israel!”​
    How can I curse whom God has not cursed?
    How can I denounce whom YHWH has not denounced?​
    For from the top of the crags I see him,
    from the hills I behold him.​
    Here is a people dwelling alone,
    and does not reckon itself among the nations.​
    Who can count the dust of Jacob,
    and the number of the fourth part of Israel?
    May I die the death of the upright,
    and may my end be like theirs!​




    What is the "fourth part of Israel"?

    I have my own opinion but I'd like to see how others explain it and see it from a number of different perspectives.

    Rob
     
  2. jonathan.borland

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    If one can't even count a quarter of them because they are so many, he certainly couldn't count all of them, which are as numerous as the "dust."
     
  3. thisnumbersdisconnected

    thisnumbersdisconnected
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    Seems pretty obvious to me: "The fourth part" of something is 25% of it. That's all it can mean.
     
  4. Deacon

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    Hebrew poetry often uses couplets (or bicola) the second line echoes the first.
    This passage has seven pairs of couplets.

    Note how the line in question doesn't seem to follow the pattern.

    Some versions follow this pattern better than others.


    Numbers 23:10a

    Who has counted the dust of Jacob
    or numbered the dust clouds of Israel?
    (HCSB)

    Who can count the dust of Jacob,
    Number the dust-cloud of Israel?
    (JPS Contemporary Torah)

    Who can calculate the seed of Jacob?
    And who can number the multitude of Israel?
    (Lexham English Septuagint)

    Rob
     
  5. thisnumbersdisconnected

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    That would appear to be true, but your problem is, roba' can be translated only as "fourth part" as it is a Hebrew geometric term. It appears in just one other biblical passage, 2 Kings 6:25, where it is translated as a "fourth" of a kab (a dry measure equal to about 1.5 liters). There is no justification for giving it a poetic metaphorical meaning.
     
  6. Deacon

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    The Hebrew word rb‘ is usually translated “fourth part” but a number of Jewish sources, including Rashi interpret the word to mean “seed".

    Note the Septuagint's use of the word, "seed", σπέρμα (sperma), in the post above.

    Wycliffe translated from the Vulgate which follows this tradition.

    Who may noumbre the dust, that is, kynrede, of Jacob,
    and knowe the noumbre of the generacioun of Israel?​
    (John Wycliffe Bible 1185)

    The Samaritan text (rather than the Masoretic text) has different words exhibiting better parallelism.

    Who can count the dust of Jacob,
    and who can number the dust-cloud of Israel?​

    Many of the newer translations (NAB, 1970; TEV, 1976; TNK, 1985; NRSV, 1989; REB, 1989) adopt the reading given in the Samaritan text.

    Rob
     
  7. Deacon

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    Masoretic text
    ומספר את־רבע ישראל
    wmspr ’t-rb‘ yśr’l
    and the number of the fourth part of Israel?

    Samaritan text
    ומי ספר מרבע ישראל
    wm spr mrb‘ yśr’l
    and who can number the dust-cloud of Israel?

    I don't know of any and can't find any Dead Sea Scrolls or papyrus that testify of this verse.

    Rob
     
  8. prophet

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    Num 23:10
    10 Who can tell the dust of Iacob and the numbre of the fourth parte of Israel. I praye God that my soule maye dye the deeth of the righteous ad that my last ende maye be like his.
    (TyndaleBible)

    Num 23:10
    10 Who may noumbre the dust, that is, kynrede, of Jacob, and knowe the noumbre of the generacioun of Israel? My lijf die in the deeth of iust men, and my laste thingis be maad lijk hem!
    (WYC)

    Num 23:10
    10 Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let my soul die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!
    (Darby)

    Num 23:10
    10 Who can count the dust of Jacob
    or number the fourth part of Israel?
    Let me die the death of the upright,
    and let my end be like his!”
    (ESV)

    Num 23:10
    10 ¿Quién contará el polvo de Jacob, O el número de la cuarta parte de Israel? Muera mi persona de la muerte de los rectos, Y mi postrimería sea como la suya.
    (RV09)

    Num 23:10
    10 Chi annovererà Giacobbe, che è come la polvere? E chi farà il conto pur della quarta parte d'Israele? Muoia la mia persona della morte degli uomini diritti, E sia il mio fine simile al suo.
    (Ital_Diodati1649)

    Num 23:10
    10 Qui est- ce qui comptera la poudre de Jacob, et le nombre de la quatrième partie d'Israël? Que je meure de la mort des justes, et que ma fin soit semblable à la leur!
    (FrenMartin1744)

    Seems the AV has a lot of company.
     
  9. thisnumbersdisconnected

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    Regardless, God's word is inspired. The other Jewish sources are not. Again, there is no justification for any reading other than "fourth part," or one-quarter.
     
  10. Van

    Van
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    I do not know what the fourth part refers to, but from Numbers 2:1-32 we see four coordinates, East, South, West and North. Since the number of each part is given, not sure what the message is, if one of the camps is in view.
     

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