Nazarene Space

Textual Criticism: Gen. 49:22 - אלי־שוב vs.עלי־שור

Something I've been interested in for awhile is the possibility of a textual variation in Genesis 49:22. When the MT (= Massoretic Text), LXX (= Septuagint), and SP (= Samaritan Pentateuch) are compared something arises:





Υἱὸς ηὐξημένος Ιωσηφ, υἱὸς ηὐξημένος ζηλωτός, υἱός μου νεώτατος· πρός με ἀνάστρεψον.


בן פרת יוסף בן פרת עלי־עין בנות צעדה עלי־שׁור

בן פרת יוסף בן פרת עלי עין בני צעירי עלי שׁור


An increasing son is Joseph, increasing zealous son. My younger son, to me you have returned.


A fruitful son is Joseph, a fruitful son by a spring -- (his) branches traverse a wall.


A fruitful son is Joseph, a fruitful son by a spring -- my son, my young one upon a wall.




A fruitful son is Joseph, a fruitful son by a spring -- my son, my young one upon an ox.


Apart from the fact that the Hebrew of the MT reading is uneasy in that the verb צעדה is singular and the subject of the verb בנות is plural, it is interesting that the LXX and SP convey such a different sense of the passage; the Hebrew variants I’ve highlighted. It seems that the SP’s בני צעירי (= “my son, my young one”) reading is also behind the Hebrew original of the LXX’s υἱός μου νεώτατος (= “my younger son”) while the MT conveys בנות צעדה (= "branches traverse"). Because the LXX and SP both retain an idea of a “young one” and “little one” (Greek νεώτατος = Hebrew צעיר) and the MT retains the verb “she traversed” (= צעדה) instead, it is probable that at some point a ר became a ד or vice-versa. That is, the roots צער and צעד look almost identical, save the spur protruding from the top right corner of the daleth. I think the original reading is likely a ר explaining why the MT exhibits a syntactical awkwardness in the noun-verb number agreement of בנות and צעדה. As for the respectiveי  and ה presence and absence in the SP (צעירי) and MT (צעדה), scribal emendations and corrections may be to blame. This variation may also go back to an extremely early text that predates any usage of matres lectionis. One can only speculate.


Another interesting issue is that the SP reading בני (= “my son”), also behind the LXX’s υἱός μου (= “my son”), stems from the same root as the MT’s reading בנות (= “daughters”, figuratively “branches”). That is visually, the only difference between the two variants is a י versus an ות suffix.


But what does “traversing” and being “upon” a “wall” have in common with “to me you have returned”? How does one begin to reconcile the LXX reading of πρός με ἀνάστρεψον with that of the MT’s and SP’s witness to עלי־שׁור? Well, beings א and ע are similar consonants, and ב and ר are identical only being distinguished by a horizontal stroke, it is possible that these may have been transposed by a scribe. This would explain why the LXX reads as it does. The proposed Hebrew reading that the LXX derived from would be read אֵלַי שׁוּב ē šû (= “to me return”) as opposed to the common MT and SP reading of עלי־שור ă šûr (= “upon a wall”). It’s also possible to read the letters שור as  שׁוֹר(= “ox”) rather than שׁוּר (= “wall”) placing the nouns בנות and בני upon an “ox” instead of a “wall”.


As the foregoing data exhibits, it is possible to reconstruct different readings for Gn 49:22. But could it be possible that the MT which reads עלי־שור ă šûr "traverse a wall" may have initially read אלי־שוב ē šû "to me return" or perhaps an alternative tradition? I think so. It could also be that the LXX simply had a corrupted manuscript to translate from. So is it merely a contrived proposal or could it be?

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Comment by Erik Adoniqam on April 19, 2012 at 5:06pm
Agreed. Though it be an awkward reading, it is still syntactically possible given that the verb refers to each individual branch as opposed the group as a plurality. Perhaps this is why the BHS doesn't list the variants for Gn 49:22 in the critical apparatus. But nonetheless I wouldn't suspect the MT to be the most correct witness of the other mss for the reasons I've outlines above. If it is actually "my son, my young one upon an ox/bull" it would be just as if not more plausible than the MT reading because it might add to list of parallels between the blessings of Joseph and Judah. They both are the fourth in the list from the division of the tribes into two camps, they both have messianic predictions, and then the notion of Judah tying the donkey to the vine may have some parallel to Joseph upon an ox. Just speculation though.

Thanks, your comments are always appreciated.
Comment by Erik Adoniqam on April 19, 2012 at 6:28pm
The reading of branches returning requires some different conjugations that seem to be impossible for the text, unless I'm overlooking something.
Comment by Erik Adoniqam on April 19, 2012 at 6:41pm
Something else I forgot to include was that the Septuagint omits עלי עין altogether. Now that is interesting too.
Comment by Erik Adoniqam on April 19, 2012 at 7:54pm
Thanks for Gill's words. He comes with some good info sometimes. Regarding בנות I actually looked in the lexicons, when I was writing the blog, to locate another place where this word means "branches" but I was unable to locate such an instance. It appears to be hapax legomena in meaning here. I am interested in that place where it means towns though. Where was that?
Comment by Erik Adoniqam on April 20, 2012 at 2:19pm
Interesting. I think the vav mater lectionis disappearing may have to do with the added suffixes which is common. But the city having daughters may shed further light on the great harlot of revelation, who is called a great city, having daughters. Very interesting my friend!


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