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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ezekiel 37:10 Host, Army or Multitude

There is a tantalizing scrap of lexical minutia at the end of Ezekiel 37:10 which, given a less than scholarly hermeneutic, might be employed to produce an illusion of prophetic fulfillment in the modern state of Israel.

Ezek. 37:10 NRSV I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Ezek. 37:10 RSV So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host.

Ezek. 37:10 NASB So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Ezek. 37:10 ESV So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

The hebrew חיל army/host/multitude, on the correct reading of this word see M. Greenberg, W. Zimmerli, D. Block. If I were writing a popular end-times novel, this would certainly be a text I would misuse. Modern Israel is both a nation and an army. Given the size of the nation the army is huge. But Ezekiel most probably isn’t talking about an army. The rendering “vast multitude” NRSV is more transparent to a contemporary audience and than “exceedingly great host.” Host is an archaic word which could be used of an army or a large group of people without military overtones. Host is probably more accurate but the generation that used and understood the word is long gone.

The LXX version provides some clues about how the translator understood the term in this context. In several places in Ezekiel where  חיל is used of a large mass of people and might have military overtones the LXX translator uses δυνάμεις or ἰσχύς.  We will pass over the obvious  ambiguities of those translation choices.  In Ezek. 37:10 we find  חיל rendered as συναγωγὴ which could be understood as “host” or “multitude” with or without military overtones. If we look for συναγωγὴ in Ezekiel we discover it also translates  קהל a word which covers some of the same semantic territory, a large group of people called together for worship, council or warfare.

Ezek. 38:4 καὶ συνάξω σε καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν δύναμίν σου, ἵππους καὶ ἱππεῖς ἐνδεδυμένους θώρακας πάντας, συναγωγὴ πολλή, πέλται καὶ περικεφαλαῖαι καὶ μάχαιραι,

Ezek. 38:4  NETS "I will round up you and all your force, horses and riders, clothed in all their armor, a great gathering, shields and helmets and daggers”

Ezek. 38:4 NRSV I will turn you around and put hooks into your jaws, and I will lead you out with all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great company, all of them with shield and buckler, wielding swords.

In this passage the word חיל is translated τὴν δύναμίν force, πᾶσαν τὴν δύναμίν σου “all your force” NETS.  The expression קהל רב “a great company” NRSV is translated συναγωγὴ πολλή “a great gathering” NETS. It looks like our translator prefers δυνάμεις for explicit military reference and συναγωγὴ for more general reference but that may be a case of reading the English translation back into the MT and LXX. Note the following example where חיל and קהל appear in parallel.

Ezek. 38:15 NRSV and come from your place out of the remotest parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army;    

Ezek. 38:15 καὶ ἥξεις ἐκ τοῦ τόπου σου ἀπ᾿ ἐσχάτου βορρᾶ καὶ ἔθνη πολλὰ μετὰ σοῦ, ἀναβάται ἵππων πάντες, συναγωγὴ μεγάλη καὶ δύναμις πολλή,

 Ezek. 38:15 NETS And you shall come from your place out of the extreme north and many nations with you, all riders on horses, a great gathering and a large force

Here δύναμις renders חיל and συναγωγὴ renders קהל.

After reviewing the use of חיל and קהל in Ezekiel and seeing how the LXX handles each case, it appears that this military language in the vision of the dry bones is used in a sort extended metaphor. The bones are the remains of a defeated army laying on the battlefield eons after the battle has faded from memory. When the bones are revived they become the army again. All of this a metaphor for the revival of the whole house of Israel as explained in the text. Not a literal army, otherwise, what is the purpose of this huge army? (c.f. Moshe Greenberg Ezekiel AB)   


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