Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ruth 1:4-6 - more of the story

Note: these story 'lessons' are my first attempts at reading grammar explicitly - please add corrections in the comments if you see any errors.
If you remember, you were at ease in the cool desert evening around a fire listening to a storyteller.

vayis-u lahem nashim moevot
וַיִּשְׂאוּ לָהֶם, נָשִׁים מֹאֲבִיּוֹת
and they took for themselves Moabite wives

One might have expected the young men to marry. וַיִּשְׂאוּ is a good example of a vav conversive. The tense is third person plural imperfect. This is signaled by the prefix י and the suffix וּ. The conjunction וַ (and note how the Masoretes put the dagesh - the dot - in the yod prefix יִּ) changes the aspect of the verb to perfect. Notice too the irregular plural נָשִׁים of אשה the feminine of איש. And Moabites, a feminine plural adjective to match the feminine plural of wives. Moabites has the traditional feminine plural ending וֹת.

shem ha-axat arpa, veshem hashenit rut
שֵׁם הָאַחַת עָרְפָּה וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית רוּת
the name of the one Orpah, and the name of the second Ruth

Is this first and second or the one and the other? First ראשון (rishon) is a different word from אחד but translations vary. In this case, הָאַחַת and הַשֵּׁנִית have feminine markers.

vayashenu sham k`eser shanim
וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם כְּעֶשֶׂר שָׁנִים
and they lived there for ten years

See how many numbers you can learn from this story! Here too is a masculine form plural (years) and the place locator 'there' שָׁם which has the same consonants as name שֵׁם.

vayamutu gam-shneihem maxlon vechilion
וַיָּמֻתוּ גַם-שְׁנֵיהֶם מַחְלוֹן וְכִלְיוֹן
and they died - even the two of them - Maxlon and Chilion

How uneven my transliteration. X is a strong pharyngeal noise. My friends say no one except the Yemenites today can really pronounce it. So let's remove the transliteration and see what happens. Notice the ending of the number two - perhaps we could translate as "and even the two of them died". Three (or two) words in Hebrew, 7 in English since we don't do affixes the same way. Our pronouns and tenses use more helping words than prefixes and suffixes.

וַתִּשָּׁאֵר הָאִשָּׁה מִשְּׁנֵי יְלָדֶיהָ וּמֵאִישָׁהּ
and she was bereft, the woman, of her two children and of her husband

Bereft - again Niphal, i.e. passive. It is a sad story so far - lots of trouble for Naomi. I wondered if the archaic English 'bereft' or even bereaved gives the meaning of שאר and it will have to do (left behind doesn't cut it for me). Perhaps we should put a positive spin by saying she survived. What would happen to the story if we let it become more colloquial?

וַתָּקָם הִיא וְכַלֹּתֶיהָ וַתָּשָׁב מִשְּׂדֵי מוֹאָב
and she arose, she and her daughters in law to return from the fields of Moab
כִּי שָׁמְעָה בִּשְׂדֵה מוֹאָב
for she had heard in the fields of Moab

News travels about the doings of יְהוָה even in the fields of Moab. This is a construct plural and could be translated as country. The construct is the way that Hebrew links nouns often with an implied possessive but not necessarily. (I wonder to what extent that it corresponds linguistically with the German habit of concatenating nouns.)

כִּי-פָקַד יְהוָה אֶת-עַמּוֹ לָתֵת לָהֶם לָחֶם
that יְהוָה had visited his people to give to them bread

This is the first instance of the object marker אֶת in this story. It is not usually translated. Note also the infinitive לָתֵת of נתן. There is only one letter ת left behind of the root with this form of the infinitive. You can decide which of the last two words means 'to them' and which means 'bread'. (They are different)

It may be too early to remove the transliteration - but you can fill one in in the comments if you want. You can also find help online for reading and listening.

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