"Digged down a wall" or "hamstrung an ox"?
Genesis 49:6 - KJB - "...for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill THEY DIGGED DOWN A WALL."
Genesis 49:6 NKJV - "... For in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will THEY HAMSTRUNG AN OX."
In Rick Norris's book, The Unbound Scriptures, he plays the game I call "Scholar Poker". He amasses his various scholars who all tell us the King James reading of "in their selfwill, THEY DIGGED DOWN A WALL" is totally incorrect and the true reading should be "in their self-will THEY HAMSTRUNG AN OX (or BULL)" as the NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV, Jehovah Witness New World Translation and most Catholic versions have it.
Young’s "Literal" 1898 actually has - “And in their self-will ERADICATED A PRINCE." (No kidding. Look it up)
The Longman Version 1841 and The Wellbeloved Scriptures 1862 both say - "in their self-will THEY ROOTED OUT PRINCES."
The Concordant Literal Version 2009 has: “For in their anger they killed men, and in their acceptance THEY FELLED A CHIEF.”
In Genesis chapter 49 Jacob is telling each of his sons something about what will befall them in the last days, and of their blessings or penalties. There we read what Jacob said concerning his two sons Simeon and Levi. "Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill THEY DIGGED DOWN A WALL."
Genesis 49:6 = "They digged down a wall" is the reading of the King James Bible 1611 - "in their selfwill THEY DIGGED DOWN A WALL." Wycliffe 1395 - "for in her woodnesse thei killiden a man, and in her wille thei myneden the wal", the Great Bible 1540, - "in their selfe wyll they, DIGGED DOWNE A WALL." the Bishops' Bible 1568, the Douay-Rheims Bible of 1582 - "Let not my soul go into their counsel, nor my glory be in their assembly: because in their fury they slew a man, and in their selfwill THEY UNDERMINED A WALL.", the Geneva Bible 1587, the Douay Rheims 1610, Webster's Bible 1833, the 1936 Jewish Publication Society translation, the 1950 Douay Version, the KJV 21st Century 1994, the Third Millennium Bible 1998, the Torah Transliteration Scripture 2008, the 2010 Holy Scriptures Jubilee Bible - "and in their own will THEY DUG DOWN A WALL.", the 2009 Catholic Public Domain Version, The Knox Bible of 2012 Westminster Diocese, published by Baronius Press - "raging, they slew their enemy, recklessly THEY BROKE DOWN A CITY WALL."
Lamsa's 1933 translation of the Syriac Peshitta reads: "...for in their anger they slew men and in their rage THEY DESTROYED A TOWN WALL."
Other English Bibles that also read "THEY BROKE DOWN A WALL" are The Word of Yah 1993, the Bond Slave Version 2009, The Revised Geneva Bible 2005, the Hebraic Transliteration Scripture 2010 - "THEY BROKE DOWN A WALL.", The Work of God's Children Illustrated Bible 2011, "and in their self will THEY UNDERMINED A WALL."
"They digged down a wall" is also the reading found in Lamsa's translation of the Syriac Peshitta - "and in their rage they destroyed a town wall.", the Latin Vulgate of 382 A.D. and the Clementine Vulgate of 1592 - "et in voluntate sua suffoderunt MURUM", the Spanish Sagradas Escrituras 1569, the Cipriano de Valera 1602 - "y en su voluntad ARRANCARON MURO.", the Reina Valera 1865 Angel de Mora and the 1909 Reina Valera - "y en su voluntad ARRANCARON MURO.", the 2010 Reina Valera Gómez Bible and the Spanish Jubilee Bible 2010 - "que en su furor mataron varón, y en su voluntad ARRANCARON MURO.", the Italian Diodati 1649 - "spianato il murk.", the Finnish Bible 1776 - “sillä kiukussansa ovat he miehen murhanneet, ja ylpeydessänsä turmelleet härjän.” = “in their pride DIGGED DOWN A WALL.”, the Czeck Kralicka Bible - "nebo v prchlivosti své zbili muže, a svévolně vyvrátili zed.", the Dutch Staten Vertaling Bible - "en in hun moedwil hebben zij de ossen weggerukt." = "and in their self-will THEY DIGGED DOWN A WALL.", and the Romanian Fidela Bible 2014 - “pentru că în mânia lor au ucis un bărbat şi în propria lor voie au surpat un zid.” = “ digged down a wall.”
and the Modern Greek Bible -"εν τω πεισματι αυτων κατηδαφισαν τειχος." = "they DUG DOWN A WALL."
You can see this modern Greek translation at this site here -
The Catholic Connection
The Catholic versions are interesting in that they continue to change from one translation to the next. The older Douay Rheims of 1610 read like the KJB as well as the 1950 Douay Version - "in their self will THEY UNDERMINED A WALL."
But then in 1968 they changed this in the Jerusalem bible and again in the 1970 St. Joseph New American Bible and again in the 1985 New Jerusalem to now read either "they MAIMED OXEN" (St. Joseph) or "they HAMSTRUNG BULLS" (Jerusalem bible).
However once again in their latest version, the Sacred Scriptures Catholic Public Domain Version of 2009 they have now gone back to "and in their self-will THEY UNDERMINED A WALL."
Also agreeing with the Authorized Version's "digged down a wall" are the Arabic, the Targum of Jonathan, the Targum of Onkelos, the commentary by Hebrew scholar Ibn Ezra, the Vulgate, the Ebionites, Aquilla, and Symmachus!
Steven Schwenke, another King James Bible believer, comments on this verse saying: "Considering the FACT that the KJV translators were not only FLUENT in Greek, Hebrew, and many other related languages, which gave them a better understanding of the the "nuances" of the vocabulary, idioms, and figures of speech, It is no surprise to me that they would translate things in a way that modern "scholars" don't quite understand. Our modern scholars are not even fluent in Greek or Hebrew, let alone the related languages, which puts a very strong limitation on their abilities to grasp these concepts.
However the NKJV says "THEY HAMSTRUNG AN OX", the NIV and ESV "they hamstrung OXEN", the Holman Standard has "on a whim they hamstring oxen." and the NASB says "they LAMED AN OX." Likewise, several modern Catholic versions agree with the other Vatican Versions and the New Jerusalem bible of 1985 says "they have hamstrung oxen at their whim" and the St. Joseph NAB 1970 has: "they maimed oxen."
And Young's 'literal' has "THEY ERADICATED A PRINCE"! So what is going on here?
From what I have read by some it all has to do with the pointed consonants introduced in the 6th century after Christ, and the points are not considered inspired. It is well know that an individual Hebrew word can multiple meanings. Only God can guide as to the true meaning of a text or word. We believe He has done this in the King James Bible.
John Calvin sides with the King James reading. He translates into Latin " et voluntate sua ERADICAVERUNT MURUM." = "they digged down a wall."
Then he comments: "Interpreters also differ respecting the meaning of the word rws (shor.) Some translate it "bullock," and think that the Shechemites are allegorically denoted by it, seeing they were sufficiently robust and powerful to defend their lives, had not Simon and Levi enervated them by fraud and perfidy. But a different exposition is FAR MORE PREFERABLE, NAMELY, THAT THEY "OVERTURNED A WALL." For Jacob magnifies the atrociousness of their crime, from the fact, that THEY DID NOT EVEN SPARE BUILDINGS IN THEIR RAGE."
The King James Bible translators themselves were not unaware of the possible meanings of the Hebrew text. Some 47 of the greatest scholars ever assembled in one place were used of God to bring forth His masterpiece called the King James Holy Bible.
They were well aware of the reading "THEY HOUGHED AN OX" because that is how both Coverdale 1535 and Matthew's Bible of 1549 read. But they deliberately rejected this reading and went with "THEY DIGGED DOWN A WALL."
In many instances individual differences of opinion existed of how to translate a passage. The KJB margin gives this note here: "digged down a wall, or, houghed oxen." They were well aware of this other reading, but God had them put into THE TEXT that which He intended them to put there. That is what we Bible believers maintain.
The reading of "DIGGED DOWN A WALL" makes more contextual sense than "houghed oxen" since Simeon and Levi "came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their sheep, and their oxen, and their asses, and that which was in the city, and that which was in the field, And all their wealth, and all their little ones, and their wives took took they captive, and spoiled even all that was in the house." Genesis 34:27-29.
Rather than maiming the oxen to make them of no use and of little value, they instead took them to themselves as their own wealth.
J.N. Darby also writes in his footnotes that some translators read this as “digged down a wall”.
In their Commentary on the Book of Genesis - Hinckley, Gilbert, Thomas and Mitchell - Harvard University Library of the Divinity School 1909, they write: "The Versions, by giving a slightly different pronunciation to the word get "overthrew a wall".
To show the confusion among scholars, let’s look at what some others have said. Adam Clarke in his commentary on the whole Bible says: “They murdered a prince-Hamor, the father of Shechem. Instead of shor, which we have translated a wall, and others an ox, I READ SAR, A PRINCE, which makes a consistent sense.”
Matthew Henry comments: “They slew a man, Shechem himself, and many others; and, to effect that, THEY DIGGED DOWN A WALL, BROKE THE HOUSES, TO PLUNDER THEM, and murder the inhabitants.”
John Gill comments: "in their selfwill THEY DIGGED DOWN A WALL; not the wall of the city of Shechem, which does not appear to be walled, by their easy access into it; and if it was, they do not seem to have had proper instruments for such an undertaking, nor a sufficient number for such work, and which would have required longer time than they used, unless it was a poor wall indeed: rather THE WALL OF SHECHEM'S HOUSE, OR THE COURT BEFORE IT, WHICH THEY DUG DOWN, OR BROKE THROUGH TO GET IN and slay Hamor and Shechem, and take away their sister."
Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments - “For in their anger they slew a man — Shechem himself, and many others: and to effect that wickedness THEY DIGGED DOWN A WALL — BROKE INTO THEIR HOUSES TO PLUNDER THEM, and murder the inhabitants.”
Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible - “he means the town of Shechem by the wall, which they are said to have digged down.”
John Wesley’s Commentary - “They slew a man - Shechem himself, and many others; and to effect that, they DIGGED DOWN A WALL, broke the houses to plunder them, and murder the inhabitants.”
The reading of "hamstrung an ox or oxen", as found in the NKJV and many other modern versions, is also contrary to the context. We are told in Genesis 34:27-29 that Simeon and Levi came upon the city of Hamor and Shechem his son and slew all the males; they spoiled the city and took their sheep, oxen and their asses and carried away all their wealth, their wives and children. They did in fact destroy the city but they did not kill or hamstring the oxen, but rather took them alive for themselves. Why would they damage what was now their own property?
This short article is from KJV Today -
O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they DIGGED DOWN A WALL. (Genesis 49:6, KJV)
"Shimeon and Levi are brothers of the womb; their thoughts are of sharp weapons for rapine. In their counsel my soul bath not had pleasure, and in their gathering against Shekem. to destroy it mine honour was not united; for in their anger they slew the prince and his ruler, and in their ill will they DEMOLISHED THE WALL of their adversary." (J. W. Etheridge, The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel On the Pentateuch With The Fragments of the Jerusalem Targum From the Chaldee (1862), Section XII, XLIX)
The KJV Textual Technology site by Dr. Larry Bednar comments on the reading of "digged down a wall" saying:
"Genesis 49:6: Jacob's sons "digged down a wall" or "hamstrung an ox"?
The correct translation might be either of the above renderings.
The Hebrew usually rendered hamstrung/houghed can also be uprooted, that's equivalent to digged down, and the other term, usually rendered ox, is very close in spelling to a term for wall.
KJV translators placed houghed oxen in a marginal note, so they recognized two possible renderings and chose the one dealing with a wall, and they aren't the only ones choosing the wall rendering.
Other versions that do so include the historic Peshitta, Latin Vulgate & Aramaic Targumim, and the Wycliffe version of 1395, the Bishop's Bible of 1568, Douay Rheims of 1582, Geneva of 1587, Reina Valera of 1601, Italian Diodati of 1649 & a 1936 version of the Jewish Publication Society.
Further, ancient Hebrew commentary supports the wall rendering, while Tyndale & the Septuagint favor the ox rendering. Now the current Septuagint text is unreliable, and support for this rendering is offered mainly by most modern English versions & newer Catholic versions.
Different translators & commentators have read the verse differently, but prevalent older support for the wall rendering vs. prevalent newer support for the ox rendering, is indicative of early language-convention up-dating to deal with problems caused by polysemy (multiple possible meanings of a word), in conjunction with use of Matres Lectionis, certain consonants which also served as vowels in a history preceding the church era by several centuries.
Differential support would arise if Hebrew shor, now meaning ox, originally meant ox or wall, but was limited to ox by language up-dating in the Masoretic Text when context refers to the literal animal, while the dual meaning still applied elsewhere. Shur, which now means wall in the Masoretic Text, would be part of language up-dating that keeps wall separate from ox when context refers to a literal wall.
The historic long vowels in shor & shur would very likely be included in language up-dating since they are very similar in form, being based on two slightly different modifications of one consonant. That a Hebrew word could once have such widely different meanings as ox & wall is not a surprise, for Hebrew polysemy often results in this (e.g. shalom can mean peace, ease, kindness, intact, prosperity or salvation, and shoqoq can mean narrow or dried-out).
Contrary to modern scholars, the wall rendering can't be dismissed on the basis of grammar.
Now Gen.49:6 has to do with two of Jacob's sons killing a group of Hivites whose leader defiled Dinah, sister of the sons (see Genesis 34). The ox rendering is favored by modern scholars who suggest a literal mention of cattle in Genesis 34 can imply a hamstringing of some of them, but contextually, involvement of the sons with cattle of the Hivites was solely that of possessing them after the conquest, in contrast with houghing or hamstringing any of them, so context doesn’t support the ox rendering."
The King James Bible is right, as always. Don’t let the Bible Correctors, who themselves do not believe that ANY Bible in ANY language is the complete, preserved, inspired and 100% true words of God, fool you into not believing The Book.
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