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Did Ishmael live or die with his brothers?
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In Genesis 25:18, the King James Version says that Ishmael “died in the presence of all his brethren.” The New International Version says instead that “And they lived in hostility toward all the tribes related to them.” Why? And which should it be? (2015)
This linguistic question cannot be answered with certainty. The Old Testament is old
, and the Hebrew language was dead for at least a couple thousand years before being revived in modern times. The OT was translated into koine Greek around 300 BC; that language is also a couple thousand years old. We have no native speakers to ask. Furthermore, some words and sentences in your own native language
will be unclear or ambiguous to you. While these sorts of questions are interesting, there doesn’t seem to be any certainty except this: if the answer were important to your salvation, the text would have been clear.
This gives me the opportunity to remind you once again to read more than one translation, preferably from two different families (for example, King James and Jerusalem, not King James and Revised Standard). When you find this kind of discrepancy between two translations of a verse, it usually means either that the Hebrew and Greek don’t agree with each other, or that they are difficult or ambiguous. You are allowed to think what you want to think and say so politely, but not to quarrel about it with your fellow Christians and Jews.
The translations of Genesis 25:18 are all over the map. Here are some examples:
- He abode over against all his brethren. (American Standard);
- they took their place to the east of all their brothers. (Bible in Basic English);
- Ishmael had settled in the land east of his brothers (Contemporary English);
- He settled over against all his kinsmen. (English Standard);
- They lived apart from the other descendants of Abraham. (Good News);
- They all fought with each other. (God’s Word);
- in defiance of all of his relatives. (International Standard);
- over against all his brethren he did settle. (Jewish Publication Society);
- he died in the presence of all his brethren. (King James);
- he abode in the presence of all his brethren. (Revised Version);
- in the presence of all his brothers did (his inheritance) fall. (Everett Fox, Schocken Bible, Vol. 1, a modern and scholarly translation of the Torah).
- he dwelt in the presence of all his brethren (Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton, a 19th-century translation of the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament).
Fox says “Hebrew difficult. Others interpret negatively...” Apparently Fox thinks that, to the extent he can understand it, it means that Ishmael inherited land near his brothers (kinsmen, I assume). For what it’s worth, the rabbis who translated into the Septuagint thought that’s what it meant; the Greek isn’t difficult.
My conclusion: I’m not certain. My inclination
is to agree with Fox and Brenton, primarily because of my respect for the integrity of their translations overall.
Copyright 2015, 2017 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page prepared for the website by RPB.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
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Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
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