A longstanding puzzle in the study of Northwest Semitic religion is the meaning of the epithet qny ʾrṣ and its variants as well as the semantic range of the verb qny in inscriptions and the Bible. Throughout the twentieth century biblical scholars and philologists debated whether qny could mean “to create” as well as “to acquire.” While the majority view was that qny had a broad semantic range inclusive of acquisition, creation, and procreation and that the creative sense was reflected in the title ʾl qny ʾrṣ (BDB; König 1910; Ges-Buhl; HALOT; Holzinger 1898: 145; Kelso 1901: 55; Driver 1905: 165-166; Skinner 1910: 269; Burney 1926; Köhler 1934; Nyberg 1938: 352; Ringgren 1947: 100-102; Galling 1950; de Savignac 1954; Albright 1955; Pope 1955: 51-54; Cassuto 1961: 198-201; 1975: 55; Cross 1962: 240-44; Speiser 1964: 104; Gray 1965: 265; Whybray 1965: 100-101; Noth 1966: 172; Schmidt 1966: 50; 1997; McCarthy 1967: 92; Stolz 1970: 130-133; TO: 57; Miller 1980; Westermann 1984: 290; 1995: 205-206; de Moor 1980; Metzger 1983; Sarna 1989: 110, 382; Hamilton 1990: 411-412; Korpel 1990: 569-70; Clifford 1994: 118; Soggin 1997: 227), a substantial minority questioned whether such a diverse array of meanings could be contained in one single lexeme, with some arguing that qny “to acquire” and qny “to create” originally stemmed from distinct roots (KBL; Ges18; Albright 1944: 34, n. 21; Humbert 1950: 266; Vattioni 1955; Hulsbosch 1961; Lambert 1998), others that there was insufficient evidence by which to posit a creative sense to the word and so the title ʾl qny ʾrṣ necessarily had in view ownership or mastery of the earth (Montgomery 1933: 116; 1938: 145; Barton 1935: 52; Levi della Vida 1944; Richardson 1952: 174; Katz 1954: 128-129; Gaster 1961: 374-375; Ahlström 1963: 74-75; Clements 1965: 47; Vawter 1980; 1986; Lipiński 2004; Handy 1994: 76; Alter 1996: 61), and still others that qny ʾrṣ alluded to El’s cosmogonic procreation of the earth (Schmid 1955: 181-182; Irwin 1961: 138; Fisher 1962: 266-67; Gammie 1971: 386; Schatz 1972: 214-15; Habel 1972; Houtman 1993: 89-91; Paas 2003: 65-67; Propp 2010: 539-540; McClellan 2010).
However, over the last several decades the creative interpretation of the verb qny has become widely accepted, largely because of a cross-pollination in research on the Hebrew Bible and inscriptions from Ugarit and elsewhere. The presence of a Canaanite-looking “El creator of heaven and earth” in the Bible initially primed scholars to find the verb qny in the sense of “to create” in NWS texts (Albright 1933; Ginsberg 1945; Marcus and Gelb 1949; Alt 1950; Dussaud 1954; Albright 1955; Gevirtz 1961; Aistleitner 1963; Gordon 1965; Pope and Röllig 1965: 280; Weippert 1969; Dahood 1972: 492-93; Cross 1973; TO: 57-58; Donner and Röllig 1964: 42-43; Teixidor 1979; Miller 1980; Mullen 1980; de Moor 1980; Swiggers 1982; Gibson 1982), whereas the detection of qny “to create” in Ugaritic was then believed to confirm the existence of the semantic domain “to create” in Hebrew (HALOT; Humbert 1950: 266; Pope 1955: 51-54; Röllig 1999a; Cornelius and Van Leeuwen 1997; Rahmouni 2008: 276-277; Becking and Korpel 2010: 14-15; Bokovoy 2013). As a result, lexicons and grammars of Canaanite-related languages produced in recent years are almost unanimous in postulating the sense “to create” to qny (DNWSI; DUL; DCH; Ges18; Sivan 1997; Krahmalkov 2000; Tropper 2000; Schniedewind and Hunt 2007; Halayqa 2008; Bordreuil and Pardee 2009; Huehnergard 2012; DEB; but cf. Gogel 1998), and the translation of ʾl qny ʾrṣ as “El creator of the earth” has become axiomatic in historical treatments of Israelite-Judahite religion (Niehr 1990; Albertz 1994; Hutter 1996; Smith 2002; Keel and Uehlinger 1998; Dijkstra 2001; Zevit 2001; 2013; Day 2002; Hess 2007; Römer 2015; Walls 2016; Spieckermann 2016).
In the following study I would like to reopen the question of the meaning of ʾl qny ʾrṣ by examining the verb qny from a comparative philological perspective. Despite the apparent consensus among scholars about the meaning of qny, I intend to show that the verb never means “to create” in West Semitic and that all attested usages can be explained on the assumption that they derive from a single root with the meaning “to acquire, come into possession.”
The Tradition-History of qny ʾrṣ
The title qny ʾrṣ is widely attested in the Syria-Palestinian cultural region, showing that it originated as an ancient epithet belonging to the Canaanite god El (Pope 1955: 52-54; Stolz 1970: 130-132; Miller 1980; Röllig 1999a; Smith 2001: 137; 2002: 41; Steiner 2009; Kottsieper 2013). This includes the references to dEl-ku-ni-ir-sa or dKu-ni-ir-sa in Hittite texts (Otten 1953; KUB 36.38; McAffee 2013; Weippert 2014), ʾl qn ʾrṣ in the Phoenician Karatepe inscription (Weippert 1969: 197; Röllig 1999b: 50-55; Hawkins 2000: 45-68), qn ʾrṣ on an ostracon from Jerusalem (Miller 1980; Aḥituv 2008: 41-42; cf. Renz 1995a: 198), ʾl qnrʿ and ʾl qwnrʿ from Palmyra (Cantineau 1938: 78-79; RTP no. 220; Teixidor 1979: 25-27; Dirven and Kaizer 2013: 402), bʿ[l]šmwn qnh dy rʿ h from Hatra (Caquot 1963: 15), ʾl qn ʾrṣ in a Neo-Punic inscription from Leptis Magna (Levi Della Vida and Guzzo Amadasi 1987: 45-47; Cadotte 2007: 314-315; Hocek 2012: 208), Connarus/Konnaros in Latin and Greek inscriptions from Baalbek (Rey-Coquais 1978; Hajjar 1977: 81-83; 1985: 241; 1990: 2483, 2504; Aliquot 2009: 163-164), and finally ʾl ʿlywn qnh šmym wʾrṣ in the Bible (Gen 14: 19, 22).
Apart from some minor variations in spelling, the basic form of the epithet is consistent over a large geographic and temporal frame. As has long been recognized, the above inscriptional sources indicate that the original form of the epithet was shortened and consisted only of the verb qny in construct to ʾrṣ (Levi della Vida 1944; Pope 1955; Rendtorff 1966; 1967; Schmidt 1967; Cross 1973; Lipiński 2004; Herrmann 1991; Houtman 1993). The expanded form attested in Gen 14 is unique and best seen as a secondary construction peculiar to the development of biblical Judaism. At some point the biblical authors adapted and expanded what they knew to be a common epithet of El in order to construct a story about Abraham and Melchizedek, king of Jerusalem and priest of El Elyon. Genesis 14 itself is widely regarded to be a late text (Astour 1966; van Seters 1975; 1980; Niehr 1990; Soggin 1995; Carr 1996; Ziemer 2005; Schmid 2010; Granerød 2010; Römer 2014: 100; Blenkinsopp 2015: 53-60), and the fact that biblical YHWH has assimilated features of El but is nowhere else referred to as qnh “of (heaven and) earth” along with the unparalleled El Elyon only underscores the sense that the presentation of deity in Gen 14 is literary and artificial.
The Semantic Range of qny
In order to discern the meaning of the title qny ʾrṣ, we will first have to establish the semantic range of the verb qny in NWS where the epithet occurs. Although individual lexemes in the Semitic languages were capable of developing new and innovative usages and we should be careful not to equate etymological origin with conventional meaning in a particular language, because of the common history of these languages and similar cultural circumstances in which they found expression comparative philological research can often shed light on the nuances associated with words and the range of meanings that could potentially be attributed to them (Emerton 1995; Johnstone 1998; Smith 2015; Kogan 2015b).
With regard to qny, various lines of evidence suggest that its basic or primary meaning in Semitic is “to acquire, come into possession” (Burney 1926; Lipiński 2004; Kogan 2015a; cf. Schmidt 1997: 1149). The word has generally been thought to be common Semitic, but Kogan has recently expressed skepticism that native Akkadian ever had a lexeme with this meaning, explaining the numerous Neo-Assyrian attestations of qanû “to acquire” as the result of Aramaic influence (2015a: 89). The meaning “to acquire, to come into possession” is abundantly attested in West Semitic, including Ugaritic (DUL: 706), Phoenician-Punic (Krahmalkov 2000: 428), Hebrew (HALOT no. 8423), Aramaic (Cowley 1923: 309; Beyer 1984: 684; Sokoloff 1990: 497), North Arabian (Lane 1863: 2994; Wehr-Cowan 1976: 794), ancient South Arabian (Biella 1982: 458-59; SB: 106), and Ethiopic (Leslau 1987: 437).
Furthermore, nouns derived from qny always relate to possessions or property, e.g. Hebrew: mqnh “property, i.e. cattle,” qnyn “property, possessions”; Neo-Assyrian: qinītu “acquisition, property”; Arabic: qunwa “acquisition, property, wealth, possessions,” qinya “acquisition, property,”, iqtinā’ “purchase,” qānin “possessor, owner.” As many have observed, the primary usage of the verb qny was concrete and economic (Humbert 1950: 261-65; Schmidt 1997: 1149; Lipiński 2004: 59). In Hebrew this is reflected in the word’s standard opposition with mkr, whose basic meaning is “to hand over” (Greenfield 1993: 31-32). From this comparative context we can see that originally qny meant to acquire as personal possession through whatever means, including not only land, slaves, and animals, but wives and family as well (Weiss 1964; Lipiński 2004; Boer 2015: 171, n. 72; cf. bʿl “to marry” in Hebrew and mkr “to acquire a wife, bespouse” in Syriac). A further specialized nuance of qny was to acquire by monetary payment or in other words “to buy, purchase” (Greenfield 1993: 32; Lipiński 2004: 59; HALOT no. 8423).
A meaning closely related to the above is qny “to bear/beget” children. The sense is again clearly attested in multiple languages, including Ugaritic (Cazelles 1957: 422; DUL: 706), Phoenician (Krahmalkov 2000: 428-429), Hebrew (Gen 4:1; Deut 32:6), and ancient South Arabian (Biella 1982: 458-59; SB: 106; Lipiński 2004: 60), and in modern South Arabian qny has come to mean “to rear, to bring up” children (Johnstone 1981: 147; Kogan 2015a: 89, n. 267). There has been some debate about how this meaning could possibly be related to qny “to acquire,” but it is important to note that the verb qny does not carry the meaning “to bear/beget” in itself but that this meaning is activated by contextual information in the form of direct objects. One can therefore only qny bnm “sons,” bnt “daughters,” ʾwldm “children,” or ʾilm “gods.” Considering that the primary usage of qny is “to acquire” it is fairly easy to understand how it could have been metaphorically extended to carry the nuance “to bear/beget.” Because children were commonly conceived as the property of their parents, to “acquire” children was to “bear/beget” them and vice versa. R. Westbrook has noted that the “association between family and property permeates the basic terminology” (1991: 12), and D. Schloen explains that “Akk. bēlu(m) and its NWS cognates (e.g., Ug. baʿlu) are first and foremost household terms, denoting the male owner or master of a patriarchal household and of the property and personnel (incl. wives, children, and servants) that make it up” (2001: 256, n. 1).
Confirmation for this understanding of qny is found in the lexical analogue rašû in Akkadian, whose basic meaning is “to become owner of, come into possession of” (CDA: 300) but is also commonly used in the sense of “to acquire, obtain, have descendents, family, friends, partners, to take a wife” (CAD 14: 194-195). A similar range of meanings also seems to have obtained for Greek κτάομαι “to get, acquire [e.g. wealth, property, children, slaves]” and derived κτῆμα “piece of property, possession” (LSJM: 1000-1002; Burney 1926: 162-163).
The final meaning that has been commonly attributed to qny is “to create, to make.” As was mentioned earlier, the belief that Hebrew qnh could carry this connotation has long been accepted in biblical scholarship, and with the discovery of inscriptions of other WS peoples scholars have claimed to find qny in the sense of “to create” in these languages as well. In all of this linguistic theorizing, the title qny ʾrṣ has played a prominent role. However, the existence of this usage of qny is highly disputed, so it will be necessary to examine each of the proposed examples where the verb has been alleged to carry the sense “to create” outside of the title qny ʾrṣ. If the verb qny cannot reasonably be demonstrated to carry the semantic domain “to create” elsewhere in the West Semitic lexicon, then this will obviously have implications for how we approach the meaning of the title qny ʾrṣ. We will begin with the inscriptional evidence from Ugaritic, Phoenician, and the Akkadian from Emar and then analyze the occurrences of qny in biblical and inscriptional Hebrew.
(KTU 1.19 IV 57-58)
The phrase ildyqny, which consists of the the noun il + relative d + verb qny, has often been translated “the god who created/brought forth” (Gordon 1949: 101; Aistleitner 1963: 279; Cross 1973: 69; Margalit 1989: 166; Del Olmo Lete 1998: 240; Pardee 1997d: 356; Wright 2001: 210; DUL: 706), perhaps at least in part because the collocation of il with the verb qny is reminiscent of the title ʾl qny ʾrṣ. But there is not by any means a consensus among scholars about how to understand the meaning of qny in this case, and many have favored translating the verb in its more concrete and non-metaphysical sense “to acquire, to possess”: “the god who owns the fields” (Richardson 1952: 174); “the god who owns the land” (Gaster 1961: 375); “the god who owns (these) mountains” (Gibson and Driver 2004: 121); “El qui possède les pavillons” (TO: 457); “Ilu, owner of the encampment” (de Moor 1987: 265); “den El… der die Vorplätze besitzt” (Dietrich and Loretz 2005: 1305); “the god who is master of camps” (Parker 1997: 78); “the god who owns these tents” (Wyatt 2002: 312).
The text bristles with textual and literary issues and is widely considered one of the more problematical passages of the Aqhat legend (e.g. Dijkstra and de Moor 1975). So it seems a rather weak foundation upon which to support the thesis that qny means “to create” in Ugaritic.
To clarify the passage, we can first note that the subject of both lines seems to be a deity. Based on the sequence of verb yšt after yn, the personal subject of the clause appears to occur in the consonant cluster ila.ilš[ ], which subject is then resumed in the phrase ildyqny.ḏdm “the god who qny the ḏdm.” So because a deity is clearly the subject of dyqny.ḏdm, it seems reasonable to assume that the repeated il phraseology in ila.ilš[ ] should be interpreted along the same lines.
The alternative has been to understand ila and/or ilš[ ] as verbal forms with no reference to a god. According to this view, ila is a first person verb from the root lʾy “to prevail, be strong” and ilš[ ] another first person verb from the root lšn “to slander” (cf. de Moor 1987: 264-65; Dietrich and Loretz 2005: 1304-05; Parker 1997: 78; Wright 2001: 211-12; Wyatt 2002: 312; Smith 2014: 126). In support of this possibility, KTU2 read a nun in the broken context after ilš and KTU3 recently confirmed this reading with ilšnn. However, after examining the inscription myself I can see no indications of nun letters, the context being so damaged (also Parker 1997), and the reading of ila as a first person verb falters on the basis of the third person verb yšt, which requires a proximate subject. De Moor (1987: 264), Dietrich and Loretz (2005: 1304), and Wright (2001: 210-213) have attempted to address this problem by reading yšt not as a verb but rather as the vocative y + št meaning “O Lady.” But it hardly seems likely that yšt juxtaposed immediately to yn would mean anything other than “to drink.” Further, we have no clear evidence that št was an epithet of Anat or even that it was a word in Ugaritic. Rather, in Aqhat Anat is consistently called btlt “girl” (1.17 VI 25, 34, 53; 1.18 I 14, 20-22; IV 5, 12, 16; 1.19 I 5), calling attention to her youthful character. As argued by Margalit and others, the interpretation of št in the phrase mhr št as “Sutean” seems to fit best with the immediate and general context of the story (1989: 337-340, 462, 476; Rahmouni 2008: 224-225; Smith 2014: 117-118, 126). Finally, Parker’s proposal to read yšt as a third person passive is syntactically awkward and unsatisfactory (1997: 78; cf. Wright 2001: 212).
On the other hand, the word ḏdm in the next line likely refers to human “encampments” or “tent-camps” (cf. Clifford 1972: 51-54; Dijkstra and de Moor 1975: 192; Parker 1997: 77-78; Smith 1994: 187-188; Smith and Pitard 2009: 325, n. 1). In the immediately preceding context ḏd is used parallel to ahlm (1.19 IV 51-52), and language for encampment occurs repeatedly in the section (minš šdm in line 48; ahlm in lines 50 and 60). Elsewhere the tent-like residence of El is located at a ḏd (1.3 V 7-9; 1.4 IV 23; 1.6 I 34; 1.17 VI 48). The general setting of the YTPN episode is in Sutean territory, who were renowned for their tent-dwelling nomadic lifestyle (Smith 2014: 117-118). So a derivation of ḏd from Arabic ḏwd (Ugaritic ḏd “flock, herd”), as in a place where cattle pasture and are defended, i.e. encampment, seems reasonable (Dijkstra and de Moor 1975: 192; cf. Renfroe 1992: 97-99). Ugaritic ḏd would thus belong to a comparable semantic field as Hebrew nwh “abode of shepherd, habitation, pasture” (cf. Isa 33:20), which could also be used to describe the habitation of deity (e.g. Ex 15:13; 2 Sam 15:25; Ps 83:13; Jer 31:23).
Based on the above considerations, we can conclude that the verb qny in ildyqny is unlikely to refer to creation. First, the translation “the god who created encampments” is nonsensical. As I mentioned above, the plural ḏdm likely refers to human encampments in the country, so what would it mean to say that a god created tent-camps? Second, the repetition of il after ila.ilš[ ] in line 57 and the presence of a relative in the phrase ildyqny implies that the two descriptions are parallel, with ildyqny further identifying the deity mentioned in the previous line. But if we understand ildyqny.ḏdm as “the god who created tent-camps” it is difficult to imagine how the brief ilš[ ] could possibly form a literary or semantic parallel. Third, I can see no meaningful connection between the invocation of a “god who created tent camps” and the following statement by YTPN where he prays that he will be victorious in destroying his enemy. In fact, the introduction of the theme of miraculous supernatural creation seems out of place in the narrative.
A more plausible reading is to follow Margalit and Pardee and to understand ila as the name of the Sutean deity, ʾILʾΑ, and to restore ilšt meaning “the god of the Suteans” (1989: 242, 458, 462-64; Pardee 1997d: 355-56). The phrase ildyqny.ḏdm could then be understood as a parallel reference to the same deity. Taking qny in its usual sense of “to acquire, to come into possession,” the phrase would mean “the god who acquired encampments/tent-camps,” which would be an entirely appropriate way to describe the patron god of the nomadic Suteans. Interpreted thus, YPTN’s speech would constitute an oath directed to his tribal deity: “By the wine that Ila, the god of the Suteans, drinks, the god who acquired tent-camps, the hand that slew Aqhat the hero, may it slay foes by the thousands!”
(KTU 1.17 VI 41)
The phrase blb “in the mind”+ tqny followed by a lacuna in the next line introduces a speech where Anat vows to take vengeance on Aqhat. The passage has generally been understood to mean that Anat “devised/forged a plan” and has been taken as further evidence that the verb qny carries the connotation “to create” in Ugaritic (Ginsberg 1945: 22, n. 68; Aistleitner 1963: 279; Miller 1972; Dijkstra and de Moor 1975: 190; de Moor 1980; DUL: 706). This analysis of blb.tqny is reflected in numerous translations: “while forging a plot in her heart” (ANET: 152); “conçoit (un plan) (TO: 433); “in (her) heart she forged [(a plot)]” (Gibson and Driver 2004: 109); “in her heart she devised (a vicious plan)” (de Moor 1987: 239); “within she hatches a plot” (Pardee 1997d: 347); “in her heart she concocted a plan” (Del Olmo Lete 1998: 225); “in her mind she forged [a plan(?)]” (Wright 2001: 111); “in (her) heart she devised (a plot) (Wyatt 2002: 276); “heckte sie in ihrem Herzen [einen Bösen plan] aus” (Tropper 692). Interestingly, Albright contributed to the development of this line of interpretation when he commented: “The word qny here can scarcely mean ‘acquire’; I connect it with Arab. qyn, ‘to forge, form, decorate, repair, etc.,’ whose presence in Hebrew and Aramaic is attested by Aram. qainâyâ, Heb. qáyin (Gen. 4: 22), ‘smith,’ qînáh, ‘melody,’ qônén, ‘to make a melody,’ like Eth. qny, which preserves the same phonetic form as Ugar. qny. Hence is derived qnyt, ‘creatress’” (1944: 34, n. 21). Even though subsequent scholarship did not follow his etymological derivation of qny, the translation of qny in this passage in the sense of “to forge, form, create” was generally retained (e.g. Ginsberg 1945: 22; ANET: 152).
However, while the rendering “she forged/devised (a plan)” certainly conveys something of the implied sense of the passage, it is by no means clear that qny should mean “to forge, form, create” in the phrase blb.tqny. That Anat “devised a plan” or “plotted against” Aqhat are only rough translations based on the collocation of blb and qny and the following speech where the goddess threatens to harm the boy. Because the continuation of the clause at the beginning of line 42 on the tablet has been damaged, we lack the contextual information necessary to corroborate the assumption that qny refers to some kind of creation or production. Furthermore, nowhere else in Semitic do we have any clear evidence that qny could carry the sense of “to forge, to form,” either more generally or specifically with regard to mental conceptions. Thus, without the assumption that qny means to create, I can see no obvious reason why wblb.tqny should be translated “she forged/formed (a plan).”
So how do we understand the use of qny in this context? First, it is clear from the context that the clause containing qny is referring to some mental decision on the part of Anat to harm Aqhat. In “her mind” (blb) Anat qny’s something, and then in the immediately following text she vows to take vengeance on the boy. Second, although the nominal object of qny has not been preserved in the text, a number of scholars have favored restoring the noun ḫnp based on the comparable description of Anat as ḫnp.lb in 1.18 I 17 (Dijkstra and de Moor 1975: 190; de Moor 1987; Tropper 2000: 692; KTU3). The word fits the context well, not only because it corresponds to the three letter space of the lacuna but because ḫnp “impiety, sin, viciousness” accurately describes Anat’s role in the narrative as a cruel and hot-tempered goddess, who lashes out at a mortal for slighting her. ḫnp-like behavior is also associated with the sensory organ of the lb “heart” in Hebrew (Isa 32:6; Job 36:13). Assuming this reading is correct, it hardly makes sense to translate blb.tqny.ḫnp as in “she forged/created impiety in her mind/heart.” The parallel in Isaiah suggests that the heart could “make” or “practice” impiety, but not that one could “make” or “create” impiety blb “in the heart.” Third, the verb qny and its Akkadian analogue rašû are well attested as having been used in expressions and idioms relating to mental-cognitive processes and changes in state. In Hebrew one can qny “wisdom,” “understanding,” “good sense,” and “knowledge” (Prov 4:5, 7; 15:32; 19:8; 18:15). Although the use of qny in Proverbs clearly plays with the double meaning of qny “to acquire” and “to purchase with money” (e.g. 16:16; 17:16; 23:23), in some cases and expressions there is no indication of wordplay and the verb qny rather seems to have been a standard means of speaking about learning and changes in mental perception. Similarly, in Akkadian rašû is used not only to refer to acquiring/possessing nēmeqi “wisdom” or ḫasīsam “good sense” (CAD R: 198), but also in idioms denoting changes of emotion or attitude, which often take place in the libbi “heart”: rašû ḫip libbi “to become distressed”; rašû lumum libbi or rašû kiṣir libbim “to become angry”; rašû rēmu “to have mercy”; rašû gullultam “to act disrespectfully”; rašû ḫitītu “to sin” (CAD R: 199-200). The expression rašû ḫitītu is perhaps especially close to Ugaritic qny ḫnp.
In light of the Hebrew and Akkadian evidence, the phrase blb.tqny.ḫnp is best considered an idiom referring to Anat’s intention to seek to harm Aqhat. Remembering that qny literally means “to acquire,” we may translate the line loosely “she became vengeful” or “in her heart she plotted villainy/impiety” (cf. Margalit 152; Parker 1997:62; Dietrich and Loretz 2005: 1276). While the expression “to acquire” impiety/sin in the heart may sound strange or off to Western ears, it comports with how ancient Near Eastern peoples tended to approach and conceptualize mental processes. M. Malul has insightfully shown how many words used to describe perception and knowledge in Hebrew and Akkadian are related to the semantic fields of CONTROL, GRASPING, or TOUCHING (2002: 125-151). He emphasizes “the sensory aspect of the idea of knowledge in the Weltanschauung of the ANE. Mental and cognitive processes are perceived in concrete, sensory terms” (139; also Greenstein 2002: 457). So the idea that one could qny “acquire, come into possession of” a concept in the mind as if it were a spatially defined and concrete entity fits in with these broader notional and linguistic patterns.
(KTU 3.9: 1-4)
KTU 3.9 is widely understood to be a legal contract relating to the establishment of a marzeah in the house of a private individual (Miller 1971; Fenton 1977; Friedman 1979-1980; Dietrich and Loretz 1982; Bryan 1973; Clemens 1999; McLaughlin 2001; Tropper and Vita 2004; Gross 2005; Bordreuil and Pardee 2009). Although some aspects of the reading and interpretation of the text remain in dispute (cf. Dietrich and Loretz 1982; 2005; KTU3; Bordreuil and Pardee 2009), the general sense of the contents is clear. A marzeah club is established in the house of one Šmmn, who as leader of the marzeah is said to have set aside a specific area for this purpose. Obligations and penalties in case of breach of contract are then delineated for both Šmmn and the other members (lines 5-21).
For our purposes, the question is how to translate the verb qny in line 2. The majority of commentators have favored understanding qny based on the general semantic context and therefore have translated the clause “the marzeah that Šmmn established” (Miller 1971; Fenton 1977; Friedman 1979-1980; Tropper and Vita 2004; Bordreuil and Pardee 2009; Dietrich and Loretz 2005). Some have further supposed that the text provides support for the assumption that qny in Ugaritic carries the sense “to create, to found” (Miller 1971; de Moor 1980; DUL3: 696). However, while the act of establishing a marzeah adequately describes what happens in the text in a general way, this does not mean that qny necessarily had the conventional meaning “to establish” in Ugaritic. As Dietrich and Loretz have noted, it is problematic to assume that if qny means “to create” it would carry the meaning “to establish a new institution” only in this one text. Based on the attested semantic range of qny in West Semitic, we would rather expect it to be related to the basic meaning “to acquire, to come into possession” (1982: 73).
On closer examination, several lines of evidence support the view that qny in this text means “to acquire” in a legal-economic sense. First, while much about the nature and development of the West Semitic marzeah remains unclear, data from Ugarit and elsewhere suggest that the banqueting institution was typically associated with a delimited architectural space and dedicated furnishings, as well as property and financial holdings (Greenfield 1976; Smith 1994: 141-144; McLaughlin 2001; Dvorjetski 2016). For example, KTU 1.114 reports that El “sat” in his marzeah, where he drank until he was inebriated, after which he returned to his house (lines 15-18). Property and/or houses are linked with the marzeah in various texts (e.g. RS 14.16; 15.88; 15.70; 18.01; KTU3 4.399; 4.642). At Elephantine we have mention of the “money of the marzeah” (Lindenberger 1994: 39) and an inscription from Lebanon records the dedication of a bronze drinking bowl to the “marzeah of Shamash” (Avigad and Greenfield 1982). From this it is clear that the marzeah was not merely an association of people, but a concrete place where particular activities occurred. Thus if the marzeah club was conceived as an item of economic value or the setting where the banqueting occurred, it would make sense that it would be possible for an individual to acquire one as property. Second, we have explicit evidence that a marzeah could be owned. As mentioned above, KTU 1.114 refers to El’s marzeah with a 3rd person pronominal suffix and in KTU 1.21 El invites the rpʾm to come to mrzʿy “my marzeah” (1-2, 9), assuming this is an alternative spelling for mrzḥ. This presentation presumably reflects the cultural reality that marzeah’s were owned by elite individuals at Ugarit. In the 6th century marzeah papyrus from Moab, an oracle confirms that “the marzeah, whrḥyn, and the house” belongs to a one Saraʾ (McLaughlin 2001: 35-36; Bordreuil and Pardee 1990). Finally, the context of inscription 3.9: 1-4 lends support to the notion that šmmn had acquired a marzeah through economic means. Šmmn is after all the leader of the marzeah and is implied to have control over the common fund (Dietrich and Loretz 1982). So it seems likely that he had committed a significant part of his own wealth to bring about its establishment.
qnyn (1.10 III 5);
qnyt ilm (1.4 I 22; III 26, 30, 35; IV 32; 1.8 II 2);
qny[w]?adn [bn i]lm (1.3 V 9)
All of the remaining instances of qny in Ugaritic that have been thought to reflect the semantic valence “to create” occur in epithets applied to El and Asherah. This includes qnyn, qnyt ilm, and possibly the reconstructed qny[w]adn [bn i]lm. Because the epithets each have deities as the object of the verb qny and appear to carry a similar meaning, it seems appropriate to treat them as a group.
As in the other cases discussed earlier, there is no consensus among scholars about how to interpret qny in the epithets. One the one hand, because of the assumption that qny means “to create” in West Semitic, many have chosen to translate the epithets with the language of creation: qnyn “our creator” (Ginsberg 1938: 9; Pope 1955: 51; TO: 286; Gordon 1977: 120; de Moor 1987: 114; Walls 1992: 132; Parker 1997: 184; DUL: 706); qnyt ilm “the creatress of the gods” (Albright 1933: 14; Gray 1957: 198; Gordon 1965: 479; Jirku 1962: 38; Gibson and Driver 2004: 157; Cross 1973: 15; de Moor 1987: 45; Dietrich and Loretz 2005: 1152; Rahmouni 2008: 275-77; Smith 1997; Smith and Pitard 2009: 407); and qny[w]adn [bn i]lm “the creator and lord of the gods” (Dietrich and Loretz 2005: 1147). By contrast, others have attributed the term a more explicit procreative nuance: qnyn “our progenitor” (ANET: 142; Wyatt 2002); “unsere eltern” (Aistleitner 1963: 279); “our begetter” (Dahood 1968a: 515; de Moor 1980: 1976); qnyt ilm “progenitress of the gods” (ANET: 132; Irwin 1961: 137-142; TO: 194; Del Olmo Lete 1998: 193; Xella 1982: 108; Pardee 1997a: 256, n. 122; Greenstein 1998: 111; DUL: 706); “bearer of the gods” (van Selms 1954: 64, n. 7; Aistleitner 1963: 279; Stolz 1970: 132, n. 185; Houtman 1993: 90; Lipiński 2004: 60; Wiggins 1993: 71; cf. de Moor 1980: 175); “she who gives birth to the gods” (Albright 1969: 121; Dahood 1968a: 513); “mother of the gods” (Wyatt 2002: 91); qny[w]adn [bn i]lm “Begetter and Lord of the gods” (de Moor 1980: 176); “procreator and divine lord of the gods” (DUL3). Still others have elucidated the epithets based on the well-attested sense of qny “to acquire, to possess”: qnyt ilm “mistress/owner of the gods” (Montgomery 1933: 116; Levi della Vida 1944: 1, n. 1; Vawter 1980: 210; Handy 1994: 76; cf. Gibson and Driver 2004: 157; Hadley 2000: 39).
Among these, the last option seems the least credible, since the reading “owner of the gods” yields such a poor sense and most scholars have recognized that the literary contexts in which the epithets appear strongly indicate that they have in view the generation of the gods by El and Asherah (e.g. Smith and Pitard: 407). The question is what kind of generation is described by the verb qny, creation or procreation? And is this distinction important?
We have already seen earlier that the usage of qny in the sense of “to beget/bear” is widely attested in West Semitic, including in Ugaritic. In the Kirta Epic Kirta pleads with El [—]bnm.aqny/[–.ṯa]rm.amid “Let me beget sons! Let me multiply children/kin!” (KTU 1.14 II 4), where the parallelism between qny and mʾd makes clear that we are dealing with procreation (Ginsberg 1946: 15; Cazelles 1957: 421-22; Greenstein 1997:14; Pardee 1997c: 334). In KTU 1.141 an inscription on a model liver reads lʾgpṯr k yqny ǵzr bʾlṯyy “For ʾgpṯr, that he may beget a boy by ʾlṯyy” (Dietrich and Loretz 1990; Pardee 1997b: 291; 2000: 766-68; Marsman 2003: 266; Del Olmo Lete 2004: 624-28). These uses of qny of course deal with human procreation, but we have little reason to think that the verb would have been understood differently in the case of divine subjects.
Furthermore, the interpretation of qny in the sense of “to beget/bear” fits well into the literary contexts where the epithets occur. In 1.10 III qnyn is placed parallel to yknn, which has been analyzed as the L stem from the root kwn (DUL: 448; Tropper 2000: 577). Elsewhere in Ugaritic and Hebrew the L/Polel stem of kwn seems to have procreational connotations (Pope 1955: 50-51; Wyatt 1996: 227, n. 29; Parker 1997: 184; Smith 1997: 115, n. 84; Smith and Pitard 2009: 308-09). The text also seems to describe a sexual encounter between Baal and a heifer, followed by the birth of offspring, so Baal’s comparison of himself to a qny shared between him and Anat only reinforces the impression that the terminology has in view El as their divine progenitor. In Ugaritic myth El is symbolized as a virile bull and conceptualized as the divine procreator par excellence.
The title qnyt ilm in the Baal Cycle similarly has a clear procreational or parental nuance (cf. Rahmouni 2008: 275-77). Throughout the narrative the role of Asherah as mother of the gods is highlighted (e.g. 1.3 V 36-39; 1.4 I 6-11; IV 48-51; V 1). As explained by de Moor, “Because the seventy sons of El are often called the offspring of Aṯirat, whereas she herself is the ʾum ʾilm “Mother of the gods” (UT 1002:43/KTU 2.31:45), it is likely that the verb qny in qnyt ʾilm means ‘to have a child, to bear’” (de Moor 1980: 175). The title bny bnwt applied to El in the same literary context may similarly point to his role as “begetter of offspring,” suggesting parallel epithets for Asherah and El defining their procreative roles in the divine household (cf. van Selms 1954: 63-64; Pope 1955: 50; Pardee 1997a: 256, n. 122; DUL3: 230). The standard translation “creator of creatures” is linguistically possible (so Rahmouni 2008: 98-101), but is unsatisfactory to the degree that it is conceptually abstract and draws attention away from the simple familial themes of the narrative. van Selms has noted that because the texts in which the epithets qnyt ilm and bny bnwt appear deal “solely with divine matters, in which no human plays any part at all, it is quite clear that the two expressions must relate to the creation of divine beings, and that Asherah and Il… are the two creators of the divine society. This creation must have taken place by begetting and childbirth, not by creating in the theistic sense of the word…” (1954: 63-64). This interpretation of bny bnwt would also help clarify its stereotyped parallelism with the imagery of El as virile bull (1.4 II 11; 1.4 III 32; 1.17 I 24).
The final use of qny in qny[w]adn [bn i]lm is doubtful because it occurs in a broken context and has been reconstructed to read tṯny by Pardee (1997a: 254, n. 103) and Smith and Pitard (2009: 318). Still, if the reading is accepted, qny can only refer to a familial parental role. El is not only the adn “lord” or “head” of the divine household, but the qny. The parental motif apparently continues in the next line when the narrative reports that “Bull El, her father” hears Anat’s voice.
From this analysis we can see that to translate the verb qny in the above epithets with “to create” is rather imprecise. The texts speak not of El or Asherah as the “creator” or “creatress” of the gods, but as the “begetter” or “bearer” of the gods. The language is simple and concrete, drawn from the common human experience of those who used and developed the epithets.
While this distinction in terminology may seem fairly minor, it is important to keep in mind that in the ancient Near East the language of creation generally had connotations of manufacture or construction (cf. Hurowitz 1992: 242; Clifford 1994: 71-72; Lambert 1998: 192-193; Keel 1978: 201-205; 2001: 34-36, 46-47; Pass 2003: 62-76; Van Leeuwen 2007: 67-72), which meant for the most part it was unsuitable as a conceptual framework for describing the generation of the gods of the pantheon. As a rule gods were not created, but were anthropomorphically begotten (Lang 1986: 77-78; Lambert 1995: 1829-30; Olmo Lete 1999: 46-48). By contrast, lesser entities such as human beings, kings, derivative servant gods, and cosmic entities are often said to be “created/formed” (e.g. CAD B: 87-90, 138; E: 197; P: 274-75). An apparent exception is the verb banû “to build, construct” in Akkadian epithets such as bān ilāni “creator of the gods,” bānû ili u ištari “creator of gods and goddesses,” bānât ilāni “creatress of the gods,” and bānīt ilāni rabûti, “creatress of the great gods,” which some have taken as evidence that qnyt ilm should mean “creatress of the gods” (e.g. Rahmouni 2008: 277; McClellan 2010). But in this case we can note that the word banû in Akkadian is ambiguous, being commonly used for both procreation and creation/construction (CAD B: 87-88, 94-95). So it appears that banû “to build” is not a precise semantic parallel to qny in Ugaritic, though it clearly can overlap in particular contexts. Other standard terms used for creation in Akkadian are never found with reference to the generation of the gods, including epēšu “to make,” patāqu “to form,” and bašāmu “to fashion.”
Outside of the epithet qny ʾrṣ, Phoenician has furnished only one example of qny with the alleged meaning “to create,” in the so-called Kilamuwa scepter inscription (KAI 25). The inscription reads smr z qn klmw br ḥy lrkbʾl, which consists of the noun smr “peg, nail, lance head?” + relative z + verb qn + personal name and patronymic + indirect object lrkbʾl “for Rakkabel.” The verb qn has frequently been understood in the sense of “to create, make” because of the dedicatory context and the common understanding of qny in the epithet qny ʾrṣ (Galling 1950: 16-17; Schmid 1955: 181-182; Gevirtz 1961: 143, n. 4; Donner and Röllig 1964: 35; Gibson 1982: 40-41; Swiggers 1982: 251-52; Krahmalkov 2000: 429), which has led some to treat it as evidence for a manufacturing nuance to WS qny (e.g. DNWSI: 1016; Hamilton 1990: 412; Lambert 1998: 190). But the problems with this reading have been recognized by Tropper in his recent edition of the inscription (1993). He notes that “the basic meaning of the common Semitic root qny means ‘to acquire, to buy, to possess’ … and not ‘to create, to make,’ for which we would expect the vocabulary ʿbd (Aramaic) or pʿl (Canaanite)” (52). Further, the content of the inscription is all too brief and compressed to provide a basis for postulating a new or atypical meaning to qny, whereas a number of commentators have concluded that the derivation of qn from qny “to acquire, to come into possession” works reasonably well in the context of the inscription (Lipiński 1976: 231; Tropper 1993: 52; Houtman 1993: 90; Gianto 1995: 141; cf. Gibson 1982: 41). With Tropper we can assume that qn is either in the D stem with factitive meaning “to give over, to transfer ownership, to dedicate” or the G stem “to acquire, to procure.”
Akkadian from Emar
The epithet EN qu-ú-ni/qu-ni applied to Dagan at Emar has occasionally been used as evidence that qny can mean “to create.” Following Arnaud who translated the epithet “lord of creation” (1986: 360; cf. Fleming 2000: 243), Feliu proposed that quni is a participle in apposition to bēlu meaning “lord creator” based on comparison with the epithet ʾl qny ʾrṣ (Feliu 1999-2000: 198, n. 12; 2003: 239-240). The translation “lord of creation” or “lord creator” has been accepted by others and incorporated into discussions about the meaning of qny ʾrṣ (Hutter 1996: 144; Smith 2002: 41, n. 67; Korpel 1999: 209; Rahmouni 2008: 277; McClellan 2010; Bokovoy 2013: 24).
However, unfortunately the meaning of qu-ú-ni/qu-ni in the epithet is not very clear. Because of the lengthening of the vowel in the spelling qu-ú-ni, Pentiuc has offered an alternative explanation based on the root qyn with the meaning “Lord of lamentation” (1999: 95; 2001: 151). Although Fleming translates EN qu-ú-ni as “lord of creation,” he marks the reading with a question mark as only provisional (2000: 243, 254, n. 98).
To analyze qu-ú-ni/qu-ni as derived from the root qny is possible, and Feliu has argued that the lengthened vowel in the spelling qu-ú-ni would be consistent with a participial form with the shift from ā>ō (1999-2000: 198, n. 12; 2003: 239, n. 165). Nevertheless, this thesis runs into several difficulties. First, the Emar corpus does not generally present evidence of the Canaanite shift, so the interpretation of qu-ú-ni/qu-ni as a participle is unlikely. Second, the Dagan epithets from Emar containing the title EN + attribute have generally been analyzed as genitive names in the form “lord of X” (cf. Fleming 2000: 88; Feliu 2003: 237-45). Following this pattern, we would expect EN qu-ú-ni/qu-ni to refer to Dagan as “lord” of some nominal attribute. Presumably, this is why Arnaud originally translated the epithet as “Lord of creation.” Lastly, the verb qny in WS was fundamentally transitive in all its attestations. The lack of an object after qu-ú-ni/qu-ni suggests that it does not have any connection to qny “to acquire” or “to beget.”
Regardless, we have already seen that the primary meaning of qny in WS is “to acquire,” not “to create.” In addition, the epithet EN qu-ú-ni/qu-ni occurs in sacrificial lists that have in view various local manifestations of deities worshipped in the vicinity of Emar, e.g. the gods of the palace; local versions of Aštart; Anna of the Riverbank; Dagan lord of the Camp; Dagan lord of the Habitations; Aštart of the Abi and Yammu; Išḫara lady of the city; Išḫara of the king; Išḫara of the prophetesses; Dagan lord of the Valley; Dagan lord of the Šumi; Dagan lord of Buzqa, Dagan lord of Yabur, etc (cf. Emar 6/3: 373; 379; 381; 382). On the whole, the epithets seem intended to specify concrete cultic entities, that is, deities that were related to particular places and/or shrines and were capable of receiving offerings (cf. Fleming 2000: 88, 242-45; Feliu 2003: 229-46). So an interpretation of EN qu-ú-ni/qu-ni as a reference to a cosmic creator god seems out of place in this context.
In sum, the meaning of EN qu-ú-ni/qu-ni at Emar is uncertain. Perhaps qu-ú-ni/qu-ni is a local geographical name and so refers to Dagan as “Lord of Qūni.” Or possibly qūni is the name of a shrine.
The Bible contains several instances of the root qny that have been commonly believed to carry the connotation “to create,” including Gen 14: 19, 22, Dt 32: 6, Ps 139:14, and Prov 8:22, less often Gen 4:1, Ex. 15:16, Ps 78:54, and 104:24. As with the examples discussed above, we will set aside the version of the qny ʾrṣ title found in Gen 14 for the purpose of identifying the semantic range of the verb qny in Hebrew.
In these two passages the verb qny occurs in contexts highly suggestive of procreation or parentage (cf. Burney 1926: 161; Ringgren 1947: 101; Humbert 1950: 259; Irwin 1961: 135; Gray 1965: 177, n. 3, 265; McCarthy 1967: 92; Dahood 1968: 513; Stolz 1970: 185; Gammie 1971: 386; Habel 1972: 325; Cassuto 1975: 55; Schmidt 1997: 1151-53; Paas 2003: 66; Lipiński 2004: 61; Houtman 1993: 89; Propp 2010: 539-40; McClellan 2010; Bokovoy 2013: 30-33). In Gen 4:1 the narrative reports that Adam had intercourse with his wife Eve, who conceived and bore Cain, upon which she exclaimed, קניתי איש את יהוה “I bore a man with (the help of) YHWH!” In Dt 32:6 parental titles are rhetorically applied to YHWH: הלוא הוא אביך קנך הוא עשך ויכננך “Is he not your father who begot you, who made you and established you?” The participle קנך is placed in direct apposition to אביך and so is syntactically dependent upon it. The motif of YHWH as parent occurs later in the chapter as well: “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, you forgot the god you gave you birth” (v. 18).
We have already seen that a widely attested usage of qny in West Semitic is to refer to the begetting/bearing of children, so there is no need to translate the occurrences here in terms of creation. The language is rather familial, this worldly, and materialistic. Literally, qny means to acquire as property, but idiomatically it could connote the procreative acquiring of children, which is why it could be applied to both men and women when used in the sense of “to beget/bear” (cf. Pope 1987: 220).
In the case of Gen 4:1, some commentators have been inclined to translate qny in the sense of “to create” because Eve is said to have acted in concert “with YHWH.” The preposition את generally has a comitative function in Hebrew, which leaves open the possibility that the text envisions YHWH as somehow actively engaged in the production of a child along with Eve (e.g. Cassuto 1961: 198-201; Westermann 1984: 290-292; Stiebert 2010: 215-216; Albertz 2012: 279; Bokovoy 2013: 33-35). Yet it hardly seems credible that Eve would claim that she alone had “created a child with YHWH” immediately following the narrative report that Adam and his wife had together generated offspring (Humbert 1950: 259; Vawter 1980: 209), to say nothing of the provocative notion of a mortal and deity cooperating on an equal level in the creative or procreative process. The text has long been recognized as problematic in terms of known Hebrew syntax (e.g. Schmitt 1974: 155; von Rad 1972: 103-104; Westermann 1984: 290-292). Although the literary context would lead the reader to interpret the prepositional phrase את יהוה as instrumental (“with the help of YHWH), and in fact most biblical scholars have tended to translate it this way (e.g. NRSV, JPSV, NAB), the preposition את is never elsewhere used in this sense.
As a consequence, I think it reasonable to suppose that the text in its current state is a product of intentional adaptation or corruption. Later in Genesis upon giving birth to Gad and Asher Leah exclaims בגד “by Gad!” and באשרי “by my Luck!” (30:11), names which I have elsewhere identified as divine epithets of the Israelite deity (Thomas 2015). Because these expressions by a joyous mother with an instrumental reference to deity parallel the statement by Eve in Gen 4:1, it seems likely that in the original form of the text Eve spoke of having borne a man ביהוה “by YHWH” or באלהים “by Elohim.” The preposition beth is a far better fit to the syntactic context and it would also help explain why the text was eventually changed to את יהוה. At some point a scribe may have felt uncomfortable with the implication of the preposition ב that Eve used the Israelite god as a means to an end and so changed the ב to an את in order to imply that deity was a more active participant in the transaction. The development of the reading את יהוה would therefore have been ideologically motivated. But in the process of making the deity more transcendent and beyond human manipulation, the scribe inadvertently created a more opaque and difficult text.
The verb qny in Ex 15:16 has on occasion been translated in the sense of “to create” consistent with the prevailing understanding of qny in other Hebrew and Ugaritic texts and especially because of comparison with Dt 32:6 (NAB; Köhler 1934: 160; Cross and Freedman 1955: 249; Rummel 1981: 259-60; Durham 1987: 208; Batto 1992: 113, 218, n. 24; Russell 2007: 16; Dozeman 2009: 319, 325; DEB; cf. McCarthy 1967: 92; Houtman 1996: 206, 290). But this interpretation has not gained wide support, since the literary context of the passages suggests that acquisition and ownership are rather at play (BDB; Ges-Buhl; HALOT; Ges18; DCH;NRSV; JPSV; Driver 1911: 139; Burney 1926: 161; Schmidt 1931: 61; Noth 1962: 121; Lohfink 1968: 79; Walters 1973: 220-221; Childs 1974: 241, 251-52; Alter 1985: 51; Brenner 1991: 126; Schmidt 1997: 1150-51; Lipiński 2004: 59; Sarna 1991: 81; Jacob 1992: 432; Shreckhise 2007: 214, n. 32, 216; Propp 2010: 539-40; Albertz 2012: 251; Utzschneider and Oswald 2013: 328; Flynn 2014: 55-56; Dohmen 2015: 336, 353).
We noted above that qny in Dt 32:6 means not “to create” but “to beget/bear” in the sense of acquiring children, and this understanding is clearly inappropriate to the context of Ex 15:16. Nowhere in Ex 15 is any hint given that the metaphor governing the use of qny is that of a parent or that Israel had been procreated. Rather, the larger context of the poem is military and relates to the protection and deliverance of Israel by the warrior god YHWH (e.g. Shreckhise 2007; Russell 2007).
Several literary clues help to determine the particular connotation of qny in the poem. First, the verb occurs in the context of parallel lines that touch on YHWH’s proprietary relationship with Israel: “until your people, O YHWH, passed over, until the people whom you acquired passed over” (v. 16). The construction suggests a semantic correspondence between “your people” and “the people whom you acquired,” since both speak in terms of divine ownership. Second, as is well known, the descriptions of Israel עם זו גאלת “the people whom you redeemed” (v. 13) and עם זו קנית “the people whom you acquired” (v. 16) frame the second half of the poem and as such indicate an “equivalence or association between qny and gʾl” (Propp 2010: 540). To gʾl means to function as a kinsman or to protect the interests of the family/tribe, and so the primary reference of the gʾl and qny pair seems to have in view YHWH’s protection and deliverance of Israel, which theme is developed throughout vv. 1-18 (cf. vv. 2, 9-10, 13-16). When YHWH “acquires” people as property, the implication is that he will be responsible for them and care for and defend them. Third, the dominant metaphor governing the description of YHWH’s relationship to Israel in the second half of the poem seems to be pastoral in nature (cf. Ps 77:21; 78:52-53). As noted by previous commentators, the conception of YHWH as shepherd is reflected in language such as נהל ,נחה and נוה (Lohfink 1968: 79; Brenner 1991: 126-127; Houtman 1996: 247; Propp 2010: 531-32; Shreckhise 2007: 212; Russell 2007: 30-31; Dozeman 2009: 339). So the fact that YHWH “acquires” Israel may be seen in the same light. The word mqnh “possession/property” from the root qny is the standard term for cattle of the flock in Hebrew. Thus within the pastoral metaphor, YHWH acquires his chosen flock and then leads them to their place of pasture, guiding and protecting them as they “pass” through the land.
Lastly, intertextual allusions to Ex 15 elsewhere in the Bible support taking qny in the sense of “to acquire”: Ps 74:2 calls upon YHWH to “remember your congregation, which you acquired (קנית) long ago, which you redeemed (גאלת) to be the tribe of your heritage,” a passage that highlights the theme of YHWH’s election of Israel as his own people by combining qny and gʾl with the motif of YHWH’s נחלה. In Isa 11:11 we are told that YHWH will “extend his hand yet a second time to acquire/recover (לקנות) the remnant of his people.”
Ps 78:54 contains another intertextual commentary on Ex 15 and its use of qny is closely comparable. Although a few scholars have favored translating qny here in the sense of “to create” (Humbert 1950: 260; Freedman 1980; 140; Clifford 1981: 123; Greenstein 1990: 204; Terrien 2003: 562; DEB), most have not (e.g. JPSV; NAB; NRSV; BDB; Ges-Buhl; HALOT; Ges18; Briggs and Briggs 1907: 180; König 1927: 249; Oesterley 1939: 361; Nötscher 1947: 158; Weiser 1962: 536; Dahood 1968b: 237; Walters 1973: 221; Vawter 1980: 211; Spieckermann 1989: 138; Tate 1990: 280; Kraus 1993: 120; Hossfeld and Zenger 2005: 284; deClaisse-Walford et al. 2014: 621). The context is clearly military and territorial. Again, we have the parallelism between “his holy hill” with a possessive suffix and “the mountain that his right hand had taken possession (קנתה).”
These few texts are regarded among the strongest evidence that qny can carry the connotation “to create” in Hebrew, since in each case to translate the verb or derived noun with this meaning yields a sensible reading in context.
Modern translations and lexicographical and exegetical studies are almost in universal agreement that Ps 139:13 describes a human being’s creation by deity. The verse reads כי אתה קנית כליתי תסכני בבטן אמי, and so taking the phrase “in my mother’s womb” as diagnostic for the meaning of the parallel lines and because the root skk is elsewhere associated with weaving, the passage is interpreted to mean: “for you created my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (e.g. NRSV; JPSV; NAB; BDB; Ges-Buhl; HALOT; Ges18; DEB; Gunkel 1968: 585; Duhm 1899: 287; Burney 1926: 161; König 1927: 133; Oesterley 1939: 554; Ringgren 1947: 101; Nötscher 1947: 274; Humbert 1950: 260; Kissane 1954: 292; Weiser 1962: 800; Holman 1971: 305; Schüngel-Straumann 1973: 44; Schmidt 1997: 1151; Allen 1983: 249, 251; Kraus 1993: 510, 516-17; Seybold 1996: 514, 517; Brown 2000: 111-115; Clifford 2003: 171; Hossfeld and Zenger 2005: 535, 541; Eberhardt 2007: 103; Goldingay 2008: 624; cf. Briggs and Briggs 1906: 501; Dahood 1970: 292; Booij 2005: 6-7; cf. Balogh 2012: 152-156).
This is not the place for a full literary-historical analysis of Ps 139, but suffice it to say the text is among the more enigmatic and rhetorically complex pieces in the psalter as a whole. Interpretations of the genre and structure of the poem vary widely (Gunkel 1968; Würthwein 1957; Müller 1969; Holman 1971; Schüngel-Straumann 1973; Allen 1983; Gerstenberger 2001; Hossfeld and Zenger 2005), and according to T. Booij a number of individual words and phrases are often translated with meanings that they have nowhere else in Hebrew (2005).
With regard to v. 13, careful examination of the passage reveals several problems with the common interpretation of qny in the sense of “to create.” First, the evidence that the root skk carried the meaning “to weave” in ancient Hebrew is weak. In Job 10:11 appears the hapax תסככני, which has been generally understood to mean “you wove me” based on the context and in line with the versional evidence (e.g. Driver and Gray 1921: 100; Fohrer 1963: 200; Pope 1973: 78; Gordis 1978: 113). However, the derivation and analysis of the verb is not entirely certain (from skk, swk, or nsk, Polel or Poel?), and it is conceivable that the text has suffered modification or corruption in the course of its transmission (cf. Ball 1922: 194; Tur-Sinai 1967: 178; Vawter 1980: 212, n. 29). Could skk be a misreading for sbk? As a root meaning “to interweave or entwine” sbk is well established in Semitic (e.g. HALOT no. 6436), and the verb occurs in biblical and inscriptional personal names as a predicative element, showing that it was in fact used in connection with childbirth (Albertz 2012: 587; Renz 1995b: 77). Albertz translates the name סבכיהו “YHWH has woven [the child in the womb]” and compares it to Ps 139:13 and Job 10:11 (2012: 278, 587). The lexicons (e.g. BDB, HALOT, and Ges18) commonly specify multiple homonymous roots for skk, including skk I “to cover, shield, block” and skk II “to weave,” with the latter composed of Ps 139:13, Prov 8:23, and Job 10:11. But we have no ancient comparative material to support the identification of skk “to weave” as a distinct lexical category and after a lengthy analysis Kronholm concluded that its existence was doubtful (1999: 236-54). נסכתי in Prov 8:23 is more easily derived from nsk “to pour out, i.e. to engender” (Lenzi 2006: 703-704; cf. Albright 1920: 286; Hurowitz 1999: 394) or nsk “to weave” (Burney 1926: 165; Baumann 1996: 120-122; Waltke 2004: 411), and it seems dubious that a verb with such a simple utilitarian meaning would be preserved in only two passages that both speak about divine creation through childbirth, in this case with entirely distinct stems (Qal and Polel).
As noted by Vawter and others, by far the more established meaning of skk is “to cover, shield, block” (1980: 212; cf. Briggs and Briggs 1906: 501; Tur-Sinai 1967: 178; Dahood 1970: 292; Booij 2005: 6-7). This meaning is widely attested in Semitic and is also reflected in various derived nouns in Hebrew (cf. HALOT; BDB; Kronholm 1999). Accepting this proposal, it suggests that the content of the parallel lines in v. 13 relates not to creation in the womb, but rather to YHWH’s protection and/or close relationship to the psalmist (cf. LXX). Elsewhere skk has a strong physical sense of covering, shielding, or surrounding (e.g. Ex 25:20; 40:3; 1 Kgs 8:7; Job 3:23; 38:8; 40:22; Ps 91:4; 140:7).
Second, the notion that YHWH created the psalmist’s klyt “kidneys/reins” is unique and conceptually difficult. What would it mean to say that one’s kidneys were created by deity? The traditional understanding of the B line would suggest that the creation of the whole person is in view (so Hossfeld and Zenger 2005: 541), but it is doubtful that the formation of the kidney’s could metonymically stand in for this. Nowhere else in the Bible do the kidneys function as a pars pro toto for the individual person. Translations such as “inward parts” (NRSV) or “inmost being” (NAB) obscure the underlying meaning of Hebrew klyt, which always refers to the specific organ of the kidneys or the lower abdominal region of the body where specific emotions were felt (Smith 1998: 434).
Third, it is doubtful that the immediate literary context was originally concerned with the creation of a human. Although the present form of the MT in vv. 14-15 seems to reflect an interpretation along these lines, which is even more explicit in the LXX (“I will acknowledge you, because I was made awesomely wonderful…. My frame was not hidden from you, which you made in secret, and my substance in the deepest parts of the earth”), the Hebrew text is certainly corrupt. The phrase nwrʾwt nplyty makes little sense in itself, and after the toda-formula (ʾwdk “I praise you”) we would expect to find a justification for why YHWH is worthy of praise (e.g. Ps 7:18; 9:1; 52:9; 54:6-7; 57:9-10; 67:3-4; 71:22; 75:1; 86:12-13; 106:1; 107:1; 108: 3-4; 109: 30-31; 111: 1-2; 118: 21; 138:2), not a boast of oneself with language that is elsewhere used to characterize deity (nwrʾ/nwrʾwt: e.g. Ps 47:3; 65:6; 68:36; 76:8; cf. Schüngel-Straumann 1973: 44, n. 57). In addition, the juxtaposition of nplyty, which from the hymnic context appears to be derived from plʾ (Seybold 1996: 517; cf. 11QPsa; Booij 2005: 6), with nplʾym looks suspicious. In the following verse lʾ nkḥd ʿṣmy mmk “my strength was not hidden from you” is meaningless. ʿṣmy is often translated “my bones” or “my substance,” but ʿṣm in the singular always has reference to “strength/might” (cf. HALOT no. 7237; Ges18: 1002). Then in the next clause the subject awkwardly shifts from ʿṣmy after the relative to the Qal passive ʿśyty: “my strength was not hid from you, which I was made…” Finally, the description of being “made in secret” and “colorfully embroidered in the depths of the earth” is cryptic and difficult to relate to the preceding. The meaning of the verb rqm “to embroider or colorfully weave” is sufficiently clear, but what this particular textile image has to do with the origin of the human person is not. Further, the language of “depths of the earth” in parallel with “in secret” evokes a setting in the darkness of Sheol (e.g. Briggs and Briggs 1907: 497; Hossfeld and Zenger 2005: 542). Yet certainly there was no general tradition in ancient Israel that humans were first created in Sheol before being transferred to a mother’s womb.
I think it is no exaggeration to say that the MT in its current form is garbled and incoherent, and this applies especially to those parts of the passage that have traditionally been supposed to relate to creation. Furthermore, the LXX, which is where a creation tendenz is most obvious, was likely dependent on a Hebrew vorlage very similar to the MT (cf. Holman 1992; Hossfeld and Zenger 2005: 535-36, 547).
If we grant that the Hebrew text has been corrupted and no longer represents a literary unity, then it is possible that 11QPsa from Qumran may help to reconstruct an earlier form of vv. 14-15. The version of Ps 139 in 11QPsa has often been judged to be derivative of the MT and of minimal text-critical value (Dahmen 2003: 203-207; Hossfeld and Zenger 2005: 535-36), but a closer look suggests otherwise. First of all, in v. 14 instead of ky nwrʾwt the text has has ky nwrʾ ʾth “for you are awesome” (20: 5). This reading is superior to the MT in a number of respects (cf. Holman 1970: 65-66; Dahood 1970: 293), since it provides the necessary grounding for the toda-formula; the adjectival predicate immediately follows the ky instead of the adverbial nwrʾwt; and the hymnic term nwrʾ applies to deity rather than to an action of a person and occurs in the regular singular (cf. Schuller 1992: 72-74). This still leaves the question of the meaning of the repeated nplʾwt nplʾym, but at least the general sense of the line is clear, the deity is described as nwrʾ “awesome” and his works are said to be nplʾym “marvelous.”
In v. 15 11QPsa has the unique variant ʿṣby instead of ʿṣmy (20: 6). While biblical scholars have unanimously judged this variant secondary to the MT (e.g. Dahood 1970: 294; Hossfeld and Zenger 2005: 536; Eberhardt 2007: 106), if we ignore the first person pronominal endings on ʿṣb and the verbs ʿśh and rqm, we achieve a much improved reading: “idolatry is not hidden from you, which is made in secret, embroidered in the depths of the earth.” The larger context of the psalm is a prayer for vindication from enemies and declaration of innocense of idolatry (drk ʿṣb “way of idolatry”; cf. Würthwein 1957: 174-175; Holman 1971: 298-310; Allen 1983: 250, 253; Williams 2000: 108-109; Hossfeld and Zenger 2005: 535-536), so a disapproving comment on idolatrous practice in v. 15 is at least agreeable with the main ideological thrust of the composition.
In addition, multiple aspects of the language deployed in the verse lend support to the originality of the ʿṣb reading: 1) The phraseology lʾ nkḥd mmk implies that someone is engaging in reprehensible behavior for which they will be judged by deity (Ps 69:6; Hosea 5:3; cf. Isa 3:9). Whereas ʿṣb could concievably qualify as something that a rigorously aniconic Jew would condemn because YHWH sees everything and cannot be deceived, the rhetorical intent of the phrase is obscured or subverted in the case of MT’s ʿṣm “strength.” 2) The parallel verbs ʿśh and rqm could easily be linked to a context related to the manufacture of cult statues. In the biblical rhetoric against idolatry the verb ʿśh is a leitmotif, and biblical and comparative material show that textile manufacture was often tied to the production of cult icons (Ackerman 2006: 190). In Ez 16:18 the prophet castigates Judahites who made images and garments of embroidery (rqm) to cover them. 3) The parallel descriptions of ʿṣb-making bstr “in secret” and btḥtywt ʾrṣ “in the depths of the earth” have connotations appropriate to a denouncement of idolatry. Deut 27:15 states, “Cursed be anyone who makes an idol or cast image, anything abhorrent to YHWH, the work of an artisan, and sets it up in secret (bstr).” 2 Kgs 17:9-10 reports that the Israelites “secretly (ḥpʾ) did things that were not right against YHWH,” which included building bamot sanctuaries and setting up cult statuary. Not only are idol worshippers criticized for making their cult objects surreptitiously against religious authority, but the place where they do so is rhetorically identified with the tḥtywt ʾrṣ “depths of the earth” or underworld. As the region farthest from the influence of YHWH, idol worship is portrayed as deeply impious and degenerate. Other late Second Temple Jewish texts similarly associate idol worship with the underworld (Jubilees 22:22; Jannes and Jambres).
From this analysis, we can see that the text of v. 15 likely had a long history of scribal development. Initially, the line must have read in the 3rd person lʾ nkḥd ʿṣb mmk ʾšr ʿśy bstr rqm btḥtywt ʾrṣ “idolatry is not hidden from you, which is made in secret and embroidered in the depths of the earth,” since it would not make sense for the author declaring his innocence of idolatry to say that “my idolatry was not hidden” from God. Then at some point a scribe misunderstood the line and added pronominal endings to ʿṣb and ʿśh and rqm. Lastly in the MT text tradition ʿṣby was changed to ʿṣmy.
Returning to the meaning of qny in v. 13, we have argued that there is inadequate basis for assuming that the context of the verb relates to an account of creation or generation, but that this understanding of the text is essentially a later interpretive tradition that evolved gradually over time from 11QPsa to the MT and then to the LXX.
So what does qny mean in the context of the passage? A number of commentators have noted the unusual metaphors and language used to describe the relationship of deity to the psalmist in vv. 1-12 (cf. Terrien 1978: 327-329; Gross 1999: 173-183; 2004: 75-81; Brown 2000: 110; Hossfeld and Zenger 2005: 540). God is said to have sifted/winnowed (zrh) the person’s wandering and resting; to cause all his behavior to be overseen (skn; cf. Lipiński 1973: 194; Levine 2000: 158; Smith and Pitard 2009: 403-04); hemmed (ṣwr) him in from before and behind; set (šyt) his palm upon him; led or taken him by the hand (lqḥ; reconstructed with BHS; Kraus 1993: 510; Weiser 1962: 800-801; Schüngel-Straumann 1973: 44, n. 50); even grasped (ʾḥz) him with his right hand. The behavior of God toward the worshipper is physical and forceful, described hyperbolically as martial and threatening. Not only does God know the psalmist perfectly, but he has predetermined or defined the path he would follow. The metaphor is that of divine supervision and control, which is portrayed as irresistible. God’s understanding is said to be surpassing, such that the psalmist cannot “prevail against it” (ykl l-; cf. Booij 2005: 3). Even if the worshipper wanted to escape God’s presence at the farthest reaches of the earth or in Sheol, still there God is determining his life of faith (v. 7-10). In the throes of darkness, God has made it light for him (vv. 11-12).
V. 13 stands at this point as a pivot with the causal ky (Booij 2005: 6). As an explanation for the preceding, the psalmist declares, “for you acquired my kidneys and covered me in the womb of my mother.” We mentioned earlier that in ancient Jewish culture the kidneys were generally seen as a site where emotions were felt relating to ethical conscience and morality (Kellermann 1995: 180; Smith 1998: 434). So for the psalmist to say that God has “acquired” his “kidneys” is basically to continue the theme of divine control and supervision and to suggest that not only is he not guilty of the accusations that have been made against him, but that God is ultimately the one responsible for his behavior. God has guided him. Then in v. 14 appears a hymnic digression, with v. 15 perhaps a later gloss, and v. 16 concludes the above train of thought with the extraordinary claim that when God saw the psalmist in the womb, his future life was already written and determined in the heavenly scroll.
The noun form qnyn has been widely interpreted to mean “creation” or “creatures” because it occurs in a tricola, the first two of which praise YHWH’s creative work: mh rbw mʿśyk yhwh klm bḥkmh ʿśyt “how many are your works, O YHWH, in wisdom you have made them all” (NRSV; JPSV; NAB; BDB; Ges-Buhl; Ges18; DEB; Duhm 1899: 243; Briggs and Briggs 1907: 330; Gunkel 1968: 446; Burney 1926: 161; Oesterley 1939: 441; Noth 1966: 172; Dahood 1970: 32, 44; Deissler 1981: 36; Allen 1983: 25; Kraus 1993: 296; Seybold 1996: 407; Schmidt 1997: 1152; Berlin 2005: 74; cf. HALOT).
Yet significantly the ancient translations generally understood qnyn in this context in the sense of acquisition or property (e.g. LXX, Vulgate, Syriac, etc), and a number of modern biblical scholars have been reluctant to accept “creation” as the meaning of the noun only for this text (cf. König 1927: 161; Nötscher 1947: 209; Humbert 1950: 251-66; Katz 1954: 128; Irwin 1961: 134; Weiser 1962: 665; Spieckermann 1989: 23, n. 11; Krüger 1993: 57; Hossfeld and Zenger 2005: 43; Goldingay 2008: 180; Alter 2009: 366; deClaisse-Walford et al. 2014: 773; Reichmann 2016: 155). As explained by Spieckermann, “The translation through a word from the field of ‘ownership, possession’ would be preferable, in order to avoid the special meaning ‘creature’ only for this passage, in addition to the articulation through it the constitutive aspect of creation, to which קנין has absolutely no connection” (1989: 23, n. 11).
Setting aside the unlikelihood that a word with a regular usage would have a different meaning only here, the expression “the earth is full of your qnyn” sits uncomfortably in its current context as the conclusion to the exclamation of praise in v. 24. Whereas the first two cola address deity directly, befitting the nature of hymnic praise, in v. 24c “the earth” is the subject of the verb, resulting in a noticeable shift in focus: “how many are your works, O YHWH, in wisdom you have made them all” –> “the earth is full of your qnyn.” Whatever qnyn means, it is subordinated to an earth-centered perspective or frame of reference. Moreover, the statement “the land is full of your qnyn” seems to be in tension with the immediate transition to a focus on the sea and the fish and boats that move about within it in v. 25 (cf. Berlin 2005: 81). Lastly, as the beginning to a new section of the poem the tricola in v. 24 is overly long and awkward, and various critics have argued that one or more of the tricola in vv. 24, 25, and 29 may have arisen through redactional intervention (cf. Briggs and Briggs 1907: 336; Gunkel 1968: 455-56; Oesterley 1939: 441-442; Spieckermann 1989: 23, n. 11; Köckert 2000: 262, n. 13; Hossfeld and Zenger 2005: 47-48).
Long ago C. A. Briggs offered an ingenious solution to the problem of v. 24c when he suggested that it had originally belonged to the beginning of v. 27 in the passage on land animals (1907: 336). As the text stands, v. 27 “these all look to you” lacks a clear subject; the verse appears to be referring to land animals that rely upon God to feed them (cf. vv. 29-30). Yet the immediately preceding context is concerned only with the animals of the sea, the ships, and Leviathan (vv. 25-26).
By placing v. 24c at the beginning of v. 27 we obtain a much improved reading. Not only do we now have a clear antecedent that functions as the subject of “these all look to you” (qnynk), but the reference to “the earth” also introduces the setting for vv. 27-30 in contradistinction to the sea in vv. 25-26. In addition, this reconstruction makes unnecessary any translation of qnyn as “creation.” The word qnyn means property and can also denote livestock (cf. Gen 24:33; Josh 14:4 Ez 38:12-13; cf. mqnh), so the sense of the passage is that the earth is full of God’s own livestock (cf. Ps 50:10-12). In connection with this we can also assume that the last colon in v. 25 has been moved from its original position next to v. 24c, since ḥywt “animals” is best seen as a general term for land animals. V. 27 thus would have originally read, “The earth is full of your livestock, animals small and great. These all look to you to give them their food in due season.”
What motivated this unusual scribal reorganization? Briggs plausibly suggested that v. 24c was moved to its present position in order to make the exclamation of praise in v. 24ab apply to land animals, which makes sense in view of the digression into ships and Leviathan in v. 26. But this fails to explain why v. 25c was moved to its current position as well. Perhaps v. 25c originally was moved together with 24c but at some point was mistakenly shifted to the line below.
Remarkably, confirmation for the above reconstruction can be found in the text of the Hymn to Aten, which has long been recognized to have influenced the composition of Ps 104 (Oesterley 1939: 440-444; Crüsemann 1969: 287, n. 3; Dion 1991; Krüger 2010; Reichmann 2016; Day 2013; cf. Craigie 1974; Uehlinger 1990; Smith 2010: 69-76; Schipper 2014). By reordering the text of v. 27 as I have outlined, the correspondences between the two texts become even more specific in the section embracing vv. 24-28. The Hymn to Aten proceeds from 1) an exclamation of praise for Aten as creator (“How numerous are your works”) to a 2) a description of all living things created by Aten, including specifically cattle and flocks (mnmnt and ʿwt), and then 3) an acknowledgment of the role of Aten in providing food for humans. Ps 104:24-28 similarly begins with 1) an exclamation of praise for YHWH (“How numerous are your works, O YHWH”), then 2) a description of animals in the sea and on the land, with particular evocation of livestock such as cattle and flocks (qnyn), and finally 3) a statement about deity being the source of their food. The emphasis on cattle and flocks in the Hymn not only relates to qnyn, but perhaps is reflected in the phraseology “animals small and great” as well. The close alignment in the sequence of motifs thus suggests that the two compositions are more closely related than a general correspondence of thematic material.
The statement by Lady Wisdom in Prov 8:22 YHWH qnny rʾšyt drkw is without question among the most disputed lines in the whole of Hebrew scripture. Already the ancient versions diverged in their understanding of the meaning of qny, with the LXX, Targum, and Peshitta interpreting the verb in the sense of “to create” and Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotian, and the Vulgate in the sense of “to acquire/possess” (Burney 1926: 168-169; Fox 2006: 279). In modern biblical scholarship this disagreement has only widened. The dominant approach has been to translate qny in line with the LXX and the commonly accepted view that the root means “to create” elsewhere in the Bible and NWS (BDB; Ges-Buhl; HALOT; Gen18; DEB; NRSV; JPSV; NET; Delitzsch 1874: 183-184; Wildeboer 1897: 27; Frankenberg 1898: 58; Toy 1899: 173; Volz 1921: 111; Humbert 1950: 260; Greenstone 1950: 85; Kraus 1951: 34; Gemser 1963: 46; Whybray 1965: 100-101; Kayatz 1966: 93; Schmid 1966: 150; Tur-Sinai 1967: 561; Schökel and Vílchez 1968: 53; McKane 1970: 351-58; Keel 1974: 7-9, 11; von Rad 1981: 151-152; Boström 1990: 54; Steiert 1990: 271; Meinhold 1991: 133; Baumann 1996: 116-118; Schmidt 1997: 1151-52; Van Leeuwen 1997: 92; Schäfer 1999: 203; Müller 2000: 232; Gorges-Braunwarth 2002: 235; Fox 2006: 279-280). However, others have tended to argue that the context of the passage demands understanding qny in the sense of “to beget” or “procreate” (Albright 1920: 286; Burney 1926: 165-166; Robert 1934: 192; Ringgren 1947: 99-102; Stecher 1953: 422-23; de Savignac 1954: 430-431; Cazelles 1957: 422; 1959: 513; Hulsbosch 1961: 436-438, 440; Irwin 1961: 138-142; Tournay 1966: 771; Dahood 1968: 512-513; Habel 1972: 154, 155, n. 42; Lang 1975: 90; Aletti 1976: 32; Terrien 1978: 355, 383, n. 26; Gilbert 1979: 209-10; Yee 1982: 61-63; 1992: 85-96; Plöger 1984: 85, 87; Camp 1985: 306; Cornelius and Van Leeuwen 1997: 941; Murphy 1998: 47; Clifford 1999: 96; Hurowitz 1999: 394; Lipiński 2004: 61; Waltke 2004: 408-410; Longman 2006: 203-204; Lenzi 2006: 699-705; Saebø 2010: 116-135; Penchansky 2012: 28; Zabán 2012: 125). In addition, a minority have preferred to interpret the verb based on its regular usage in the sense of “to acquire” or “to possess” (Wiesmann 1923: 29; van der Ploeg 1952: 38; Katz 1954: 128; De Boer 1955: 69; Barucq 1964: 92; Scott 1965: 68-73; Pfeifer 1967: 26; Vawter 1980: 213-214; Zimmerman and Zimmerman 2000; Weeks 2007: 219-20; Zimmerman 2008: 248-258; cf. Schroer 2000: 28-29; Lenzi 2006: 699, n. 49).
Although the weight of exegetical and philological tradition lies with understanding qny in this context to mean “to create,” this interpretation cannot be sustained. So far we have found no clear evidence that qny ever carries this connotation in WS and that its basic meaning is rather “to acquire” and secondarily “to beget/bear.” The LXX and allusions to Prov 8:22 in Ben Sira (1:4, 9) show that the explanation of qny in the sense of “to create” developed in Jewish biblical interpretation at a fairly early date (cf. Cook 1997: 238-235), but they are of doubtful significance for determining the original lexical value of the verb. As others have noted, the fact that qny in the LXX is consistently reproduced with κτα̃σθαι “to acquire” apart from κτιζειν “to create” in Prov 8:22 and Gen 14:19, 22 renders these latter occurrences suspect (Irwin 1961: 138-139; Walters 1973: 220; Vawter 1980: 207-208; Cook 2015: 7). The introduction of the notion of creation to these passages is most easily facilitated in the Greek, where in some tenses κτα̃σθαι and κτιζειν closely resemble one another and they can be exchanged one for the other with only minor adjustment (Katz 1954: 126; Walters 1973: 219-225; Vawter 1980: 207).
J. Cook has also argued that as a free translation LXX Proverbs reflects an interpretive tendenz with regard to the origin and status of Wisdom, emphasizing the independent role of God as creator and that wisdom was created by God (1997: 218-246; 2005: 407-419; 2015: 7). Considering that Hebrew qny is polyvalent and at times associated with contexts evoking creation and birth (cf. Gen 4:1; Deut 32:6; Ps 139:13), and that to translate the verb with κτα̃σθαι “to acquire” would potentially undermine notions of the transcendence, immutability, and omnipotence of deity, it is understandable why the LXX translator would elect to use a more unambiguously creational term as the first in a series of verbs about the origin of Wisdom (ἔκτισέν με “created me”; ἐϑεμελίωσέν με “founded me”; γεννᾷ με “begets me”). Lastly, Philo’s discussion in De ebrietate provides an early witness that qny in Prov 8:22 was understood as ἐκτήσατο rather than ἔκτισεν (Burney 1926: 170; Walters 1973: 223; Zimmerman 2008: 251). The Peshitta and Targum are closely related to the LXX tradition, so it is unlikely that they represent an independent witness to its reading of κτιζειν (cf. Fox 2015: 61-75; Healey 2012: 325-335; Vawter 1980; 207; Irwin 1961: 139).
When we examine the Hebrew text of Prov 8:22 itself, we see that the literary context allows for only two possible translations of qny, either “to beget” or “to acquire.” At first glance, the high incidence of birth-related language in the passage would seem to dictate that we that we understand qny as “to beget.” The Polal verb חוללתי “I was brought forth” is repeated twice in vv. 24-25, and from the parallel structure and content of the lines in vv. 23-25 (prepositional phrases marking the setting in primordial times before cosmogonic creation + passive first person verbs) we would expect the formulation נסכתי to also give expression to Wisdom’s nativity. We mentioned above that the verb is likely derived from nsk “to pour out, i.e. to engender” (Lenzi 2006: 703-704; cf. Albright 1920: 286; Hurowitz 1999: 394) or less likely nsk “to weave” (Burney 1926: 165; Baumann 1996: 120-122; Waltke 2004: 411). The verb nsk is associated with procreation in Ps 2:6-7 (“I have engendered my king on Zion, my holy hill…. He said to me ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you”) and in favor of nsk “to pour out” is the analagous Akkadian expression reḫû “to pour out, engender” (CAD R: 252-54). The proposal to derive nsk from skk “to weave” meets with the philological difficulty that it is uncertain that this verb ever carries this connotation (see above; cf. Fox 2006: 281; Waltke 2004: 411).
In this literary context the secondary meaning of qny “to beget” would necessarily have been activated for a Hebrew reader, if only initially. It is also possible that the author may have intended to evoke the impression that Wisdom was “firstborn” by placing ראשית דרכו “the beginning of his way” immediately after qnny without the clarification of a preposition (cf. HALOT no. 1091; Ges-Buhl; Ges18; Vawter 1980: 215; Baumann 1996: 118-120; Murphy 1998: 52; Hurowitz 1999: 395; Waltke 2004: 409-10; Saebø 2010: 117).
Yet things are not always what they seem in Prov 1-9. Recent scholarship on these chapters has called attention to the ambiguity, symbolism, and subtle intertextuality that pervades its poetic discourse (e.g. Gorges-Braunwarth 2002; Lenzi 2006; Hunter 2006; Weeks 2007; Tan 2008; Schipper 2012; Zabán 2012). The book as a whole is introduced as parabolic speech, consisting of “the words of the wise and their riddles” (1:6). Characteristic of this literary corpus is that words often have multiple implications depending on the context. For example, sometimes “wisdom” is simply knowledge of correct religious behavior (1:2, 7; 2:2, 6, 10; 3:13) or a power of superior judgment (3:19), whereas in a number of passages the concept suddenly transmutes into personification and even a full-fledged goddess figure (cf. Ringgren 1947: 134; Ahlström 1963: 72, 80; Habel 1972: 155-156; Winter 1983: 508-29; Lang 1986; Hadley 1998; Coogan 1999; Schroer 2000: 26-30; Hunter 2006: 99-105; Weeks 2007: 67-90; 2010: 39-42; Römer 2013).
On closer inspection, the reading of qny as “to beget” becomes increasingly destabilized as one reads the rest of the address by Wisdom and reflects upon the meaning of qny in its broader literary context. First of all, the author goes to great lengths to distinguish Wisdom from the created order and to associate her origin with the ascendence of YHWH as an active deity. Wisdom asserts that YHWH had “qny’d me at the beginning of his way, the earliest of his deeds from long ago (mʾz). From everlasting (mʿwlm) I was engendered, at the first, before the beginning of the earth, when there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water, before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills I was brought forth, before the earth and open fields had been made, the first clods of soil” (vv. 22-26). She is portrayed not simply as primordial or antecedent to creation, but in fact comparably ancient as YHWH himself. YHWH had established some kind of relationship with her at the beginning of his way, when he was just starting out and before he had acted to tame the forces of chaos and establish his cosmogonic rule. In Ps 93:2 similar language is used to describe the establishment of YHWH’s throne “from of old (mʾz)” and “from everlasting (mʿwlm).” Through the repeated references to the time before time the age and antiquity of Wisdom is brought into coordination with YHWH (cf. Lamparter 1955: 172; Saebø 2010: 131-132). In the words of R. Stecher, “The poet thus relegates Wisdom clearly to the realm of the endless God” (1953: 420).
As we read further on, we encounter the startling claim by Wisdom that not only was she present at the creation, but she played an active role along with YHWH: “when he made firm (kwn) the heavens I was there, when he cut (ḥqq) a circle upon the face of the Deep; when he secured (ʾmṣ) the clouds above, when he opened (ʿzz) the fountains of the Deep; when he set (śwm) for the sea its limit [….] when he established (ḥzq) the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master craftsman (ʾmwn).”
The meaning of ʾmwn in the above passage and how to decide its relation to the preceding has been widely debated (e.g. Scott 1960; Fox 1996; Baumann 1996; Gorges-Braunwarth 2002). The form ʾmwn is not otherwise certainly attested in Hebrew, and already the ancient versions reflect confusion and disagreement over its etymological derivation (Stecher 1953: 431-34; Rüger 1977: 154-156; Fox 2006: 414-415; 2015: 160).
In contemporary scholarship there are basically five different interpretations of ʾmwn that enjoy substantial support:
1) The traditional view is that ʾmwn means something like “artisan” or “master worker,” implying that Wisdom is a co-creator with YHWH. In the 19th and early 20th century exegetes intuited this understanding of the word based largely on a combination of ancient versional and exegetical evidence, comparative philology, and analysis of the literary context (e.g. Gesenius 1833; Ewald 1837; Hitzig 1858; Delitzsch 1874; Schultz and Strack 1888; BDB; König 1910: 20; Kittel 1929: 731; Eichrodt 1961: 84-85). After the discovery that Hebrew ʾmn “artisan” is a loanword from from Akkadian (< Sum.) ummânu “craftsman/expert” (Mankowski 2000: 33-34), the explanation of ʾmwn in relation to the semantic field of craftsmanship has gained broad acceptance (HALOT; DEB; NRSV; NAB; NET; Wildeboer 1897: 28; Oesterley 1929: 64-65; Smith 1941: 455-56; Story 1945: 334; Ringgren 1947: 102-104; Moriarty 1949: 292; Marcus 1950: 166; Lamparter 1955: 171; de Savignac 1962: 212-13; Vischer 1962: 312-13; Ringgren and Zimmerli 1962: 39-40; Barucq 1964: 94; Schökel and Vílchez 1968: 54; Albright 1969: 8; Steiert 1990: 272; Garrett 1993: 109-110; Wildberger 1997: 216; Murphy 1998: 48; Zimmerman and Zimmerman 2000: 79-80; Gorges-Braunwarth 2002: 242-249; Lenzi 2006: 705-06; Longman 2006: 207; Zimmerman 2008: 249; Saebø 2010: 132-135; Zabán 2012: 28, n. 44; Römer 2013: 3).
However, many commentators have been reluctant to adopt this understanding because elsewhere in Proverbs 8 Wisdom is not shown actively participating in the work of creation (Frankenberg 1898: 60; Toy 1898: 177; Donner 1957; Gemser 1963: 48; Whybray 1965: 102; Pfeifer 1967: 27; McKane 1970: 357; Aletti 1976: 31; Baumann 1996: 136; Fox 1996: 700; 2006: 286; Hurowitz 1999: 396, 399; Waltke 2004: 417-18; Weeks 2006: 434). Further, the picture of Wisdom as a craftsman is difficult to reconcile with the following account of her “playing” or “dancing” before YHWH (Tournay 1966: 773, n. 25; Keel 1974: 23; von Rad 1981: 152; Gese 1984: 208; Plöger 1984: 87, 95-96; Baumann 1996: 136; Fox 2006: 288).
Lastly, the spelling of ʾmwn with a waw distinguishes it sharply from ʾmn in Song 7:2 and Akkadian ummânu (Baumann 1996: 135-136; Fox 2006: 286). As explained by S. Weeks, “The forms [of ʾmn] cited from later Hebrew, even by advocates of this solution, strongly favor the assumption that the word was pronounced in away close to that found in the Song of Songs (ʾommān), as does the common belief that the term is a loanword from Akkadian ummânu. Such a pronunciation would permit אומן, but not אמון” (Weeks 2006: 434, n. 4).
2) Because only YHWH is described performing acts of creation in Proverbs 8, some have suggested that ʾmwn refers to YHWH as creator-craftsman and not Wisdom (Dahood 1968a: 518-19; Keel 1974: 21-25; Landes 1974: 285; Bonnard 1979: 120; Winter 1983: 520; Whybray 1994: 136; Rogers 1997: 218-21; Müller 2000: 236-237, n. 2). But this reading can be excluded as inappropriate to the syntactic and sense context (Cazelles 1995: 51; Baumann 1996: 133-134; Zimmerman and Zimmerman 2000: 79-80, n. 17; Gorges-Braunwarth 2002: 243; Weeks 2006: 434). The parallelism with the following line and the general discourse setting encourage the reader to take ʾmwn as a reference to Wisdom. Not insignificantly, this is how the text was unanimously construed by the ancient versions. The proposed construction is also highly awkward, since it produces a redundant pronominal suffix on ʾṣlw and requires that ʾmwn be understood as a definite noun or divine epithet.
3) Still others have proposed that ʾmwn is related to a variant sense of Akkadian ummânu meaning “sage” or “counselor” (Gaster 1954: 77-78; McKane 1970: 357-58; Habel 1972: 155-156; Greenfield 1985: 19-20; Cazelles 1995: 53; van Leeuwen 1997: 94-95; Clifford 1999: 99-101; cf. De Boer 1955: 69-70). Yet in Proverbs 8 there is no indication that Wisdom functions in the role of a counselor during creation (Plöger 1984: 94-95; Rogers 1997: 210, n. 6; Fox 2006: 286), and neither do we have evidence that the Mesopotamian tradition of the apkallu or that the meaning of ummânu in the sense of “sage” or “master scribe” was known in Judah (Keel 1974: 23; Weeks 2006: 434). Rather, the word ʾmn seems to have been adopted in several Canaanite languages with a sense associated with craftsmanship or building (HALOT; DNWSI; Krahmalkov 2000: 60; Rogers 1997: 211-214). Lastly, this explanation still faces the problem that the spelling of ʾmwn is inappropriate for a derivation from Akkadian ummânu.
4) On the assumption that Wisdom is represented as a child playing before YHWH in vv. 30b-31, some have parsed ʾmwn as a Qal passive participle from ʾmn “to care for” meaning “ward” or “nurseling” (Ges-Buhl; Gunkel 1895: 94; Frankenberg 1898: 60-61; Toy 1899: 177-178; Volz 1921: 111-112; Wiesmann 1923: 30; Fichtner 1933: 119; Greenstone 1950: 88; Kraus 1951: 42; Donner 1957: 9; Hulsbosch 1961: 445-451; Gemser 1963: 47-49; Tournay 1966: 771; Kayatz 1966: 93; Lang 1975: 93-95; Rüger 1977: 161; Gilbert 1979: 213-14; von Rad 1981: 152-157; Gese 1984: 208-09; Meinhold 1991; Baumann 1996: 136-137; Hurowitz 1999: 396-400; Schäfer 1999: 204) and M. Fox has similarly analyzed it as a Qal infinitive absolute meaning “one being raised/growing up” (1996: 699-702; 2006: 285-87). But as we will see below, it is doubtful that the text envisions Wisdom as a child, which vitiates the need to identify her as such here, and the interpretations of ʾmwn as a passive participle or infinitive absolute in the sense that Wisdom was a child raised by YHWH are problematic on grammatical and sense-contextual grounds (cf. Stecher 1953: 434, n. 97; Keel 1974: 23-24; Clifford 1999: 100; Zimmerman and Zimmerman 2000: 78-79; Waltke 2004: 419; Weeks 2006: 434-35; Saebø 2010: 132-134). As Weeks and Delitzsch before him recognized, ʾmn in the Qal has the specific nuance of caring for children who are not one’s own, which clearly does not apply to the relationship between Wisdom and YHWH in Proverbs (2006: 434-35; cf. Delitzsch 1874: 190).
5) Others have proposed to relate ʾmwn to ʾmn “to be firm, faithfully,” understanding the term either as an infinitive absolute (Waltke 2004: 419-20; Plöger 1984: 95) or noun or adjective (cf. DCH; Ges18; JPSV; NIV; Weeks 2006; cf. Baumann 1996: 138; Zimmerman 2008: 252). However, while the reading of ʾmwn to mean something like “faithfully” or “faithful one” has ancient interpretive support in Symmachus and Theodotion and may even approximate how the MT version of the text was intended to be understood, it is nevertheless unsatisfactory. A single infinitive absolute serving as an adverbial expression at the end of a clause is highly irregular, especially since the verb is hyh, and as others have noted ʾmn in the Qal is not clearly attested with the meaning “to be firm, reliable” (cf. Delitzsch 1874: 190; Jepsen 1974: 294; Fox 1996: 700; Weeks 2006: 440, n. 25). An adverbial use of a noun or adjective ʾmwn is grammatically feasible, but the obstacles to this view are that 1) such a usage is not attested elsewhere in Hebrew. 2) ʾmwn is unlikely to mean “faithfulness,” since this is typically expressed in Hebrew either with a feminine abstract â ending or with the plural (e.g. Jepsen 1974; cf. Dt 32:20). 3) Understood as “faithful one,” this would imply that Wisdom is being compared to a masculine ideal of faithfulness, which is not only awkward, but seems to import a highly theologized concept relating to Jewish religious practice into the text. 4) If the author had wanted to communicate the notion that Wisdom was faithful to YHWH, then it would have been easy to do so clearly with standard Hebrew phraseology that would mitigate the potential for confusion and misunderstanding. The lack of the expected phraseology and the fact that the lexeme has been so widely interpreted suggests it was never intended to convey this sentiment.
Most importantly, to understand the line as a statement about Wisdom’s faithfulness yields a poor sense in context. The main thrust of Wisdom’s address in ch 8 is to emphasize her independent power and authority, so a sudden declaration of her loyalty to YHWH feels out of place. That Wisdom is allied with YHWH is taken for granted elsewhere in Proverbs and goes without saying. The parallelism in the phraseology between v. 30a and v. 30b indicates that wʾhyh in this context functions similarly as an independent pronoun in a simple noun clause (“I was his delight day after day”). As a result, this would lead us to expect ʾmwn to carry a more significant semantic load than a simple adverb, since ʾṣlw “next to him” by itself is inadequate to function as predicate. GKC explains that the use of a substantive as the predicate in noun clauses such as this generally means it was intended to receive greater stress or emphasis (1990: 452, n. 2).
Because ʾmwn in the MT makes little sense as Hebrew, it seems reasonable to conclude that the text is corrupt. R. Scott has called attention to divergences in the spelling and vocalization of ʾmwn in various early Jewish and Christian sources (1960: 214-15). Whereas τιθηνουμένη in Aquila, έστηριγμένη in Symmachus and Theodotion, and Targum מהימנתא all seem to presuppose a consonantal spelling similar to the MT, LXX α͑ρμόζουσα is an active participle, suggesting that the translator read ʾmn instead of ʾmwn in his Hebrew vorlage or was aware of an alternative tradition. In addition, the Christological title ό αμήν from Rev 3:14 may reflect a spelling different from the MT. Finally, the author of the Wisdom of Solomon appears to have read ʾmn vocalized as ʾommān “craftsman” in the Hebrew text of Proverbs 8:30 with which he was familiar. From this data it seems clear that the shorter ʾmn reading is primitive to the longer and obscure ʾmwn (cf. Lenzi 2006: 707; BHQ: 37-38). Not only would this produce a Hebrew word with a straightforward meaning in ʾommān “craftsman,” but the controversial implications of this term as a description of Wisdom would also provide a viable explanation for why the MT tradition was adapted to ʾmwn (cf. Winter 1983: 519; Rogers 1997: 217-218; Gorges-Braunwarth 2002: 248)
If this reconstruction is accepted, then a number of considerations support understanding ʾmn here in the sense of “master craftsman.” First, the noun ʾmn is clearly attested in Hebrew with the meaning “craftsman” or the like. ʾmn occurs in Song 7:2 vocalized as ʾommān, which in context can only mean “artisan” or “master craftsman” (BDB; HALOT; Ges18; Keel 1994: 230; Müller 1992: 71; Pope 1995: 616; Zakovitch 2004: 245; Exum 2005: 212). The occurrence of hʾmwn in Jer 52:15 is more questionable, since according to 2 Kgs 24:14 the artisans of Jerusalem had already been deported and the parallel passage in 2 Kgs 25:11 replaces hʾmwn with hhmwn “crowd/multitude” (Scott 1960: 214; Hulsbosch 1961: 446; Fox 1996: 700; Baumann 1996: 135; Rogers 1997: 211; Waltke 2004: 417; Weeks 2006: 433, n. 2). Yet the sense “artisans” works well in the context of Jer 52:15 (Smith 1945: 456; Ringgren 1947: 102-103; Moriarty 1949: 292; Bright 1965: 364; Rudolph 1968: 320; Carroll 1986: 862; Holladay 1989: 437; Mitchell 1991: 408, n. 280; Cazelles 1995: 51; Lenzi 2006: 705, n. 68). The text seems to distinguish among several different groups of deported people, including 1) “the rest of the people left in the city”; 2) “those who had deserted to the king of Babylon”; and 3) “the rest of the artisans.” By contrast, the reference to the “rest of the crowd/multitude” in 2 Kgs 25:11 is “tautological and excessive” (Gray 1976: 766), not to mention that the introduction of the motif “crowd/multitude” is out of place at this point. The two texts therefore should not be harmonized one to the other but contain two distinct traditions about when artisans were deported from Jerusalem, with Kgs 24-25 representing a tendentious rejection of the claim that artisans were present in the city during the reign of Zedekiah.
Aside from ʾmn “to care for, foster” and ʾmn “to be firm, faithful,” ʾmn “craftsman” is the only other lexical value I am aware of that was attached to this letter sequence in Hebrew.
Second, the ancient translations and exegesis of Proverbs 8:30 weigh most heavily in favor of the assumption that the text originally described Wisdom as an ʾommān who cocreated with YHWH. This includes LXX α͑ρμόζουσα, Vulgate componens < disponens, Peshitta mtqnʾ, and Wisdom of Solomon τεχνι̑τις (cf. BHS; BHQ; HALOT; Ges18; Moriarty 1949; Rüger 1977: 154-156; Cazelles 1995: 51; Fox 1996: 699; 2006: 286, 414-15; 2015: 160; Saebø 2010: 118, 134). Although LXX α͑ρμόζουσα is not a direct equivalent of Hebrew ʾommān, it nevertheless implies that Wisdom was thought to participate somehow in the creation and ordering of the world. The word ἁρμόζειν in Greek had a wide semantic range including “to adapt, fit together, join, betroth, tune, arrange, set in order, prepare, govern” (Cook 1997: 231; Muraoka 2009: 92; Wright 2015: 399). Because the form α͑ρμόζουσα is an active participle placed at the end of the clause, the sense is probably best conveyed with “preparing,” “setting in order,” or “governing,” with an implied object of “everything” (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 8:1). The alternative proposals that she was “suiting herself [to him]” (Lust, Eynikel, and Hauspie 2003: 83) or “fitting together” (Cook 1997: 229-32) in the sense of joining with God seem less apt, since no divine object is specified and we would rather expect the middle voice to articulate such a meaning. Further, it is unlikely that the translator would have used the verb ἁρμόζειν to describe Wisdom’s relationship to YHWH, since this would potentially give the impression that she was his marital partner (cf. Zimmerman 2008: 252-53), which is clearly not the case in the LXX.
This raises the question of why the translator elected to use ἁρμόζειν to translate Hebrew ʾommān? In LXX Songs 7:2 ʾommān is appropriately translated with τεχνίτης and Wisdom of Solomon similarly makes use of the same lexical equivalency (7:22; 8:6). ʾmn “craftsman” is a word we know to have remained in common usage in the Canaanite speaking world into the Rabbinic period (Rogers 1997: 211-214), so there can be little doubt the LXX translator was capable of correctly understanding the sense of the passage (cf. Saebø 2010: 134). LXX α͑ρμόζουσα also does not appear to be a mistranslation, since ἁρμόζειν is never used elsewhere to render Hebrew ʾmn “to care for, foster” or “to be firm, reliable.” We have already mentioned that LXX Proverbs reflects a tendency to emphasize the primacy of YHWH as creator and the derivational status of Wisdom. Because the translator seems to have avoided a literal rendering of ʾommān and yet at the same time granted an active role to Wisdom in creation, we can only assume that he found the plain sense of the Hebrew to be objectionable and so conciously interpreted the text for the purpose of softening the creational implications of ʾommān and clarifiying Wisdom’s subservient role to YHWH (cf. Cook 1997: 232; Gilbert 1979: 214). Perhaps the translator envisaged Wisdom as “setting in order” or “governing” next to YHWH in line with her portrayal as the proximate source of rulership, authority, and wealth in vv. 15-18. This sense would also compare well to the use of disponens in the Vulgate meaning “to set in order, arrange, dispose.”
Lastly, ʾommān in the sense of “master craftsman” fits well into the literary context of Proverbs 8. In the previous verses YHWH’s creation of the earth is described with language evoking the work of a builder or craftsman: YHWH “makes firm” (kwn) the heavens; “cuts” (ḥqq) a circle upon the face of the Deep; “secures” (ʾmṣ) the clouds; “opens” (ʿzz) the fountains of the Deep; “places” (śwm) a limit for the Sea; and “establishes” (ḥzq) the “foundations” (mwsdy) of the earth (vv. 27-29). Although traces of a primeval chaoskampf remain detectable, the emphasis is rather on the physicality of YHWH’s handiwork in constructing a well-ordered cosmos (cf. Lang 1986: 78; Yee 1992: 91-92). Thus for Wisdom to be pictured standing next to YHWH assisting him as a “master-craftsman” seems entirely appropriate to the mythological scheme.
The larger literary structure of vv. 22-30 also lends support to this interpretation. Vv. 23-30a are constructed as a series of “when-then” statements, the first subunit (vv. 23-26) specifying the origin or birth of Wisdom before the creation of the world with temporal clauses of the type “before this, then this,” and the second subunit (vv. 27-30a) describing Wisdom’s role during creation with infinitival constructions “when YHWH did this, I was this” (cf. Saebø 2010: 129-132; Weeks 2006: 437-38). Βecause the pattern is “when-then,” after the heavy build up of “when” clauses in vv. 28-29 we would expect another “then” clause in v. 30a to provide syntactic and literary closure to the section. By itself the statement šm ʾny “I was there” in v. 27a is vague and only suggestive, raising questions in the mind of the reader about what Wisdom was doing at the time of creation, while wʾhyh ʾṣlw ʾmn “I was next to him as a master craftsman” in v. 30a is specific in defining her location in relation to YHWH and the nature of her role. The larger rhetorical structure of the unit would therefore seem to indicate a buildup from v. 27a to v. 30a, moving from the nonspecific and rather uncontroversial claim that Wisdom was present during YHWH’s creative work to the more dramatic and unambiguous declaration that she participated in the creation as an integral partner of YHWH.
A further consideration is that the presentation of Wisdom in Prov 8 appears to be inextricably connected to the biblical trope that God created the world with/by wisdom (e.g. Prov 3:19; Jer 10:2; Ps 104:24). In these texts wisdom is simply an attribute, namely the superior judgment of the creator the evidence for which can be seen in the well-ordered nature of the cosmos. However, once Wisdom is personified as a mythological figure present at the creation, the claim that YHWH created the earth bḥkmh takes on new meaning, since the preposition b- can be understood not only instrumentally “by” but circumstantially “with” (IBHS: 196-197). A. Lenzi has convincingly argued for a close intertextual relationship between Prov 3:19 and 8:22-30, with the latter serving as a kind of midrashic elaboration of the former (2006: 694-696). So within the poetic logic of the book of Proverbs the figure of Wisdom must have had an active role in creation. Because Proverbs a) accepts the basic theological premise that the created order bears the imprint of divine wisdom and yet b) depicts Wisdom as a personalized entity, this means that her presence at creation could not have been limited to mere observation (cf. Hitzig 1858: 80; Vischer 1962: 313).
I mentioned above that some have objected to this explanation of ʾmwn on the grounds that Wisdom is never reported to perform acts of creation in Prov 8 but only YHWH. However, this criticism fails to appreciate the complex literary artistry by which Proverbs advances claims about Wisdom. While YHWH’s central role in creation is certainly presumed in Prov 8:27-31, the passage presents not a straightforward sequential creation myth but rhetorically highlights YHWH’s activity specifically for the purpose of affirming the exalted status of Wisdom. The conventionally accepted dogma about YHWH as creator is deliberately fronted so as to function as a scaffold for introducing the more provocative and nonstandard claim that Wisdom co-created with YHWH. In other words, the rhetoric is subtle, indirect, and characterized by dramatic delay. Even though a relatively small amount of text is spent detailing Wisdom’s involvement in creation, in the context of Prov 8 every word is highly significant.
After the accounts of Wisdom’s primeval origin (vv. 23-26) and her role during the creation (vv. 27-30a), the next two lines (vv. 30b-31) represent another distinct subunit that focuses more particularly on the relationship between YHWH and Wisdom. We have already seen that in v. 30a Wisdom stands next to craftsman-YHWH as a craftsman herself, suggesting that they form a natural pair or partnership. But here the intimacy implied to exist in that relationship is taken to another level. Wisdom declares, “I was his delight (šʿšʿym) day after day, mśḥqt before him at all times, mśḥqt b- his inhabited world, and my delight (šʿšʿy) was in humankind.”
As with the other subunits in Prov 8:22-31, the passage is enigmatic and riddle-like, presenting a number of exegetical issues. What does it mean to be YHWH’s “delight” and how does the motif of “delight” relate to the action of mśḥqt in the parallel cola? What is the precise nuance of mśḥqt in this context and why does Wisdom engage in mśḥqt both “before (lpnyw) YHWH” and btbl ʾrṣw “in the inhabited world”?
The first colon in the MT literally reads, “I was delight (šʿšʿym) day after day.” Although the language is somewhat oblique, as accepted by most commentators the identification of Wisdom with šʿšʿym indicates that she was an object or source of enjoyment for YHWH (BDB; HALOT; Ges18; NRSV; JPSV; NET; Frankenberg 1898: 60; Wiesmann 1923: 30; Oesterley 1929: 65; Greenstone 1950: 88; Lamparter 1955: 171; Donner 1957: 9; Vischer 1962: 313; Gemser 1963: 46; Barucq 1964: 94; Scott 1965: 68; Tur-Sinai 1967: 561; Schökel and Vílchez 1968: 54; Dahood 1968: 519; Aletti 1976: 27; Terrien 1978: 356; von Rad 1981: 150-157; Yee 1982: 65; 1992: 93; Gese 1984: 208; Plöger 1984: 95-96; Meinhold 1991: 147; Van Leeuwen 1997: 95; Murphy 1998: 53; Hurowitz 1999: 395; Müller 2000: 237; Gorges-Braunwarth 2002: 236; Hausmann 2006: 358; Fox 2006: 287; Lenzi 2006: 704; Yoder 2009: 97; Zabán 2012: 127; cf. Wildeboer 1897: 28; Toy 1899: 178; Ringgren 1947: 103; Keel 1974: 69; Baumann 1996: 112; Rogers 1997: 209; Clifford 1999: 92; Waltke 2004: 420-22; Longman 2006: 203; Weeks 2007: 221). The noun šʿšʿym is a plural of abstraction derived from the root šʿʿ “to take delight in, amuse oneself with” and is elsewhere used to describe a person or thing that brings enjoyment or pleasure to another, often within the setting of an intimate relationship (Isa 5:7; Jer 31:20; Ps 119:24, 77, 92, 143, 174; Korpel 1988: 140; Wildberger 1991: 185; Becking 2004: 212-213; Williamson 2006: 343). Because Wisdom is here designated šʿšʿym she can only be a source of enjoyment for someone else, which the context strongly suggests is YHWH. This understanding of the passage is also reflected in the LXX ἐγὼ ἤμην ᾗ προσέχαιρεν “it is I who was the one in whom he took delight.”
Once we recognize that šʿšʿym refers to YHWH’s delighting in Wisdom, we can now begin to appreciate the poetic structure of the passage (cf. Yee 1982: 65; Meinhold 1991: 147; Saebø 2010: 132-133). On the one hand, there is significant apparent parallelism between the two successive bicola:
I was (his) delight//mśḥqt before him
day after day//at all times
his inhabited world//humankind
On the other hand, the key terminology is arranged in reverse chiastic structure: A. šʿšʿym B. mśḥqt B. mśḥqt A. šʿšʿy. Further, the implicit “his delight” in the first colon contrasts nicely with “my delight” in the last.
As this analysis suggests, Wisdom seems to be engaged in an activity that brings enjoyment to both YHWH and herself, which activity is expressed by the verb mśḥqt. Our interpretation of the passage as a whole therefore hinges largely on how we understand the meaning of mśḥqt.
The verb ś/ṣḥq in the piel has a wide semantic range, being used to denote various activities associated with laughing and amusement. As explained by Keel, “it describes a behavior, from which laughter results or shows, whereby it matters not whether the laughing belongs to the actor or the observer” (1974: 29). Depending on the context, ś/ṣḥq in the piel can mean “to be happy, have fun, play, provide amusement, dance, sing, joke, make fun of, caress, erotically engage” (cf. HALOT; Ges18; Gruber 1981: 345; Bartelmus 2004; Zimmerman 2008: 250).
The main proposals for translating mśḥqt can be divided into three groups:
1) Following the basic definition “to be happy, play” the majority of scholars have tended to understand mśḥqt to mean that Wisdom was “playing” or “frolicking” before YHWH (BDB; Ges-Buhl; HALOT; Gen18; NAB; Wildeboer 1897: 28; Frankenberg 1898: 60; Toy 1899: 178; Oesterley 1929: 65; Ringgren 1947: 103-104; Donner 1957: 9; Gemser 1963: 46; Barucq 1964: 94; Whybray 1965: 102; Kayatz 1966: 95-98; Tournay 1966: 771; Tur-Sinai 1967: 561; Schökel and Vílchez 1968: 54; McKane 1970: 356-58; Keel 1974: 68-72; Lang 1975: 107-111; Aletti 1976: 27; Gilbert 1979: 214; von Rad 1981: 150-157; Yee 1982: 60; 1992: 94-95; Winter 1983: 517, 522-523; Plöger 1984: 86; Steiert 1990: 272; Boström 1990: 55; Meinhold 1991: 134; Baumann 1996: 112, 139-140; Murphy 1998: 47; Schäfer 1999: 205; Hurowitz 1999: 395; Gorges-Braunwarth 2002: 236; Fox 2006: 287; Lenzi 2006: 707-709; Longman 2006: 203; Lenzi 2006: 693; Brown 2009: 287-288; Zabán 2012: 127-128). As I mentioned earlier, this reference to Wisdom’s “playing” has generally been thought to imply that she is a child or youthful character (cf. Gen 21:9; Zach 8:5). The parallel šʿšʿym or its root is also sometimes used to describe children (Isa 11: 8; 66:12; Jer 31: 20; cf. Isa 5:7).
However, this reading is problematic for several reasons:
- The limited contextual information in the passage does not require that mśḥqt be understood in the sense of childplay. šʿšʿym simply means to be a source of enjoyment or pleasure, which presumably in regular Hebrew usage could apply to intimate relationships other than those of a parent-child relationship (Coogan 1999: 203; Zimmerman and Zimmerman 2000: 80-82; Zimmerman 2008: 250). In Psalm 119, which is something of a love-song to the Torah, the law and teachings are repeatedly described in the language of desire, love, and delight (vv. 14, 16, 20, 24, 35, 47-48, 70, 77, 92, 97, 103, 113, 119, 127, 131, 140, 143, 159, 165, 167, 174; e.g. “I find my delight in your commandments, because I love them…. With open mouth I pant, because I long for your commandments”).
- By rendering mśḥqt as “playing,” the translation construes Wisdom as the one who feels pleasure and enjoyment. But the parallelism between šʿšʿym and mśḥqt lpnyw implies that in the first bicola it is YHWH who finds pleasure and enjoyment in Wisdom. She is “his delight” and mśḥqt’s “before him.”
- The image of Wisdom playing as a child before YHWH hardly provides an appealing sense in context (cf. Ringgren 1947: 103; Cazelles 1995; 53; Van Leeuwen 1997: 95; Rogers 1997: 217; Zimmerman and Zimmerman 2000: 77-82; Weeks 2007: 221; Saebø 2010: 132-134). How would this description of playfulness relate to the preceding account of creation or lend credibility to Wisdom’s authority as a cosmic figure? As noted by Scott, “The first part of the chapter and the peroration in verses 32-36 appeal to men to listen to wisdom because of her primacy in creation, which is expressed as priority in sequence. For this high claim to grave authority the imagery of gay, thoughtless childhood is inappropriate” (1960: 218-219).
- This translation also creates another problem in that the setting of Wisdom’s “playing” changes abruptly over the course of the pericope. At first Wisdom is said to be mśḥqt directly in the presence of YHWH (lpnyw) and then suddenly she is mśḥqt btbl ʾrṣw “in his inhabitated world.” But the apposition of mśḥqt in v. 31a to the previous line strongly suggests that the location of Wisdom in relation to YHWH does not change over the two bicola. The second mśḥqt is syntactically dependent on the first, meaning that the preposition b- attached to tbl ʾrṣw must be understood in a sense other than locational.
2) Others have favored rendering mśḥqt loosely in the sense of “rejoicing” (NRSV; JPSV; NET; NIV; Delitzsch 1874: 188-189; Dahood 1968: 513; Cazelles 1995; 53; Clifford 1999: 92). This translation finds support particularly in the parallelism in the second bicola between šʿšʿy “my delight” and mśḥqt and attempts to provide a sense consistent with the preposition b- attached to tbl ʾrṣw. Yet this explanation faces a challenge similar to the first in that it fails to recognize that in the first bicola Wisdom is engaged in an activity that brings enjoyment not to herself, but YHWH. So mśḥqt is unlikely to mean that she was “rejoicing.” Furthermore, śḥq in the piel does not elsewhere carry the specific connotation of “rejoicing,” but is associated more particularly with laughing, merry-making, and amusement.
3) Still others have proposed that mśḥqt means that Wisdom was “dancing” or “celebrating” before YHWH (DEB; Stecher 1953: 437, de Savignac 1962: 214; Terrien 1978: 356, n. 33; Van Leeuwen 1997: 95; Müller 2000: 237; Zimmerman and Zimmerman 2000: 81; Bartelmus 2004: 69; Waltke 2004: 421-22; Weeks 2007: 221; Zimmerman 2008: 250; Saebø 2010: 132-133). But insofar as this rendering assumes that Wisdom plays the role of a human worshipper engaged in a cultic act it seems inappropriate to the literary context. Similar to the understanding of Wisdom as a playful child, this picture of Wisdom “dancing” or “celebrating” is difficult to reconcile with her claims to be an authoritative cosmic figure or provide a suitable climax to the preceding account of creation. Again, this interpretation fails to explicate the preposition b- attached to tbl ʾrṣw, suggesting that the location of Wisdom’s “dancing” changes over the course of the pericope.
In sum, none of the available interpretations offer a solution to the problem of mśḥqt.
If we start from the assumption that mśḥqt is an activity that brings enjoyment to both YHWH and Wisdom and that the location where Wisdom engages in mśḥqt does not change from the first bicola to the second, then another possible interpretation of the verb comes into view. In his insightful study of this passage, O. Keel noted, “In order to obtain the correct notion of what mẹsaḥäqät in Prov 8:30f. means, it must be observed that saḥēq is here bound with liphnē. The combination saḥēq liphnē always describes an occurence for the cheerful entertainment of someone (Jdgs 16:25; 2 Sam 2:14; 6:5, 22; 1 Chron 13:9; 15:29)” (1974: 29-30). Although Keel himself decided to translate mśḥqt with a kind of hendiadys “laughing and frolicking [lachend und scherzend],” it is important to emphasize that the construction śḥq lpny does not in itself specify the form or means of entertainment. The expression is inherently multivalent and can refer to either dancing, playing musical instruments, or singing.
Among these options only śḥq “to sing” provides a sense that results in a text that is poetically coherent and thematically sensible. The preposition b- attached to tbl ʾrṣw could then be explained as a b- of speaking (IBHS: 199): “singing about his inhabited world,” not a b- of location. In addition, this understanding of mśḥqt would also cohere well with the parallelism with šʿšʿym in both bicola. In the first bicola the topic is Wisdom providing pleasurable entertainment for YHWH, “I was his delight day after day, singing before him at all times,” and in the second bicola the topic changes to the subject matter of her song, “singing about his inhabited world, and my delight was in humanity.”
Interestingly, the lexeme šʿšʿym is elsewhere in the Bible associated with lyrical or songlike compositions (e.g. Isa 5; Jer 31; Ps 119). Singing songs for YHWH after having completed the creation of the world would also provide a fitting conclusion to the pericope. Van Leeuwen has noted that in the ancient Near East significant building projects were generally concluded with celebration and feasting, including the building of temples (1997: 95; see also Steiner 2013; Frayne 2013: 96-97). Lastly, Wisdom’s claim that she sang for YHWH’s pleasure dramatically heightens the theme of her cosmic importance and authority, since it suggests that she enjoyed unique intimacy with him. I have elsewhere argued that a goddess-consort singing and/or playing music for her husband was a recognized mythological trope in the world of ancient Israel-Judah and is probably reflected in the drawing of the lyre player on pithos A from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (Thomas 2016). The startling implication of Wisdom’s singing for the enjoyment of YHWH in the sphere of his heavenly palace is that Wisdom in the context of Proverbs is viewed as his wife.
Returning to the issue of qny in v. 22, we can now see that the verb is unlikely to mean that Wisdom was begotten by YHWH. First of all, we mentioned earlier that Prov 8:22-26 has been constructed so as to give the impression that qny means “to beget,” since after YHWH qny’s Wisdom the language of birth comes to the fore in vv. 23-26. But on closer inspection we notice that the language and poetic structure of the passage is more complicated and ambiguous. The parallel colon in v. 22b mentions only that the act of qny’ing Wisdom was the earliest of YHWH’s “deeds” (qdm mpʿlyw mʾz). The term is not directly linked with birth-procreation and is equally compatible with understanding qny in the sense of acquisition. In addition, in contrast with qny the explicit birth-related language in vv. 23-26 is constructed in the passive tense, thus leaving open whether they should all be interpreted on the same level.
Second, the idea that YHWH begot Wisdom raises more problems than it solves. If YHWH begot Wisdom, then whom did he beget her with and why is nothing else elaborated about YHWH’s family? Why is the focus restricted only to the birth of Wisdom? Understanding qny in the sense of “to beget” implies that the procreation of Wisdom was preliminary or primary to YHWH’s creation of the world. As noted by Vawter, “The inherent meaning of rēʾšît, that which makes it so appropriate to mean ‘first fruits’ in a cultic acceptation, is that which marks it as the logical or chronological prior, qualitatively the most important or the best of a series that will presumably follow” (1980: 214). Yet it hardly seems appropriate for the procreation of a child to hold pride of place as the mythological prior to cosmic creation.
Third, we have seen that in Prov 8 Wisdom is portrayed not as the child of YHWH but his adult female partner. She participates fully with him in the creation of the world and then entertains him with songs celebrating their finished work and humanity.
Fourth, in the broader literary context of Proverbs the verb qny is consistently used in the sense of “to acquire” and specifically in connection with the acquisition of wisdom (1:5; 4:5, 7; 15:32; 16:16; 17:16; 18:15; 19:8; 20:14; 23:23). So when we encounter the claim that YHWH qny’d Wisdom in 8:22, the literary and ideological framework of the text naturally inclines the reader to see some kind of acquisition at play (cf. Vawter 1980: 207; Fox 2006: 280; Lenzi 2006: 696, n. 38). As explained by Lenzi, “Whatever other connotations the use of קנה in 8:22 conveys, one can be sure that the word was used here to connect the poem with the rest of Proverbs 1-9, where we read about acquiring wisdom with some frequency. Yahweh, therefore, is the prototype of what a human is supposed to do: acquire wisdom” (idem).
Not only that, but in Proverbs 1-9 the verb qny has a connotation distinctively associated with marriage. As is well known, in these chapters Wisdom is metaphorically depicted as a lover or bride, with whom the reader is invited to form an intimate relationship (Boström 1935: 156-174; Lang 1975: 171-174; Meinhold 1991: 91-93; Murphy 1988: 600-603; Coogan 1999: 203; Hunter 2006: 91-104; Yee 1989; Clifford 1999: 84-87, 130; Yoder 2001: 95-101; Waltke 2004: 279-280; Sandoval 2006: 83-89; Zimmerman 2008: 244-246). The theme of sacred marriage to Wisdom is first introduced in the instruction of 4:1-9, which combines the language of love and eroticism with an emphasis on the verb qny: “Get (qnh) wisdom, get (qnh) insight; do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get (qnh) wisdom, and whatever else you get (qnynk), get (qnh) insight. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a fair garland, she will bestow on you a beautiful crown” (vv. 5-9). In this context “to acquire” Wisdom is to marry her.
We have already discussed how the poetic discourse of Proverbs tends to subtlety and riddle, often alluding to multiple connotations of the same word. So while the initial instruction to “get wisdom” in Prov 4:5-9 could be understood simply in the sense of acquiring a mental facility or some superior knowledge, as we continue through the passage the personification of Wisdom becomes stronger and more perspicuous, forcing the reader to reevaluate the meaning of qny.
I mentioned earlier that in ancient Semitic cultures verbs for “acquiring” were sometimes used to express the taking of a wife. Since a wife was considered a kind of property (cf. Stone 2014; Lemos 2015), a man could “acquire” one as a permanent possession in a similar sense as he could “acquire” children. This legal or technical usage is attested in Akkadian and reflected in Hebrew with qny as well (Ruth 4:5, 10; Ben Sira 36:24; cf. Weiss 1964; Sasson 1979; Schipper 2016).
Because Wisdom in Prov 4:5-9 is portrayed as a female person with whom one can be intimate, it seems likely that the author was aware of this usage and intended qny to be understood in a personal or relational sense. The act of “acquiring” a female to love and embrace can only refer to marriage. Of course, this connotation is merely implicit, since qny strictly means “to acquire” and elsewhere the expression “to acquire a wife” customarily employs ʾšh “wife” as the object or indirect object of the verb, e.g. Boaz states, ʾt rwt … qnyty ly lʾšh “I have acquired Ruth to be my wife” (4:10). But even without any such modifier on qny, the relational-marital sense of the verb can be inferred from the context. By omitting an explicit identification of Wisdom as a wife, the poet was able to veil his instruction to marry her under the more pedestrian and platitudinous teaching to “acquire wisdom.”
The next occurrence of the verb qny is in 8:22, where in contrast to the instruction to the reader “to acquire” Wisdom as wife in 4:5-9 here we are told that YHWH had already “acquired” Wisdom in primordial time. The implication of this presentation is that YHWH has already accomplished what the reader is encouraged to do, namely acquire Wisdom as a wife (Zimmerman 2008). As in the case of 4:5-9 Wisdom is again strongly personified as a goddess-like figure, suggesting that the verb qny here carries the connotation “to marry” as well. Not only is Wisdom portrayed as the intimate partner of YHWH later in the pericope of 8:22-31, but throughout chapters 7-9 there is a strong emphasis on Wisdom as a matronly domestic figure, associated with houses (7:6-9; 8:34; 9:1), servants (9:3), and children (8:32). Immediately prior to v. 22 the identity of Wisdom as a lover is invoked twice (8:17, 21). The close literary relation of 4:5-9 with 8:22 is also suggested by the parallel use of rʾšyt in connection with the acquisition of Wisdom: “The beginning (rʾšyt) of wisdom is: get Wisdom”//YHWH acquired me at the beginning (rʾšyt) of his way.”
The understanding of 8:22 in the sense that YHWH “married” Wisdom also suits the literary context in another respect. YHWH’s marriage to a goddess figure works much better as a mythological prior to cosmological creation, since it represents a foundational event in the divine world that would have necessarily led to or catalyzed some other divine activity. In addition, within a polytheistic framework we would expect for YHWH to have established his own royal household long before he created humans.
Hebrew and Canaanite Personal Names
One final literary source that has been commonly assumed to support the association of qny with creation is Hebrew and Canaanite personal names. In line with the view that qny means “to create,” Hebrew names with this element in the predicate have been understood to mean that the name bearer is a creation of deity, e.g. ʾlqnh “El has created,” qnyw “YW has created,” mqnyhw “creation/creature of YHW” (HALOT no. 600; Burney 1926: 162; Noth 1966: 172; Cross 1983: 56; Silverman 1985: 174-175; Youngblood 1992: 475-76; Renz 1995b: 74, 83-84; Day 2000: 20; Paas 2003: 67; Hess 2007: 98, n. 56; Avigad 2009: 197; Becking and Korpel 2010: 17; Granerød 2010: 161; Rechenmacher 2012: 134-135; Albertz 2012: 279, 333, 589), or that they were “begotten” by deity (Pope 1955: 54; Fowler 1988: 176; Lipinski 2004: 61). On the other hand, the Hebrew evidence has encouraged comparable personal names in cognate Canaanite languages to be interpreted similarly (Gröndahl 1967: 39, 176; Benz 1972: 143, 404-405; Maraqten 1988: 210; Albertz 2012: 589).
However, we have seen that there is no reliable confirmation that qny means “to create” in WS, so there can be little doubt that this understanding of the names is incorrect. The lexeme qny means not “to create” but “to acquire” and nominal forms such as mqnh always have in view “property” or “possessions” of some kind (cf. Fowler 1988: 174, 359; Gogel 1998: 370).
The usage of qny in the above names is best explained in light of Ex 15:13-16; Ps 74:2; 139:13; Isa 11:11, where the act of YHWH acquiring someone implies that they are under his protection and care. Childbirth was a liminal experience full of danger for both the mother and the child, so when a successful birth occurred this was understood to be a blessing from deity, who was then typically invoked and praised in a theophoric personal name. The deity and child were imagined to enter into something of a transaction, such that the child was now in debt to deity, or in a devotional sense was his property. The theological concept expressed in the names constructed with qny is therefore closely comparable to names that identify the name bearer as the “slave” (ʿbd) or “dependent/client” (gr) of deity (322, 565-68) or that celebrate a deity for his protection and redemption (Albertz 2012: 303-04; 308-09; 315-18; 541-44, 552-53; 559-61).
We have also seen that qny can mean “to acquire” in the sense of “to beget,” which makes it theoretically possible to translate the names ʾlqnh and qnyw as “El has begotten” and “YW has begotten.” However, while ancient Israelites and Judahites may have believed their deities were closely implicated in the birth process, it is extremely doubtful that anyone would have ever attributed the birth of a child directly to deity as progenitor, for divinity and mortals belonged to fundamentally different categories. The notion of a divine child would have been just as odd and unusual in the world of ancient Israel-Judah as it was in later Judaism (cf. Albertz 2012: 289). In addition, the noun mqnh clearly means “property” or “possession,” so it seems best to understand the verbal predications in ʾlqnh and qnyw within the same conceptual field (cf. Humbert 1950: 265).
The Meaning of qny ʾrṣ
Our review of the lexeme qny in WS has found that nowhere outside of the epithet qny ʾrṣ can it reasonably be demonstrated to carry the semantic domain “to create” and that the common tendency to impute this meaning to the word rests on problematic comparative philological grounds, allowing a few questionable uses in the Hebrew Bible to shape our understanding of the verb elsewhere. So now it remains to consider the meaning of qny ʾrṣ in its early Canaanite historical environment.
As I mentioned earlier, the dominant interpretation of qny ʾrṣ in contemporary biblical scholarship is to understand the title to refer to El’s role as “creator of the earth.” This translation has been maintained on the basis of several lines of evidence: 1) comparative data that the verb qny means “to create”; 2) comparison of the lengthened form qnh šmym wʾrṣ in Gen 14 with the ostensibly parallel expressions ʿwśh šmym wʾrṣ “maker of heaven and earth” in the Bible (Ps 115:15 121:2, 124:8, 134:3, 146:5) and bānī/pātiq šamē u erṣeti “creator of heaven and earth” in Akkadian sources; 3) the ancient interpretive tradition in the LXX that qnh meant “to create”; and 4) the fact that El was likely conceived as a creator deity (e.g. Albright 1955: 7-8, 12, n. 28; Pope 1955: 51-52; Gray 1965: 33; Cassuto 1961: 199-201; Rendtorff 1967; Stolz 1970: 130-133; Cross 1973: 15-16, 50-51, n. 25; Miller 1980; Herrmann 1991; Westermann 1995: 205; Schmidt 1997: 1153; de Moor 1980; Hamilton 1990: 411-412; Rahmouni 2008: 276-277; McClellan 2010; Balogh 2012; Bokovoy 2013).
The comparative data we have already seen to lack in substance, making it highly unlikely that qny ʾrṣ should be translated “creator of the earth.” But the traditional understanding of the epithet faces a number of other challenges as well.
First, we discussed earlier that the original form of the epithet was likely the simple construct qny ʾrṣ and that the expanded form qnh šmym wʾrṣ in Gen 14 was an innovation of the biblical authors. As a result, it is problematical to try to discern the meaning of the epithet from the anomalous biblical form or by analogy to biblical and Akkadian epithets that describe a deity as the “creator of heaven and earth.” The latter formulations consistently refer to both “heaven and the earth” in order to express cosmic totality while qny ʾrṣ has only the “earth” as the object of the verb qny. The epithets therefore are not actually parallel and belong to distinct tradition historical backgrounds. qny ʾrṣ is clearly Syro-Palestinian in origin, whereas the epithets “maker of heaven and earth” and “creator of all” are probably of Mesopotamian derivation (cf. Lang 1983: 236-237; Herrmann 1991: 167, n. 18; Albertz 1994: 302, n. 52; Korpel 1999: 208-210; Granerød 2010: 162-163).
Second, we have already seen that the LXX rendering of qny with κτιζειν “to create” is suspect, because it occurs only in Prov 8:22 and Gen 14:19, 22. Otherwise the verb is consistently reproduced with κτα̃σθαι “to acquire.” Ancient versional and exegetical evidence in the Vulgate, Targum Onqelos, and Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran show that qny in the epithet qnh šmym wʾrṣ was also commonly understood in the sense of “to acquire, possess” (Vawter 1980: 209; Lipiński 2004: 62). It seems reasonable to conclude therefore that the LXX translation of qny in Gen 14 is exegetical in nature (with Jdt 13:18). Considering the important place of creation theology in late Second Temple Judaism and the structural similarity between qnh šmym wʾrṣ and ʿwśh šmym wʾrṣ, it is understandable why the more anthropomorphic and parochial “owner of heaven and earth” would have been replaced with the more transcendant “creator of heaven and earth.”
Third, from the usage of qny ʾrṣ in inscriptions it appears to have functioned as an expanded compound name of El that could be invoked in public-formal contexts, i.e. curses, dedications, blessings, etc. As with many other deities in the ancient Near East, the application of a cosmic epithet to El’s name signaled that one was referring to the cosmic or heavenly manifestation of El in contrast to local or earthly manifestations (Schwemer 2008: 15). This is particularly clear in the Karatepe inscription where the curse formula speaks of El qn ʾrṣ together with Baal of Heaven and the Eternal Sun (KAI 26). Similar to Baal of Heaven and Eternal Sun, El qny ʾrṣ is a high god whose cosmic status conferred on him an authority that transcended national boundaries and enabled him to oversee the affairs of disparate groups. Because of this function of the epithet, it seems very unlikely to have alluded to El’s status as creator. A survey of compound divine names used in NWS inscriptions shows that they typically specified a relationship between a deity and a particular territory or cosmological sphere. For example, in the Phoenician-Punic world we have Baal of Heaven, Baal of Zaphon, Baal of Lebanon, and Baal of Tyre, in Israel-Judah YHWH of the Heavenly Hosts vs. YHWH of Samaria and YHWH of Teman, etc. (cf. Allen 2011; Smith 2012). In other words, the function of compound names was to locate a deity in the minds of worshippers for the particular discourse or situation at hand, whether a manifestation was heavenly/transcendent or earthly/local. Such names were not an occasion for celebrating a deity’s mythological deeds.
Fourth, because qny ʾrṣ was the established cosmic epithet of El, to translate it as “creator of the earth” would imply that Canaanite peoples attached singular importance to the creation of the physical world. But this seems to be a case of reading modern theological sensibilities and preoccupations back into ancient Syro-Palestinian culture. As R. Clifford has emphasized, the peoples of the ancient Near East were not generally interested in cosmogonic creation for its own sake, but only in terms of what it symbolized about a deity’s authority and status, that is, his ascendance to cosmic rulership and establishment of physical, social, and cultic order: “Ancient cosmogonies were primarily interested in the emergence of a particular society, organized with patron gods and worship systems, divinely appointed king (or some other kind of leader), and kinship systems” (1985: 510; also Batto 2013).
Fifth, in the ancient Near East words used to describe creation were typically derived from the language of craftsmanship, for example bny “to build,” ʿśh “to make,” pʿl “to work,” kwn “to make firm,” ysd “to found,” nṭh “to extend,” yṣr “to form” in Hebrew, and bašāmu “to form,” epēšu “make,” banû “to build,” patāqu “to mould” in Akkadian. The abstract concept “to create” in the sense of “to cause something new to come into being” did not exist and so to express similar ideas terminology from the sphere of CONSTRUCTION and MANUFACTURE was pressed into service (cf. Walters 1973: 224-225; Hurowitz 1992: 242; Clifford 1994: 71-72; Lambert 1998: 192-193; Keel 1978: 201-205; 2001: 34-36, 46-47; Pass 2003: 62-76; Van Leeuwen 2007: 67-72). However, the verb qny is not related to craftsmanship or construction in any Semitic language, so it clearly falls outside the expected pattern.
Finally, it is difficult to imagine the verb qny having semantically developed the connotation “to create” in Hebrew or any other language. The lexeme qny “to acquire” belongs to the semantic fields of TAKING POSSESSION, CONTROL, PROPERTY, and OWNERSHIP, including words such as ʾḥz “to grasp, take possession,” bʿl “to own”; gʾl “to redeem,” yrš “take possession of, inherit,” lqḥ “to take,” lkd “to capture, seize, take,” nśh “to lift, carry, take,” and rkš “to collect, acquire,” whereas creation is related to the semantic fields of CONSTRUCTION, MANUFACTURE, and PRODUCTION. From a lexico-semantic perspective, therefore, the concept “to acquire” is manifestly distinct from the concept “to create.” When a person acquires, they take something initially separate from them and place it in their possession. By contrast, to create or construct focuses on the process by which something is produced, with no implication about ownership per se.
To be sure, many scholars have offered speculative rationalizations for how qny “to acquire” could have come to mean “to create,” suggesting that it refers to acquisition through creation (Burney 1926: 162; Schmid 1955: 181; Bokovoy 2013: 26) or physical work (Köhler 1934: 160), or that the basic meaning of the root is “to produce” (Stolz 1970: 132-133), “to create” (Paas 2003: 66), or “to bear” (Houtman 1993: 91), which then led to the development of “to acquire” as a semantic variant. But these attempts to mediate between the senses of “to acquire” and “create” are ad hoc and philologically untenable (cf. Humbert 1950). We have already seen that the basic sense of WS qny is simply “to acquire” as a permanent possession, with no implication about the particular means. In addition, the connotation “to beget/bear” is a metaphorical extension from the more basic sense “to acquire.”
We also lack any linguistic analogy for qny used in the sense of “to create.” I know of no example of a lexeme in any Semitic language whose primary meaning is “to acquire, own, obtain, take, or buy” that also developed a connotation “to create”:
Akkadian: aḫāzu “to take, marry, learn”; ekēmu “to take away, deprive”; kašāšu “to gain control of, acquire”; leqû “to take, take over”; rašû “to acquire, get”; zarāpu “to purchase, acquire”
Aramaic: ʾḥd “to hold, seize,” zbn “to buy,” yrt “to inherit”; lbk “to take hold,” lqḥ “to take,” mkr “to acquire property,” mšk “to pull, draw out,” nsb “to take, carry,” sgl “to acquire,” šql “to lift, take away”
Ugaritic: ʾḥd “to collect, take, grasp”; ʾsp “to gather, take away”; lqḥ “to take hold of, obtain, marry”; mṯk “to carry, take”; ršy “to receive, have”; ypq “to get, obtain”; yrṯ “to possess, inherit”
Phoenician: nḥl “to inherit”; kry “to buy”; lqḥ “to take, receive, accept”; lkd “to take, seize”; mṣʾ “to find, acquire”; tmk “to take, seize”; pq “acquire something”
Hebrew: ʾḥz “to grasp, take possession,” bʿl “to own”; krh “to purchase, buy”; mṣʾ “to find, obtain,” nḥl “to take possession, inherit”; yrš “take possession of, inherit”; lqḥ “to take, grasp, sieze”; lkd “to catch”; pwq “to reach, obtain”; rkš “to collect, acquire”
Old South Arabic: ʾḫḏ “to take, seize”; bʿl “to acquire, possess”; brg “acquire”; wrṯ “to inherit from, take possession of”; ḥwz “to seize”; lqḥ “to take, seize”; ẓrb “to acquire legitimately”; mlk “cause to possess”; rbb “be owner of, possess”
Arabic: ʾḫḏ “to take”; jlb “to fetch, get”; ġnm “to capture, gain, obtain”; ksb “to gain, win, acquire”; nyl “to obtain, attain, achieve”; mlk “to take in possession”; ḥwz “to possess, own”
By contrast, a semantic shift from “to make, create” to “to acquire, get” is attested in Semitic. In Hebrew, Phoenician, and Sabaic verbs for “to make, do” (ʿśy; pʿl) are also used in the sense of “to acquire” (HALOT; Krahmalkov 2000: 402; Biella 1982: 375).
In sum, despite the commonly accepted rendering of qny ʾrṣ to mean”creator of the earth,” this understanding can be excluded as a viable interpretation of the epithet.
Recognizing that the verb qny sometimes has a procreative nuance, a number of commentators have speculated that the epithet originally designated El as “Begetter of the Earth” (Schmid 1955: 181-182; Irwin 1961: 138; Fisher 1962: 266-67; Gammie 1971: 386; Schatz 1972: 214-15; Habel 1972; Houtman 1993: 89-91; Paas 2003: 65-67; Propp 2010: 539-540; McClellan 2010). Creation through procreation is attested elsewhere in the ancient Near East and at Ugarit El’s role as procreator of the gods is prominent in the mythological literature.
However, this proposal meets with similar difficulties as the more common explanation of qny ʾrṣ to mean “creator of the earth.”
First, the usage of qny in the epithet qny ʾrṣ lacks any positive indicator that it should be understood in the specialized sense “to beget.” As we saw earlier, the basic meaning of qny is “to acquire” in a concrete physical sense, not “to beget/bear.” While in the context of family and childbirth the verb could be used procreatively in the sense “to acquire a child,” this was not its denotative meaning but only a connotation dependent on discourse usage. Because the object of qny in the epithet is the nonpersonal ʾrṣ, whose primary meaning in Semitic is simply “land/earth,” we have no contextual justification for assuming that qny signifies anything other than “to acquire, come into possession.”
Second, as we discussed above, compound divine names in the ancient Near East were typically used to specify a relationship between a deity and a particular territory or cosmological sphere, not to provide information about their mythological deeds. In this regard “Begetter of the Earth” is no more plausible as an established title of El than “Creator of the earth.”
Third, because the original form of the epithet was the shortened qny ʾrṣ, it hardly makes sense to construe the verb qny as having cosmogonic significance. Only “the earth” is in view, not “the heavens and earth” as in the biblical form of the epithet qnh šmym wʾrṣ, implying that El’s procreative/creative activity was altogether limited. In addition, while in the ancient Near East “Heaven and Earth” were sometimes treated as discrete divine entities such as the witnesses of oaths, they were always invoked together as a pair, and even in this case it is doubtful that they were understood as analogous to regular anthropomorphic deities, but were a conventional designation for the “gods of heaven and earth” conceived as a totality (cf. Fisher 1962: 267; Hutter 1999b: 390-391; Bokovoy 2008: 48-51).
Fourth, I am aware of no evidence whatsoever that Canaanite peoples commonly believed El to have created the cosmos through sexual reproduction. El is never reported to have generated the “earth” as offspring in any mythological text from Syro-Palestine and neither is he given an epithet designating him its “father.” In fact, in Philo of Byblos’s Phoenician History Kronos-El is portrayed as the the son of Ouranos (“Heaven”) and Ge (“Earth”). Although the language of procreation and birth is rarely applied to the origin of cosmic elements in the Bible, this usage is patently metaphorical (e.g. Gen 2:4; Ps 90:2; Job 38:8, 28-29).
Rather than procreation, biblical and comparative data suggest that in the Canaanite world cosmogonic creation was inseparably linked to the chaoskampf theme (cf. Batto 2013; Ballentine 2015). The general notion was that the well-ordered cosmos were an island in a sea of disorder, threat, and uncertainty and that the former had been brought into existence through conflict with the forces of anti-creation. From a variety of sources we can reconstruct that the original protagonist of this myth in the southern Levant was El, who defeated the Sea monster in illo tempore and established the habitable earth and his mountain throne Zaphon upon the primeval waters, becoming chief of the Canaanite pantheon in the process. Although El’s role in cosmogonic creation is not directly recounted in the preserved myths from Ugarit, it is nevertheless reflected in the identification of his home with the cosmic mountain, “at the fountainhead of the Rivers, amid the streams of the Deeps,” where the upper and lower waters come together (Smith 1994: 84-86, 225-234; Stolz 1999: 739). The primordial combat and association of El with Zaphon has also left numerous traces in the Bible and other texts from Syria-Palestine (cf. Stolz 1970: 60-71; Clifford 1972; 1994: 151-162; Day 1985; Levenson 1988; Steiner 2003; Wyatt 2005: 18-37, 102-124; Schuele 2012: 970; Steiner 2013; Ayali-Darshan 2014; Spieckermann 2016: 281-84).
The above analysis leaves only one remaining possibility, that the epithet qny ʾrṣ designates El as “Owner/Possessor of the land.” Although enshrined in the KJV, this translation has been adopted only sporadically over the last century (Montgomery 1933; Barton 1935: 52; Levi della Vida 1944; Richardson 1952: 174; Katz 1954; Gaster 1961; Ahlström 1963; Clements 1965: 47; Vawter 1980; 1986; Lipiński 2004; Handy 1994; Alter 1996: 61; Kottsieper 2013).
We have already seen that the comparative philological evidence strongly favors understanding qny here in its basic denotation “to acquire, come into possession.” Throughout its long history in NWS the lexeme was always linked to the semantic fields of TAKING POSSESSION, CONTROL, PROPERTY, and OWNERSHIP. Furthermore, the contextual usage of qny in the epithet is consistent with this explanation, since the object of the verb is the concrete nonpersonal ʾrṣ “land,” suggesting that the concept being expressed is divine control over land.
The most plausible rendering of the epithet qny ʾrṣ therefore is “Owner/Possessor of the Land.” One who acquires property is de facto its owner and the resultative use of the participle qny is attested in Hebrew (cf. Lev 25:28, 30; Isa 1:3; Zech 11:5; Irwin 1961: 134; Schmidt 1997: 1150; also Brockelmann 1956: 46). El is not an “acquirer” or “buyer” of land in the present, but has already come into its possession in illo tempore.
This interpretation of the epithet is also supported by various other considerations:
First, it provides El with a cosmic epithet suited to the chief of the Canaanite pantheon. El is “Owner of the Land” and by implication the lord or master of Canaanite territory and its people. The name is thus structurally analogous to Phoenician bʿl šmm “Lord of Heaven,” relating El to a cosmic sphere as a means of expressing his authoritative status.
Second, the epithet is consistent with the cosmogonic tradition of Zaphon mentioned above. As with many myths of divine rulership in the ancient Near East, El established his kingdom through defeating a cosmic enemy (Ballentine 2015). The cultural presupposition standing behind this mythological tradition is that as with human geopolitics territory and rulership are acquired through military combat (cf. Ps 78:54). Interestingly, the linkage of the epithet qny ʾrṣ to the cosmogonic tradition is also reflected in the Job-stele from the Bashan dating to the time of Ramses II (1279-1212 BCE), invoking ʾil qny ṣpn “El, the owner of Zaphon” (de Moor 1997: 148-149; Kottsieper 2013).
Third, in the Hebrew Bible the theme of YHWH’s ownership of the earth/land is closely associated with cosmogonic creation (cf. Metzger 1983; Hermann 1991: 169-170). For example, “The earth belongs to YHWH and all that is in it, the land and those who live in it, for he has founded it upon the seas, and established it on the rivers” (Ps 24:1-2); “The heaven is yours, the earth also is yours, the world and all that is in it–you have founded them. Zaphon and Yamin–you created them” (Ps 89:11-12); “In his hands are the depths of the earth, the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed” (Ps 95:4-5).
Fourth, the well-known couplet in Isa 1:3, “An ox knows its owner (qnhw) and a donkey its master’s (bʿlyw) trough, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” is probably an allusion to El’s epithet qny ʾrṣ (Halpern 2009: 65-66). Identifying YHWH with El, the passage implies that Israel is less obedient to its divine owner and master than barn animals are to their mortal owners or masters. Used parallel to one another in reference to YHWH, the nouns qnh and bʿl evoke their corresponding divine epithets and confirm that “owner” is the correct understanding of qny in qny ʾrṣ.
Fifth, the epithet qny ʾrṣ “Owner of the land” has close conceptual parallels in epithets expressing lordship over land from throughout the ancient Near East: bēl māti “Lord of the land” is an ancient epithet attested at Mari, Ebla, and Emar (Feliu 2003: 59); at Ugarit Baal Haddu is called zbl bʿl ʾrṣ “the prince, lord of the earth” (Rahmouni 2008: 162-164); distinctive epithets of YHWH in the Hebrew Bible are ʾdwn kl hʾrṣ “Lord of all the land” (Josh 3:13; Mic 4:13; Zech 4:14; 6:5; Ps 97:5; 114:7) and ʿlywn ʿl kl hʾrṣ “Most high over all the earth” (Ps 83: 18; 97:9). Cf also bēl šamê u erṣetim “Lord of Heaven and Earth” in Akkadian and rabbu s-samwāti wa-l-ʾrḍi “Lord of heaven and earth” in the Quran.
Sixth, the understanding of El as chief landowner of Canaan is reflected in many literary traditions and biblical texts. An ancient Egyptian designation for Phoenicia and the Lebanon is tꜣ nṯr “the land of the god,” which in Semitic translates “the land of El” (Naccache 1996: 257). In the Kirta epic when threatened with invasion king Pabuli describes his kingdom as “a gift of El, a grant from the Father of Man” (KTU 1.14 III 31-32, V 42-43, VI 12-13). In Philo of Byblos’ Phoenician History Astarte and Zeus rule over the land with the consent of Kronos-El, who is also reported to have given “the city Byblos to the goddess Baaltis… and the city Beirut to Poseidon…” (Attridge and Oden 1981: 55-57). Aside from granting posterity, the most prominent role of YHWH-El in Genesis is to award land or territory to particular peoples (e.g. Gen 12:1, 7; 13: 14-15; 15:7; 17:8; 21:20-21; 24:7; 26:2-4; 27:28; 28:4, 13; 35:12; 48:3-4). In the Hebrew Bible El determines the boundaries of property and territory (Dt 32:8; Job 24:2; Ps 74:17).
Seventh, in the bilingual Karatepe inscription El qn ʾrṣ is equated with Ea/Enki, whose Sumerian name literally means “Lord of the earth” (cf. Margalit 2007: 185, n. 31; Kottsieper 2013). The identification of WS El with Mesopotamian Enki was probably prehistoric, since it is already reflected in the worship of Ea/Enki at Mari (Lambert 2015: 78-79). The mythological profiles of the deities closely correspond, and it is possible that Enki originated as an early southern Mesopotomian version of Common Semitic El (Margalit 2007: 180-181, n. 17, 185, n. 31). Much later in first century Palmyra ʾl qwnrʿ was identified with Poseidon, which may in part be explained in view of Poseidon’s epithet γαιήοχος “earth holder/possessor” and his role as god of solid ground (Teixidor 1979: 26-27; Kottsieper 2013).
Eighth, the translation of qny in the sense of “owner” fits the literary context of Gen 14:19-22. The broader context of the passage is focused on issues of property, wealth, and inheritance: “And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.’ But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to YHWH… that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, “I have made Abram rich.” I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me–Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their share.’” (vv. 20-23). In 15:2-3 Abram complains that he has no heir, leading YHWH to confirm his promise of future descendants. The implication of the above passages is that Abram obtains his wealth and posterity only through the blessing of God, who “owns” everything in the heavens and earth.
Finally, ancient versional and exegetical evidence in the Vulgate, Targum Onqelos, and Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran support understanding qny in the epithet qnh šmym wʾrṣ in the sense of “to acquire, possess” (Vawter 1980: 209; Lipiński 2004: 62).
By examining the total range of attestation of the verb qny in WS we have been able to discover that the correct translation of the epithet qny ʾrṣ is “Owner/Possessor of the land,” not “Creator” or “Begetter.” The common assumption that qny in WS means “to create” is actually a scholarly heritage of interpretation related to a few select biblical passages going all the way back to the LXX translation, which has colored and shaped the way that NWS inscriptions in our time have been read and understood.
This analysis naturally has important implications for the study of Israelite-Judahite religion, since it underscores the degree to which concepts of deity and divine creation developed from biblical to post-biblical times. Originally, the supreme deity of Israel-Judah was El, the ancient patron and paterfamilias of Canaanite peoples, whose fundamental identity was tied up with lordship and ownership over the land and all that was in it. He was very likely conceived as a creator deity as well, but the nature of his creation was imagined in conflictual and agonistic terms, establishing a habitable earth from within the cosmos itself. However, over time the scribes and priests in Jerusalem responsible for the development of biblical Judaism abandoned this traditional concept of deity in favor of a more transcendent and imperial YHWH Elohim, creator of heaven and earth, more clearly external to the cosmos. During this process of cultural innovation some traits of El were retained, while others, such as the local Canaanite epithet qny ʾrṣ, were generally discarded.
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