Fear No Evil or See No Evil? One Way to Preach a Textual Variant

Last week’s Hebrew Bible lectionary gave us the beautiful Zephaniah 3:14-20. There is an interesting variant in the Septuagint reading of verse 15.

Hebrew

לֹא־תִֽירְאִ֥י רָ֖ע עֽוֹד

= you will no longer fear evil

Greek

οὐκ ὄψῃ κακὰ οὐκέτι

= you will no longer see evil

The Hebrew verb for fear (יָרֵא) looks like the verb for see (רָאָה), especially in conjugation:

תִירְאִי

= you will fear

תִּרְאִי

= you will see

The only difference is the presence or absence of the vowel letter in the first syllable, which is superfluous for pronunciation anyway. Both words sound the same in Hebrew.

So the Greek “see” for “fear” is easy to appreciate. But which one to preach? In this case, whenever I quoted the passage in my sermon, I was using my own translation. Since both readings seem equally plausible to me, I decided to present the Greek variant as expounding on the Hebrew, not replacing it (so to speak).

The single line became:

You will no longer fear any evil. You won’t even see evil.

This is many more words than are in the Hebrew text, but I think both the Hebrew “fear” and the Greek “see” so well capture the essence of the passage, that it was worth quoting both. It’s as if God is saying through Zephaniah (if we combine the readings)—not only will you not fear evil, you won’t even have to see it… because it won’t exist.

Lord, haste the day!

3 thoughts on “Fear No Evil or See No Evil? One Way to Preach a Textual Variant

  1. Abram K-J I really enjoyed this post! Sorry, I saw your post one year and two months too late! Anyway, this particular conjugation תִּרְאִי֙(Qal imperfect 2nd person feminine singular ) of the word רָאָה ( to see ) only appears in Isaiah 60:5 in the Masoretic Text. In the centuries before the Masoretic scribes pointed the text with the ( נְקֻדּוֹת / nəqudōt)vowels and with the cantillation marks (טַעֲמֵי / teʿamim ) both ‘see’ and ‘fear’ in their various conjugations would have look identical to each other in the texts like those found at Wadi Qumran and the Sefer Torah used in synagogues today. In this case, תראי (fear) and תיראי (see) might (I mean just might) be distinguished by the use of the ‘yod’ as a mater lectionis in תיראי (see) and the lack thereof in תראי (fear). However, the use of the mater lection really isn’t significant enough to differentiate them at all so the translators of the LXX (working before the Masoretic text existed) would have been more than justified understanding the word either way or as having both meanings.

    Good work! and Grace and Peace to you!

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