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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Insufficient Information

A different kind of problem is faced when we understand the immediate meaning of a word or a sequence of words, but do not possess sufficient information, either from the literary context in which it appears or from our knowledge of the world of the author, to decide exactly to what it refers. For example, at Deut. 32: 36, 'azelat yad (literally ‘(their) hand has gone’), although it seems clear that the ‘hand’ is figurative of strength or power, the combination of the fact that the verb 'azal can mean both ‘come’ and ‘go’ and that the possessor of the ‘hand’ is not specified means that it is unclear whether the ‘going of the hand’ refers to the draining away of Israelite power (as is normally assumed), or, as Targum Onqelos and Rashi interpret, the progress of enemy strength.

At Job 31: 27, literally, ‘and my hand has kissed my mouth’, even when we move past the curious image of the mouth receiving rather than giving a kiss, we are really no wiser as to what is being referred to here (beyond the action described). From the context provided, it is likely that some kind of idolatrous gesture is intended, but we do not have sufficient access to the cultural world of the author of Job to go much beyond this. Moreover, only the most attentive of readers or listeners is likely to make the association, through context, with idolatry, so translations have a choice of effectively leaving the reader in the dark or incorporating information that the original readers or listeners might have had in their minds: cf. TEV: ‘honour them by kissing my hand in reverence to them’.

In some cases, even when we have a reasonably extended section of text, we cannot be quite sure of what the real thrust of the piece is. For example, at Mal. 2: 10–16, although unfaithfulness is clearly being addressed and marital imagery is clearly employed, it is far from evident that what is being specifically denounced is intermarriage of Israelite men with foreign women (and the concomitant divorcing of their Israelite wives), priestly betrayal of the covenant with Levi, or introduction of non-Yahwistic elements into the cult. Part of the problem here is that terms that have a clear application in one context can be used, by extension, or figuratively, in other quite different ones (see Ogden 1988).

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