Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A reading of Obadiah

In these days of fear and destruction, I just happened to spend a few weeks with Obadiah. Here is my first draft of these 21 verses (before reading Raabe, a 300 page commentary on these same 21 verses). And in spite of the little I have noted in Raabe so far, this book is not poetry. I think poetry is defined by the cantilation in the three books, and is rare in the 21.

The problem(s) of the text is one of self-interest, hatred, taking advantage of or being pleased with the trouble of someone else.

Now I wouldn't do that, would I?

My cut at the domains of meaning in the book is suggested in the pie chart. Subject to revision I am sure. (And revised 2015-07-10).

The music slightly tidied up is also available in the usual place. There are a lot of repeated words so I will spare you the table. It's pretty obvious from my English which roots are repeated.

This illustrates how I am reading. Struggling with each word to piece by piece assign each word a domain, subdomain, a set of possible glosses, and a shape in English that conforms to the emerging shape in the text that I have. I am using, with only a few exceptions, the text at

I am sorry for Edom and Esau, whoever they are, or whatever their history. But the bad rap for them is meant to lead me to something other than schadenfreude, that pleasure which is derived by someone from another person's misfortune or even just deserts.

There are of course many historical allusions that the text does not directly reveal. But the lesson is plain. As you have sown, so will you reap. It's Shakespeare - the chickens come home to roost. And it reveals, at a minimum, a way of negation, like Psalm 15. All that Edom should not have done is a list of what we too must not do lest the same boomerang onto our heads. Not doing is just as difficult as doing.

There is no humour in this book whatsoever. Verse 6 is not a sentence - in English or in Hebrew. It is nice that the judgments are by those with an interest in salvation. Perhaps the kill is the annihilation of the world by the death of the Incarnate.

חֲז֖וֹן עֹֽבַדְיָ֑ה
כֹּֽה אָמַר֩ אֲדֹנָ֨י יְהוִ֜ה לֶאֱד֗וֹם
שְׁמוּעָ֨ה שָׁמַ֜עְנוּ מֵאֵ֤ת יְהוָה֙ וְצִיר֙ בַּגּוֹיִ֣ם שֻׁלָּ֔ח ק֛וּמוּ וְנָק֥וּמָה עָלֶיהָ לַמִּלְחָמָֽה
The vision of Obadiah.
Thus says my Lord, Yahweh of Edom:
what is heard we heard from Yahweh and notification sent into the nations, Arise, and let us arise against her in battle.
הִנֵּ֥ה קָטֹ֛ן נְתַתִּ֖יךָ בַּגּוֹיִ֑ם
בָּז֥וּי אַתָּ֖ה מְאֹֽד
Behold, I have made you tiny among the nations.
You are yourself much despised.
זְד֤וֹן לִבְּךָ֙ הִשִּׁיאֶ֔ךָ שֹׁכְנִ֥י בְחַגְוֵי סֶּ֖לַע מְר֣וֹם שִׁבְתּ֑וֹ
אֹמֵ֣ר בְּלִבּ֔וֹ מִ֥י יוֹרִדֵ֖נִי אָֽרֶץ
The presumption of your heart has a claim on you, you who dwell in the clefts of a cliff, his exalted seat,
saying in his heart, Who will bring me down to earth?
אִם תַּגְבִּ֣יהַּ כַּנֶּ֔שֶׁר וְאִם בֵּ֥ין כּֽוֹכָבִ֖ים שִׂ֣ים קִנֶּ֑ךָ
מִשָּׁ֥ם אוֹרִֽידְךָ֖ נְאֻם יְהוָֽה
Though you be lofty as a vulture or between stars set your nest,
from there I will bring you down. An oracle of Yahweh.
אִם גַּנָּבִ֤ים בָּאֽוּ לְךָ֙ אִם שׁ֣וֹדְדֵי לַ֔יְלָה אֵ֣יךְ נִדְמֵ֔יתָה הֲל֥וֹא יִגְנְב֖וּ דַּיָּ֑ם
אִם בֹּֽצְרִים֙ בָּ֣אוּ לָ֔ךְ הֲל֖וֹא יַשְׁאִ֥ירוּ עֹלֵלֽוֹת
If thieves came to you (if devastators by night, how you would be akin), would they not thieve only enough for themselves?
If grape-gatherers came to you would they not leave a residue of grape-gleanings?
אֵ֚יךְ נֶחְפְּשׂ֣וּ עֵשָׂ֔ו נִבְע֖וּ מַצְפֻּנָֽיו
How they are investigated, Esau, how they are interrogated, his treasures!
עַֽד הַגְּב֣וּל שִׁלְּח֗וּךָ כֹּ֚ל אַנְשֵׁ֣י בְרִיתֶ֔ךָ הִשִּׁיא֛וּךָ יָכְל֥וּ לְךָ֖ אַנְשֵׁ֣י שְׁלֹמֶ֑ךָ
לַחְמְךָ֗ יָשִׂ֤ימוּ מָזוֹר֙ תַּחְתֶּ֔יךָ אֵ֥ין תְּבוּנָ֖ה בּֽוֹ
All those of your covenant have sent you to the border. They have a claim on you. Those with whom you were at peace have overpowered you.
Your bread they have set up for a stranger instead of you. (There is no understanding in him.)
הֲל֛וֹא בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֖וּא נְאֻם יְהוָ֑ה
וְהַאֲבַדְתִּ֤י חֲכָמִים֙ מֵֽאֱד֔וֹם וּתְבוּנָ֖ה מֵהַ֥ר עֵשָֽׂו
Will I not in that day (an oracle of Yahweh)
and will I not make the wise of Edom to perish and understanding from the hill of Esau?
וְחַתּ֥וּ גִבּוֹרֶ֖יךָ תֵּימָ֑ן
לְמַ֧עַן יִכָּֽרֶת אִ֛ישׁ מֵהַ֥ר עֵשָׂ֖ו מִקָּֽטֶל
Your valiant are dismayed, Teman,
so that each from the hill of Esau will be cut off by a kill.
מֵחֲמַ֛ס אָחִ֥יךָ יַעֲקֹ֖ב תְּכַסְּךָ֣ בוּשָׁ֑ה
וְנִכְרַ֖תָּ לְעוֹלָֽם
From the violence of your brother Jacob, shame will cover you,
and you will be cut off forever.
בְּיוֹם֙ עֲמָֽדְךָ֣ מִנֶּ֔גֶד בְּי֛וֹם שְׁב֥וֹת זָרִ֖ים חֵיל֑וֹ
וְנָכְרִ֞ים בָּ֣אוּ שְׁעָרָ֗יו וְעַל יְרוּשָׁלִַ֙ם֙ יַדּ֣וּ גוֹרָ֔ל גַּם אַתָּ֖ה כְּאַחַ֥ד מֵהֶֽם
In the day when you stood aloof, in the day strangers carried away his wealth,
when aliens came into his gates and over Jerusalem handled the lot, even you were as one against them.
וְאַל תֵּ֤רֶא בְיוֹם אָחִ֙יךָ֙ בְּי֣וֹם נָכְר֔וֹ וְאַל תִּשְׂמַ֥ח לִבְנֵֽי יְהוּדָ֖ה בְּי֣וֹם אָבְדָ֑ם
וְאַל תַּגְדֵּ֥ל פִּ֖יךָ בְּי֥וֹם צָרָֽה
But you should not have stared in the day of your kin, in the day of his alienation, and you should not have been glad about the children of Judah in the day that they perished,
and you should not have sounded off in the day of trouble.
אַל תָּב֤וֹא בְשַֽׁעַר עַמִּי֙ בְּי֣וֹם אֵידָ֔ם אַל תֵּ֧רֶא גַם אַתָּ֛ה בְּרָעָת֖וֹ בְּי֣וֹם אֵיד֑וֹ
וְאַל תִּשְׁלַ֥חְנָה בְחֵיל֖וֹ בְּי֥וֹם אֵידֽוֹ
You should not have come into the gate of my people in the day of their misfortune. You should not have stared, even you into his evil in the day of his misfortune,
and you should not have reached for his wealth in the day of his misfortune.
וְאַֽל תַּעֲמֹד֙ עַל הַפֶּ֔רֶק לְהַכְרִ֖ית אֶת פְּלִיטָ֑יו
וְאַל תַּסְגֵּ֥ר שְׂרִידָ֖יו בְּי֥וֹם צָרָֽה
And you should not have stood in the gap to cut off his security,
and you should not have imprisoned his survivors in the day of trouble.
כִּֽי קָר֥וֹב יוֹם יְהוָ֖ה עַל כָּל הַגּוֹיִ֑ם
כַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר עָשִׂ֙יתָ֙ יֵעָ֣שֶׂה לָּ֔ךְ גְּמֻלְךָ֖ יָשׁ֥וּב בְּרֹאשֶֽׁךָ
For near is the day of Yahweh on all the nations.
As you have done, it will be done to you. Your reward will return on your head.
כִּ֗י כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֤ר שְׁתִיתֶם֙ עַל הַ֣ר קָדְשִׁ֔י יִשְׁתּ֥וּ כָֽל הַגּוֹיִ֖ם תָּמִ֑יד
וְשָׁת֣וּ וְלָע֔וּ וְהָי֖וּ כְּל֥וֹא הָיֽוּ
For as you have imbibed on my holy hill, all the nations will imbibe continually,
and they will imbibe and they will gasp and it will be as if they have not been.
וּבְהַ֥ר צִיּ֛וֹן תִּהְיֶ֥ה פְלֵיטָ֖ה וְהָ֣יָה קֹ֑דֶשׁ
וְיָֽרְשׁוּ֙ בֵּ֣ית יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב אֵ֖ת מוֹרָֽשֵׁיהֶם
But on the hill of Zion, there will be security and there will be holiness,
and the house of Jacob will possess their possessions.
וְהָיָה֩ בֵית יַעֲקֹ֨ב אֵ֜שׁ וּבֵ֧ית יוֹסֵ֣ף לֶהָבָ֗ה וּבֵ֤ית עֵשָׂו֙ לְקַ֔שׁ וְדָלְק֥וּ בָהֶ֖ם וַאֲכָל֑וּם
וְלֹֽא יִֽהְיֶ֤ה שָׂרִיד֙ לְבֵ֣ית עֵשָׂ֔ו כִּ֥י יְהוָ֖ה דִּבֵּֽר
And the house of Jacob will be fire, and the house of Joseph flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they will be in hot pursuit of them and they will devour them,
and there will not be a survivor in the house of Esau, for Yahweh has spoken.
וְיָרְשׁ֨וּ הַנֶּ֜גֶב אֶת הַ֣ר עֵשָׂ֗ו וְהַשְּׁפֵלָה֙ אֶת פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים וְיָרְשׁוּ֙ אֶת שְׂדֵ֣ה אֶפְרַ֔יִם וְאֵ֖ת שְׂדֵ֣ה שֹׁמְר֑וֹן
וּבִנְיָמִ֖ן אֶת הַגִּלְעָֽד
And the Negev will possess the hill of Esau and the humble, the Philistines. And they will possess the fields of Ephraim, and the fields of Samaria,
and Benjamin, the Gilead.
וְגָלֻ֣ת הַֽחֵל הַ֠זֶּה לִבְנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֤ל אֲשֶֽׁר כְּנַעֲנִים֙ עַד צָ֣רְפַ֔ת וְגָלֻ֥ת יְרוּשָׁלִַ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֣ר בִּסְפָרַ֑ד
יִֽרְשׁ֕וּ אֵ֖ת עָרֵ֥י הַנֶּֽגֶב
And the exiled of this force of the children of Israel, that of the Canaanite up to Zarephath, and the exiled of Jerusalem that of Sepharad,
will possess the cities of the Negev.
וְעָל֤וּ מֽוֹשִׁעִים֙ בְּהַ֣ר צִיּ֔וֹן לִשְׁפֹּ֖ט אֶת הַ֣ר עֵשָׂ֑ו
וְהָיְתָ֥ה לַֽיהוָ֖ה הַמְּלוּכָֽה
And saviours will ascend the hill of Zion to judge the hill of Esau,
and the kingdom will become Yahweh's.


  1. A couple of quibbles/questions:

    On poetry, my assumption (to declare it at the start) is that prose and poetry are (almost) always on a continuum, and that this is especially true of biblical Hebrew, doe this mean then just that you and Raabe are placing the definitional boundaries in different places? If so rather than asking: Is there poetry in Obadiah? the question becomes: What is poetic and what prosaic about Obadiah?

    On humour as you know I think there is humour even in Obadiah, and even if it is a cruel humour, ( ) And perhaps here too it is a question of a continuum and we are setting the boundaries in different places?

  2. Thank you Tim for the reference. I enjoyed your 5-minute Bible as I always do when I take the time to listen! I agree that verses 3 and 4 have some hyperbole and it is amusing. It is reflected by allusion perhaps in Milton "High on a throne of royal state,..." at the beginning of Paradise Lost Book 2, himself mocked by Pope in the Dunciad "High on a gorgeous seat, that far outshone ..."at the beginning of his book 2.

    On the poetry subject, I must do a fuller job of my intuitive grasp. I know about parallels and recurrence and syllable counting, and I have automated some measurement. The feel that I have for the Prophets so far is that the poetry is less pronounced somehow. E.g. Jonah, magnificently formed around 8 words, yet it is prose, but formed for memorization (by someone younger than I am). Let me do some measuring and I will try to report in a readable form. You are probably right - it is a matter of boundaries. Raabe (p6-7) cites some measures related to the use of את and אשׁר. "In standard prose the particle is 15% or more whereas in poetry it is 5% or less." This is easy to verify. Then he says: "if a section has 100 words, את and אשׁר and the definite article will comprise five or fewer of the words." This too is testable in my data.

  3. The next post tests Raabe's statements.