Thursday, May 14, 2015

Singular or plural

English no longer distinguishes between the singular and plural you. And I have not thee'd and thou'd you or ye'd and y'all'd y'all in my reading. Occasionally though we need to meditate on the oneness of our state. Are we one or are we many? Is God One or is God as disunited as we are? I am in good company in using this language, for as God is one, so he desires that we should be one (and this is confirmed by the priestly prayer of Jesus, Psalm 17). But it is the prophet Zechariah  in chapter 14 who makes this point:
וְהָיָ֧ה יְהוָ֛ה לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ
בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִהְיֶ֧ה יְהוָ֛ה אֶחָ֖ד וּשְׁמ֥וֹ אֶחָֽד
And Yahweh will be King over all the earth.
In that day Yahweh will be one, and his name one.
I noted this verse last year in my non-essay on the Trinity.

Anyway - this year it is Deuteronomy I am struggling with during the counting of the Omer. And here, the older versions in English do a good job of reading thee and thou and distinguishing these from ye and you. In chapter 28, I noted in verse 63 a thorough repetition of you plural with the object marker, אתכם. It also occurs in verse 14 at the conclusion of the blessings. Most of the other occurrences of you in this chapter are singular, singular pronouns and singular address with the verbs. But verse 63 emphasizes the you-plural. Notice the switch in the very last phrase.

Here is KJV with its thees and yous
And it shall come to pass, that as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it.
Here is my rendering without them with the text arranged to see the rhetorical flourish.It would be easy to miss the switch to the singular.
וְ֠הָיָה כַּאֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֨שׂ יְהוָ֜ה עֲלֵיכֶ֗ם
לְהֵיטִ֣יב אֶתְכֶם֮
וּלְהַרְבּ֣וֹת אֶתְכֶם֒
כֵּ֣ן יָשִׂ֤ישׂ יְהוָה֙ עֲלֵיכֶ֔ם
לְהַאֲבִ֥יד אֶתְכֶ֖ם
וּלְהַשְׁמִ֣יד אֶתְכֶ֑ם 
וְנִסַּחְתֶּם֙ מֵעַ֣ל הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּ֥ה בָא־שָׁ֖מָּה לְרִשְׁתָּֽהּ
63And it will happen that as Yahweh sang for joy over you
to do you good
and to make you increase,
so Yahweh will sing for joy over you
to make you perish
and to exterminate you,
and you will be plucked from the ground that you are going toward to possess it.
Notice how much impact the Hebrew word order makes. The plural you is on that last syllable 7 times. Notice of course that Yahweh sings for joy.

And here is the recurrence pattern for this one verse. The parallel line shows the repeating phrases and the vertical line in column 5 shows the repeated separate You with the object particle. 
כאשׁר that as
63אשׁר
שׂשׂ sang for joy
63שׂושׂ
יהוה Yahweh
63יהוה
עליכם over you
63על
אתכם you
63את
אתכם you
63את
ישׂישׂ will sing for joy
63שׂושׂ
יהוה Yahweh
63יהוה
עליכם over you
63על
אתכם you
63את
אתכם you
63את
אשׁר that
63אשׁר
It is to be noted that the object particle will I think turn out to be far more numerous in Deuteronomy than in the Psalms. In Deuteronomy 28 alone it occurs 35 times, 7 times more frequent than in Psalm 78 of equivalent length.

When is the singular significant? Does it ever mean 'individual' in the Scriptures? (Just try living there or anywhere with no cultural or social support.) Or all we all bound up together and treated to the same economic environment, separating rich and poor, and the same weather, for good or ill and addressed as one corporate person?

As I wrote this I was interrupted by an email from Academia and the essay at the link, Who loves? Who is loved? The problem of the collective personality, By Johannes Zachhuberis is on the subject of the one and the many from a NT point of view.


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