Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Hear hear

Hear, hear, is a commonplace phrase in the English of the town crier. I wonder if its provenance is from the Hebrew repetition of roots?

Hebrew has frequent repetition of two identical roots in succession, usually in the form to do x you will do x. Sometimes it is translated as if the repetition meant emphasis. So translations may add a modifier like thoroughly, or utterly, or diligently do x. Is this what the idiom means? I don't know. Sometimes I ignore the repetition since the sense is carried without it. And sometimes I make it explicit because the phrase is unique.

In the case of hear, hear, we find this duplication several times and in varying forms.

אם־שמוע תשמע Exodus 15:26 and 23:22, Deuteronomy 15:5 and 28:1. If to hear, you (singular) hear.

So the invitation in the Torah is a conditional statement. And it occurs also addressed to the plural you in Deuteronomy 11:13 and Exodus 19:5.
אם־שמע תשמעו

Such hearing is promised by God in Exodus 22:22 if the orphan is ignored.

The phrase occurs 4 times in Deuteronomy, 4 times in Exodus, 4 times in Job, 4 times in Jeremiah, 3 times in Isaiah. And once alone, for Isaiah, the doubling of see, see. Hearing and seeing are thematic in Isaiah, but hearing in the sense of hearing and doing, i.e. the full action of comprehension and obedience, is clearly important in Torah (as has been noted in recent chapters from Deuteronomy) and the prophets.

Isaiah 6 v9
And he said. Go, and you will say to this people,
You hear, to hear, and you have no discernment. And you see, to see, and you have no knowledge.

Isaiah 55 v2 balances Isaiah 6 v9.
Why would you spend money for no bread? and your labour for no satisfaction?
You hear, to hear me, and eat what is good and delight yourself exquisitely in fatness.

The form here is imperative followed by infinitive. This accounts for three of the instances in Job: two appeals from Job, and one from Elihu. (This raises Elihu's stature, for those who doubt it.) The fourth instance in Job is a unique form, from chapter 28: speaking of wisdom,

Abaddon and death say,
With our ears we have heard of her fame.

In Deuteronomy and Exodus the order is reversed and is conditioned.

And it will happen that if to hear, you will hear with the voice of Yahweh your God to keep and to do all his commandments that I am commanding you today, then Yahweh your God will give you the highest status over all the nations of the earth.

Hear by itself is very common, occurring 1290 times. But these others stand out as framing both Torah and the Prophets, and reflected in the commentary on Deuteronomy that is the book of Job.

Several more examples need drawing in. 23 others. Possibly all finding their common root in Deuteronomy?

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