The Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek during the period from the third through first centuries B.C.E. This translation became known as the Septuagint (LXX). As we saw earlier, in the vast majority of cases where the Hebrew word rosh (head) was used metaphorically it was not translated as kephale (head) in Greek. Rosh usually indicated “chief” or “ruler” when used metaphorically. The Greek translators usually chose to translate this metaphor into the non-metaphorical expression of archon, which was the term used to indicate “leader” or “ruler.” But what about the handful of cases where the Greek translators did translate metaphorical uses of rosh into kephale? Andrew Perriman in Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul identifies eleven instances of this. What follows is an attempt to summarize his analysis of these passages though not necessarily in the order he considered them.
Deuteronomy 28:14, 44, Isaiah 9:14-15 (19-20)
… You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. 13 The LORD will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom -- if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today, by diligently observing them, …
43 Aliens residing among you shall ascend above you higher and higher, while you shall descend lower and lower. 44 They shall lend to you but you shall not lend to them; they shall be the head and you shall be the tail. (NRSV)
14 So the LORD cut off from Israel head and tail,
palm branch and reed in one day --
15 elders and dignitaries are the head,
and prophets who teach lies are the tail;
16 for those who led this people led them astray,
and those who were led by them were left in confusion. (NRSV)
These passages are “head and tail” parings. The Deuteronomy passages appear to use head to signify honor and tail to indicate shame. To be able to lend would mean one was of high status but to borrow would be shameful. The contrast is about honor and shame, not ruler and subject.
The Isaiah passage uses the metaphor to indicate a totality, much like we would say “from start to finish” for from “head to toe.” Nothing is said here about ruling over others.
1 Kings 21:12 (3 Kings 20:12 in the LXX) (17-18)
1 Kings 21:11-12
11 The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, 12 they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. (NRSV)
This is referring to the prominent physical location given Naboth at the assembly, much like we would talk about someone being at the head of the table.
Isaiah 7:8-9 (17)
8 For the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is Rezin.
(Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered, no longer a people.)
9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.
If you do not stand firm in faith,
you shall not stand at all. (NRSV)
The context is Isaiah reassuring King Ahaz of Judah that an alliance between Syria (Aram) and Ephraim (Israel) will not prevail against Judah. The capital of Syria was Damascus with Rezin as king, and the capital of Israel was Samaria with Rehaliah as king. According to Perriman, “…nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible is a man said to be ‘head’ of a city or a city ‘head’ of a country: rosh always refers to status of individuals with regard to groups of people – families, tribes, armies, priests, and so on.” (17) The idea that Damascus is the prominent representation of Aram in which Aram is summed up, and that the people of Syria and Damascus are symbolically summed up in Rezin seems to be the connotation intended. The same for the second triad.
Verse 8, with its declaration that Ephraim will “be shattered, no longer a people” may provide a clue to the rather cryptic phrasing. When the body is decapitated it loses its head and therefore its identity. Not only will Israel be defeated but “lose their head” and thus their identity as a people. As we know, the Assyrians cart of the Israelites, leaving only a remnant, and they indeed vanish as people with an identity. The precise connotation of these passages is not clear but the idea of chief or ruler is not easily sustained.
Jeremiah 31:7 (Jeremiah 38:7 in the LXX) (18)
7 For thus says the LORD:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
"Save, O LORD, your people,
the remnant of Israel."
8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
9 With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn. (NRSV)
The New International Version says “foremost” in verse 7 while the Amplified Bible says “head.” The underlying Hebrew is rosh.
There is nothing said about Israel ruling the other nations. The connotation appears to be that Israel has become preeminent above all other nations. It ranks higher in the status. Perriman believes that verse 9 provides the clue when it says “…for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” The metaphorical image is of Israel as the first born son and therefore preeminent among his “brother” nations in status.
More in the next post.