Moses: Meek Or Miserable? -- By: Cleon Rogers
JETS 29:3 (September 1986) p. 257
Moses: Meek Or Miserable?
“Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). This famous statement regarding the character of Moses as found in most translations1 has been the cause of much concern and consternation.2 How could a person call himself the meekest or most humble man on earth? The suggestion offered here is that the word in this context could be translated “bowed down with care,” “oppressed,” “burdened down,” or “miserable.”3
I. Support For The Translation “Miserable”
1. The evidence of etymology. One must heed the warnings of James Barr concerning the misuse of etymology,4 but at the same time occasional misuse of a method does not demand abandonment of the method itself. Etymology can provide basic ideas contained in a word as well as directions that the development of the word may take. One must, however, be especially aware of how a word is used in a given context.5
The basic root of the word ʾānāw6 is probably ʾnh, which means “to be bowed
*Cleon Rogers is director of the Freie Theologische Akademie in Giessen, West Germany.
JETS 29:3 (September 1986) p. 258
down, afflicted.”7 Three other verbs have the same radicals, but with different meanings: (1) “to answer, respond”; (2) “to be occupied, busied with”; (3) “to sing.”8 Some have sought to discover connections between some of the roots, but it is best to keep them separate.9
The root occurs several times in Phoenician with the meaning “to bow down,” “to bring to submission.”10 It is most probably to be understood in Phoenician as a Piel causative form.11 One text describes the expedition of the king Azitawadda:
“I have subdued (w ʾn) powerful countries in the west which the kings who were before me had not been able to subdue (ʾn). I, Azitawadda, subdued them (~ntnm).”
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