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Women, similar to wives

 

The preposition le in Hebrew consistently means approaching, but not strictly reaching an object or a state. Subject becomes spatially close or similar to the object. Dative case, denoted by le, has a similar sense of moving something into the someone’s proximity (possession).

The preposition le is always semantically meaningful, and must not be omitted from translations. Thus, we should look for semantic difference between hih lo isha (became to him a wife) and hih lo l’isha (became to him similarly to a wife).

 

Out of many references to Sarah as Abraham’s wife, she is called l’isha in Gen20:12 when Abraham is decidedly evasive about her. He explains why he declared Sarah his sister. It is only reasonable that he employs weasel phrase "like a wife."

 

In Gen29:28, Rachel was Jacob's second wife, and called l’isha.

 

In Ex6:20, Jochebed was Amram's aunt, and became his l’isha. There is a tradition that patriarchs and perhaps the important figures followed the law even before it was given. Marrying one's aunt is a violation, and the writer consciously or not noted it.

 

Deut26:6: a child from leviral marriage succeeds in the name of the gone brother. If that were a normal marriage, he would succeed in his father's name.

A brother should come to her to restore the seed. Why, otherwise, are distant brothers exempt from the obligation? Because when brothers lived together, the leviral wife simply remains in her house, and the slippery issue whether it is a real marriage or not, is practically avoided.

Moreover, brothers often married sisters, and marrying brother's wife may be impossible because of the prohibition for a man to marry sisters.

Wife of leviral marriage is consistently referred to as l'isha.

 

In Ruth 4:13, Boaz took Ruth to restore the seed of Elimelech (Ruth4:6), and she is called l’isha.

 

In Gen24:67, Isaac took Rebecca as l’isha. In the age of forty, Isaac was likely already married. He took her specifically to his mother's tent - not to his or his father's. He first took Rebecca to the tent, and only then he fell in love with her.

 

l'isha occurs idiomatically as 'verb lo l'isha.' If the preposition l were a nuisance, we would expect it to occur randomly, rather than in the specific idiom.

The turn denotes some marital inferiority, often associated with having several wives. Polygamy is recognized, tolerated and regulated in the Tanakh, but censured (Proverbs 5:18, Deut17:17).

The archaic idiom could acquire ceremonial sense removed from its etymological meaning. Compare English, “take to/for a wife,” or Russian, "to take in the wives."

A notion of similarity (approaching, but not reaching) which might be seen in 'verb lo l'isha' is fundamental to preposition l. "Similar to a wife" meaning is both plausible, consistent with l'isha contexts and with l'noun usage as dative. 

 

The comparative sense of the preposition l (similar to = like) is related to its function as dative: approaching something. hih l is not  "something became something else," but "something became similar to something else." Ignoring the similarity changes the meaning.

 

Joshua 7:5 “and the heart of the people became like water.”


          Exodus 4:3 “and it [Moses’ rod] became like a serpent.” The writer significantly avoided the notion of magic transformation.


          Judges 1:33  “and Beth Anath became like forced labor for them.” Naphtali didn't drive out Canaanites, as he had to. He lived among them, and thus they could be forced labor. Naphtali tolerated the locals against some benefits.

 

Gen2:7 “The man became like a living soul.” If a pile of dust was made a living soul, then the notion "similar to" is inapplicable. Through patent magic, the dust actually became a living being, not similar to it. A plausible reading is that the man who was “similar to dead" from drought became “similar to living” when taken to Eden.

The meaning of the preposition l could be often preserved in translation.

Gen17:18 "That Ishmael might live before you!" should be properly “for you” or even paraphrased as “dedicated to you.”