Re: [asa] philological notes on randomness

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Sat Nov 14 2009 - 15:43:45 EST

Hi Cameron,

Nice catch on the philological issue.

Re-reading the passage this morning, let me give you my sense of it;

First, we can set the context by noting that;

1) The Syrian attackers were chariot mounted (30,31) therefore our "certain man" of v.33 is a chariot archer

2) "The King of Israel" (Ahab is, curiously, not called by name) is fighting in disguise (29)

3) The attackers were focused on Jehoshaphat thinking him to be Ahab (31)

4) They had just broken off pursuit (32) because a) they had orders to attack only the King of Israel (30) and b) had realized their quarry was not he (32)

I think that taken together these negate the idea that the man fired with any intent to hit Ahab.

Rather, I imagine that, with the termination of the pursuit, the chariot archers let loose with a volley of arrows fired in the hope of just hitting *something* and it's in that parting effort that Ahab gets hit.

To my mind, this allows us to make some sense of why the Hebrew speaks of the archer drawing "in his fullness." Surely the imagery is of an archer faced with a rapidly departing enemy who will soon be out of bow range - so he takes up his bow, draws to maximum pull, and lets fly a shot.

So why "in his fullness"? I can think of a few possibilities:

First, "at random" (although ONLY if one takes appropriate heed of the context i.e. the guy clearly was NOT firing "at random" in a strong sense of the term). Two other renderings in related vein are "at a venture" - which I think is better - and "without thought of its direction" (Bible in Basic English) - which I think is just terrible - what soldier in what army ever discharged a weapon "without thought of its direction"? If "at random" is too strong a translation, then this falls to the same critique.

Interesting is the fact that the lexicon entry for the cognate noun gives "completeness, integrity" which can be taken as "innocence, simplicity" and thence "without definite aim" (we might say "without malice aforethought") and as the idea of "dealing with integrity" is not entirely absent from the Hebrew 'tom' so perhaps this might colour the usage here? It is, however, drawing a long bow (pun!).

Second, is your idea of "perfect aim." Which I wouldn't fully discount but for two critical observations; First, I don't know that it makes much sense to speak of an archer in a moving chariot taking careful aim and hitting an individual in a rapidly departing enemy chariot? The idea would make sense if 2 Chron. were a kind of mythic saga after the manner of the Iliad. But, more significantly, given Ahab's disguise it is certain that even if the archer's aim were incredibly good, the fact that he targeted, hit, and killed Ahab was still a matter of dumb luck. And I think the text intends us to read it that way.

Third, is the idea of fullness or completeness which can go two ways;

A. The idea that the guy drew his bow "in his fullness" is taken as something like "to the completeness/fullness of its capacity" (i.e. "with all his strength") - in which case we have an archer taking one last shot at a rapidly distancing enemy at or near maximum range with the resulting shot being, in effect, a "Hail Mary".


B. The idea that the guy drew his bow "for the last time" - which really amounts to the same as A. above.

Personally, I prefer something like the third - and I think that if one then takes the context into account then a translation of "at random" or "at a venture" makes some sense.

We then arrive at one of those "random within constraints" situations - it doesn't seem to me that the text intends to suggest that the archer identified Ahab and took careful aim with a fair degree of confidence in a hit - but neither was he just blasting away in any old direction. And even if he DID take careful aim, it was at an anonymous individual who the archer could not possibly have known to be Ahab.

So no matter how I slice it, I think the text is very clear in stating that Ahab's death was an essentially 'random' event - albeit one where 'random' needs to be nuanced somewhat. Just what it implies for a discussion of origins is unclear to me - it's easy for me to conceive of why one would refer to this as a "random" shot - the idea really does work for me. But, at the same time, I note that the shot involved the intelligent agency of a skilled soldier (Syrian chariot archers were no amateurs). I leave it to others to decide what implications THAT has for the broader discussion.


Cameron Wybrow wrote:
> Fifth, the Biblical passage quoted is given in English translation, and
> it does not appear that those who are employing it below (Randy or
> Richard or both; I'm not sure from all the layers of quotation and
> commentary) have taken the time to ascertain the original expression
> used which is here translated "at random". In the original Hebrew, it
> is said that the man strikes "in his wholeness". The word "wholeness"
> ("tom", long o) can also be translated as righteousness, purity, moral
> perfection, integrity, etc. It has nothing intrinsically to do with
> chance, randomness, etc. It is unclear why the Hebrew writer uses this
> phrase. It is possible that it means "innocently", i.e., not intending
> to hit the king specifically, and therefore that he hit the king by
> accident. But even if so, "by accident" does not mean exactly the same
> as "at random"; presumably the archer was aiming at *some* target, not
> just firing his arrow anywhere, hoping to hit something. "By accident",
> would suggest that maybe he was aiming at the guy next to the king, and
> hit the king instead. Thus, "at random" is an over-translation. The
> King James and Revised Standard have "at a venture", which would be
> better. But even this translation is questionable. Why would the
> archer's "innocence" be stressed here? Wouldn't an enemy archer *want*
> to hit the king, and knock out the motor of the opposing army? And this
> leads us to consider the Septuagint translation. The Greek Jews who
> translated this expression used the adverb *eustochos*, related to the
> verb *eustocheo*, which means "aim well (and therefore hit)". That is,
> the archer intended to hit the king, and, with a "well-aimed" shot, did
> so. So, if the Septuagint translators had our current Hebrew text, they
> must have interpreted it the noun *tom* as meaning something like
> "perfection" in a non-moral sense: "in his perfection", i.e., "in the
> perfection of his aim", he hit the king. I suspect that the Greek
> translators have hit upon the intended meaning of the original. But in
> any case, the translation "at random" is highly questionable, and should
> not be used as a "killer argument" in the way that it is used
> below. More generally, it is not safe to rely upon English translations
> of the Bible when a "loaded" word is involved.

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Received on Sat Nov 14 15:44:09 2009

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