Re: [asa] philological notes on randomness

From: Merv Bitikofer <>
Date: Sat Nov 14 2009 - 19:01:44 EST

Of course, even if we do take this as a good example of God using
"random" events (and I am inclined to see it that way too, Murray), one
can always come up with a contrary passage in which "chance" seems to be
distinguished as apart from God's works. See I Samuel 6:9 "Behold; if
it goes up by the way of its own border to Beth-shemesh, then he has
done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not
his hand that struck us; it was a chance that happened to us."

It would be interesting to hear some exegesis on the Hebrew word
translated as "chance" here. (& I think it was rehashed on this list
years ago --which is probably where I first had this passage pointed out
in this context.)


Murray Hogg wrote:
> 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".
> or
> 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.
> Blessings,
> Murray
> 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 19:02:12 2009

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