"All flesh" in Isaiah 40:5

Discussion in 'עברית (Hebrew)' started by Scholiast, Dec 9, 2012.

  1. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Good day everyone

    I know Latin and Greek, but regrettably no Hebrew, so I wonder if someone here can help me with a scriptural enquiry.

    Luke 3:4-6 quotes John the Baptist quoting Isaiah 40:3-5. The word σἀρξ (sarx, identical in the LXX text) is usually rendered into English as "flesh", with its theological connotations of mortality, moral susceptibility to temptation and sin &c.

    Could anyone please tell me what the original Hebrew word is, and something of its resonances in Jewish thought and theology?

    Many thanks,

  2. arielipi Senior Member

    The word that appears there is the 1:1 translation of flesh - basar, which simply means flesh - i.e. the mortals, the dying creatures - with no connection to the christian flesh - sin.
    taava, taavat habasar, yishman are those connectec to christian flesh sin.
  3. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member


    Thank you, arielipi, for this swift reply. I never for a moment supposed that Isaiah was a "Christian". Rather the reverse, I want properly to understand the Judaic roots and origins of our shared scriptural legacy.

    And this prompts a supplementary question: does basar mean also "meat", in the pastoral or culinary sense (beef, lamb, fish)?
  4. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    Yes, it does.
  5. arielipi Senior Member

    It simply means basar, as in meat. no special thing for it in hebrew.
    Taava and its relatives are the ones that bear the sin connotation
  6. origumi Senior Member

    As mentioned already, בשר basar means flesh, as a symbol of the human body and thus living (mortal) people. Strong's translates σάρξ to flesh, body, human nature, thus makes sense here.

    Note the following:
    * בשר basar = flesh is similar by sound to בשורה bsora = (good) message, news, euangelion, which appears very close, in Isaiah 40:9. This may be an intended pun.
    * The Arabic cognate bashar بشر means man or humanity, which also fits well.

    Similarly, basar may be anything alive, like the animals entering Noah's Ark. Also all people, exactly like Isaiah, in Ezekiel 21:10 or Jeremiah 32:27.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2012
  7. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Though bašara بشرة means “skin”, not “flesh/meat”, which makes it all a bit more intriguing.
  8. origumi Senior Member

    This may be related to the specialization of lakhm لحم in Arabic as flesh, meat (while in Hebrew and Aramaic is was specialized as bread), which forced bashara بشرة to find another niche, ending as skin. The original Semitic basar (s = sin, s2) could have denoted a living creature, as attested in poetical (and other "old fashioned") parts of the Bible (my guess, no good reference in front of me).
  9. arielipi Senior Member

    I hope your question was answered
    In Hebrew and Aramaic bread is said lekhem and lakhmah respectively.
  10. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Sincere thanks here to all respondents. The main issue I was concerned about has indeed been resolved (cf. arielipi, # 9), and I shall know another time where to come for expert guidance - certainly not to my parish priest, who once upon a time studied Hebrew (so he tells me), but has evidently forgotten rather a lot of it!
  11. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Good day once more

    Sorry to bother everyone here again, but I have a further question about בשר, "flesh" in the Old Testament. In Zeph. 1.17 the LXX has τὰς σάρκας, "the flesh(es)" in the plural, and Jerome's Latin Vulgate offers corpus, singular.

    Is there here any significant difference of nuance, in the original Hebrew, between the singular and plural?

    Would the translation "entrails", "offal", make sense in this context?

    Many thanks,

  12. origumi Senior Member

    In Zephaniah 1:17 the Hebrew word is derived from root l-kh-m which was mentioned above as flesh in Arabic and bread in Hebrew. There are few cases in the Bible where Hebrew uses it for flesh. וּלְחֻמָם is a conjugation of *lekhum I guess, which is not a usual word and therefore several interpretations and translations were proposed.
  13. Scholiast

    Scholiast Senior Member

    Thanks once more, origumi.

    My Hebrew dictionary says that lekhum can mean generally "foodstuff(s)", "provisions". In view of the vitriolic context of Zeph. 1:17, could we understand lekhum here as "carrion", i.e., the carcases of the ungodly shall be cast out as "food for the vultures and wild dogs"? This would fit well with the LXX translation τὰς σάρκας, as in classical Greek σἄρξ can be used with this connotation.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
  14. origumi Senior Member

    This is indeed the traditional exegesis, for example by רש"י Rashi, מלבי"ם Malbim. They do not mentions vultures or dogs, only say that the carcasses shall lie unburied on the ground like dung.

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