מַבּוּל MABUL, Gen. 6:17

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Isaac Fried
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מַבּוּל MABUL, Gen. 6:17

Postby Isaac Fried » Sat Nov 02, 2019 9:01 pm

We read there
וַאֲנִי הִנְנִי מֵבִיא אֶת הַמַּבּוּל מַיִם עַל הָאָרֶץ
NIV: "I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth"
Targum Onkelos: "וַאֲנָא הָאֲנָא מֵיתֵי יָת טוֹפָנָא מַיָּא עַל אַרְעָא"
To what aspect of the natural calamity does the text refer by calling it מַבּוּל? There is wide agreement that the initial letter מ M is not radical, leaving us with only בל. Some say (see רש"ר הירש in his commentaries on the book of Genesis) that בל is but a variant of פל and that מבוּל is a מַפָּלָה or מַפֵּלָה, 'total collapse, ruin', as in Isaiah 17:1 and Isaiah 25:2
כִּי שַׂמְתָּ מֵעִיר לַגָּל קִרְיָה בְצוּרָה לְמַפֵּלָה
NIV: "You have made the city a heap of rubble, the fortified town a ruin"
But פל - בל carries in it the more basic meaning of 'accumulation', as in Job 41:15
מַפְּלֵי בְשָׂרוֹ דָבֵקוּ
So is בּוּל, 'clump, clod, block', as in Isaiah 44:19
לְבוּל עֵץ אֶסְגּוֹד
KJV: "shall I fall down to the stock of a tree"
NIV: "Shall I bow down to a block of wood"
Hence the בּוּל of מַבּוּל apparently refers to a catastrophic rise בא-עלה of the water level - to an inundation, called טוֹפָנָא, 'excessive', by uncle Onkelos.
I further suspect that the מַ of מַבּוּל is not the usual -מה, but is rather a vestige of the word מַיִם, 'water'.

Isaac Fried, Boston University

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