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James Stinehart


Postby James Stinehart » Wed Feb 27, 2019 4:33 pm


m-ṣar vs. Ṣoar / “Zoar” vs. ṣar

At Genesis 19: 20, 22-23 (quoted below), we find the following three Hebrew words / names, in the following order:

(i) m-ṣar / M- Ṣ‘R / מצער

(ii) Ṣoar / “Zoar” / ṢW‘R / צוער

(iii) ṣar / Ṣ‘R / צער

The meanings of the first two, m-ṣar and Zoar, seem clear. The Hebrew common word m-ṣar (with no interior vav, and with its root obviously being ṣar) means “something small” or “a small place” or, per KJV (which, as often, enticingly shows more flair in its English word choice): “a little one”.

Zoar (with an interior vav) is the proper name of a small village, with such proper name, if translated into English (instead of transliterating the Hebrew letters), being “Small Village”. Ultra-literally, the meaning is simply “Small”, but in the context of being the proper name of a small village, the implied meaning here of this proper name is “Small Village”. Genesis 19: 22 furthermore clarifies that indeed Zoar is a very small place, a truly small village.

So far, so good.

But what then does ṣar (with no interior vav) at Genesis 19: 23 mean? I am surprised that all translators, including Gesenius and KJV (as well as all modern translations I have looked at), treat this as being simply an alternative spelling of the city-name Zoar (which has an interior vav).

I am not buying that. After all, it wouldn’t be normal, would it, for two consecutive verses of Biblical text to feature a city-name with two different spellings? That seems highly suspect to me.

My question for the b-Hebrew list is whether translators have misunderstood ṣar at Genesis 19: 23. To my mind, ṣar is used there as a Hebrew common word, not as a proper name, with the meaning, in context, being “the small village”. (The ultra-literal meaning is “small”, but in the context of what is being referenced, the implied meaning is “[a] small [village]” or “the small village”, or even: “that small village”.)

On that basis, I would modify the KJV translation of these three verses slightly (with my sole suggested change in English wording being at the very end of Genesis 19: 23, plus adding a footnote) to read as follows:

“20 Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one [m-ṣar]: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one [m-ṣar]?) and my soul shall live. …22 Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do anything till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called [Ṣoar] Zoar. 23 The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into [ṣar] the small village [[footnote]].

Footnote: The Hebrew common word translated here as “the small village” is ṣar, which is a play on the proper name of this small village in the preceding verse: Ṣoar / ‘Zoar’.”

Am I misunderstanding the meaning of ṣar / Ṣ‘R / צער at Genesis 19: 23? Contra the translators, I don’t think ṣar is an alternative spelling of the proper name “Zoar”. Rather, I think ṣar is a Hebrew common word being used as a Hebrew common word.

* * *

Why, you may ask, is this seemingly esoteric Hebrew language matter (ṣar vs. “Zoar”) of vital importance? In answer to that query, consider that virtually every city in Canaan and Syria has a ṣar near it, where ṣar in Hebrew is a generic reference to “a small village”. By contrast, only Lot’s Sodom, and virtually no other place in all of Canaan or Syria, has a small village called “Zoar” near it. So if Lot’s Sodom and princeling Bera’s Sodom are two different places, then there is no way that princeling Bera’s Sodom has a small village called “Zoar” near it, though of course Bera’s Sodom (along with virtually every other city in Canaan and Syria as well) would (innocuously) have a ṣar / “small village” near it. That missing interior vav in ṣar is important!

Jim Stinehart

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