The Spoiled Ariel

This morning as I sip coffee, read the Bible and contemplate what to do with the day I stumbled upon the word ariel.

20110604-064209.jpgI’m reading the English Standard Version, Dr. Thweatt finally got me to switch after literally a lifetime of reading NIV (my lifetime up to then anyway). In 2 Samuel 23:20 it describes that Benaiah “struck down to ariels of Moab.” Being a modern-day scholar of useless information (it’s really only useless if you never use it) the word intrigues me. In addition to occasionally converting useful numbers into metric I also from time to time have been known to convert things into cubits or furlongs. An ariel, while sounding like a name or misspelled antenna, appears to be a unit of some type. Anxiously I glance down to the footnote only to read that the meaning of the word is unclear.

Knowing the section was translated from Hebrew this started me wondering, what was the translator thinking? I speak American English, a smattering of the Queen’s English and Southern (pronounced su-thurn). The rest of my lingual skills include a few sayings occasionally trying to decipher German, Spanish or french instructions and dialectic variations to include sarcasm or smart aleck-ness. My limited experience with translating does afford me the knowledge that sometimes a word in one language doesn’t exist in the other or needs multiple others to approximate the more succinct foreign word. This is a word that confounded the scholars that brought us, not just the ESV, but the book of 2 Samuel. The meaning of a word, in a non-dead language is unknown, even though it translates to ariel in English.

In Moby Dick there is a scene where the nets are emptied and a “spoiled serpent” is noted by the narrator of the story. The existence and meaning of this serpent has been examined and over-analyzed for decades, over a century. There have been paragraphs, term papers and theses written about it but the only one I really remember is the one that supposes the printer either couldn’t read Melville’s writing or just created an errata that was not caught but copied repeatedly.

These two thoughts are combined for your contemplation. Meanwhile, I’m back to see what happened to Ben.

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