Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oracle of Balaam, Numbers 23:18-24

Text of the poem in Hebrew:

English translation by Robert Alter:

"Rise, Balak, and listen,
    give ear to me, O Zippor's son!
El is no man who would fail,
    no human who would show change of heart.
Would he say and not perform
    would he speak and not fulfill it?
Look, to bless I was taken,
    and He blessed, so I will not reverse it.
He has beheld no harm in Jacob,
    and has seen no trouble in Israel.
The Lord his god is with him,
    the king's trumped blast in his midst,
El who brings them out from Egypt,
    like the wild ox's antlers for him.
For there is no divining in Jacob
    and no magic in Israel.
Now be it said to Jacob
    and to Israel what El has wrought.
Look, a people like a lion arises,
    like the king of beasts, rears up.
He will not lie down till he devours the prey,
    and blood of the slain he drinks."

Source of the text in Hebrew -  Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia.  Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1967, pp. 256-257.

Source of the English translation - Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: a translation with commentary.  New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 2004, pp. 807-808.

TJB: In fluid pronouns, this ancient oracle-poem praises Israel & its god El & refuses to contradict El although Israel permits no divination.

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