Linguistic Challenges in Ezekiel 11 (I)

If you’ve spent any time looking at the Hebrew of the book of Ezekiel, you’ll have noticed that it has certain difficult elements. The words are often placed together without any obvious connection (The visions in Ezekiel are particularly problematic for this). Sometimes groups of phrases or sentences seem to have no obvious connection to each other. And like most prophetic (and poetical) books, the verbal tenses don’t quite seem to fit.

The following is one challenge, found in Ezekiel 11:1

The last clause of v. 1 (in the BHS) reads:

ואראה בתוכם את־יאזניה בן־עזר ואת־פלטיהו בן־בניהו שׂרי העם׃פ

in the King James Version, it reads:
“and I saw in the midst of them Jaazaniah the son of Azzur, and Pelatiah the son of Benaiah, princes of the people.”

The translation gives the obvious sense of the text, and most readers would immediately understand that the identification, “princes of the people” refers to both Jaazaniah and Pelatiah. However, since princes of the people refers to two separate entities, which are separated from each other by an appositional phrase, this is a problem. How can one phrase be a description, or rather yet in apposition, to two separate phrases?!?

To illustrate that further, one can label the different phrases with the labelling used by the Werkgroep Informatica of the Vrije Universitiet (and the SESB). And then the following connections can be made (for convenience the English translations are used):
Jaazaniah – is object of the verb
son of Azzu – is an appositional phrase to the object, Jaazaniah
Pelatiah – is a second object of the verb – and parallel to the first object
the son of Benaiah – is an appositional phrase to the second object
princes of the people – refers to both objects.

The phrase, שׂרי העם (princes of the people) is problematic in that it is a plural noun phrase. Since it is a noun phrase (not preceded by a conjunction, relative clause marker or preposition), it is technically in apposition to a noun phrase that precedes it. But there is no plural noun phrase that precedes it, only four singular noun phrases. Assuming that the princes of the people do not refer to the fathers (named in the previous appositional phrases), the reader is still stuck with no plural noun phrase to which (from a proper linguist perspective) the princes can be in apposition.

The reader generally bypasses the problem, seeing the obvious: a plural noun (princes) that most likely describes two previous singular phrases. In this way, one can see how the reader unintentionally interprets what is happening in the text, not necessarily even noticing the linguistic anomaly found here.

Thanks to my colleague Dr Janet Dyk who, well-versed in linguistic challenges, pointed out some of the problems of this text.

n.b. the Hebrew font used is SBL Hebrew.

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