מְתֻרְגְּמָן Meturgeman is Hebrew for translator. The write-ups in this collection illustrate exactly how a knowledge of the Gospels’ Semitic elevator can administer a deeper knowledge of Jesus’ words and influence the translation process.

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Jesus referred to as Herod Antipas a fox (Luke 13:32), and English speakers and Europeans assume the point is obvious. Foxes space proverbially associated with cleverness and craftiness. Therefore, Jesus should be call Herod a crafty person. However, it turns out that Jesus to be saying something really different come his Hebrew-speaking audience.

The metaphor “fox” has actually proven deceptive to speakers of european languages. Many brand-new Testament professionals have followed the clear, widely-known sense of the Greek word and also idiom without very first asking an essential question: “How to be ‘fox’ offered by Hebrew speakers?” The prize reveals a difference in Hebrew and Greek usage, and it have to serve as a reminder the one must always interpret metaphors within the proper cultural setting.<1>

The Context

The paper definition of Jesus’ characterization of Herod together a fox is a story that shows up in Luke 13:31-33:

At the time some Pharisees concerned Jesus and also said come him, “Leave this place and also go somewhere else. Herod wants to death you.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and also heal civilization today and also tomorrow, and also on the 3rd day I will certainly reach mine goal.’ In any kind of case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day for surely no prophet deserve to die exterior Jerusalem!” (New global Version)

Reading the passage in Greek will not assist if one is limited to conventional Greek reference works. The Greek word for “fox” is ἀλώπηξ (alōpēx). The word is as old as the Greek language, and also Liddell and Scott state thatalōpēx way “fox,Canisvulpes” and also that that is supplied proverbially “of cunning persons.”<2> The typical Greek thesaurus for the new Testament leads to a similar conclusion: Walter Bauer says that “fox” is offered figuratively the crafty people.<3>

First Hebraic Meaning

In Hebrew “fox” (שׁוּעָל, shū‘āl) has a broader range of meaning than in Greek or English. First, Hebrew culture shared through the remainder of ancient Mediterranean societies the implication of “fox” as a crafty animal. The Midrash offers an example:

When the other kingdoms are defined figuratively in Scripture, lock are compared to wild beasts: “Four an excellent beasts, each different from the others, come up out of the sea” , and also it is additionally written, “The an initial was prefer a lion” . However when Scripture speak of the Egyptians, they are compared to foxes, together it says, “Catch for united state the foxes” ; keep them for the river .

R. Eleazar ben R. Shim’on said, “The Egyptians to be crafty and also that is why scripture compares them come foxes.” (Song of songs Rabbah 2:15, § 1.)

There is a comparable reference to “fox” in a parable attributed come Rabbi Akiva (early second century A.D.):

A fox was as soon as walking alongside a river and also he witnessed fish swarming from location to place. He claimed to them, “What room you fleeing from?”

“From the nets that humans cast for us,” they answered.

The fox stated to them, “Wouldn’t you like to come up on the dry land? We could live together, you and also I, just like our forefathers.”

They answered, “You’re the one they call the cleverest the animals? You no clever. She a fool. If we are afraid in our very own element, just how much an ext out the our facet !” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 61b)

Second Hebraic Meaning


The Fox (Illustration by Liz McLeod)

More necessary for our knowledge of Jesus’ indigenous in Luke thing 13 is a second, really common usage of “fox” in Hebrew. Lions and foxes deserve to be contrasted with each other to stand for the difference between an excellent men and inferior men. The good men are dubbed “lions,” and also the lesser men are dubbed “foxes.”

The epithet “fox” is sometimes applied to Torah scholars:“There are lions before you, and you asking foxes?”<4> In other words, “Why do you asking the opinion the foxes, that is, mine opinion, as soon as there are identified scholars present?”

A certain scholar, believed at an initial to be brilliant, to be by all outward indications inept, and it to be remarked around him, “The lion you pointed out turns the end to it is in a fox.” (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kamma 117a)

Sometimes the usage of “fox” relates to pedigree: “He is a lion the son of a lion, however you room a lion the kid of a fox.”<5> In various other words, “He is a distinguished scholar and the son of a differentiated scholar; but, although you room a distinguished scholar, her father is a less-distinguished scholar than his.”

The native “fox” can also have moral connotations, as a saying from the Mishnah demonstrates: “Be a tail to lions fairly than a head to foxes.”<6> This saying could be paraphrased, “It is far better to be someone of low rank amongst those who are morally and also spiritually her superiors than someone of high rank amongst scoundrels.”

The phrase, “And infants will rule over them,” from the perform of curses in Isaiah 3:1-7 to be saw upon Jerusalem and also Judah, is construed by the Babylonian Talmud as follows: “ foxes, sons of foxes.”<7> In this interpretation, “fox” not just assumes the nuance of moral depravity, however also, with the verb “rule,” is linked to kingly reign; thus, “foxes, boy of foxes” means “worthless, degenerate rulers who room the descendants of worthless, degenerate rulers.”

A rabbinic interpretation of the phrase “ spend them choose straw” (Exod. 15:7) provides the comparison in between the Egyptians and foxes using the very same prooftext as song of songs Rabbah quoted above. Here, however, the focus of the fox an allegory is clearly on short status.

When any kind of timber burns, there is part substance to it. Yet when straw burns, over there is no substance to it. Due to the fact that it is said, “And the took six hundred choice chariots,” etc. , I might have construed that over there was part substance come them ; but Scripture says, “It consumes them choose straw.” just as there is no substance to straw once it burns, so also with the Egyptians. As soon as they burned, the became noticeable that there was no substance to lock in the face of the calamities that you lugged upon them…. There was no kingdom an ext lowly than Egypt, but it hosted power a brief time because that the benefits of Israel’s glory. Once Scripture defines other kingdoms figuratively, the compares them come cedars…but once it describes the Egyptians, that compares them come straw, together it is said, “It spend them favor straw”…. Again, when Scripture describes other kingdoms figuratively, it compares them to wild beasts, together it is said, “And four good beasts” , however when it explains the Egyptians, the compares them to foxes, as it is said, “Catch for united state the foxes” …. “It will certainly be the many contemptible that the kingdoms” . (Mechilta,Beshallah6; come Exodus 15:7 )

The Sting in “Fox”

Jesus called Herod a fox after part Pharisees reported that Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Jesus’ solution challenged any type of such plans: “Tell Herod I’ve gained work to execute first.” Jesus was no implying that Herod was sly, fairly he was commenting ~ above Herod’s ineptitude, or inability, to carry out his threat. Jesus questioned the tetrarch’s pedigree, moral stature and also leadership, and put the tetrarch “in his place.” This specifically fits the second rabbinic usage of “fox.”

When Jesus labeling Herod a fox, Jesus implied the Herod was not a lion. Herod taken into consideration himself a lion, however Jesus discussed that Herod to be the the opposite of a lion. Jesus cut Herod down to size, and Jesus’ audience may have had an inward laugh of appreciation at a informing riposte.

Translating “Fox”

English version of Luke 13:32 fail on two counts once they use the word “fox.” on the one hand, they miss the true dynamics the the rebuke, and also on the various other hand, castle implicitly provide a false, hopeful meaning. What is needed is a vibrant English term that have the right to be used across large audiences. That last requirement is daunting because indigenous of scorn are frequently excessively vulgar or limited to rather tiny subsets the English speakers.

Foxes photographed in Holon, Israel, by Arthur.nesterovsky. Picture courtesy that Wikimedia Commons.

Consider the complying with list the possibilities because that “fox” in its negative sense: weakling, small-fry, usurper, poser, clown, insignificant person, cream puff, nobody, weasel, jackass, believe soldier, peon, hick, pompous pretender, jerk, upstart.

Most that the terms in this list room too colloquial or jocular. “Small-fry,” “insignificant person,” “peon” and also “pompous pretender” may be the ideal for a large audience. In context, and referring to a regional ruler, “fox” was a humiliating “slap in the face.” The English term need to convey this will as almost as possible.

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We have to start translating “fox” through its suitable Hebraic social meaning. Jesus was direct. Antipas to be aשׁוּעָל בֶּן שׁוּעָל (shū‘āl ben shū‘āl, “a fox, the boy of a fox”), a small-fry.<8>

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