Hapax legomena in the Hebrew Bible have posed problems of understanding ever since Hebrew ceased to be a spoken language and had to be learned as a second language. Still more problematic is the case of non-Hebrew terms attested only once in the Hebrew Bible. Even Hebrew speakers, lacking the cultural background from which these terms were taken, must have found it difficult to interpret them. There probably were traditions of how each word of this sort was to be interpreted in the specific verse in which it appeared. These traditions might have passed on the original foreign meaning or might have derived a new one from the context. With the advent of Bible translations into other languages, the Septuagint (LXX), later Aramaic targums and others, such translation traditions become evident.1
In this essay, I will touch on three aspects of the interpretation of the hapax legomenon אברך in Gen 41:43 in Samaritan sources. First, I will examine a translation tradition shared by the LXX and one manuscript tradition of the Samaritan Targum.2 Second, in order to do so, I will discuss this Samaritan Targum translation [End Page 705] tradition in detail and, third, comment on a variant Samaritan interpretation of the same word from another targum manuscript.3
I. The Textual Witnesses
The MT of Gen 41:43 reads as follows: וירכב אתו במרכבת המשנה אשר־לו ויקראו לפניו אַבְרֵךְ ונתון אתו על כל־ארץ מצרים, "And he had him ride in the chariot of his second (in command); and they cried out before him 'Abrek!' And he set him over all the land of Egypt." The hapax legomenon is left untranslated. It has been explained as an Egyptian or Akkadian term, but the original meaning need not concern us here, as we are interested in how the word was understood in post-biblical times.4 The LXX renders this verse into readily understandable Greek:5 καὶ ἀνεβίβασεν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸ ἅρμα τὸ δεύτερον τῶν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐκήρυξεν ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ κῆρυξ· καὶ κατέστησεν αὐτὸν ἐφ᾽ ὅλης γῆς Αἰγύπτου, "And he mounted him on his second chariot; and a herald made a proclamation before him. And he set him over all the land of Egypt."
There are minor textual variations between the two witnesses.6 First, the LXX narrowed down the broad meaning of the Hebrew verb qrʾ (qal), "to call, name, summon, proclaim, etc.," rendering it with the rather specific Greek κηρύσσειν,"to proclaim." Second, whereas the MT has the plural verb ויקראו, "and they cried out/proclaimed," the LXX uses a singular verbal form instead: καὶ ἐκήρυξεν, "and [End Page 706] he proclaimed." Irrespective of whether there was a singular or plural verb in the Vorlage of the LXX, the use of the singular allowed for, and in a certain sense called for, the specification of its subject; otherwise Pharaoh would have been understood to have made the proclamation himself. The translators of the LXX believed the subject of the clause to be the word אברך, which they translated as κῆρυξ, "herald."7 John William Wevers opines that this is a translation from context, implying that the translators of the LXX struggled to make sense of the odd word in their Vorlage.8 But no matter how the translation came into being, it remains a fact that the LXX translates אברך as "herald" and that this translation is unique to it.
I turn now to other ancient interpretations of the word. The first clue for how אברך was understood comes not from a translation but from an inner-biblical allusion to Gen 41:43. Esther 6:9 and 11 mimic the motif and phraseology of Gen 41:43, most evidently in their use of the verb qrʾ (qal) with the preposition לפני, which is unique to these three verses.9 The relevant passage in Esth 6:9b reads thus: והרכיבהו על הסוס ברחוב העיר וקראו לפניו ככה יעשה לאיש אשר המלך חפץ ביקרו, "and let him ride on the horse in the street of the city, and proclaim before him: 'Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor.'" While this allusion to Gen 41:43 does not reveal how the author of Esther would have rendered אברך in translation, the parallelism of the verses makes it clear that he understood the word as an exclamation, for he replaced it by direct speech. Contrary to the LXX, he viewed אברך as the object of the verb "to call...