Questions From Readers
● How many times does the word “sheol” occur in the New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures?—S. J. D., United States.
The word “Sheol” occurs sixty-six times in the New World Translation of the inspired Hebrew Scriptures, instead of sixty-five times, this being because it occurs in the English translation of Isaiah 7:11, where the King James Version uses the expression “ask” instead of Sheol.
However, strictly speaking, it still remains true, what is stated on page 409 of the appendix of Volume 5 of the New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures under the heading “1 Samuel 2:6—‘Sheol,’” namely, “The Hebrew word שאול (Sheol), which we have transliterated in all cases as “Sheʹol,” occurs 65 times in the Hebrew text from Genesis to Malachi. This word, which refers to gravedom or the general realm of the dead, is to be distinguished from the Hebrew word qebʹer, which means a burial place (as in Genesis 23:4), and from qebu·rahʹ, which means a grave (as in Genesis 35:20).” How is this?
In Isaiah 7:11 the Masoretic text vowel points as sheálah the Hebrew expression שאלה (shʼlh) that the New World Translation renders as “as Sheol.” This Hebrew expression shʼlh occurs only once in the Hebrew text. This expression with its final “h” in the Hebrew word has been interpreted by Bible translators as being the imperative form of the Hebrew verb shaál with an emphatic final “h” and meaning “do ask.” Hence, Dr. Young’s literal Bible translation renders the line: “Make deep the request, or make it high upwards,” whereas Rotherham’s Emphasised Bible renders the line: “Go down deep for a request, or ascend on high!” The King James Version rendering and other version renderings are in harmony with that.
However, there are textual critics who believe that the Hebrew expression was wrongly vowel pointed and that instead of reading sheálah, as in the current Masoretic text, it should read sheólah. In this latter case the Hebrew expression would not be the imperative of the Hebrew verb shaál but it would be the Hebrew noun Sheol with a final “h” paragogic, or a final “h” that indicates direction of movement. Hence, the thought of the Hebrew would be to make it deep “to sheol” or “sheolward.” That is why the New World Translation renders the line: “Making it as deep as Sheol or making it high as the upper regions.” An American Translation reads similarly, rendering the line: “Make it deep as Sheol, or high as the heavens!” The Revised Standard Version of 1952 likewise reads similarly, rendering the line: “Let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” Dr. James Moffatt’s Bible translation may possibly be following the same line when it renders the verse: “Ask the Eternal your God for an omen—from the deep underworld or from high heaven.” It is interesting to note that the Latin Vulgate reads “profundum inferni” and hence the Roman Catholic Douay version renders the verse: “Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God, either unto the depth of hell, or unto the height above.”
It is interesting to note that the Hebrew German-English Lexicon, known as Koehler and Baumgartner’s Lexicon of the Old Testament Books, prints the conjecture that the Hebrew expression sheálah should read sheólah and hence it also lists the Hebrew expression under the general heading of Sheol. Likewise Rudolf Kittel’s Standard Hebrew Text has the Hebrew expression sheálah in the main text, but in the footnote it says: “Read with Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion, sheólah (unto hádēs).” Thus these three ancient translators of the Hebrew text into Greek read the Hebrew expression as sheólah instead of sheálah.
Even the French Jerusalem Bible translation reads like the Latin Vulgate and Douay versions and uses the word Sheol. The French Monks of Maredsous Bible translation reads similarly but uses the expression “from the depths of the abode of the dead.” Cardinal Lienart’s French Bible has “down there in le scheol.” The Torres Amat Spanish Bible has “profundo del infierno.” Bover-Cantera (Spanish) has “profundo del seol.”
In view of this difference of opinion or of construction placed upon the correct vowel pointing of the Hebrew text it is more strictly true that the Hebrew text contains the word Sheol for only 65 times that we can be sure of, but the case in Isaiah 7:11 may be similar to the Hebrew expression that occurs in Genesis 37:35; 42:38; 44:29; 44:31; Numbers 16:30; 16:33; Ezekiel 31:15; 31:16; 31:17, where sheólah does occur in the Hebrew text. But whereas we are only sure of 65 occurrences of Sheol in the old Hebrew text, we are obliged to say that in the New World Translation and other modern English translations the word Sheol occurs, not 65 times, but 66 times.
● According to the Bible record, Ishmael was well along in his teens when Abraham sent his mother Hagar and Ishmael away because of Ishmael’s poking fun at Isaac. In view of this fact, how are we to understand the words found at Genesis 21:14, 15?—G. M., United States.
The texts in question read: “So Abraham got up early in the morning and took bread and a skin water bottle and gave it to Hagar, setting it upon her shoulder, and the child, and then dismissed her. And she went her way and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba. Finally the water became exhausted in the skin bottle and she threw the child under one of the bushes.”
That Ishmael was well along in his teens at this time is apparent when we note that Abraham his father was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born and a hundred years old when Isaac was born, and it was some years later that Isaac was weaned, at which time Ishmael poked fun at the child Isaac.—Gen. 16:16; 21:5, 8, 9.
Of course, from the record we cannot tell just what was the physical stature or strength of Ishmael. He may have been of slight build and weak by nature and may have given out first because of this, necessitating his mother’s lifting him up and carrying him. Women in those days were accustomed to carrying heavy burdens in everyday life, especially a slave woman such as was Hagar, so this would not be inconceivable. But it appears that in time Hagar also gave out, making it necessary for her to deposit him, perhaps unceremoniously, under the nearest sheltering bush.