Complutensian Polyglot

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Hyena’s Cave vs. the Speckled Bird (Jeremiah 12:9)

Jeremiah 12:9 is an instance where the Septuagint (LXX), the oldest copy of the Old Covenant (Testament) scripture, disagrees with the Masoretic Text. Jeremiah 12:9 in the KJV reads:

“Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her; come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field, come to devour.”

The same passage in the Apostolic Bible Polyglot, a Greek-English Interlinear of the Septuagint and the New Covenant, reads:

“Is not the cave of a hyena my inheritance to me, the cave round about her against her? Proceed, bring together all the wild beasts of the field, and let them come to eat her!”

Interestingly enough, Strong’s has something interesting to say about the word “speckled”: “dyed (in stripes), i.e. the hyena:–speckled.”

Thayer gives the definition “hyena,” and also says: “Others take it generally as a rapacious animal, compare … Arab. rapacious animals. See Bochart, Hieroz. part i. p. 829.”

Liddell Scott Jones does not even have an entry for ὑαίνης. Jeremiah 12:9 is the only occurrence of this word in the Bible. Likewise, Jeremiah 12:9 is the only occurrence of the Masoretic Hebrew word tsabuwa`Strong’s #6641. Given the Lexical evidence, it is not surprising that the translator notes for the NETBible conclude that the meaning of the Masoretic Hebrew word is uncertain in their notes on Jeremiah 12:9.

tn Or “like speckled birds of prey.” The meanings of these words are uncertain. In the Hebrew text sentence is a question: “Is not my inheritance to me a bird of prey [or] a hyena/a speckled bird of prey?” The question expects a positive answer and so is rendered here as an affirmative statement. The meaning of the word “speckled” is debated. It occurs only here. BDB 840 s.v. צָבוּעַ relates it to another word that occurs only once in Judg 5:30 which is translated “dyed stuff.” HALOT 936 s.v. צָבוּעַ relates a word found in the cognates meaning “hyena.” This is more likely and is the interpretation followed by the Greek which reads the first two words as “cave of hyena.” This translation has led some scholars to posit a homonym for the word “bird of prey” meaning “cave” which is based on Arabic parallels. The metaphor would then be of Israel carried off by hyenas and surrounded by birds of prey. The evidence for the meaning “cave” is weak and would involve a wordplay of a rare homonym with another word that is better known. For a discussion of the issues see J. Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament, 128-29, 153. See also the ISBE entry for HYENA

The Septuagint (LXX) is superior to the Masoretic text in leaving no uncertainty that the meaning of ὑαίνης is clearly “hyena.” This is another instance where modern Bible translators are obliged to discard the Masoretic Hebrew in favor of the Septuagint. At least four prominent translations have done so, the NETBible, the English Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the Holman Christian Standard Version, the New American Bible, and the lesser known Ferrar Fenton translation.

Jeremiah 12:9

“The people I call my own attack me like birds of prey or like hyenas. But other birds of prey are all around them. Let all the nations gather together like wild beasts. Let them come and destroy these people I call my own.” (NETBible)

“Is my heritage to me like a hyena’s lair? Are the birds of prey against her all around? Go, assemble all the wild beasts; bring them to devour.” (ESV)

“Is the hyena greedy for my heritage at my command? Are the birds of prey all around her? Go, assemble all the wild animals; bring them to devour her.” (NRSV)

“My inheritance is a wild hyena to Me. Wild beasts surround her! They go, they collect all the beasts of the field, they bring them to devour!” (Ferrar Fenton)

“Surely my heritage is not a hyena’s cave to me or a cave all around her? Go, assemble all the animals of the field, and let them come to eat her.” (NETS, LXX)

“Is not my inheritance to me a hyaena’s cave, or a cave round about her? Go ye, gather together all the wild beasts of the field, and let them come to devour her.” (Brenton, LXX)

“Is not this heritage of mine the den of a hyena? to me indeed it is the den around her. Go, collect all the beasts of the field and let them come and devour it.” (Thomson, LXX)