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‘To’ or ‘Against’. The Interpretation of 'יבׂא עַל in 2 Chr 28,20

Vetus Testamentum 60 (2010) 560-564
‘To’ or ‘Against’?:
he Interpretation of ‫ יׇ בׂא ַעל‬in 2 Chr 28:20
Mary Katherine Y. H. Hom
Calgary, Canada
he preposition ‫ﬠל‬,
ַ which contributes to the interpretation of 2 Chr 28:20 as a whole, should
be understood as ‘against’, not ‘to’. Relatedly, ‫יׇבא‬
ׁ is best translated in v. 20 with a sense of hostility.
2 Chr 28:20, ‫בֺּא ֶאל‬, ‫בֺּא ַﬠל‬, Ahaz, Tiglath-pileser III
his article concerns the translation of ‫ ַﬠל‬in 2 Chr 28:20. At issue is the
Chronicler’s depiction of Tiglath-pileser III and his relation with Judah in
both the speciic verse and its immediate context, 28:16-21. As one follows
the narrative sequentially, the presentation of Tiglath-pileser III moves from
Ahaz’s ill-fated positive estimation of Assyria (v. 16) to the narrator’s explicit
statements of Tiglath-pileser III’s opportunism (vv. 20b-21b) and implicit
indications of Tiglath-pileser III’s duplicity (v. 21c). Where exactly the change
in narratorial perspective concerning Assyria occurs may depend in large part
on the sense communicated by ‫ ַﬠל‬in v. 20. he wooden translation of ‘upon’
(as in the KJV/ASV) is not very helpful, and a more precisely nuanced translation, if possible, is preferable.
Major translations illustrate well the locus of the problem. he translations
NJPS, NEB, NRSV, and NASB all interpret ‫ ַﬠל‬as ‘against’. he NJPS and
NEB convey an additional and immediate sense of Tiglath-pileser III’s hostility by translating ‫ יׇבא‬as ‘marched’. However, the (T)NIV interprets ‫ ַﬠל‬as ‘to’,
thus placing a clear sense of Tiglath-pileser’s enmity later in the verse (i.e., after
the ’atnāḥ). Ancient witnesses are similarly divided. he LXX follows fairly
closely the general semantics of the elements ‫ יׇ בׂא ַﬠל‬with its translation:
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010
DOI: 10.1163/156853310X527851
M. K. Y. H. Hom / Vetus Testamentum 60 (2010) 560-564
ἦλθεν ἐπί. he Vulgate, on the other hand, more freely interprets the two ele-
ments together as an apparent idiomatic phrase, adduxitque contra.1
‫ בֺּא ַﬠל‬occurs frequently enough in the OT to merit recognition as a conventional phrase in Hebrew.2 Apart from BDB and DCL, however, the lexica
fail to comment adequately on the nuances of ‫בֺּא ַﬠל‬. BDB asserts that the
preposition ‫ ַﬠל‬usually does not express direction towards, except in the sense
of ‘against’.3 By way of contrast, the preposition ‫ ֶאל‬more commonly denotes
motion ‘to’ or direction ‘towards’, and occasionally on the basis of context
may be understood as a hostile ‘against’.4 BDB recognises the frequent use of
both prepositions with ‫בֺּא‬, interpreting the use of ‫ בֺּא‬with ‫ ֶאל‬more intensely
as ‘come upon, attack’ (which implies a sense of ‘against’).5 DCL cites almost
equal numbers of occurrences for ‫ בֺּא ַﬠל‬as ‘(come) to’ and as ‘(come)
against’.6 Curiously, DCL does not seem to regard the distinction between
‘(in)to, onto’ and ‘against’ as signiicant for ‫בֺּא ֶאל‬, because the occurrences
are listed indiscriminately together under one entry.7
A survey of Chronicles commentaries, essays, and articles yields very scant
discussion. Most works bypass the issue entirely, and none discuss the particular grammar of ‫( ַﬠל‬let alone ‫)בֺּא ַﬠל‬. Myers and Dillard, in their own translations, and Japhet, in her paraphrase, support ‘against’.8 In their discussions,
Kalimi and Johnstone assume ‘to’ and an explicit adversative sense for the
second half of the verse.9
A computerised search for ‫ בֺּא‬followed within four words by ‫ ֶאל‬or ‫ ַﬠל‬in
Chronicles resulted in 36 and 17 occurrences, respectively. Occurrences of
the combination ‫ בֺּא ֶאל‬may be further subdivided as ‘come to(wards)’, 26
instances (1 overlaps possibly with ‘come in’); ‘come against’, 2 instances; and
other nuances (‘come in’, euphemism for procreation, etc.), 9 instances
Cf. OLD 1: p. 38, col. 1.
E.g., see references listed under DCL 2: pp. 113-14.
BDB, p. 757b; cf. p. 757d.
Ibid., p. 39c, p. 40b.
Ibid., p. 98b, c.
DCL 2: pp. 113-14.
Ibid., p. 112.
J. M. Myers, 2 Chronicles: Translation and Notes (AB; Garden City, 1965), p. 160; R. B. Dillard, 2 Chronicles (WBC; Waco, 1987), p. 218; S. Japhet, 1 and 2 Chronicles: A Commentary,
(OTL; Louisville, 1993), p. 907.
I. Kalimi, he Reshaping of Ancient Israelite History in Chronicles (Winona Lake, 2005),
p. 361; W. Johnstone, 1 and 2 Chronicles, vol. 2, 2 Chronicles 10-36: Guilt and Atonement
(JSOT Sup 254; Sheield, 1997), p. 186.
M. K. Y. H. Hom / Vetus Testamentum 60 (2010) 560-564
(1 overlaps with ‘come to[wards]’). For the combination ‫בֺּא ַﬠל‬, the results
were less clear-cut: ‘come to(wards)’, 5 instances (1 overlaps possibly with
‘come before/in front of ’; for the sake of argument at present, 1 overlaps
with ‘come against’, 2 Chr 28:20); ‘come against’, 11 instances (1 overlaps
with ‘come to[wards]’, 2 Chr 28:20; 4 overlap with the ‘other’ nuances category); and other nuances, 6 instances (1 overlaps with ‘come to[wards]’; 4
overlap with ‘come against’).10 For the purposes of this study, 2 Chr 15:5 is
negligible, because ‫ בֺּא‬and ‫ ַﬠל‬occur in diferent clauses and are not directly
related to each other in this particular case.
his distribution of meanings for ‫ בֺּא ֶאל‬and ‫ בֺּא ַﬠל‬suggests that within
1) ‫( ֶאל‬+ ‫ )בֺּא‬is generally more strictly translated ‘to’, and
2) ‫( ַﬠל‬+ ‫ )בֺּא‬is most often translated ‘against’, but is also often used to
convey ‘to’ and other meanings. he relatively high degree of overlapping semantic possibilities for ‫ ַﬠל‬in Chronicles indicates that ‫ ַﬠל‬is a
more malleable term than ‫( ֶאל‬at least, for the Chronicler).
What may the reader conclude from this? On the one hand, it may be
argued that if the Chronicler wanted clearly to convey ‘to’ in v. 20, he more
likely would have used ‫אל‬.
ֶ he converse may also be seen to be true: if the
Chronicler did not want clearly to convey ‘to’ in v. 20, he more likely would
have not used ‫אל‬.
ֶ However, this does not necessarily mean that the Chronicler’s choice of a preposition other than ‫ ֶאל‬indicates an intention to avoid—or
include—any sense of ‘to’. When we add to this fact that the Chronicler
employs the more malleable term ‫ﬠל‬,
ַ the semantic possibilities remain wide.
he immediate context should narrow down the possibilities, if not reine
the sense of ‫ ַﬠל‬in v. 20. Verse 16 appears to relect Ahaz’s point of view in
describing Assyria as ‘the kings of Assyria’, a pluralisation that conveys the
imperial power of Assyria typologically.11 Assyria is ‘positively’ viewed (by
Ahaz) as a potential deliverer in v. 16, and the desperation in this reliance is
reinforced by the descriptions of invading enemy peoples in vv. 17-18. he
theological explanation for Judah’s misfortunes is explicitly stated in v. 19 to
be YHWH’s response to Ahaz’s misguided leadership and unfaithfulness to
YHWH. hus, v. 19 both retroactively explains the hostility of the nations in
See Appendix 1 for further details.
hough its dominant function is typological, this pluralisation may have other functions
(e.g., hyperbole, innerbiblical allusion).
M. K. Y. H. Hom / Vetus Testamentum 60 (2010) 560-564
vv. 17-18 and anticipates a contrary end to Ahaz’s appeal to Assyria. he
chiastic nature of vv. 16-21 may be seen to reinforce further this Janus function of v. 19.12
Informed by v. 19, the narrative continues to v. 20, which begins ‫וַ יָּבאׁ ָﬠ ָליו‬.
One would be inclined to interpret this with a hostile sense, similar to the
Edomites’ ‫ ָבּאוּ‬in v. 17, which clearly denotes hostility. In a similar vein,
‫—ﬠ ָליו‬which
contains a preposition that, we observed, may be used easily to
convey ‘to’, ‘against’, or even both—is contextually given the force of ‘against’.
Narrative shock follows the articulation of the Assyrian king’s personal name,
‘Tillegath-pilne’eser’; idealised typology gives way to historicised particularity. On one level, the reader shares a small sense of Ahaz’s surprise that
Tiglath-pileser III has countered his expectations of help and, likewise, that
the Assyrian power has disappointed him.13 At the same time, the reader has
been prepared by the preceding verses to expect this disappointment, and the
apparent attack. When considered in terms of the chiastic structure of vv.
16-21, a hostile sense conveyed by all elements of vv. 20-21 pairs well with
vv. 17-18.
In conclusion, the translation of ‫ ַﬠל‬as ‘against’ in v. 20 is most supportable
and consistent with its context of vv. 16-21. Further, the NJPS and NEB
rendering of ‘marched’ for ׁ‫ וַ יָּבא‬is valid in that it relects the immediate circumstances of hostility that the reader expects after v. 19. he (T)NIV translation ‘to’ does not convey as efectively the sense of hostility present in the
context as does NJPS, NEB, NRSV, and NASB’s ‘against’. he (T)NIV’s
delayed adversative in v. 20 (‘Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came to him,
but . . .’) is misplaced and suggests a benign action for v. 20a that, in the inal
analysis, cannot necessarily be supported by semantics or at all by the
Verse 19 serves a pivotal function within vv. 16-21. See M. K. Y. H. Hom, “Chiasmus in
Chronicles: Investigating the Structures of 2 Chronicles 28:16-21; 33:1-20; and 31:20-32:33”,
AUSS 47/2 (2009), pp. 163-79 (esp. pp. 165-66).
Verses 16-18, 20 may be seen to contain elements that help the reader to gain a sense of
Ahaz’s perspective. Note, however, that the narrative allows only a minimal degree of identiication with Ahaz. As Ahaz’s character accumulates folly and unfaithfulness, the distance between
the reader and Ahaz quickly increases.
M. K. Y. H. Hom / Vetus Testamentum 60 (2010) 560-564
Appendix 1: Distribution of Meanings for ‫ בּוֹא ֶאל‬and ‫בּוֹא ַעל‬
‫בּוֹא ֶאל‬
‘To’ or
1 Chr 11:3
2 Chr 6:32
22:7 (2x)
2 Chr 23:15 1 Chr 19:17
2 Chr 24:23
‘Against’ or Other (e.g.,
‘in’; ‘upon’)
Other or
1 Chr 2:21
2 Chr 7:2
‫בּוֹא ַעל‬
‘To’ or
1 Chr 12:23
2 Chr 19:10 1 Chr 12:20
2 Chr 20:24
2 Chr 14:10
‘Against’ or Other (e.g.,
‘in’; ‘upon’)
Other or
2 Chr
2 Chr 7:22
2 Chr 7:11
* In 2 Chr 15:5, the two words are in diferent clauses and unrelated to each other.