Rabbi David E. S. Stein David @ DavidESStein.name

Selected Publications Available Online

III. Hebrew Bible: Text, Translation, and Liturgical Use > Academic Papers


Isaiah 66:13 — A Solution to the PuzzleSupports a new English rendering in THE JPS TANAKH: Gender-Sensitive Edition (2023), also known as RJPS (for “Revised Jewish Publication Society” translation). It solves the longstanding interpretive crux posed by Isa 66:13, which has manifested in conflicting translations, and in widespread yet contested claims that it likens YHWH to a mother. At issue are three questions: How does this verse fit in its context? What is the functional relationship among its three stichs? And what is the meaning of the noun אִישׁ in this instance? The proposed solution preserves the verse’s syntax, while connecting its comparison clause to the preceding verse. Meanwhile, אִישׁ functions as a prototypical situating noun: it is employed to depict a stereotypical situation schematically, without limiting its referent’s age. The resulting construal, unlike others, readily yields a text that is informative and coherent. According to this plain-sense reading, the verse does not compare YHWH to a mother. Poster presented at the 2024 Global Virtual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature: HERE.


In Biblical Aramaic, גְּבַר is a situating nounMakes the case that Biblical Aramaic is among the languages that have a situating noun for persons. (Prototypically, a situating noun is used to sketch a situation of interest in terms of its participants. This type of noun regards its referent as a defining participant in that situation, rather than in terms of inherent qualities. This linguistic device enables the audience to quickly draw a mental picture of the situation.) Applies lessons learned about אִישׁ in Biblical Hebrew to a related language. Narrated slide show (15 min.), presented at the 2023 Global Virtual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature: HERE.


The Situating Noun in Ancient Hebrew: A New Understanding of אִישׁIntegrates insights from cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics, various linguistics disciplines, and biblical studies to answer the questions “What did ancient Hebrew speakers/writers mean by using the noun אִישׁ (including אִשָּׁה and their plurals)? How and when did they use it?” Answer: Prototypically, this noun profiles its referent as an essential participant in the depicted situation, when the speaker is depicting that situation schematically. Therefore אִישׁ deserves to be called “the situating noun.” Its use made communication more efficient. This communication-based view of אִישׁ yields a more coherent and informative text of the Hebrew Bible than the conventional one. It also explains several ways in which אִישׁ differs from other general human nouns. Presented to the Biblical Lexicography section of the Society for Biblical Literature 2021 annual meeting. Summarizes the author’s 2020 dissertation and related previous articles, updated to 2023. [PDF]  Or view 25-min. narrated slide show HERE.


The Two First-Person Singular Pronouns in Ancient Hebrew: Distinct Pragmatic SignalsSolves the longstanding puzzle of what speakers of ancient Hebrew meant when employing the pronouns אָנֹכִי versus אֲנִי to refer to themselves. Starts from the basic communicative needs between a speaker and an audience. Theory predicts that the long-form pronoun signals that the speaker’s presence in the situation under discussion is somehow at issue. In contrast, the short form treats the speaker’s situatedness within the discourse as a given. Validates this prediction via various tests. Co-authored with Charles W. Loder Presented to the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting 2020 (Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew seminar); 22 November 2021. [PDF]  Or view 25-min. narrated slide show HERE.


Relational Meanings of the Noun אִישׁ (’îš) in Biblical HebrewThis interdisciplinary study revises the standard view of the most common human-denoting noun in each of three languages: Ancient Hebrew (אִישׁ ’îš and its feminine form), English (man/woman), and French (homme/femme). I hypothesized that such a noun prototypically labels its referent succinctly as “a participant in a situation,” which makes it highly efficient in communication. The study confirms that the Hebrew noun in question was indeed the preferred term for defining a situation or indicating participation that truly matters to the discourse. In addition, the hypothesis explains several otherwise-puzzling usage patterns in the Hebrew Bible, such as appositions, while resolving longstanding interpretive cruxes that feature this noun. The study closes with discussion of the role of gender, the life cycle of this special class of nouns, and implications for Modern Hebrew and other languages.PhD dissertation, Stellenbosch University, March 2020. [PDF]


When Did the Biblical Hebrew Noun ’îš Become Lexically Gendered?Under which conditions is gender a part of the lexical contribution of אִישׁ? Actually, “lexical gender” is not a binary “yes-or-no” matter. In the Bible, this noun is far from being fully lexically gendered. Postbiblically, however, a significant shift toward a more-gendered connotation of אִישׁ appears to have taken place.Presented to the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew section of the Society of Biblical Literature, Nov 2019.


Angels by Another Name: How ‘Agency Metonymy’ Precludes God’s EmbodimentThis paper explains why in seventeen biblical passages that involve Yahweh’s agents (both divine and human), divine embodiment cannot be the text’s plain sense. It does so by first identifying an ancient linguistic convention for succinctly expressing endeavors involving two interrelated parties, namely, a principal and an agent in the stand-in arrangement known as agency. This convention refers to both parties at once while naming only the principal. The author dubs this device “agency metonymy” and shows how it is encoded by referential anomalies in the text.The paper then demonstrates that agency metonymy is applied throughout the Bible to human interactions—and that applying this convention likewise to those passages involving Yahweh’s agents regularly yields a text that is both coherent and informative.By Occam’s razor, and with consideration of how the human mind processes language, this paper concludes that biblical composers depicted Yahweh and Yahweh’s agents just like human principals and agents, in that their respective identities were merged only functionally—and not ontologically as many scholars have claimed.Presented to the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures section of the Society of Biblical Literature, Nov. 2017; revised in July 2023; to be published by SBL Press in 2023. [PDF]


The Iceberg Effect: The Previously Unrecognized Role of Conventional Figures of Speech and Other Commonplaces in Biblical Depictions of God’s Operation via Agents, and Their English TranslationApplies cognitive linguistics to show that the ancient audience would not have construed biblical depictions of angels as literally as modern scholarly interpretations have assumed.Documented extensively with footnotes and 14 appendixesPresented to the “Metaphor Theory and the Hebrew Bible” section of the Society of Biblical Literature, Nov. 2015. [PDF with attached handout]


Meaningful Manipulations of Grammatical Gender: Explaining a Set of Exceptions to So-Called Masculine Precedence in Biblical HebrewExplores and explains the pragmatic (expressive) potential of the anomalous use of feminine syntactic gender, as employed in 19 biblical verses to designate characters.Narrated slide show (with accompanying handouts here and here)Presented to the Bible section of the National Association of Professors of Hebrew, Jun. 201223 minutes. [QuickTime Movie]

Improving an English Dictionary’s Characterization of the Gender Representation of Personal Nouns in Biblical HebrewIn order to convey referential gender accurately, a dictionary must categorize its treatment of “male” personal nouns according to the specificity of their referenceNarrated slide showPresented to the Biblical Lexicography section of the Society of Biblical Literature, Nov. 201119 minutes. [QuickTime Movie]

The (In)adequacy of ‘Man’ as an English Equivalent of the Biblical Hebrew Noun ’ishNarrated slide showPresented to the Bible Translation section of the Society of Biblical Literature, Nov. 200828 minutes. [QuickTime Movie]





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