Gibbets and gallows, redux

Posted: 30th September 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

A month ago I wrote about the NEB/REB’s translation of the Hebrew `ets and the Greek xylon as “on a gibbet” rather than the more literal “on a tree” or the interpretative “on a cross” (cf. Deuteronomy 21:22-23, Acts 5:30, Acts 13:29, Galatians 3:13, and 1 Peter 2:24).

At the time, I lauded the NEB/REB for being consistent in the face of a particular criticism of concordance within dynamic equivalence translations, even if “gibbet” is a foreign word to most ears, being an old English word for “the gallows”, and the historical context is more likely a reference to impalement on a sharpened pole rather than an Old West-style noose hanging.

Now comes a recent article comparing the ESV Study Bible and the NLT Study Bible in their treatment of Esther 2:22-23 and particularly the phrase “hanged on the gallows”. I flipped open my REB with interest to see if “gibbet” had made another appearance, but found instead “hanged on the gallows” (also 7.10). Why the difference?

The Hebrew is the same as Deuteronomy: ‘ets. So far I’ve not been able to tell for sure if the LXX Greek uses the same word as the NT references, but I don’t see the NT word xylon (ξύλον) in the LXX tools I’m able to decipher and REB’s translation of the Greek version of Esther uses the same language as the Hebrew. Can anyone help me figure out what word is being translated as “gallows”?

Otherwise, perhaps we have some inconsistency after all…

(HT: Better Bible Blog)

  1. Brent says:

    Hi, Elshaddai. Thanks for the link. I do not know why, because I am not a Greek scholar, but the LXX did not translate the Hebrew word for “gallows.” Perhaps the word “hanged” was considered sufficient. Below are two English translation of the LXX and you can see that the word was not part of the LXX:

    And the king examined the two eunuchs, and hanged them. And the king gave orders to make a note for a memorial in the royal records of the good offices of Mordecai, as a commendation.

    So the king interrogated the two eunuchs and hanged them. Then the king ordered to make an entry as a memorial in the royal archive in commendation of Mardochaios’s loyalty.

  2. Yes, you’re correct, Brent. Looking again, here’s the REB translation of the Greek text:

    The king interrogated the two eunuchs and had them hanged, and he ordered that the service Mardochaeus had rendered should be recorded in his honour in the royal archives.

    I’m not sure why I thought “gallows” was in the LXX… oh well.

    Regardless, the main question remains as to why the NEB/REB translated the Heb. ‘ets as “gibbet” in Deuteronomy and “gallows” in Esther, especially within the same context. Without an answer, one might be forced to conclude that the OT text was being fit to the NT translation.

  3. Peter Kirk says:

    The NT word xylon (ξύλον) is used twice in the LXX of Esther 5:14, for the 50 cubit high wooden whatever Haman’s wife suggested and for what Haman actually set up. Similarly in 7:9,10. So you were right the first time, but about a different verse.

  4. Thanks, Peter. I’ll double-check my REB Apocrypha when I get home tonight, but I’m pretty sure they’re using “gallows” even in 5.14 and 7.10 in the LXX version.

    Out of curiosity, are you aware of any online LXX Greek tools other than what the NET Bible has on their site? I have the NETS translation PDFs, but that’s obviously English only.

  5. Peter Kirk says:

    The NRSV translation of Esther (Greek) has “gallows” at 5:14 and 7:10, but not 2:23. The translation from the Hebrew has “gallows” at all three places.

    I don’t use online LXX tools, but a printed Rahlfs LXX and some LXX tools which come with a special Bible package for translators.

  6. Yes, Brent clarified that the underlying word being translated as “gallows” was not in 2:23, but is in 5.14 and 7.10 as you mentioned. It is, however, in the Hebrew version, which caused my confusion. That said, I’ve been enjoying reading both versions and comparing the differences, as well as the additions in the Greek.

    I don’t use online LXX tools […]

    I suppose it helps to read Greek…