Ruth 1:1, Detailed Translation Notes (Lesson 1 Supplement)

In general, the translation notes I give here will seek to avoid giving a rendering in English. I want you to make your own translation and see why different versions of the Bible might make different choices. In each lesson, I will give detailed translation notes on some verses and simple summaries on others.

  • The first word וַיְהִי is often the first word in a book of narrative (story). It is like “once upon a time” in some ways. It comes from the verb “to be” and is a past tense form, in masculine or neuter 3rd person (“he” or “it”), with “and” in front of it. Very few versions even bother to translate the first word in Ruth. One version, the ASV, renders “it came to pass.”
  • בּימֵי is a rather hard word for a beginning student. So I will explain it briefly and in later lessons we will explore this kind of word more. It is a compound word made up of a preposition -בְּ followed by the construct (word pair, genitive) form of the plural word for “day” (the plural in normal or absolute form would be יָמִים ). Construct (word pair, gentive) forms require adding the word “of” in many cases after the noun.
  • שְׁפֹט is an infinitive verb and the root should be very familiar as the word for “judge.” Infinitives often have “-ing” on the end in English. We will discuss infinitives in a future lesson.
  • הַשֹּׁפְטִים is a masculine participle from the root meaning “judge” with the definite article (“the”) and in plural form. Participles are technically verbs (sometimes present tense is the way to render them) but can function as nouns and even adjectives in a sentence. For example, the word “running” in English is a participle and functions as part of a noun clause in this sentence, “The one running is Joe.”
  • The second וַיְהִי in verse 1 means the same thing as the first one, but notice many translations do include it whereas many simply omit the first use.
  • רָעָב = famine.
  • בָּאָרֶץ = be (“in”) + ha (“the”) + aretz (“land”).
  • Note that וַיֵּלֶךְ has the same beginning letters as וַיְהִי which is because they are both Vav-conversives (verbs in the Imperfect form with a reversing vav prefixed). We will discuss verbs used in narrative Hebrew and expecially the Vav-conversive below. The root word here is הלך in the 3rd masculine singular Imperfect form which would usually be future tense but the reversing vav makes it past tense.
  • אִישׁ = man (without the definite article, so “a man”) and is the subject of the verb about walking.
  • מִבֵּית לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה = the prefix –מִן with the final ן omitted and the meaning is “from”. The rest of this phrase is three place names in construct (word pair, genitive) relationship (so “of” is between them). Literally it could be “house of bread of Judah,” but “house of bread” is really the name of a place, Bethlehem. The JPS Commentary notes that many towns got their names in Canaanite times and this may have originally been the “house of Lakhmu,” a Canaanite deity.
  • לָגוּר is an infinitive verb with the preposition –לְ (“to” or “for”) prefixed. The root meaning is to dwell in a foreign land, sojourn.
  • בִּשְׂדֵי is exactly like בִּימֵי above except that the noun is שַׂדֵה = “field” (as in agricultural land).
  • מוֹאָב = Moab, the country to the south in modern Jordan. It is about 50 miles south and east of Bethlehem.
  • הוּא = “he”.
  • וְאִשְׁתּוֹ = the prefixed vav (“and”) and the word אִשָּׁה (“woman”) and the suffix meaning “his”. The suffixed “his” is simply וֹ but the word for woman changes to its construct (word pair, genitive) form to take the suffix (אשׁת instead of אשׁה).
  • וּשְׁנֵי = “and two” (the word for “two” is often used in a shortened, construct form like this).
  • בָנָיו = the plural for “son” (בָּנִים) in construct form to take the suffix for “his” (usually וֹ but after a י it hardens to a consonantal vav). It is pronounced vah-nahv (rhymes with Rav) and not, as some might expect, vah-nive (rhymes with chive).
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Filed under Detailed Translation Notes, Lessons

One response to “Ruth 1:1, Detailed Translation Notes (Lesson 1 Supplement)

  1. Pingback: LESSON 1: Ruth 1:1-7 | A Close Reading and Translation of Ruth

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