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The Use of פלח (to serve) in Daniel:

There has been some discussion regarding the use of the Aramaic word meaning “to serve” in Daniel. The discussion centers around how that word has been translated into Greek. The older LXX renders it with λατρευω . The more literal Theodotion translation uses the word δουλευω. Λατρευω is primarily used with reference to service rendered to a deity. Δουλευω can refer to service offered to humans as well as to a deity. So the question remains whether the Aramaic word פלח refers to service offered to exclusively to a deity or whether it can refer to service offered to humans as well.

If we confine ourselves to the use of פלח in Daniel we might come to the conclusion that it refers only to service rendered to a deity. However, the book of Daniel is not a very large work, and there are significant portions of it that are not even written in Aramaic. When we look at the way this Aramaic word is used in other writings we come to the conclusion that פלח can indeed be offered to humans as well. I have selected a few examples from Targum Onkelos that should suffice to prove this point.

Gen. 29:18
וּרְחֵים יַעֲקוֹב, יָת רָחֵל; וַאֲמַר, אֶפְלְחִנָּךְ שְׁבַע שְׁנִין, בְּרָחֵל בְּרַתָּךְ, זְעֵירְתָא.
And Jacob loved Rachel and said “I will serve you 7 years for Rachel your younger daughter.”

Gen. 30:26
הַב יָת נְשַׁי וְיָת בְּנַי, דִּפְלַחִית יָתָךְ בְּהוֹן–וְאֵיזֵיל: אֲרֵי אַתְּ יְדַעְתְּ, יָת פֻּלְחָנִי דִּפְלַחְתָּךְ.
“Give to me my wives and children for which I served, for you know the service with which I served you.

The words in italics indicate the presence of the root פלח in the original Aramaic. In these examples Jacob refers to the service or work that he rendered to a human, Laban.

Gen. 14:4
תַּרְתַּא עַסְרֵי שְׁנִין, פְּלַחוּ יָת כְּדָרְלָעֹמֶר; וּתְלָת עַסְרֵי שְׁנִין, מְרַדוּ.
For 12 years they served Kedarla‘omer and in the 13th year they rebelled.

In this example פלח refers to service offered to a human, a king.

Conclusion:

We see from these examples evidence for the following 2 points:
1) פלח is not an exclusive term for worship or service to a deity. Therefore…
2) פלח is better translated by δουλευω, not λατρευω. This reinforces the general scholarly consensus that Theodotion’s translation of Daniel is more literal and faithful to the original Hebrew/Aramaic text. The LXX version is more of a paraphrase that frequently makes changes in the original sense of the text and reorganizes large sections of the book into a different order.

4 Responses to “The Use of פלח (to serve) in Daniel”

  1. on 03 Aug 2011 at 8:33 amSean

    Karl,

    Thank you for this post. Excellent points! Very Helpful!

  2. on 03 Aug 2011 at 9:22 amXavier

    Karl

    What would you say to those who object to the notion that the LXX is not “divinely inspired” writ on the level of the Hebrew/Aramaic scriptures?

    It is presumptuous to suggest that early Christians were under some kind of “obligation” to render the same type of worship to the Son as to the Father. This is in view of the conclusion by some modern scholars [N. T. Wright, Challenge of Jesus; Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Chris; JDG Dunn, The Theology of Paul] that a “stunning adaptation [“mutation”, Dunn] of the Jewish prayer known as the Shema (1Co 8.1-6; Phil 2.5-11; Gal 4.1-7; Col 1.15-20; cp. Deu 6.4) somehow took place.

    This moving away from Jewish monotheism cannot be justified in view of Jesus’ own use of the Shema in the NT [where it remains consistent with the unchanging and unitarian monotheistic, Jewish he expressed] and cultural, social and functional meaning of “worship” throughout the Bible.

    …in the Christian understanding of Christ as being one with the Father, there is a constant possibility that faith in God will be absorbed in a ‘monochristicism’—i.e., that the figure of the Son in the life of faith will overshadow the figure of the Father and thus cause it to disappear and that the figure of the Creator and Sustainer of the world will recede behind the figure of the Redeemer. The New Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 16, Christianity Macropaedia article, p 274.

  3. on 05 Aug 2011 at 5:35 pmKarl

    Thanks Sean.

    Hello Xavier

    What would you say to those who object to the notion that the LXX is not “divinely inspired” writ on the level of the Hebrew/Aramaic scriptures?

    I would ask such a person what evidence do they present that the LXX is inspired? Do you believe the LXX is inspired?

    It is presumptuous to suggest that early Christians were under some kind of “obligation” to render the same type of worship to the Son as to the Father.

    I’m not sure what you are getting at here, I did not make any such presumption in my post.

  4. on 05 Aug 2011 at 6:04 pmXavier

    Karl

    I would ask such a person what evidence do they present that the LXX is inspired? Do you believe the LXX is inspired?

    Depends what criteria we use to ascertain their authenticity/reliability. But wait a minute, I’m asking the questions here. 😛

    What say you?

    I’m not sure what you are getting at here, I did not make any such presumption in my post.

    Was not referring to your post as such but those who may think along those lines.

  

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