Dominic Rudman, «A Note on Zephaniah», Vol. 80 (1999) 109-112
The phrase Cr)h yhl) lk t) hzr...hwhy in Zeph 2,11 has long been a source of confusion for commentators and various attempts have been made to explain the term hzr: does YHWH "shrink" the gods by reducing their domains, or can we understand this term as derived from an Aramaic root and translate, "YHWH...will rule..."? An alternative suggestion, long-discarded, takes a more literal line and understands YHWH to "famish" the gods through the withdrawal of burnt offerings made by their worshippers. While this reading is working along the right lines, this passage appears in fact to refer to the Babylonian ritual of providing cult images with formal meals-a practice which will end with the conversion of the nations.
Zeph 2,10-11 has a long history within biblical scholarship as a "problem text". Scholars have recognised a fundamental difference between Zeph 2,10-11 and its surrounding context in that while these two verses are prose, those around it are poetry. Moreover, Zeph 2,10-11 expresses a universal view of Yahwehs dominion which sits ill with the oracles against Moab and Ammon in Zephaniah 2,8-91. On this basis, most commentators would argue for a postexilic date for these two verses2.
However, a further difficulty occurs in 2,11 which seems to express the belief that Yahweh will overcome the gods of the nations and that their worshippers will desert them in favour of the God of Israel. Although this interpretative line is taken by almost all commentators, there is in fact very little consensus on the way in which Yahweh is to overcome these foreign gods. The Hebrew text itself reads:
yhl)-lk t) hzr yk Mhyl( hwhy )rwn
Mywgh yy) lk wmwqmm #$y) wl-wwxt#$yw Cr)h
"The Lord will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, everyone from his place, even all the isles of the nations" (RV). Most discussion has taken place about the meaning of the verb hzr, for it is on this word that the meaning of the whole verse hinges.
The Meaning of hzr
The form hzr is a Qal perfect 3 m.sg. and is a hapax legomenon, although the root is attested elsewhere in the OT as a niphal "to be weak" (Num 13,20; Isa 10,16; 17,4; 24,16; Ezek 24,20; Mic 6,10; Ps 106,15). The translations of the Septuagint and Peshitta (LXX: e)xoleqreu/sei; P: [nwbd]) suggest a meaning "destroy", although this seems to be an attempt to interpret the verb from its context rather than its root meaning3. Similar in this respect is the Targums Ky)m) ("humble"), although the Vulgates attenuabit supports the meaning of Yahweh "enfeebling" or "famishing" the gods.
The fact that the context seems to demand a transitive and causative rendering of the verb (i.e. "to make lean, famish") lies behind the suggestions of several commentators that the form should be emended to a Piel imperfect hz@Eray: understanding the yodh to have fallen out through