Bible Review 6:6, December 1990

The Man Who Wasn’t There

Textual mysteries created by Hebrew spelling

By Harvey Minkoff

Who was Masek?

Where is Calneh?

What do Adam, Satan, Malachi and Shiloh all have in common?

What did Adam say when he saw Eve for the first time?

The answers to this little quiz may be disconcerting to some students of the Bible.

Masek, according to the Septuagint, a third-century B.C.E.a Greek translation of the Bible, is the mother of Abraham’s servant Eliezer (Genesis 15:2):

“The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Fear not, Abram. I shield you; your reward shall be great.’ And Abram said, ‘Master, Lord, what will you give me? I will depart without a child, but the son of Masek my home-born female slave, this Eliezer of Damascus.’ ”

Calneh, according to the King James Version (KJV) is a city in Shinar (Genesis 10:10), part of the realm of Nimrod, the “mighty hunter before the Lord”.

“And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.”

The disquieting aspect of these simple answers is that when we look at other translations we find neither Masek nor Calneh—nor, for that matter, Damascus. Thus, in the New Jewish Publication Society (NJPS) translation, Abraham’s response to God’s promise is:

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