NET Bible Footnote on Prov 8:22

Almost two years ago I posted a criticism of a footnote in the NET Bible, specifically on Exod 21:6. I pointed out that the papers cited in the footnote did not at all support the conclusions that the footnote claimed they did. In fact, both papers explicitly rejected the conclusion that the footnote attributes to them. I emailed various people and commented on the NET forum, but the footnote has not been changed at all. I haven’t really looked at the NET Bible since then (except to check the above footnote), but someone recently referenced a note to Prov 8:22 from the NET Bible that struck me as equally problematic. I read through the articles they cited, and I see the exact same problem here. The footnote attributes its conclusions to articles that don’t even begin to support them. Additionally, those conclusions are simply false. The footnote deals with the meaning of the Hebrew word קנה, on which I presented at SBL last year. This is the entirety of the note:

There are two roots קָנָה (qanah) in Hebrew, one meaning “to possess,” and the other meaning “to create.” The earlier English versions did not know of the second root, but suspected in certain places that a meaning like that was necessary (e.g., Gen 4:1; 14:19Deut 32:6). Ugaritic confirmed that it was indeed another root. The older versions have the translation “possess” because otherwise it sounds like God lacked wisdom and therefore created it at the beginning. They wanted to avoid saying that wisdom was not eternal. Arius liked the idea of Christ as the wisdom of God and so chose the translation “create.” Athanasius translated it, “constituted me as the head of creation.” The verb occurs twelve times in Proverbs with the meaning of “to acquire”; but the Greek and the Syriac versions have the meaning “create.” Although the idea is that wisdom existed before creation, the parallel ideas in these verses (“appointed,” “given birth”) argue for the translation of “create” or “establish” (R. N. Whybray, “Proverbs 8:22-31 and Its Supposed Prototypes,” VT 15 [1965]: 504-14; and W. A. Irwin, “Where Will Wisdom Be Found?” JBL 80 [1961]: 133-42).

First, there are not two Hebrew roots קנה meaning separately “to possess” and “to create.” There is one root meaning “to possess” and in procreative contexts, “to beget.” Neither article cited supports the notion of two roots, and the second actually points out that an earlier author contemplated the possibility but dismissed it because there was no evidence. I know of no lexicon that indicates two roots for this verb. HALOT doesn’t do it. BDB doesn’t do it. TDOT doesn’t do it. I don’t think Clines does it. Gesenius doesn’t do it. Halayqa’s Comparative Lexicon of Ugaritic and Canaanite doesn’t do it. Nor does Ugaritic confirm that it is another root. Ugaritic actually confirms the opposite, that there is simply a procreative nuance to the verb. The Del Olmo Lete and Sanmartín Ugaritic dictionary lists three senses for the single root qny:

1) “to acquire”; 2) “to create, forge”; 3) “to procreate”

Some authors reject the sense of “create,” including Irwin, whom the footnote cites as supporting the translation “create” or “establish.” Irwin, like Bruce Vawter in later decades, appears to find the premortal Christ in Proverbs’ Wisdom and so insists the being was begotten but also always existed. This goes back to a note in Gesenius’ lexicon, which points to a “Sermon on the Divine Sonship of the Messiah” for an argument against the idea of “create” for the root (in reality, it goes back to the early christological debates). This is linked with the modern fundamentalist obfuscation found in the footnote above, namely that “possess” avoids the problem of insisting God did not have wisdom forever. The real concern is whether or not Christ was created, and the footnote tries to skirt the problem by insisting that “wisdom existed before creation,” as if existing before the creation of the heavens and earth means “uncreated.” The possibility that something was created before the creation of the heavens and the earth is tacitly rejected here. (If one asks why there are depths before the creation of the heavens and the earth, though, the answer will always be that God created it beforehand.)

Finally, Whybray’s article has nothing to do with the meaning of the word קנה, and instead simply argues that other texts from the ancient Near East do not provide a source for the poetics of Proverbs 8.

Again, it appears the author of the NET’s footnote did not read the articles cited and most likely derived its conclusions from very superficial research or from conventional wisdom about the meaning of the word.





4 responses to “NET Bible Footnote on Prov 8:22

  • Lance Ponder

    My own criticisms of the NET are not nearly so specific and detailed, but have the same sense about them.

  • zechariahfourteenfive

    I, too, have a problem with a translation and its associated footnote in the NET bible. The verse I’m referring to is Zechariah 14:5. Well over a year ago, I sent them a link to a study ( that proves the LXX rendering of this verse is the correct one, as opposed to the Masoretic rendering that they use. The footnote for this verse, in my opinion, is opinionated and infused with a dull smugness; and based on the evidence, it is entirely misleading. The online version still contains the errors.

  • uyi

    But the strong hebrew lexicon has ‘to create or erect’ as the primitive root for qanah

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon dates to well before the discoveries and methodological advances that have lead to these newer perspectives.

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