Mary’s Song, The Magnificat, in Hebrew

For those who regularly read the Greek Septuagint (LXX) and the Hebrew Bible, the magnificat or “Mary’s Song,” as recorded in Luke’s Gospel (1.46–55), presents a very interesting example of language use. When I read the Greek, I cannot help but “feel” the Hebrew sound of it. It sounds very much like something you might find in the LXX. As such, given the time of year, I thought I would try my hand at reconstructing what this song might have looked like if originally uttered/composed in Hebrew. I have highlighted in bold parallel cola to call attention to the “Hebrew” parallelism as well:

 

Verse Greek Hebrew Retroversion Translation of the Hebrew
1.46b μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν κύριον תְּגַדֵּל נַפְשִׁי לַיהוָה My soul magnifies the LORD
1.47 καὶ ἠγαλλίασεν τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐπὶ τῷ θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου וַיָּגֶל רוּחִי בֵּאלֹהֵי יִשְׁעִי And my spirit rejoices in the God of my salvation
1.48a ὅτι ἐπέβλεψεν ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσιν τῆς δούλης αὐτοῦ כִּי רָאָה בָּעֳנִי אֲמָתוֹ For he has looked upon the humble state of his servant
1.48b ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί כִּי הִנֵּה מֵעַתָּה יְאַשְּׁרוּנִי כָּל־הַדּוֹרוֹת For behold, from now all generations will bless me.
1.49a ὅτι ἐποίησέν μοι μεγάλα ὁ δυνατός כִּי עָשָׂה לִי גְּדוֹלוֹת הַגִּבּוֹר For the Mighty One has done great things for me.
1.49b καὶ ἅγιον τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ וְקָדוֹשׁ שְׁמוֹ And holy is his name.
1.50 καὶ τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ εἰς γενεᾶς καὶ γενεᾶς τοῖς φοβουμένοις αὐτόν וְחַסְדּוֹ לְדוֹר וָדוֹר לִירֵאָיו And his mercy is for generation upon generation, for those who fear him.
1.51 ἐποίησεν κράτος ἐν βραχίονι αὐτοῦ עֹז עָשָׂה בִּזְרוֹעוֹ He has done strength with his arm.
1.51 διεσκόρπισεν ὑπερηφάνους διανοίᾳ καρδίας αὐτῶν פִּזַּר זֵדִים בְּקֶרֶב לִבָּם He has scattered the proud in the inmost part of their heart.
1.52a καθεῖλεν δυναστὰς ἀπὸ θρόνων הוֹרִיד נְדִיבִים מִכִּסְאוֹתָם He has brought down nobles from their thrones,
1.52b καὶ ὕψωσεν ταπεινούς  וַעֲנָוִים הֵרִים and has raised up the humble.
       
1.53a πεινῶντας ἐνέπλησεν ἀγαθῶν רְעֵבִים מִלֵּא טוֹבָה He has filled the hungry with good.
1.53b καὶ πλουτοῦντας ἐξαπέστειλεν κενούς וַעֲשִׁירִים שִׁלַּח רֵיקָם And the rich he has sent away empty.
1.54 ἀντελάβετο ἰσραὴλ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ μνησθῆναι ἐλέους תָּמַךְ בְּיִשְרָאֵל עַבְדּוֹ לִזְכֹּר חֶסֶד He has supported Israel, his servant, by remembering mercy.
1.55a καθὼς ἐλάλησεν πρὸς τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ As he spoke to our fathers,
1.55b τῷ ἀβραὰμ καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα לְאַבְרָהָם וּלְזַרְעוֹ לְעוֹלָם to Abraham and his seed, forever.

 

I am not necessarily saying that this song was originally written in Hebrew, but there are some scholars who think so. Flusser (1988) has argued that both the Magnificat (Mary’s Song) (Luke 1.46–55) and the Benedictus (Zechariah’s Song) (Luke 1.68–79) exhibit affinities to the prayer said on the day of victory in the War Scroll from Qumran (14.4–15). He suggested that similar Hebrew hymns to the Magnificat and the Benedictus originally were composed in Hebrew in John the Baptist circles.

When I had the idea to translate/retrovert this song into Hebrew, I thought surely someone must have done this already, but I was surprised at a skim through of Flusser’s article to find no such reconstruction. Indeed, because he believed the song to be adapted somewhat (and even further in Greek), he concluded that “it would be nearly impossible to reconstruct the original pre-Lucan form of these two songs even in a hypothetical experiment” (1988, 129). His statement here makes sense for the context of the article.

But this is what blogs are for. Whether or not there was an original underlying Hebrew to Mary’s Song in Luke, retroverting this song into Hebrew can still prove an interesting experiment from which we can learn something. So, here it is. Feel free to leave any comments and/or suggestions for better language choices. Note that the intended register would be something like the Qumran non-biblical scrolls imitating biblical register.

 

Bibliography:

Flusser, David. “The Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the War Scroll.” In Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, edited by David Flusser, 126–49. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1988.

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