The Deity in the Definite Article: laššāwʼ and related terms for Baʻal in Jeremiah

How to Cite

Retief, C. W. (2020). The Deity in the Definite Article: laššāwʼ and related terms for Baʻal in Jeremiah. Old Testament Essays, 33(2), 323-347. Retrieved from


The general consensus is that the abstract noun šāwʼ (שׁוא) in the HB/OT, with the basic meaning of worthlessness, inefficacy, deceit, emptiness, falsehood, lie, could refer either to these qualities in general (typically translated in the English as “in vain”), or could refer to anti-Yahweh idolatry. The choice has been rather arbitrary and inconsistent, relying on the reader’s view of what the text would want to convey. This study builds on the assumption that the definiteness of the noun determines its semantic value, and should be a major factor in determining the general versus polemic meaning of šāwʼ (שׁוא), although this grammatico-semantic distinction is unaccounted for in standard lexicons and most commentaries. The study limits itself to the book of Jeremiah, where šāwʼ only appears in its definite form, as laššāwʼ. Remarkably three other similarly defined nouns are located in the same text blocks in Jeremiah, namely haššeqer, habbošet and hahebel (mostly with prefixed prepositions). The fact that they all have indefinite counterparts in Jeremiah, strengthens the argument that the presence or absence of the definite article is not arbitrary, but noteworthy and meaningful. The fact that these four determined nouns (haššāwʼ, haššeqer, habbošet and hahebel) all function in the same broader text in Jeremiah, with the deity Baʻal also mentioned consistently and exclusively in the definite form (mostly singular habbaʻal, rarely plural habbeʻalîm) leads to the hypothesis that the defined nouns under discussion are all references to Baʻal, with a suggested rhetorical function of disparagement of the deity. The plausibility of the hypothesis is tested in this particular study by means of an exegetical exercise which zooms in on the interface of the nouns under discussion in a selected range of texts. The exegetical approach is obviously launched from the mentioned theoretical stance, seeking to discover features of the text that support interpretation in line with the hypothesis.





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