Jeshurun

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Jeshurun (Hebrew: יְשֻׁרוּן‎), or Yeshurun, is a poetic name for Israel used in the Hebrew Bible. It is generally thought to be derived from a root word meaning upright, just or straight, but may have been derived from שׁור, shur, to see, or may be a diminutive form of the word Israel.

Jeshurun appears four times in the Hebrew Bible: three times in Deuteronomy and once in Isaiah. It can refer to the people of Israel (Deut. 32:15; 33:26), the Land of Israel (Deut. 33:5;), or the Patriarch Jacob (whom an Angel renamed Israel in Genesis 32:29):

  • 'But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; you grew fat, you grew thick'. (Deuteronomy 32:15)
  • 'Moses commanded a law for us, a heritage of the congregation of Jacob. He was King in Jeshurun, when the leaders of the people were gathered, all the tribes of Israel together'. (Deuteronomy 33:4-5)
  • 'There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to help you'. (Deuteronomy 33:26)
  • ‘Fear not, O Jacob My servant, and thou, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen'. (Isaiah 44:2).

The word Jeshurun may have a relationship to the same root as the Hebrew word “upright,” “yesharim”. Numbers appears to use the word “upright,” “yesharim,” as a play on the word “Jeshurun” to refer to the people of Israel. (Num. 23:10.). Joshua 10:13 refers to a Book of Jasher (or Book of Jashar), translated in some versions as "the Book of the Upright".[1]

Classical interpretation[edit]

In the Midrash, Rabbi Berekiah in the name of Rabbi Simon interpreted Jeshurun to mean the Patriarch Israel. (Genesis Rabbah 77:1.) Similarly, Rabbi Berekiah in the name of Rabbi Judah b. Rabbi Simon interpreted Jeshurun to mean “the noblest and best among you.” (Genesis Rabbah 77:1.)

Rabbi Aha bar Jacob told that the breastplate of the High Priest (or Kohen Gadol) contained the words “The tribes of Jeshurun,” thus supplying the otherwise missing Hebrew letter tet in the word “tribes.” (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 73b; see also Exodus Rabbah 38:9.)

In the Zohar, Rabbi Hiya explains that “Jeshurun suggests the word shur [row, side] and indicates that he [Jacob] has his rank on this side and on the other." (Zohar 1:177b.)

In the Chassidic discourses of the Baal Shem Tov and his students, it is suggested that the word Yeshurun comes from the root "shir", meaning song or ring, suggesting the circular nature of melodies, i.e. that Jacob's descendants will sing mystical melodies in the coming redemption.

Modern interpretation[edit]

The Reformer John Calvin reflected that "by using the word 'upright' for Israel, (the author) ironically taunts them with having departed from rectitude, and, reminding them of the high dignity conferred upon them, more severely reproves their sin of unfaithfulness".[2]

Theologian Charles Ellicott argued that "Jeshurun is a diminutive — a term of endearment: either 'the child of the upright', or 'the beloved Israel'". He suggested that "the letters of the diminutive of Israel, if slightly abbreviated, would make 'Jeshurun'”.[3] However, Joseph Benson noted that "some consider the word as being derived from שׁור, shur, to see, and think the appellation was given them because they were so highly favoured with divine manifestations". Benson himself dismissed this view, suggesting that "it is much more probable that it is derived from ישׁר, jashar, to be right, upright, or righteous, and that they are called Jeshurun, because they were a people professing righteousness, and were governed by righteous laws."[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ e.g. Young's Literal Translation (Joshua 10:13)
  2. ^ Calvin's Commentary on Deuteronomy 33, accessed 16 January 2016
  3. ^ Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers on Deuteronomy 32, accessed 16 January 2016
  4. ^ Benson, J., Commentary on the Old and New Testaments with Critical, Explanatory, And Practical Notes on Deuteronomy 33, accessed 16 January 2016