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שוֹעַ – great man

Author(s): Graham I. Davies
First published: 2016-09-30
Last update: 2024-06-30
Citation: Graham I. Davies, שוֹעַ – great man,
               Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Database (, 2016 (update: 2024)

For a discussion of the lexical field ‘Deliverance’ as a whole, see on this site the ‘Overview of SAHD entries for ‘Deliverance’ words by Graham I. Davies; but cf. Conclusions below.


Grammatical Type: noun/adj.
Occurrences: 2x HB (0/1/1); 0x Sir; 1x Qum; 0x inscr. (Total: 3).

  • Nebiim: Isa 32:5;
  • Ketubim: Job 34:19;
  • Qum: 4Q165 6:3.
  • Text doubtful: -

A.1 The only occurrence at Qumran is in the citation of Isa 32:5 in a pesher of Isaiah, 4Q165 6:3.

B.1 It is unlikely that Isa 22:5 should be included within the list of occurrences of this lexeme. Most interpret the noun here as a ‘cry’, and HALOT (1444) classes it as a hapax legomenon. Vg, nevertheless, translates it as magnificus, implying that it saw some connection with the other two occurrences (Isa 32:5; Job 34:19).

B.2 Another occurrence of שׁוֹעַ has been posited in Job 34:20 by the emendation of יְגֹעֲשׁוּ עָם to יִגְוְעוּ שׁוֹעִים (Fohrer 1989:463-64, following Hölscher and others; cf. Driver & Gray 1921:258; BHS). But it remains uncertain and can play no part in the argument here.

Qere/Ketiv: none.

1. Root and Comparative Material

A.1 A detailed bibliography of the debate over the root is contained in HALOT (1444). In Hebrew the biliteral root is probably also attested in a number of PNN with a medial u-vowel: the form שׁוּעַ occurs in Gen 38:2, 12; 1 Chron 2:3, and a feminine form שׁוּעָא in 1 Chron 7:32; also the compound (fem.) name בַּת־שׁוּעַ and the theophorous names אֲבִישׁוּעַ, אֱלִישׁוּעַ, יְהוֹשׁוּעַ and מַלכִישׁוּעַ. Further possible occurrences of this element in extra-biblical PNN are noted by Propp (1999:617): Canaanite/Phoenician אדנשע and Phoenician שעבׄעל. Of three possible Ugaritic cognates ṯʿ as a title or epithet of Keret (KTU 1.14:IV.37 and par.) and, apparently, of dead and deified kings of Ugarit as the recipients of offerings in the sense ‘hero, noble’ (so DULAT 1, 892-93, as earlier Gibson 1978:160; cf. Akk. šuwāʾu(m) = šuʾû as a synonym of šarru, AHw, 1295; CAD Š.3:417) is the most likely to be related to the meaning indicated by the parallelism in Isa 32:5 and Job 34:19. HALOT (1444), like many before it, prefers to associate שׁוֹעַ with senses of Arab. wasiʿa such as ‘noble, generous’, and Ges18 (1335) persists with this, even though it has given pride of place to the Ugaritic and Akkadian parallels in its treatment of the root (1334). Even if the etymology of שׁוֹעַ based on Arab. wasiʿa is preferred, however, it cannot support an association of שׁוֹעַ with the core group of ישׁע lexemes, since they are no longer regarded as cognate with Arab. wasiʿa (see יָשַׁע: Root and Comparative Material). Such an association would only be possible with תְּשׁוּעָה, whose form and meaning (sometimes ‘help’, perhaps related to ‘generosity’) could be linked to a Hebrew root שׁוע understood in this way. Yet the study of תְּשׁוּעָה has found that its predominant meanings concern the effects of such help rather than the help itself (see תְּשׁוּעָה: Conclusions) and its root, if not ישׁע, is more likely to be a by-form of that than the root from which the noun שׁוֹעַ is derived.

2. Formal Characteristics

A.1 n.m. of type qāl (BL, 451 §61n).

3. Syntagmatics

A.1 שׁוֹעַ is the subject of

  • אמר niph. with לֹא and לְ + כִּילַי, ‘villain’: Isa 32:5; the construction is more common with קרא niph., as in the previous stich;
  • נכר niph. with לֹא and עַל + דַּל ‘poor’, ‘lowly’ (Job 34:19);
  • if the emendation of Job 34:20 is accepted, also of גוע qal.

4. Ancient Versions

a. Septuagint (LXX):

  • ἁδρός, ‘stout’ pl.: Job 34:19;
  • σιγάω impv., ‘to be silent’: Isa 32:5(?).

b. Peshitta (Pesh):

  • ܦܪܘܩܐ (pārōqā), ‘saviour, liberator’: Isa 32:5;
  • no equivalent: Job 34:19.

c. Targum (Tg: O/K):

  • שׁועא, ‘protector(?)’: Job 34:19 (see A.3);
  • תקיף, ‘strong’ pl.: Isa 32:5.

d. Vulgate (Vg):

  • maior, ‘great’: Isa 32:5;
  • tyrannus, ‘tyrant’: Job 34:19.

A.1 LXX to Job 34:19 and Vg both here and in Isa 32:5 interpret שׁוֹעַ as denoting someone powerful, like Tg in Isa 32:5.

A.2 The Pesh to Isa 32:5 infers a connection with the verb ישׁע, ‘to save’.

A.3 שׁועא of Tg at Job 34:19 has a formal similarity to the Hebrew noun, and its meaning ‘protector’ suggests that the Targumist here also sees a connection with the Hebrew verb ישׁע, ‘to save’. But Jastrow (DTT, 1538), who gives no other occurrences of it, infers the meaning ‘protector’ from the occurrence of the same word in Prov 30:19 in the sense ‘rock’, which is more widespread in Syriac. It may be better to see שׁועא here as borrowed from the Heb. original.

B.1 In LXX σιγάω in the imperative at Isa 32:5 is perhaps an attempt to interpret what was said in the context of the passage.

5. Lexical/Semantic Fields

A.1 שׁוֹעַ is found in parallelism with נָדִיב, ‘noble, generous’ (Isa 32:5), where שׁוֹעַ is contrasted with the state of a כִּילַי, ‘villain’, and in parallelism with שָׂרִים, ‘officials’ (Job 34:19), where שׁוֹעַ is contrasted with the state of the דַּל, ‘poor’.

6. Exegesis

A.1 Isa 32:5 is part of a passage which promises a change in the behaviour and values of society when a king and his officials practice justice in government. No longer will those who act in an ungenerous and oppressive way (as 32:6-7 clarify the senses in which נָבָל and the otherwise unattested כִּילַי are being used here) be spoken of as נָדִיב, ‘noble, generous’, and שׁוֹעַ. This seems to be meant as a contrast to the behaviour of present or previous kings and officials. In any case, שׁוֹעַ is clearly a term of approbation, like נָדִיב, which is implied not to be deserved by those to whom it is currently being applied. נָדִיב, which is much more frequent than שׁוֹעַ, is used both of high social rank (e.g., 1 Sam 2:8) and, less often, of good character (Prov 17:7): the parallelism in Prov 19:6 suggests that generosity especially was meant. The description of the כִּילַי, for whom שׁוֹעַ is an inappropriate designation, in 32:7 points to characteristics of deceit and active exploitation of the poor rather than a lack of generosity, so that שׁוֹעַ seems to refer to a person who is truthful and does not take advantage of the weak to enlarge his own wealth, a person, that is, who lives according to accepted moral values. This would permit, like נָדִיב, a normal application of שׁוֹעַ either to a person’s character or to his social status.

A.2 The context of Job 34:19 points conclusively to the ‘social’ interpretation of שׁוֹעַ (Fohrer 1989:463-66; cf. Joüon 1937:205-06). In his challenge to Job’s questioning of God’s perfect justice Elihu cites the fact that God does not hesitate to denounce and condemn the high and mighty in human society (34:16-20): kings, leaders (נָדִיב), officials and the שׁוֹעַ (cf. also אַבִּיר in 34:20). The point of the challenge is social standing and power, not moral probity, so both נָדִיב and שׁוֹעַ must be understood in this way here. Some (e.g., Dillmann, Driver and Gray, Pope, NRSV) translate שׁוֹעַ with ‘rich’ here, no doubt because of the association with דַּל, but the latter is not decisive for the meaning of שׁוֹעַ in the context of the verse as a whole: the question of wealth is nowhere raised and power is what is at issue. דַּל itself may mean ‘lowly’ or ‘weak’ as well as ‘poor’ (cf. Fabry 1978).

7. Conclusion

A.1 In one of its two occurrences (Isa 32:5) שׁוֹעַ is a term of approbation and might be understood to designate either moral character or social status, but in the other (Job 34:19) social status is clearly meant. As a meaning which fits both passages the latter is to be preferred. It also corresponds to the closer of the two proposed cognates and to several of the versional renderings (Tg and Vg at Isa 32:5; LXX and Vg at Job 34:19: cf. also LXX at Ps 72(71):12; Job 29:12 [mistakenly] δυνάστου). ‘Great man’ would be an adequate translation. It follows that שׁוֹעַ has no obvious connection with the root ישׁע (this is true even if it is regarded as meaning ‘generous’ in Isa 32:5; see Root and Comparative Material A.1 above), and therefore it is not a member, even loosely, of the ‘deliverance’ word-group.


Dillmann 1891
August Dillmann, Hiob, 4th ed. (KEHAT), Leipzig: Hirzel.
Driver and Gray 1921
Samuel R. Driver, George B. Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Job (ICC), Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
Fabry 1978
Heinz-Josef Fabry, ‘ דַּל, dal’, TDOT 3:208-30.
Fohrer 1989
Georg Fohrer, Das Buch Hiob, 2nd ed. (KAT, 16), Gütersloh: Mohn.
Gibson 1978
John C. Gibson, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 2nd ed., Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
Joüon 1937
Paul Joüon, ‘Notes de lexicographie hébraïque: XIII. שׁוֹעַ “grand” (socialement),’ Bib 18:205-06.
Pope 1973
Marvin H. Pope, Job: A New Translation, with Introduction, Notes and Commentary, 3rd. ed. (AB, 15), Garden City: Doubleday.
Propp 1999
William H.C. Propp, Exodus 1-18: A New Translation, with Introduction, Notes and Commentary (AB, 2), New York: Doubleday.
Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Database