He hangs the earth on what?!


Job 26.7 has always been a tricky verse to translate "literally", partly because of the final phrase. Quite frankly, it just sounds weird so we often end up smoothing it out. Here's the Hebrew and several translations:

‏נֹטֶה צָפוֹן עַל־תֹּהוּ תֹּלֶה אֶרֶץ עַל־בְּלִי־מָה

He stretches out the north over empty space, and hangs the earth on nothing (NASB)

He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth on nothing (NET)

He stretches the northern skies over empty space; he hangs the earth on nothing (HCSB)

He stretches out the north over the void, and hangs the earth on nothing (ESV)

He it is who stretched out Zaphon over chaos, who suspended earth over emptiness (JPS)

So, you see, we've got pretty standard translations on taking the final phrase (עַל־בְּלִי־מָה) and turning it into a proper prepositional phrase. But a more wooden translation would look like this:

He stretches out the north over the void, and hangs the earth upon without something.

Yes, this sounds weird in English, but in Hebrew it's pretty close to the original expression. Have you ever asked how to say something in another language, only to hear that there's no word-for-word translation cause "that's not how they would say it"? I often do this with Spanish. I'll ask my wife, "How do I say 'Blah blah blah'"—to which she'll reply, "'Blah' is a universal sound that can be replicated in any tongue—just shift your accent." No, but really, she'll tell me that they simply wouldn't word it like that, and instead, it would be said something like this, and then she'll tell me.

I think that same thing is going on in this verse. We're told that God hangs up the earth—like we hang our clothes on a rack, suspended in mid-air—but that he does so without something—in other words, he just makes his clothes float on nothing! He needs no rack. So "without something" might have been one of the ways they said "nothing". No matter the case, when I was looking at this verse, I just felt like it was one of those times where Biblical Hebrew was made foreign to me again—it broke free from my English chains.

Have you people ever encountered a text like this?