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#43 - Exo 3:14 - Does the Masoretic Text really read, "I am Asher I am."
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
Question/insight #43: "Please inform me as to the role of asher in Ex. 3:14. Clarke's Commentary and the Masoretic Text read, 'I am Asher I am'. Please do not say it is a relative pronoun. I do know that Asher was the founder of the Assyrian nation and considered a God."
That's a recurring question regarding what on the surface may be a confusing issue.
Clarke's Commentary, Volume 1, (by Adam Clarke, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, no date given but originally published between 1812 and 1820, page 306) does state:
"Verse 14. I AM THAT I AM... EHEYEH asher EHEYEH."
The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew biblical text -- with vowel points -- produced by the Masoretes between the 6th and 10th centuries. That is the basis for the current authoritative Hebrew text, the Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia, produced and maintained by the United Bible Societies. The Masoretic Text includes no English. A reasonable transliteration of the Hebrew text of Exodus:
(h)-a-y-a-h (')-a-sh-e-r (h)-a-y-a-h
eh-yeh ash-er eh-yeh
letters that spell the Hebrew word
The capitalized letter-names below represent consonants.
The letters in parentheses are silent.
|(h)-a-y-a-h||(HE) - qames - YODH - qames - HE|
|(')-a-sh-e-r||(ALEPH) - hateph-pathah - SHIN - seghol - RESH|
|(h)-a-y-a-h||(HE) - qames - YODH - qames - HE|
Clarke's Hebrew transliteration, "EHEYEH asher EHEYEH," is indicating how the phrase is pronounced in Hebrew, not what the Hebrew words mean. Nowhere in his commentary on this verse does he refer to asher as a proper noun, and nowhere does he use or even imply the phrase, "I am Asher I am." The fact is that the word order in Hebrew is:
I AM <Strong's #01961> THAT <Strong's #0834> I AM <Strong's #01961>
Here the English word that <Strong's #0834> is translated from a different Hebrew word than the English proper name Asher <Strong's #0836>, who was the son of Jacob and Zilpah (Genesis 30:13). The confusion here is that both words are spelled with the same consecutive Hebrew consonants. In English, this would be comparable to the following English words: tour and tare, meet and might, hop and hope. These words do have the same consonants, but the vowels give the words different meanings. The following table should help clarify the issue.
Strong's # English
0834 that 'aleph (silent) hateph-pathah a, as in hat ash-er . . shin sh seghol e, as in met ash-er . . resh r (none) ash-er 0836 Asher 'aleph (silent) hateph-qames a, as in awful aw-share . . shin sh sere a, as in ate aw-share . . resh r (none) aw-share
The fact is that the Hebrew word <Strong's #0834> translated "that" or "who" in Exodus 3:14 is:
a "relative particle used very frequently in the Hebrew Bible"
(R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, editors, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1980, article #184 on page 82).
a "part. of relation" [particle of relation]
(Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and C.A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907, 1978 with corrections, page 81-84).
That Hebrew word <Strong's #0834> has nothing to do with the man Asher <Strongs #0836>, or the Canaanite goddess Asherah <Strong's #0842> or her male counterpart, or with the Assyrian Assur (the patron god of the Assyrian city of Assur).
[Note: Regarding Asher, the son of Jacob and Zilpha:
"The name may derive from that of a god, the male counterpart of Asherah or a varient of Ashar, a divine name element in Old Akkadian and Amorite names." (Paul J. Achtemeier and the Society of Biblical Literature, editor, Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition, New York: Harper Collins, 1996, page 82)]
"In Genesis 30:13, the name Asher is associated with the Hebrew word for blessing, but many scholars associate the name's origin with the goddess Asherah." (Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, The Oxford Companion to the Bible, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, page 62)
Even Emanuel Tov in his definitive Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1992) makes no mention of any problems or misunderstandings with the text of Exodus 3:14.
To further explore the meaning of Exodus 3:14, the following commentary is an excellent resource:
The Old Testament Library: Exodus - by Brevard Childs (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), pages 47-89.
You can also explore a detailed BibleTexts webpage commentary on the Old Testament and New Testament use of "I AM" at:
Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer