Is DEATH Singular or Plural in Isaiah 53:9 and What is it’s Meaning?


Isaiah 53:9 says, “וַיִּתֵּ֤ן אֶת־רְשָׁעִים֙ קִבְרֹ֔ו וְאֶת־עָשִׁ֖יר בְּמֹתָ֑יו עַ֚ל לֹא־חָמָ֣ס עָשָׂ֔ה וְלֹ֥א מִרְמָ֖ה בְּפִֽיו׃(Westminster Leningrad Codex)

“Violence not Because in his death the rich and with his engrave the wicked with And he made in his mouth (was any) deceit neither he had done.”(Interlinear)

I am not a Hebrew Scholar, but my understanding, as well as the common translations say that בְּמֹתָ֑יו is singular, yet the BDB lists the יו as being plural.
If my assumption is correct, then why was בְּמֹתָ֑יו(death) translated Singular, and what would this passage mean if it were understood in the plural?


First let me note that Flint and Abegg disgree vis a vis the Dead Sea Scrolls translation
Dead Sea Scrolls Bible - Flint/Abegg/Ulrich
Then they made his grave with the wicked, and with rich people* his tomb - 
although he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
*(a rich man)

The DSS text  (Great Isaiah Scroll) is slightly different than the Masoretic Text,  and only allows for "his tomb" (rather than grave) and the plural is not possible (information from Lisbeth Fried, I believe on this forum) 

At least, that is my understanding so far :-)

Keil-Delitzch (Vol 7) p. 329
Motay is a plur. exaggerativus here, as in Ezekiel xxviii. 10 (compare memothe in Ezekiel xxviii 8 and Jer. xvi. 4); it is applied to a violent death, the very pain of which makes it like dying again and again

Jamieson, Fausset, Brown  
 <snip> in his death--Hebrew, "deaths." LOWTH translates, "His tomb"; bamoth, from a different root, meaning "high places," and so mounds for sepulture (Ezekiel 43:7). But all the versions oppose this, and the Hebrew hardly admits it. Rather translate, "after His death" [HENGSTENBERG]; as we say, "at His death." The plural, "deaths," intensifies the force; as Adam by sin "dying died" (Genesis 2:17, Margin); 

Genesius goes into the various forms, as well.
Examples of  Plural of Majesty, Rank., Magnitude, Excellence, Plural of Intensity. 
SUMMARY FROM MICHAEL BROWN, PhD. (post 1603 below)
Third, the reason that the word “death” is in the plural in verse 9 is because it is an intensive plural, referring here to a violent death. Such usage of intensive plurals is extremely common in Hebrew, as recognized by even beginning students of the language. Thus, the word for compassion is an intensive plural, rahamîm, while the word for God is elohîm (see “Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus,” Vol. 2, 3.1). 
                      Singular versus plural
More specifically, in Ezek. 28:8, the prophet declares, “and you [singular] will die the deaths [plural] of one slain [singular] in the depths of the sea.” It is impossible to question the meaning here! A single person dies a plural death! (See also Ezek. 28:10, “the deaths of the uncircumcised [plural] you will die [singular].”) Whenever the Hebrew Bible refers to the deaths of an individual, it speaks of a violent death. 

A good complement to this is the study of the Elohim plurality form
Edward B. Pusey in The "Suffering Servant of Isaiah" According to the Jewish Interpreters

Objection 3:  The argument that (motav) "his death" (53:9) should be rendered, "deaths", and so implies that the one spoken of is not one, but many, is used by Lipmann, among others: 
      Answer: There is no more reason for making the word used here into a plural than there is for turning "hayim" ("life") into a plural, even though it seems outwardly to have a plural form. Many nouns in Hebrew are used in the plural were we, Westerners, could hardly account for it. The plural is used of a condition, as a period of life, or a condition of the body. (For example, in the words for "age", "youth", "maidenhood", "bridehood" (Jer.2:2), "embalming" (Gen. 50:3), "blindness". ) There is then no reason why "deaths" should not mean "the state of death", as "hayim" means "the state of life". And this agrees better with the usual use  of "b' ", "in", or "at".  In the only other case in which the plural occurs, Ezekiel 28:10, it is used of an individual, the prince of Tyre. ; (and 'a single man could not' (in Lippmann's words) 'die more than once'  

     In addition, the  earliest interpreters of the Isaiah passage rendered this as a singular. (For example, all the Greek versions have a singular. Saadiah has "in his dying"; the Persian and Tataric versions, "how the messiah will resign himself to die"; Yepheth b. Ali, "in his death"; Joseph b. Nathan; Abarbanel--using it of Josiah; Marini; Lopez; Mosheh of Salerno; Passani; and Tanchum.) 

Ezekiel 28:10 (KJV) (about the King of Tyre)
Thou shalt die the deaths of the uncircumcised by the hand of strangers: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord GOD.

By the hands of strangers you shall die 
The death of the uncircumcised;
For I have spoken - declares the Lord GOD.

"Many rabbinical writings had interpreted Isaiah 53 for an individual, 
 Messiah, Jeremiah, Hezekiah, Josiah (Joseph), and they all of course
 had no problem with motav being "virtually singular, or find some other 
 emphasis for the plural, or assign some other meaning for the whole word"  ....

"If regarded as a plural, the explanation of Herz Homberg (since the affix is singular), is more natural, 'the plural "deaths" is used, because piercing him as cruel men do, through and through, they would, so to speak, be putting him to death again and again;' much as we might say 'a thousand deaths in one.' 
Rashi               .   'any form of death'
Kimchi              .. 'the plural is employed, because they used to be put to death in many ways'
Nachmanides .. ... he will expect them to slay him by stoning, ... This is why motav is plural
Astruc              ..   the prophet uses death in the plural because they condemned 
                            them to different forms of punishment
Napthali Altschuler, Segre, David Altschuler..  ' any form of death'
Mordechai           .. 'death in two forms' (of his person and substance) 

Isaiah 53:9.... the "be-motav- in his death" question
A)  Introduction
B)  The accusation of "tampering" and mistranslating - five ants, a freethinker/skeptic, an islamist
C)  Christian false doctrine built upon misunderstanding Isaiah 53:9, Word of Faith
D)  Jewish translations do NOT support the accusation, 4 of 5 translate be-motav as singular
E)  E. B. Pusey refutes the Hebrew grammar argument, shows other Scriptural examples,
     and demonstrates that the writings of many Rabbinical commentators contradict the accusation
F)  More Hebrew grammar refutations - Keil-Delitsche, JFB, Ezekiel 28:8, Freeman and more
G)  The most dishonest anti-missionary accusation 
H)  Comparing Translations, two are in fact are very different
I)   Art Scroll - Translating through the Glasses of Rabbinical Commentaries
J)  Singer - A "made-to-order" Dishonest Mistranslation
K)  Michael Brown article in Messianic Times


  • Reply July 14, 2017

    Varnel Watson

    Dan Irving Here we go for a good discussion Walter Polasik

  • Reply July 14, 2017

    Dan Irving

    Does Hebrew signify plural vs singular? Strongs appears to make no distinction. ie. it uses the same Strong’s number for either.

    • Reply July 14, 2017

      Varnel Watson

      This is understood by F. Delitzsch to be a pluralis
      exaggerativus. Forms like it occur in Ezek 28:8,10 and Jer 16:4. It
      would be used to indicate a violent death, the pain of which makes it
      like dying more than once. You can also call it an intensive plural meaning there are a number of plurals, found almost exclusively in
      poetry (sometimes along with the singular), which are evidently
      intended to intensify the idea of the stem (plural of amplification).

    • Reply July 14, 2017

      Dan Irving

      My assumption has been that the translators select the plural or singular based upon the context. Is that a mis-assumption? I was dealing with this a few days ago with Isaiah 31:5 “As BIRDS flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem, defending also, he will deliver it; and passing over, he will preserve it.” Although the translators have “birds” (plural) I believe it should be singular. And, there is no basis in Strongs to say otherwise.

  • Reply July 14, 2017

    Varnel Watson

    Westminster Leningrad Codex cited is a problem If BDB/BDAG says it’s plural then it’s plural but we need to look into it again {perhaps} KJV 1611 footnote…Heb. deathes supposed deliberate Hebrew to English translation error in the King James Bible

    Dead Sea Scrolls Bible – Flint/Abegg/Ulrich
    Then they made his grave with the wicked, and with rich people* his tomb –
    although he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
    *(a rich man)

    The DSS text (Great Isaiah Scroll) is slightly different than the Masoretic Text, and only allows for “his tomb” (rather than grave) and the plural is not possible

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