Word Focus: What is a Mamzer?

לֹא־יָבֹא מַמְזֵר בִּקְהַל יְהוָה גַּם דּוֹר עֲשִׂירִי לֹא־יָבֹא לוֹ בִּקְהַל יְהוָה

“No child of an incestuous union (mamzer) may be admitted into the community of the LORD, nor any descendant of his even to the tenth generation” (Deut. 23:3).

What is a מַמְזֵר  “mamzēr”?

The Septuagint (which is the world’s oldest  translation of the Bible), translates מַמְזֵר as referring to “a child of adultery” (πορνῆς = pornes). Some modern Hebraic scholars think that the root of מַמְזֵר might be מָזַר which is probably related toנָזַר  “to separate but used in a bad sense,” “to despise,” or “to condemn”(HALOT 595).

Elsewhere in the Tanakh, it appears that a mamzēr refers to a child of mixed Jewish and gentile parentage, “And a mongrel people shall settle in Ashdod. I will uproot the grandeur of Philistia” (Zec 9:6). [1] On this passage, the Septuagint renders מַמְזֵר as  ἀλλογενής, -ες (ἄλλος and γένος), “sprung from another race,” a foreigner, alien, cf.  Luke 17:18. The prophet is probably referring to a mixed race situation similar to that described by Nehemiah, “At that time too, I saw Jews who had married wives from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab; as regards their children, half of them spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, but could no longer speak the language of Judah. . . (Neh. 13:23-25).” Continue reading “Word Focus: What is a Mamzer?”