8:4 Ezra the scribe stood on a towering wooden platform 1 constructed for this purpose. Standing near him on his right were Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Masseiah. On his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam.
8:8 They read from the book of God’s law, explaining it 2 and imparting insight. Thus the people 3 gained understanding from what was read.
1 tn Heb “a tower of wood.”
2 tn The exact meaning of the pual participle מְפֹרָשׁ (mÿforash) in this verse is uncertain. The basic sense of the Hebrew word seems to be “to make distinct.” The word may also have the sense of “to divide in parts,” “to interpret,” or “to translate.” The context of Neh 8:8 does not decisively clarify how the participle is to be understood here. It probably refers to the role of the Levites as those who explained or interpreted the portions of biblical text that had been publicly read on this occasion. A different option, however, is suggested by the translation distincte (“distinctly”) of the Vulgate (cf. KJV, ASV). If the Hebrew word means “distinctly” here, it would imply that the readers paid particular attention to such things as word-grouping and pronunciation so as to be sure that the listeners had every opportunity to understand the message that was being read. Yet another view is found in the Talmud, which understands translation of the Hebrew text into Aramaic to be what is in view here. The following explanation of Neh 8:8 is found in b. Megillah 3a: “‘And they read in the book, in the law of God’: this indicates the [Hebrew] text; ‘with an interpretation’: this indicates the targum; ‘and they gave the sense’: this indicates the verse stops; ‘and caused them to understand the reading’: this indicates the accentuation, or, according to another version, the Masoretic notes.” However, this ancient rabbinic view that the origins of the Targum are found in Neh 8:8 is debatable. It is not clear that the practice of paraphrasing the Hebrew biblical text into Aramaic in order to accommodate the needs of those Jews who were not at home in the Hebrew language developed this early. The translation of מְפֹרָשׁ adopted above (i.e., “explaining it”) understands the word to have in mind an explanatory function (cf. NAB, NCV, TEV, NLT) rather than one of translation.
3 tn Heb “they”; the referent (the people) has been specified in the translation for clarity.