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Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
While working on the updated textual posts and threads (see in my signature for this) I came across part of an essay I had been hunting for for decades—not the full essay, but more than I had had previously—and I post it here: The genius of the ambiguity in the King James Version's rendering of Psalm 12:7 :

The Translational and Exegetical Rendering of Psalm 12:7 Primarily Considered in the Churchly Tradition of the 16th And 17th Centuries and Its Expression in the Reformation English Bibles , By Peter Van Kleeck

The appropriate interpretation of Psalm 12:7 is not without question in the churchly tradition. Problems arise from the textual base chosen for the translation, Greek-Latin or Hebrew .... Contemporary Bible versions and the reciprocating confirmation of each other's validity give the dogmatic impression that as a result of new and better methodologies, the modern rendering is best and that past problems have been resolved.

A casual perusal of the popular literature on the subject of Bible texts and versions will show, however, that the Reformational Churches' expression of their common faith in Scripture's providential preservation of the texts in their possession is evaluated in an unsympathetic and pejorative manner. Scholars such as Bruce M. Metzger and Kurt Aland discredit the value of the Reformation Greek texts and subsequently the English Bibles on textual grounds. Metzger, giving a standard reply, writes,

"Partly because of this catchword [Textus Receptus] the form of the Greek text incorporated in the editions that Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevirs had published succeeded in establishing itself as 'the only true text' of the New Testament, and was slavishly reprinted in hundreds of subsequent editions.

It lies at the basis of the King James Version and of all the principal Protestant translations in the languages of Europe prior to 1881. So superstitious has been the reverence accorded the Textus Receptus that in some cases attempts to criticize or emend it have been regarded as akin to sacrilege" (Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 106).

What these writers fail to say is that the Authorized Version is not an ad hoc English translation, but stands at the end of the 16th century English Bible tradition. ... To deny the Authorized Version on textual grounds is to do the same for the Bishops, Geneva, Great, Coverdale, Matthews and Tyndale Bibles going back to 1524.

It also questions the scholarship of the Protestant exiles of Mary's romanish persecution who had escaped to the safe haven of Geneva as well as the value of every 16th and 17th century commentator who based his work on Erasmus' Greek New Testament.

The bifurcation of the Reformation Bible tradition and the post-19th century English Bibles is seen in the New Revised Standard Version render[ing of] Psalm 12:7, "You O Lord, will protect us; you will guard us from this generation forever."

In a similar manner, the New International Version translates verse 7, "O Lord, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever."

In spite of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia reading "keep them" and "preserve him," both the NRSV and NIV have elected not to translate the Hebrew and have, in its place, substituted a translation from the Greek and Latin rendering of these two pronouns. By so doing, the editors of these translations have endorsed one exegetical tradition, the Greek- Latin, to the exclusion of the other, the Hebraic, and by doing so have censured any further debate within the Hebrew exegetical tradition itself. ...

This essay will show the diversity of the textual and exegetical tradition of Psalm 12:6-7 ... By so doing, the inadequacy of modern renditions of Psalm 12:7 will be exposed...

Michael Ayguan (1340-1416) ... On Psalm 12:7 Ayguan comments, “Keep them: that is, not as the passage is generally taken, Keep or guard Thy people, but Thou shalt keep, or make good, Thy words: and by doing so, shalt preserve him – him, the needy, him, the poor – from this generation...”

Martin Luther's German Bible ... Following the arrangement of this Psalm, Luther penned a hymn, two stanzas of which reflect his understanding of verse 6 and 7: ... "Thy truth thou wilt preserve, O Lord, from this vile generation..." In poetic form, Luther grasps the significance of this verse both for the preservation of those who are oppressed and for the Word of God. The two-pronged significance of this interpretation to both people and God's words in Luther's Psalter was to have wide-ranging significance in the English Bible tradition.

Calvin's Commentary on the Psalms ... in the body of the commentary he writes, “Some give this exposition of the passage, Thou wilt keep them, namely, thy words; but this does not seem to me to be suitable.” [Thus while Calvin did not believe Psalm 12:7 referred to the Word of God, he admits that others did hold this view in his day.]

Coverdale Bible, 1535 ... reads for [verse 7] of Psalm 12: "Keep them therefore (O Lord) and preserve us from this generation for ever." With the absence of "Thou shalt" to begin verse 7, there is a direct connection between 'words' and 'keep them.' In the first clause, Coverdale intended the words to be kept; in the second clause people are in view..."

The Matthew Bible 1537. ... In Psalm 12:67 Rogers translated, "The words of the Lord are pure words as the silver, which from the earth is tried and purified vii times in the fire. Keep them therefore (O Lord) and preserve us from this generation for ever." Following Coverdale, Rogers makes a clear connection in his translation between the words being the antecedent to "them." ... The significance of Roger's marginal note is that two of the greatest Hebrew scholars referred to by the Reformation writers differed on the interpretation of "them" in Psalms 12:7. [Thus we see that the interpretation of this verse was also divided among Jewish scholars.]

The Third Part of the Bible, 1550. Taken from Becke's text of 1549 this edition of the scriptures contains the Psalter, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. ... In verse 7 there is a note at them which states, “some understand here certain men, some others word.” Again, the translators and exegetes allowed breadth of interpretation of "them" to include people and words.

The Geneva Bible, 1560. ... The preface reads, "Then comforting himself and others with the assurance of God's help, he commendeth the constant vigil that God observeth in keeping his promises." The text reads, "The words of the Lord are pure words, as the silver, tried in a furnace of earth, fined seven fold. Thou wilt keep them, O Lord: Thou wilt preserve him from this generation forever." [The margin reads, "Because the Lords word and promise is true and unchangeable, he will perform it and preserve the poor from this wicked generation." Thus the Geneva took a position that verse 7 applies both to the preservation of the Bible and of God's people.]

Annotations by Henry Ainsworth, 1626. Briggs commends Ainsworth as the "prince of Puritan commentators" and that his commentary on the Psalms is a "monument of learning." ... Ainsworth states that "the sayings" [of Psalm 12:7] are "words" or "promises" that are "tried" or "examined" "as in a fire." He cross references the reader to Psalm 18:31; 119:140; and Proverbs 30:5, each reference having to do with the purity of the word.

Matthew Poole's 1685 Commentary of the Psalms ... writes at verse seven, "Thou shalt keep them; either, 1. The poor and needy, ver. 5 ... Or, 2. Thy words or promises last mentioned, ver. 6. ...

In summary ... [t]he only sure conclusion is that there is no consensus within the English Bible tradition for the interpretation of "them" in Psalm 12:7 and it was precisely this lack of agreement within the tradition which was the genius of the ambiguity of the King James Version's rendering. ... by choosing a Greek-Latin basis the modern versions elect to overlook the Reformation's Hebrew basis for translation in Psalm 12:6-7; and the churchly tradition in the new versions is censored by not including a translation that is broad enough to include both interpretations—oppressed people and God's words" (Peter Van Kleeck, The Translational and Exegetical Rendering of Psalm 12:7 Primarily Considered in the Churchly Tradition of the 16th and 17th Centuries and Its Expression in the Reformation English Bibles: The Genius of Ambiguity, March 1993). [Emphasis added – SMR]


Puritan Board Sophomore
Hmmm... one might just as easily say:
In spite of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia reading "keep them" and "preserve him," the KJV has elected not to translate the Hebrew and has, in its place, substituted a translation "preserve them" with no textual basis at all, in Hebrew or any other ancient version. At least the ESV is following the [consonantal] text.

If you want to argue for a literal translation of the verse, keeping both interpretive options as open as the text does, you'll have to go back to the Geneva rather than the KJV. And the choice of translation has no necessary bearing on the CT-TR debate, since both sides (in our circles at least) would heartily affirm the preservation of the text, with or without Psalm 12:7. Just like Calvin did...


Puritan Board Senior
I didn’t think the issue was textual at all. Is it not true that the pronominal suffix translated “them” in v. 7 (v. 8 in the Hebrew) is masculine, while the word translated “words” in the previous verse (אֲמָרוֹת) is feminine? It seems to me, therefore, that it is grammatically impossible for “them” to refer to “words.” @iainduguid, is that correct?


Puritan Board Sophomore
Well, it wouldn't be the first time that Hebrew had a gender misalignment, but you are correct. The Hebrew word "words" in the verse 6 [Heb 7] is feminine plural, whereas both pronominal suffices in v. 7 [8] are masculine if we follow the Masoretic pointing ("them...him") or masculine - unspecified following the pointing that underlies the Septuagint (""). The most natural antecedent is thus "the poor...the needy...him" in v.5. By the way, the alternation of plural and singular in v. 5 argues that the Masoretic pointing is actually correct here, over against many modern translations, but that's an entirely different issue.


Puritan Board Senior


Puritan Board Sophomore
Here's an article that may interest some fluent in the Hebrew, by Rev. Shin Yeong Gil, "God’s Promise to Preserve His Word (Ps 12:5–7)"

It's also in pdf in this Burning Bush journal.
Like I said earlier, gender misalignment in Hebrew is not unknown, but surely the whole point of a proof text is that it proves something, not that it isn't impossible that it might maybe mean something (though much more probable that it doesn't)?? And, to repeat, it's not like the people who disagree about the perfect purity of the Masoretic pointing or the preferability of some ancient manuscript readings to the Majority Text are all Bible-haters who don't believe that God has in fact preserved his Word. So what exactly is the proof text supposed to prove?

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Hello Iain! I think it proves that to some even Jewish / Rabbinic scholars (not to mention the Christian) their understanding of it was it referred to the words, while other Jewish commentators disagreed. So there was an exegetical tradition that was overlooked in some translational productions, whereas in fact there are two traditions. The ambiguity in the AV's rendering takes them both into account.


Puritan Board Senior
Is it true, though, that the KJV is really all that ambiguous here? In the English language, do not demonstrative pronouns typically, if not always, refer to the noun nearest in verbal proximity them? In the case of the KJV here, it would be very odd in English for a demonstrative pronoun like "them" to refer to a noun that would require skipping over an entire preceding independent clause (v. 6), would it not? In other words, I believe if I asked 100 people what "them" referred to in Psalm 12:7 in the KJV, I could practically guarantee that there would be 100 responses in favor of "the words of the Lord" in v. 6, as opposed to "the poor" in v. 5.


Puritan Board Sophomore
Hello Iain! I think it proves that to some even Jewish / Rabbinic scholars (not to mention the Christian) their understanding of it was it referred to the words, while other Jewish commentators disagreed. So there was an exegetical tradition that was overlooked in some translational productions, whereas in fact there are two traditions. The ambiguity in the AV's rendering takes them both into account.
If all the article wanted to prove was that there is a strand in the tradition that reads the text as referring to God's Word rather than God's people, even though this is grammatically extremely unlikely, fair enough.

However, the article claims "the NRSV and NIV have elected not to translate the Hebrew and have, in its place, substituted a translation from the Greek and Latin rendering of these two pronouns. By so doing, the editors of these translations have endorsed one exegetical tradition, the Greek- Latin, to the exclusion of the other, the Hebraic, and by doing so have censured any further debate within the Hebrew exegetical tradition itself".

It also suggests as its goal: "the inadequacy of modern renditions of Psalm 12:7 will be exposed."

These are sweeping claims, and they are demonstrably false. The second article you quoted acknowledges that there are in fact medieval Hebrew manuscripts that contain the pronouns used by the LXX (see BHS for confirmation) so the NRSV and NIV are following variants within the Majority Hebrew text tradition, not simply outside it. Moreover, conventional Hebrew grammar supports the translation of modern versions which suggest that the object of God's care in this verse is his people, not his Word; there is no value in introducing an ambiguity into a text which is not in fact ambiguous in the original. Finally, the ESV exactly matches the Matthew Bible (1535) and the Coverdale Bible (1537), so it can hardly be claimed that this is an ancient vs. modern divide.

In conclusion, I fail to see why you think this is a significant article. Even if one were to agree that Psalm 12:7 is a proof text of the preservation of God's Word, it's not as if those who disagree with you in the evangelical camp dispute the idea that God's words have been preserved. They just use a wider manuscript base than you will allow, something that is not addressed in this verse at all.

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Conversation with Albert Hembd

Steve: Hello Albert, thoughts on this thread of mine re the Hebrew of Psalm 12:7?

Albert: I do have some comments. I am preparing a little piece on this. The fact is, there are often exceptions in gender agreement in the Hebrew Bible between an affix and the noun it refers to. Juon Muraoka, who is now head of the Hebrew Bible Department at the University of Leiden, and who got his doctorate at the Hebrew University (with mentors who are members of the Hebrew language Academy) points out some of these exceptions - and I will write a brief paper on them. But for right now, I point out 1 Samuel 6:13:

(Referring to when the Philistines were trying to return the ark of the covenant of Israel):
וַיַּעֲשׂ֤וּ הָאֲנָשִׁים֙ כֵּ֔ן וַיִּקְח֗וּ שְׁתֵּ֤י פָרוֹת֙ עָל֔וֹת וַיַּאַסְר֖וּם בָּעֲגָלָ֑ה

"And the men did thus: and they took two milking cows, and bound THEM on a cart."

Note that פָרוֹת֙ is FEMININE - it ends with -ות - but the "them" in ויאסרום ends with final mem which is MASCULINE. Yet "them" ONLY can refer to the feminine nursing cows.

This example is almost identical to Psalm 12:7.

Muraoka points out that the later books of the Bible increasingly use a "masculine potius" (a general masculine) for both feminine and masculine affixes after verbs, either in referring to feminine OR masculine nouns. This tendency increased until by the time of Mishnaic Hebrew, the feminine affix was not used at all.

The point being, in Psalm 12:7, תִּשְׁמְרֵ֑ם with final mem could refer to EITHER אמרות or to "the men of this דור 'generation.'

The grammar is not so cut-and-dried as our friend would have us believe. True: today in the public schools, they teach the students that there must always be strict agreement - BUT - in actual practice, even in the Tanakh itself, "it ain't necessarily so."

Muraoka gives about six to eight additional examples. I'll get them to you tomorrow morning, God willing.

A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Subsidia Biblica)

Albert Hembd: That is the Amazon link to Juon Muraoka's superior Biblical Grammar. Since I have it in Accordance, I can cut-and-paste his exact posts into my expanded post on this tomorrow.

Here are the rest of my comments on Psalm 12:7 –

The following is a response to Iain Duguid’s assertion that in Psalm 12:7, the word תִּצְמְרֵם cannot be referring to אִמֲרֹת (‘words’) in the same verse, because of the final mem ending on תִּצְמְרֵם which is masculine plural: and thus (according to Iain), it has to be referring to a masculine plural noun, viz., אביונים (‘destitute ones) and עניים (‘poor ones’).

Regrettably, the issue of gender agreement between verbs and nouns and affixes is not so cut-and-dried as Ian supposes. The Hebrew Bible was written over approximately a thousand year period of time (from about 1400 B.C. to 300 B.C., approximately), and increasingly, especially after the return from Babylon, the masculine gender began to serve as a ‘default’ or ‘preferred’ gender that could refer either to a masculine or feminine antecedent. Scripture itself is replete with examples of this phenomenon, as Takamitsu Muraoka, the renowned Japanese Hebraist who was chair of the Biblical Hebrew department at the University of Leiden and who completed a doctorate at the Hebrew University, points out. Professor Muraoka himself speaks fluent Hebrew and is highly recommended by the professors at the Hebrew University.

In his famed book entitled A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (2006), which a revision of the original in French by Paul Juon, Professor Muraoka tells us:

"The suffixed pronoun quite often takes the masculine instead of the feminine, especially in the 2nd pers. plural and (mainly) in the 3rd pers. plural. This replacement of the feminine by the masculine (genus potius) is especially frequent in the later books, particularly in the book of Chronicles. This is a morpho-syntactic, not a phonological phenomenon, for the general tendency in MH is word-final m > n2." (pp. 514-516).

He then provides us with many examples:

Genesis 31:9 (Jacob speaking to Leah and Rachel):

וַיַּצֵּ֧ל אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־מִקְנֵ֥ה אֲבִיכֶ֖ם וַיִּתֶּן־לִֽי׃

"And God delivered the cattle of your father and gave them to me."

Note that Jacob says אביכם - "your (masculine) father." Jacob refers to his wives in the masculine gender – אביכם (‘your father’, like ‘the father of you guys.’) In keeping with strict grammar, he would have said אביכן with final nun, not אביכם with final mem. Interestingly, even in the same chapter, Jacob also in speaking to them refers to their father as אביכן (the father of you ladies):

וְאַתֵּ֖נָה יְדַעְתֶּ֑ן כִּ֚י בְּכָל־כֹּחִ֔י עָבַ֖דְתִּי אֶת־אֲבִיכֶֽן׃

"And ye know that with my whole power I served your (feminine) father."

We also see Naomi referring to her daughters-in-law in the masculine:
Ruth 1:8-9:

וַתֹּ֤אמֶר נָעֳמִי֙ לִשְׁתֵּ֣י כַלֹּתֶ֔יהָ לֵ֣כְנָה שֹּׁ֔בְנָה אִשָּׁ֖ה לְבֵ֣ית אִמָּ֑הּ יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָ֤ה ***עִמָּכֶם֙*** חֶ֔סֶד
כַּאֲשֶׁ֧ר ***עֲשִׂיתֶ֛ם*** עִם־הַמֵּתִ֖ים וְעִמָּדִֽי׃
יִתֵּ֤ן יְהוָה֙ ***לָכֶ֔ם*** וּמְצֶ֣אןָ מְנוּחָ֔ה 9

Note the words I have surrounded with asterisks: עמכם (with you guys)…עשיתם (‘the mercy you guys have shown me’)…לכם (‘the LORD show mercy to you guys).

In both these instances, neither Jacob nor Naomi are referring to these ladies as if they were men: they are to the contrary referring to them with the masculine plural as a ‘default’ or ‘general’ gender that could refer either to men or women.

Other examples:

Genesis 32:16:

גְּמַלִּ֧ים מֵינִיק֛וֹת וּבְנֵיהֶ֖ם

‘Nursing camels and their (masculine) children.’ Again גמלים מיניקות is feminine, not masculine.

1 Samuel 6:10

וְעַתָּ֗ה קְח֨וּ וַעֲשׂ֜וּ עֲגָלָ֤ה חֲדָשָׁה֙ אֶחָ֔ת וּשְׁתֵּ֤י פָרוֹת֙ עָל֔וֹת אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹא־עָלָ֥ה *****עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם*** עֹ֑ל וַאֲסַרְתֶּ֤ם אֶת־הַפָּרוֹת֙ בָּעֲגָלָ֔ה וַהֲשֵׁיבֹתֶ֧ם ***בְּנֵיהֶ֛ם*** ***מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶ֖ם*** הַבָּֽיְתָה׃

“And now, take and make a new cart, and two milking cows who have never had a yoke upon them (masculine – but ‘cows’ in Hebrew is definitely feminine)…and return their sons from behind them” – in each of the underlined words, the suffix is masculine referring back to the feminine פרות.

Muraoka points out that this seeming incongruity also occurs with feminine objects which are inanimate, as for example:

Exodus 11:6 (after the death of the firstborn in Egypt):

וְהָֽיְתָ֛ה צְעָקָ֥ה גְדֹלָ֖ה בְּכָל־אֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֤ר כָּמֹ֙הוּ֙ לֹ֣א נִהְיָ֔תָה וְכָמֹ֖הוּ לֹ֥א תֹסִֽף׃

‘And there was a great cry [feminine] in all the land of Egypt, which like it (using a masculine ‘it’) there never had been, and like it (again masculine) there never will be again.’

Muraoka also lists these examples:

Jdg 16.3 ‏וַיִּסָּעֵם‎ (referring Samson’s bearing the doors to the city on his shoulders, but ‏דְּלָתוֹת‎ are feminine); Pr 6.21 ‏קָשְׁרֵם‎ (referring to the מצוות or ‘commandments’, which are feminine); 1Sm 6.10 ‏וַיַּאַסְרוּם (referring to binding the milk cows to the cart.)

So…the masculine affix is often just a general gender that can refer either to a feminine or masculine antecedent, and thus, in this case, viz., Psalm 12:7, grammatically it well can be that תִּצְמְרֵם refers all the preceding – עניים, אביונים, and אמרות. It wouldn’t call this ‘ambiguity’ – I would call it ‘collective.’ The masculine suffix may well refer to all three collectively.


Puritan Board Sophomore
Without wanting to turn this into too technical a discussion, I have acknowledged from the first post that Hebrew grammar is not always consistent so it isn't impossible that the antecedent of the mpl suffixes is a fpl subject. The examples he gives demonstrate that, though, as he points out, it is far more common in later Biblical Hebrew and Psalm12 as a Davidic psalm is hardly late. My point all along has simply been that these exceptions are, well, unusual exceptions and Jouon-Muraoka can give you a hundred counter examples for each.

However, there is another point to be made: the second half of Ps 12:7 has a ms suffix, not mpl. I would be very interested if Alfred can provide even a single example where a ms suffix applies to a fpl antecedent. Maybe there is one, but I don't know if it; KJV translates both of these as "them", which seems to assume (rightly I think) that it is a collective. The obvious reason for treating it as a collective is that that is exactly what we see in verse 5: the poor (mpl) are plundered...I will set him (ms) in safety. So when we have a pattern of pronouns in v.7 of, why would we assume that both of these refer to the fpl subjects of v.6 and not to the same sequence in v.5?

At the end of the day, it is a judgment call of the interpreter as to what the antecedent of v.7 is. Good people (and good Hebraists) may differ. That is the nature of academic discussion. But we return to my central points:
1) why would you cite as a proof text a passage that is relatively so uncertain in meaning (not to mention the text critical issues around it within the medieval Hebrew tradition...)?
2) Even if Steve's interpretation is correct, it is not the traditional view vs modern views: as the first article noted, Calvin was aware of it and found it unconvincing. As I've shown, he had good reason, even if you think he was wrong.
3) Even if Steve's interpretation is correct, the verse then merely states that God preserved his words. Does anyone on this Board not think that, even though we may disagree about which manuscripts to consider in seeking to establish that preserved Word? So what's the point of this rather lengthy discussion about a proof text that proves nothing? I don't think this discussion disproves Steve's overall position - that's a much bigger discussion that I have no particular interest in debating at this point. But it shouldn't be made to rest on such a flimsy foundation.

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Thanks for the irenic discussion on this, Iain. I think the difference between us – reflecting others of like mind with us in our respective differences – illustrates the OP’s point that godly scholars, Christian and rabbinic, have likewise argued for either side. And it is clear that the AV’s (and the ASV & NKJV’s) renderings include – do justice to – both views / exegetical traditions.

Some, such as Rev Shin Yeong Gil, don’t agree, as he says, “…these suffixes can refer to either the words of God or the godly man, but not both, unless context and usage are ignored.” And some – but not all – would agree with that, whatever side they chose.

You say that Ps 12:7 is a “flimsy foundation” because of these disagreements? One of the two traditions would strongly disagree. Plus it is not THE foundation of the “overall position” some of us hold, but one among many Scriptural supports of the preservation view we champion.

Is 1 John 5:7 a flimsy foundation for the doctrine of the triunity of the Godhead due to the controversy around that? Perhaps in the eyes of some it is, but God knows which is His true word, and many of us are fully convinced that reading is true, and would say it is by no means flimsy. The day is soon coming when it shall be clear to all. Till then we shall be disagreeing on some relatively minor things. What is not minor is that we are to be gracious and loving to one another, which I think has been the case in this thread.
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Puritan Board Sophomore
Albert sent me this:


has a masculine plural suffix. Iain seems to be confused.
Perhaps it would be helpful if Albert would actually interact with the thread himself, instead of interacting with partial information through you?
Then he would see that the whole point is that the verb in verse 7 [Heb 8; tishmerem] has a mpl suffix, but the nouns in the preceding verse that he wants it to agree with are in fact feminine plural. See Taylor's post #3.


Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm grateful to both Mr. Rafalsky and Mr. Duguid for their interaction on this thread.

Thank you both!
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