Genesis 1:1-2:4a -The Translation

This chapter presents my translation of the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1-2:4a, the story of the first seven days of creation. No specific commentary is offered at this point. However, following the translation is a presentation for the rationale behind the development of this particular translation.

Day 1: Genesis 1:1-5

When Elohim first created the heavens and the earth, the earth had been formless and void; and darkness covered the face of the Deep1)In biblical Hebrew, the word translated here as ‘Deep’, תְּהוֹם, (Təhom) is a proper noun. Thus, many scholars believe this to be a historical reference to the legendary sea-monster of the Anuma Elish, Tiamat. but the spirit of Elohim hovered above the surface of the waters. Then   Elohim thought,

“Let light come into being.”

And light came into being. Whereupon Elohim judged the light as good. Then He caused the light to alternate with the dark and Elohim, facing the light called out, “day!” And facing the dark, He called out, “night!”

And there was evening and there was morning2)For reasons discussed later, in the commentary for the first day, evening and morning are probably better thought of as nightfall and daybreak. But, it’s a small difference and so I think retaining the conventional rendering is less jarring. , a first day.

Day 2: Genesis 1:6-8

And   Elohim said,

“Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters separating water from water.”

So Elohim made the expanse so that the waters below were separated from the waters above. And it was so. And Elohim faced the expanse and proclaimed,

“skies”.

And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

Day 3: Genesis 1:9-13

And   Elohim said,

“Collect the waters from below the skies into one place that the dry land may appear.”

And it was so. And Elohim called out to the dry land,

“Earth”.

And to the collection of waters He called out,

“Seas”.

And Elohim saw that was good. And   Elohim said:

“May the earth, by itself, produce vegetation, herbs yielding seed after its kind, and fruit-trees making fruit upon the earth, after its kind, containing its seeds.”

And it was so – the earth, by itself, brought forth vegetation – herbs yielding seed after its kind, and trees making fruit but only in season with seeds after its kind; and Elohim saw that was good.

And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

Day 4: Genesis 1:14-19

And   Elohim said,

“Let there be lights in the expanse of the skies distributed between the day and the night that they may serve as signs for seasons, and for days and years. And they will serve as luminaries in the expanse of the skies to shine upon the earth.”

And it was so. Then Elohim formed the two great luminaries – the great luminary for dominion over the day and the small luminary for dominion over the night and also the stars. And Elohim set them in the expanse of the skies to shine upon the earth and to rule over the day and separate the day from the night. And Elohim saw it as good.

And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

Day 5: Genesis 1:20-23

And   Elohim said,

“Let the waters swarm with living creatures. And let flying creatures soar above the earth across the expanse of the skies”.

And so Elohim created the great sea monsters, and every creeping living thing that swarms [in] the water according to its kind, and every winged flying creature according to its kind. And Elohim saw it was good. And Elohim blessed them, saying,

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.

And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

Day 6: Genesis 1:24-31

And Elohim said,

“Let the earth bring forth living beings each belonging to its kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals each belonging to its kind.”

And it was so. Thus, did Elohim make the wild animals each belonging to its kind and the cattle belonging to its kind, and all the creeping things of the ground.

And Elohim saw that it was good.

Then Elohim said,

“Let us make mankind3)“the human” is equivalent to ‘mankind’, but the underlying Hebrew grammar explicitly uses the definite article (translated as ‘the’). As will be explained later, the inclusion of the definite article in [any] translation is crucial for a correct understanding of the author author’s intent to be Our image, according to our likeness; that they may rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So Elohim created mankind to be His image.

To be the image of Elohim He created it.

Male and female He created them

Then Elohim blessed them and said to them,

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth that you may subjugate it; but over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth you shall rule.”

Elohim said,

“Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”

And it was so. Elohim saw all that He had made and behold, it was very good.

And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Day 7: Genesis 2:1-4a

Thus the creation of the heavens and the earth were completed, including all their hosts. By the seventh day Elohim had completed all the work that He had begun.On the seventh day, He abstained from all the work that he had accomplished.  So Elohim blessed the seventh day then made it holy, because by that day Elohim had finished all the work that He had begun in creation.

These, then, were the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

Why another translation?

Two reasons: First, many of the existing English Bibles are copies of earlier Bibles originally translated into English hundreds of years ago. These Bibles remain largely unchanged today. However, over  this same time, our understanding of the cultures of the ANE – their literature, their customs, and even the daily lives of their people – has advanced dramatically, especially since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSC)4)The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls occurred over a period of 10 years beginning in 1946. in the middle of the twentieth century.

The discovery of the DSC resulted in the translation of many of the words and language constructs that heretofore had puzzled the original translators. Because of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we are blessed with a richer and deeper understanding of both the biblical text and the historical-cultural context in which they were written.  Unfortunately, many of these new findings have yet to make their way into most of the common, commercially available English Bibles today.

Second, biblical Hebrew is a language and like many (all?) others, a single word can have multiple, disparate meanings. Where biblical Hebrew differs (and markedly so) from English in that biblical Hebrew is a concrete language, largely lacking the ability to express abstract thoughts. As a consequence, in order to convey abstract ideas the ancient authors employed an extensive array of idioms, metaphors, and other figurative constructs. An amusing and well-known example of this is God’s description of Himself as “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6). The literal rendering of the Hebrew is “long of nose” (“אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם, erekh apayeem)”.  Bible scholars have long puzzled over the relationship between nose length and patience, but no matter what scholars might hypothesize, the ancient Hebrews used this idiom to mean a person with a long nose is a patient person.

The chart below5)taken from Hebrew Idioms and other figures of speech compiled by Wayne Leman illustrates a few idioms found in the Hebrew Bible:

  Interpretation
Citation Hebrew Idiom Meaning
Gen 4:1 “to know someone” to engage in sexual intercourse
Gen 15:15 “to go to your fathers” to die
Gen 27:41 “to say in one’s heart” to think
Exodus 3:8 “milk and honey” fertile, productive
Ruth 3:7 feet genitals
“son of [something]” the epitome of that something

Given, the concrete nature of biblical Hebrew, choosing the best translation for a given word or phrase is seldom straightforward. Grammar, literary and cultural context, the translator’s hermeneutics6)Hermeneutics is the study of methods of textual interpretation. A historian translating the Bible will likely make different translation choices than, say, a Christian theologian. More simply put, hermeneutic is a fancy word for a point-of-view. along with the translation model serve to color and shape the consequent rendering.

What is a translation model? A translation model is simply a set of axioms that govern the choices to be made for a given word or phrase.  One translation model, for example, with a very limited and strict set of options available to the translator is the so-called word-for-word model. Using this model, translators attempt to map each Hebrew word with its English counterpart.  Such translations are often found in Hebrew-English interlinear Bibles7)See, for example, the Hebrew Interlinear Bible at http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/Hebrew_Index.htm.  Here, for example, is my word-for-word interlinear translation of Genesis 1:1 (read from right-to-left)8)A hyphenated English word represents a single Hebrew word.:

וְאֵת הָאָֽרֶץ אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם אֱלֹהִ֑ים בָּרָא בְּרֵאשִׁית
and the-earth the-skies Elohim he-created when-beginning

Interlinear translations are a useful first step when generating a translation.  When I translate a Bible verse, my first step (after reading the verse) is to generate an interlinear translation just like the one illustrated in the example above.

Probably the most commonly used translation model is that of functional equivalence9)Also called “dynamic equivalence”. (thought-for-thought). Functional equivalence attempts to convey the thought of the original author using contemporary words and phrases. For example, functional equivalence is the method used by U.N. translators. In the previous example of a God as “slow to anger”, a translator using functional equivalence would hear the words “long nose”, but because she is familiar with the language would render as “patient” or, as in many Bibles, “slow to anger”.

Finally, there are paraphrased or free translations. These translations make no attempt to convey the original sense of the text. The free translation is often more understandable to the lay reader, but risks losing the literary, poetic sense of the text.  This is unwise because knowing that a passage is using a literary construct can (and often does) reveal meanings that would be otherwise unknown to a contemporary reader. Thus, when biblical literary structures are ignored, words can (and do) get mistranslated. For example, consider Deuteronomy 4:9 (especially the underlined words):

“Pay attention. Keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen. Now, lest they depart from your heart, you shall make them known to your sons and the sons of your sons all the days of your life.”

This verse exhibits a common biblical Hebrew literary convention known as synonymous parallelism. In this verse the use of parallelism (i.e., the underlined phrases in the example above) demonstrates that the biblical author is writing for an audience that believes forgetfulness results when memories depart from “your heart” –  לְּבָבְךָ (ləvavkha).  So, while the ancient audience heard heart, they understood from the parallelism that the author meant mind10)This verse, among others, has led scholars to realize that ləvavkha means mind or memory. In the Exodus story, Pharaoh is described of “hard of heart”. This does not mean he was unfeeling. It means he was stubborn. – the place where memories are stored and from which they are recalled. The parallelism of this verse is a simple example of how literary constructs help translators discover the meaning of words. In a well done translation, literary forms can correct our understanding of the biblical text.  This explains one of the reasons why a good Bible translation has little to do with vocabulary. Translations, done well, will retain the literary forms but still deliver an accurate reading; no simple task.

In general, I tried to use a combination of functional equivalence but always with an eye toward the literary, figurative structures used by the author.

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