This page contains material relevant to the translations that are technical or explanatory in nature. These materials will include, but will not be limited to, standard abbreviations, conventions by which Hebrew words are represented in English, explanatory notes, and references and citations
Hebrew words often translate into two or more words. To represent this, the English words corresponding to a single Hebrew word are hyphenated.
In this case, the phrase “And caused to grow” is translated from the single Hebrew word, vayytzmah.
The translations found on this site uses the BHT transcription scheme with the following exceptions:
|ch||in place of Het (ח)||guttural /ch/ as in Bach|
|kh||in place of Khaf (כ)||guttural /ch/ as in Bach|
|ə||vocal shewa||A very short /uh/|
|tz||in place of tzade (צ)||/tz/ as in Hertz|
|ei, ey, or ay||/ay/ as in bay|
|i||/ee/ as in seen|
|o||/o/ as in bone|
עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ
|al-pənei təhom vəruach|
When a Hebrew word or phrase is embedded in the English text, its transliterated representation will immediately follow. From that point only the transliterated representation will be used and it will always be italicized and the stressed syllable will be bolded, for example:
הַשָּׁמַיִם (hashshamayim) – the-heavens
Since, for most Hebrew words the stress falls on the last syllable it is never bolded (as shown next):
בְּהִבָּֽרְאָ֑ם (bəhebbar’am) – as-they-were-created
NOTE 1: Verbs enclosed in brackets are nominal, i.e., they are part of what linguists term a nominal sentence.
The following abbreviations are used throughout this website. First, these are the abbreviations for the various Bibles I use:
- RSV Revised Standard Version
- NRSV New Revised Standard Version
- NIV New International Version
- NAS New American Standard Bible
- NIRV New International Revised Version
- NLT New Living Translation
- KJV King James Version
- YLT Youngs Language Translation
ANE Ancient Near East
BDB F. Brown, S.R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament
DSS Dead Sea Scrolls
GKC Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch and trans. A. E. Crowley
KJV King James Version translation
LXA Brenton LXX with Apocrypha translation
NAS New American Standard Bible translation (1977)
NIV New International Version (1984)
YLT Young’s Literal Translation (1862/1898)
RSV Revised Standard Version (1952)
TNK JPS Tanakh (1985)
TWOT Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Harris, et al
“In the beginning God created…” or “When first God created…”
One of the world’s foremost experts on the meaning and translation of Genesis 1:1 in its ancient Near Eastern context is Mark Smith. Here I will quote a few passages from his book, The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1, his explaination.
“It is the relative clause that makes ‘in beginning’ definite in the NRSV and NAB translations, which allows for their translation ‘the beginning,’ instead of an indefinite rendering, ‘a beginning.’ At the same time, this translation may make it seem that the verse is talking about the beginning. So it is better to avoid using ‘the beginning’ in a translation. It is for this reason that I have instead adopted the translation: ‘When at first God created’ (this is fairly similar to the NJPS translation: ‘When God began to create’). . . Most modern translations, such as NRSV, NAB, and NJPS, follow this understanding. The reasons in favor of this interpretation of Genesis 1:1-3 have been nicely expressed by the biblical scholar Jack M. Sasson, professor at Vanderbilt University: Although there are competent philologists who still defend the traditional translation, I personally think that this exegesis is really beyond dispute: first, because it is supported by grammar and syntax; second, because other creation narratives similarly open with temporal or circumstantial clauses; and third because the first of God’s creative injunctions does not come until v. 3. Despite the length of such a sentence, it falls entirely in line with the openings of creation accounts from Mesopotamia. For example, Enuma Elish, which we discussed above, begins in this manner. Such introductions start with a clause beginning ‘when,’ and often follow with a description of the conditions lacking for life, followed by a ‘then’ statement describing an important, initial act of creation. Significantly, this is also essentially the structure of Genesis 2:4 (in the second half of the verse) through Genesis 2:7: verse 4, second half, is the when clause, verses 5-6 are the parenthetical clause describing the conditions prevailing at the time, and verse 7 describes the divine act.
“The implication of this interpretation is that Genesis 1:1 does not talk about “the beginning” in an absolute sense. Instead, it simply refers to the remote time when God began to create. We will study the meaning of the word ‘in beginning of’ (bere’shit) shortly, but we should be careful that we not allow the traditional interpretation of the meaning of Genesis 1:1 to dictate about how we think about it. This verse presents the situation of the world when God first started creating—a point that was well recognized by ancient writers. The great Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (roughly, a contemporary of Jesus) put the point this way: “‘in (the) beginning he made’ is equivalent to ‘he first made the heaven first.’”
“Modern commentators have followed this approach as well. According to the giant of German biblical scholarship of the nineteenth century, Julius Wellhausen, re’shit does not denote ‘the commencement of a process which goes forward in time, but the first … part of a thing.’ The account talks about “the beginning,” namely the beginning of God’s creating the world, not the absolute beginning of everything. In the words of the great twentieth century scholar, Wilfred G. Lambert, Genesis is “about the processes by which the universe we know reached its present form, with no attempt to delve into the question of ultimate origin.” This is the general understanding of biblical scholars today.
The Knowledge of Good and Evil
Expressing Parenthetical Statements in Hebrew – The Disjunctive Vav
The English language has many different words that serve as conjunctions – words that link two or more clauses together. The most common of these is the word “and“. Others are, but not limited to, such words as “so“, “but“, “or“, “also“, and “even“. By contrast, Biblical Hebrew as only one word — and it’s not a word at all! It’s a single letter prefixed to another word. This “word” is the Hebrew letter vav (ו). When vav is prefixed to a verb it is most frequently use as a simple conjunctive as in, for example,
“Sally went to the grocery store and bought a loaf of bread.”
Note that the second clause, “bought a loaf of bread”, modifies, extends, or continues the meaning or action of the first. By contrast, a disjunctive conjugation links the preceding clause to a second clause that is parenthetical or explanatory. For example, in Genesis 13:7-8 we read,
And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land. So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. (NAU)
In these two verses, the conjunctives are colored red and the single disjunctive is colored green. Now, let’s replace the disjunctive conjugation now with parenthesis. In this case we read,
And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock (Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land). So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. (NAU))
If the first word of a verse is a verb to which is prefixed the vav conjunction, the vav is acting as a conjunctive (e.g., “and”, “so”, “also”, “even”, etc.,). If, however, the first word is a noun to which is prefixed the conjunction vav, the conjugation is probably (but not always) disjunctive. As always, context helps. Just illustrate this, here is the Hebrew structure of the two verses above:
and-there-was strife … now-the-Canaanites …
vayhi (vav + verb) … vəhappərizzi (vav + noun)
Genesis 4:1-2: Some scholars believe that Genesis 3:20 was part of the first verse of Genesis 4. The context of 4:1 is that the author picks up after the couple had been expelled from Eden. Placing verse 3:20 before 4:1, we get,
Now the man proclaimed his wife’s name [to be] Eve and he had known Eve his wife and she conceived and gave birth to Qayin (Cain) and said, “I have begat a man!”
mankind: the biblical authors loved word play — particularly choosing words and inventing names that sounded similar but that also had related meanings. Arguably the best known example of this are the words for mankind, earth, ground, and the name Adam. For example,
- ground – אֲדָמָה – /a∙da∙mah/
- earth – אָדָ֑ם – /a∙dam/
- mankind – הָֽאָדָ֑ם – /ha∙adam/
- Adam (the name) – אָדָ֑ם – /a∙dam/
The word play arises because, in Genesis 2, mankind (haadam) is formed from the earth (adam) in order to cultivate the ground (adamah). Moreover, the primordial man is named Adam.
In the case of these words, translators must be careful to distinguish when the name Adam (adam) is being used and when mankind (haadam) is intended. In almost all cases, when the definite article, /ha/ appears before adam the author is referring to the singular collective noun, mankind. If you think about it, this makes sense. We never say, for example, “Let’s ask the Bob to drive us”. Instead we simply say, “Let’s ask Bob to drive us.”
Metaphors for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil/Bad“
(paraphrased from Wenham, pp. 63-64)
Temptation: In this theory the tree is consequential not for its inherent quality but for what happens upon eating its fruit. In other words, the man comes to know evil/bad by disobedience and the subsequent consequences. This explanation is inadequate for a number of reasons.
- From a literary consideration (i.e., its juxtaposition with the tree of life), its significance must be somehow related to the immortality conferred on those who eat of the tree of life. Is the author offering the immortality of Eden as the counterpoint to the temptation offered by the mortality of the Tree of Knowledge? If so, in what sense is mortality to be preferred over immortality?
- This theory contradicts other scripture (Deut 1:39 and 2 Sam 19:35) which state that neither the very young nor the elderly posses (or no longer possess) hada’at tov vara.
Moral discernment: This interpretation was abandoned in the early 20th century and has not been taken seriously since it supposes that the man was not capable of exercising moral discretion. But, this cannot possibly be the case since God expected the man, to freely choose whether to eat of the tree in the face of God’s dire warning.
Sexual knowledege: While this explanation fits the requirements referred to in Deut 1:39 and 2 Sam 19:35, Westermann argues that there is no hint that sexual knowledge is reserved for God, or that such knowledge was bad/evil for man to acquire (cf. Gen 1:28 or 2:18-25).
Omniscience: This theory holds that the merism, “good and evil/bad” means omniscient knowledge. This theory, like moral discernment (cf. above) is contradicted by the plain meaning of the text. When the couple ate of the tree of knowledge they did not gain omniscience. They merely gained a sense of shame upon realizing they were naked.
Moral autonomy: This theory, in one form or another, is probably the one that has received the widest scholarly acceptance. In a nutshell, moral autonomy is the idea that the human person is free to choose between right and wrong without reference to God’s revelation. This principle is mirrored in Ezekiel when the king of Tyre is expelled from the “Mountain of God” for overweening pride and claiming himself to be “wise as a god” (28:6, 15-17). Indeed, after eating from the tree of knowledge, God’s judgment that “man has become like one of Us knowing good and evil/bad” (Gen 3:22) is consistent with the idea that man has assumed moral autonomy.
The development of moral autonomy (a.k.a., free will) in humans is the main message to be taken from this narrative. As stated in my introduction, the authorinvents the concept of moral autonomy by moving moral accountability from the divine realm (of the pagan gods), to the human realm, mortal realm. In this sense, the narrative stands as a polemic against the pagan conception of moral accountability.
However, there is a literary distinction to be made here. With moral autonomy comes moral accountability. In this particular story, Adam is created with moral autonomy (he is warned, after all, of the consequences of eating from the Tree of knowledge). The rest of the story focusses on moral accountability in which the author makes clear that the couple, not God, is accountable for their action? This is the crux of the story. The author, having moved moral autonomy from the divine to the mortal realm, demonstrates that humans are morally accountable by telling a story in which they freely choose a path to ignore God’s warning. The author shows that the consequent results are not of God’s making, but the couple’s.
The plot line is pretty straightforward. Adam and Eve are given free will from the outset. But they find themselves confronted with a choice between a chaste, immortal life in Eden or a sexually active, but mortal life on the outside. The choice is made when they eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, become erotically charged and engage in sexual intercourse. Next Eve becomes pregnant and they are expelled. The author demonstrates human moral autonomy AND moral accountability through the consequences suffered by Adam and Eve.
The major objection to the moral autonomy interpretation is the seeming contradiction that arises when God says, “Behold, mankind has become like one of us, knowing good and bad“. If knowing good and bad means engaging in sexual intercourse, doesn’t this imply that God is sexually active? Well, … no!
Consider the literary implication of the rest of the verse (my translation):
…, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and bad; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take moreover from the tree of life, and cause himself to eat and live forever
Looking more carefully at this verse, note that God admits to “knowing good and bad”. Does this mean He engages in sexual intercourse? Second, how do we explain the necessity of having to expell procreative, immortal beings from the Garden?
Before we can address these difficulties, let’s deal with the understanding that the knowledge of good and bad, hada’at tov vara deals with sexuality. In this I follow Brettler’s understanding Brettler, pp. 44-46 that had’at tov vara is a merism referring to the knowledge of one’s sexual nature. In other words, the sexual awareness that accompanies the biological process of sexual maturation. The point at which the primordial couple become aware of their sexuality is after eating the fruit of hada’at tov vara. In other words, sexual awareness (i.e., erotic desire) is gained upon eating the fruit. When eaten, the two become sexually aware of, and act upon, the erotic nature of their relationship.
This theory rests on an Hebraic understanding of the Hebrew word הַדַּעַת (hada’at) meaning “the knowledge of“. To this end, there are two related aspects to this understanding – the literal and figurative meaning of hada’at and what kind of knowledge is in view in the phrase, tov vara?
(1) Da’at in its various forms means knowledge, awareness, cognition. One of the more common usages in the Bible is to represent carnal knowledge acquired through sexual intercourse. This usage is attested in the well-known euphemism “Adam knew Eve his wife” and its parallels (Genesis 4:1; Genesis 19:8; Numbers 31:17, 35; Judges 11:39 and 21:11; 1 Kings 1:4; 1 Samuel 1:19). It is also used to describe the knowledge of sexual perversions such as sodomy (Genesis 19:5; Judges 19:22) and rape (Judges 19:25).
NB: Other examples in which da’at is used in place of sexual intercourse (or, in some cases, rape) are, but not limited to, Genesis 4:17, 4:25, 9:24, 19:4-35, 24:26, 38:26, Num 31:18, Judges 21:12, etc.)
(2) Tov vara (good and bad) symbolizes sexual awareness, i.e., to be cognizant of erotic feelings. The argument for this view arises from the use of tov vara in Deut 1:39 and 2 Sam 19:35. In these verses we learn that the very young and the very old do not possess tov vara. Stated another way, the very young and the very old are ignorant of tov vara, but evidently not so the adults. The knowledge of good and bad is a kind of knowledge that 3 year olds do not have and in 80 year olds has disappeared. This is consistent with human experience and sexual biology. Young children are not sexually active because they are sexually immature and possess no erotic urges of which to be aware. Similarly, the very old are not sexually active because the capability of being sexually aroused has diminished with age or vanished altogether.
In the Eden story, hada’at tov vara refers to the knowledge of our sexual natures. Each of us are not only sexually aware of our own natures, but we are aware and respond to the sexuality of others. In other words, we are cognizant of the erotic tension that exists between male and female, man and woman, husband and wife.
In verse 3:22, God indicates that the ability to procreate makes Adam and Eve like God himself. If tov vara means sexual awareness – the ability to feel and express erotic feelings toward another – does this mean God is sexually aware?
The answer is straightforward. God is certainly knows about sex, but He is not human and therefore not subject to human biological imperatives. Accordingly, scholars, noting that the human can create other humans, there exists a functional equivalence between God and the human. Both can create other humans although by different mechanisms.
There is a pleasing coherence in this interpretation between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. In both, God is a creator. In Genesis 1, mankind is commanded to procreate and so is a creator of sorts. In Genesis 2, mankind [symbolically] acquires the ability to create (i.e., “know how to [pro]create”). However, since they reside in a confined space (a garden) they must be denied access to the tree of life and immortality otherwise the Garden would be soon overrun. Thus, denied access to the tree, the human becomes mortal and subject to death (see commentary for 2:17). In other words, to have a situation in which immortal humans, humans that cannot die, are able to procreate while living in a confined space (i.e., the Garden) is untenable. When God learns that the humans had chosen mortality (by way of procreation), God immediately began the process of expulsion.
Along with moral autonomy comes moral accountability.
Evil or Bad?
From Harris, et al (ref #2191.0, the definition of the noun form of ra`):
ra`. Bad, evil (noun). The masculine noun ra` often is set in contrast with tov (good) as opposite poles of the moral spectrum. Sometimes shalom (peace) is given as its opposite. The noun is further defined as being that condition or action which in his (God’s) sight is unacceptable (Jer 52:2; Mal 2:17; cf. Neh 9:28).
Starting with the purely secular meaning of the noun, one finds that ra` denotes physical injury (Jer 39:12), Times of distress (Amos 6:3 and the famous verse, Isa 45:7 “I bring prosperity and create disaster” NIV), but mostly denotes unethical or immoral activity against other people, whether by speech (Psa 41:3 [H 6]; Psa 73:8; Psa 109:20), by practice (Mic 2:1; Mic 7:3), or by offering improper sacrifices (Mal 1:8).
Twice ra` serves as an abstract of an inner condition (Psa 7:9 [H 10]; Prov 12:21; “wickedness”), but most often it helps depict inner attitudes toward either God or man. A person may plan, desire, love, and rejoice in ra` (Psa 52:3; Prov 2:14; Prov 6:14; Prov 12:20), or be apathetic (Psa 36:4; cf. Prov 28:4). ra` may be a refusal to respond to God’s (Neh 9:35) which issues in an all-out surrender to this activity (2 Kings 21:9; 2 Chr 33:9; Prov 1:16; Isa 59:7).
The person whose way of life is characterized by ra` has a bleak future, if he continues in it. God is against him (Isa 31:2) and has declared sentence against him (Mic 1:12). Life itself is against him (Deut 31:29; Job 2:10; Job 30:26; Psa 54:5; Psa 140:11-12; Prov 13:17; Prov 14:22; Eccl 8:9).
Left to himself, an evil person has no chance of survival. But the God who is his judge is also the one who calls him to change his ways; it must be a radical action on man’s part (Psa 34:15; Psa 37:27; Prov 3:7; Amos 5:14-15; Zech 1:4). This is a far more beneficial method than the legal method mentioned about ten times in Deut as a “putting away” (“purge” RSV) of evil. God promises that man’s turning from ra` will lead to a saving event (Job 5:19; Psa 121:7; Prov 19:23). Assurance is added to the promise (Psa 10:6; Psa 23:4) that this salvation is an actual experience of life, which can be tied to commitment (Psa 119:101; Jer 42:6). And there is advice on how to keep free from ra`. A person is told to keep from it ( Prov 6:24; Isa 56:2; Jer 7:6), which may include a strong attitude of hating ra` ( Psa 97:10; Prov 8:13; Amos 5:15). Above all, do not provoke God with idols ( Jer 25:7).
What is an imperfect verb in Hebrew?
The imperfect conjugation of a Hebrew verb is used to express incomplete action and is usually translated to the English present tense (I walk) or the future tense (I will walk). The imperfect also denotes habitual or customary action – past, present, or future tense. The imperfect may also be rendered as one of several modal values (would, should, can, etc.) which are suggested only by context and syntax.
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