Genesis 3:17-19

Translation

וּלְאָדָם אָמַר כִּֽי־שָׁמַעְתָּ לְקוֹל אִשְׁתֶּךָ וַתֹּאכַל מִן־הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיךָ לֵאמֹר לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ אֲרוּרָה הָֽאֲדָמָה בַּֽעֲבוּרֶךָ בְּעִצָּבוֹן תֹּֽאכֲלֶנָּה כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּֽיךָ׃  וְקוֹץ וְדַרְדַּר תַּצְמִיחַֽ לָ֑ךְ וְאָכַלְתָּ אֶת־עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶֽה׃ בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם עַד שֽׁוּבְךָ אֶל־הָאֲדָמָה כִּי מִמֶּנָּה לֻקָּ֑חְתָּ כִּֽי־עָפָר אַתָּה וְאֶל־עָפָר תָּשֽׁוּב

But to Adam He said, “Because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate from the tree about which I warned you saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; cursed is the ground on your account. By toil you will eat all the days of your life. And, becayse thorn and thistle will only grow outside of the Garden of Eden, you must cultivate your own food. Therefore, by the sweat of your brow shall you eat food until your return to the ground. For from it you were taken because dust you were and to dust you shall return.

Commentary

listened … ate: Here God is not upset that Adam ate the fruit. After all, God was clear that the choice to eat was up to them. Rather, His warning was ignored in favor of the serpent’s argument (by proxy through Eve) that God’s warning was suspect1)Wenham, P. 82. In other words, once the serpent convinced Eve that God’s warning was suspect, Adam acquiesced without objection.

Here, for the first time in the biblical narrative we encounter, quite explicitly, one of the Bible’s main themes: that mankind is disposed to idolatry, choosing instead to elevate his own will above that of God’s. This disposition is so strong that Adam and Eve sacrificed their immortal lives in utopia for mortality and a life on their own.

cursed is the ground on your account: a clear statement that Adam and Eve are now to be consigned to the mortal earth – an earth that is not the fecund earth of Eden. Outside of Eden, a living may only be exacted by toil.

by toil shall you eat: this is an exceedingly difficult phrase to translate for two reasons. First, the word for toil, בְּעִצָּבוֹן (bəitzavon) is terminated with an energic Nun. Now, the presence of an energic Nun means that the phrase is not to be intepreted as a command but as an indicative. So, in this case, instead of writing “by toil you shall eat” I opted for “by toil shall you eat”. Where the former can be interpreted as a command the latter cannot.

Second, the grammatical structure of the verse cannot be rationalized. More specifically, its literal translation contains an indefinite pronoun ‘it’ (3rd person, feminine, colored red) for which there does not appear to be an appropriate antecedent. For example, here is its literal translation…

by toil shall you eat it

where the only feminine nouns eligible as antecedents are ‘cursed‘ and ‘ground‘, neither of which make sense. Here, for example, are the two nonsensical but grammatically correct translations:

by toil shall you eat cursed ??

by toil shall you eat ground ??

Accordingly, I have omitted the pronoun in this translation.

since thorn and thistle will only grow for you, you must cultivate your food: This phrase recapitulates the creation of man in Genesis 2:5-6. Recall the sequence of the narrative’s creation events:

  1. God brought rain to the earth so that wild plants (thorn and thistle) could flourish.
  2. God created man so that cultivated plants (not yet created) could be grown.
  3. God created the Garden of Eden containing plants and trees to be cultivated.
  4. God place man in the Garden.

Accordingly, man was never intended to live outside of the Garden. In the context of the narrative, man does not yet know how to “live off the land”, i.e., as a hunter-gatherer. So, in this phrase, God reminds the man that survival means cultivation of land that heretofore, grows only thorn and thistle.

Preliminary Translations

My translation conventions can be found here.

Mechanical

And-to-Adam He-said, “Because-you-listened to-the-voice-of your-wife and-ate from-the-tree which I-warned-you to-say, ‘not shall-you-eat from-it,’ cursed the-ground by-your-account you-shall-eat-it all days-of your-living. And-thorn and-thistle will-be-caused-to-grow for-you and-you-will-eat the-herb-of the-field. By-sweat-of your-face shall-you-eat food until returning to-the-ground for from-it you-were-taken because-dust you and-to-dust you-will-return.

Literal

And to Adam He said, “Because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate from the tree of which I warned you when I said, “You shall not eat from it”, cursed [is] the ground on your account you shall eat if all the days of your life. And thorn and thistle will grow for you, and you will eat of herbs of the field. By sweat of your face you shall eat food until you return to the ground. For from it you were taken because dust you [were] and to dust you will return.

Commercial Bible Translations

  • (nas) Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. 18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you shall eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”
  • (kjv) And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
  • (niv) To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
  • (nlt) And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. 18 It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. 19 By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

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