Genesis 3:8

Translation

וַֽיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶת־קוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים מִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּגָּן לְרוּחַ הַיּ֑וֹם וַיִּתְחַבֵּא הָֽאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ מִפְּנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים בְּתוֹךְ עֵץ הַגָּֽן

Then they heard the thunder of the LORD God rolling through the garden during the wind storm. So, the man and his wife hid among the trees of the garden from the LORD God.

Commentary

thunder of the LORD … during the wind storm: The Hebrew of this verse has puzzled translators and Bible scholars for two millenia. The confusion arises in two problematic translations exemplified and underlined in the NIV’s version below:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

sound vs thunder: the Hebrew word in question is קוֹל (qol), highlighted in red in the Hebrew text above is commonly translated as voice (285 times) or sound (100 times), qol is also translated as thunder (or words synonymous with thunder, e.g., blast in Exodus 19:19). However, translating qol to thunder (or its synonyms) is only used when characterizing a sound made by God, or associated with God’s appearance to man1)The appearance of a god is called a theophany. In the Hebrew Bible, the Judeo-Christian God often appears in what is termed a storm theophany – a fascinating biblical phenomenon about which you can read more here in a downloadable PDF.. For example, God sends thunder (qol) and hail (Exodus 9:23-34). Thus, it would seem that a valid translation of qol would reflect that qol, in this (and other) cases, is a sound associated with His presence. Does such an association exist in Genesis 3:8?

Yes! And that brings us to the second translation difficulty.

wind storm vs “cool of the day”: the difficulty with this verse lies in the phrase (shown in purple letters), “in the cool of the day“, לְרוּחַ הַיּ֑וֹם (ləruach hayyom). Its literal translation is, “to the wind of the day“. In this regard, the NET’s translation is somewhat more faithful to the underlying Hebrew with the phrase “in the breezy time of day“. In any case, the expression is odd if only because it seems out of place, gratuitous. The NIV, NIRV, the NKJV, and the KJV translations take even greater liberties translating the phrase along the lines of “in the cool of the day”. Nowhere in the text (or its context) is the suggestion that temperature or time is in view.

In other words, how do the weather conditions as pictured in these translations contribute to the literary understanding of the narrative? This, of course, raises the subsidiary question, is there a better way to translate ləruach hayyom in a way that the weather actually has something to do with the story?

Yes, as it happens, and the key to its proper translation comes from studying corresponding words in languages closely related to ancient Hebrew, especially the Akkadian language (an ancestor of biblical Hebrew)2)Caveat: I am normally very skeptical (as are most translators) of translations based wholly, or in part, on cognate studies. Only in cases where a translation difficulty is otherwise impossible to solve should cognates be used. Fortunately, this verse falls into the latter category and, moreover, lead to a particularly satisfying result..

In the Akkadian language the cognate word for the Hebrew word hayyom is umu which, like hayyom, can mean ‘day’. However, its homonym means “storm”.  Jeffrey Niehaus, professor of Old Testament at Gordon Cromwell Seminary points out that this cognate is attested elsewhere in the Bible3)Neihaus, Jeffrey, God at Sinai, pp 155-160. Also, see  Holladay, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, ref #3241 — Song of Solomon 2:17 and Zephaniah 2:2. and makes the case that in Genesis 3:8, the biblical author meant to convey the sense that Adam and Eve heard the thunder of a storm as God moved about in the Garden.

The connection between the “thunder of God” and the “wind of the storm” is clear. God has come to make good on the promise that the consequence of eating from the tree of knowledge would be the loss of their immortality.

hid-among-the-treeshid among the trees: why do Adam and Eve hide from God? Where before they were immortal, their relationship with God was whole. Full. Complete.  In the Hebraic sense, perfect. God and His garden were completely familiar to them and was not something to be feared. Indeed, Adam was the garden’s keeper. Nothing to fear here. Now, having lost their immortality they have become estranged from God. They are no longer immortal and, to this extent at least, are estranged from Him. Where before storms and thunder were part of their natural, immortal existence, the thunder and blowing wind now prove to be a threat. Because they are mortal for the first time they fear for their lives. They hide from God, no longer present as their companion and creator, but coming in the thunderous tumult of a storm.

Preliminary Translations

My translation conventions can be found here.

Mechanical

And-they-heard the-thunder-of the LORD God moving-around in-the-garden in-the wind-of-the-storm. And-hid, the-man and-his-woman, from-the-face-of the-LORD God among-the-midst-of the-trees-of the-garden

Literal

And they heard the thunder of the LORD God moving through the garden in the storm. So, the man and his wife hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

Commercial Bible Translations

  • (nas) And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
  • (kjv) And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
  • (niv) Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
  • (nlt) When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the LORD God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the LORD God among the trees.

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