Over at my other blog (Thus Said the LORD), I’ve posted my latest article titled The Biblical Basis For Marriage. Quite apart from the theology, the appendix has the details behind the translation of Genesis 1:26-27. Just download (or read on-line) the PDF article linked (see above).
Of interest to students of biblical Hebrew is that verse Genesis 1:27 illustrates a not uncommon error in translating verses – correctly matching the gender and number of an indefinite pronoun (e.g., ‘it’) with a grammatically compatible antecedent. For those interested in this challenge you also might want to study the commentary of Genesis 3:17-19, especially the phrase “by toil shall you eat“. The translation is quite complex to the point of being impossible (or, at least beyond my skill). Maybe one of you can offer some insight that I’ve missed. And, if you are still interested in the antecedent problem, check my commentary for Genesis 4:7. Most (all?) commercial Bibles I’ve looked at mismatch the antecedent. What do you think?
In addition to the challenge of finding a grammatically correct antecedent, the translation of 3:17-19 presents first occurrence of what is called an “energic nun”. Among its many [arguable] complexities is the understanding that the use of an engergic nun signals the reader that a verb in its command form is to be translated as a declarative statement. Good stuff.
When first learning to read biblical Hebrew (not speak, read!) far and away the most important skill is the ability to recognize its letters, vowels, words, and phrases. Learning to recognize nouns in their construct state (i.e., expressing an “of relationship”) is a wonderful way to build that skill.
I’ve just rewritten and revised the introduction to construct nouns. The section is by no means exhaustive as I’ve not covered any of the numerous exceptions to the normal rules governing construct nouns. But, we have to start somewhere so we’ll start with the simplest case. Read the lesson and then attempt to count all the instances of the Hebrew word for “land of” (i.e., the Hebrew word meaning ‘land’ or ‘earth’ in its construct state.
If you have questions just post them in the forums or as comments to this post. Take your time and have fun.
Jacob Settles in Goshen
ויָּבֹא יוֹסֵף וַיַּגֵּד לְפַרְעֹה וַיֹּאמֶר אָבִי וְאַחַ֜י וְצֹאנָם וּבְקָרָם וְכָל־אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם בָּאוּ מֵאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וְהִנָּם בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן׃ 2 וּמִקְצֵה אֶחָיו לָקַח חֲמִשָּׁה אֲנָשִׁים וַיַּצִּגֵם לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה׃ 3 וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל־אֶחָיו מַה־מַּעֲשֵׂיכֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל־פַּרְעֹה רֹעֵה צֹאן עֲבָדֶיךָ גַּם־אֲנַחְנוּ גַּם־אֲבוֹתֵינוּ׃ 4 וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל־פַּרְעֹה לָגוּר בָּאָרֶץ בָּאנוּ כִּי־אֵין מִרְעֶה לַצֹּאן אֲשֶׁר לַעֲבָדֶיךָ כִּי־כָבֵד הָרָעָב בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וְעַתָּה יֵשְׁבוּ־נָא עֲבָדֶיךָ בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן׃ 5 וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל־יוֹסֵף לֵאמֹר אָבִיךָ וְאַחֶיךָ בָּאוּ אֵלֶיךָ׃ 6 אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְפָנֶיךָ הִוא בְּמֵיטַב הָאָרֶץ הוֹשֵׁב אֶת־אָבִיךָ וְאֶת־אַחֶיךָ יֵשְׁבוּ בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן וְאִם־יָדַעְתָּ וְיֶשׁ־בָּם אַנְשֵׁי־חַיִל וְשַׂמְתָּם שָׂרֵי מִקְנֶה עַל־אֲשֶׁר־לִי׃ 7 וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת־יַעֲקֹב אָבִיו וַיַּעֲמִדֵהוּ לִפְנֵי פַרְעֹה וַיְבָרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב אֶת־פַּרְעֹה׃ 8 וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל־יַעֲקֹב כַּמָּה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֶּיךָ׃ 9 וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל־פַּרְעֹה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי מְגוּרַי שְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה מְעַט וְרָעִים הָיוּ יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיַּי וְלֹא הִשִּׂיגוּ אֶת־יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי אֲבֹתַי בִּימֵי מְגוּרֵיהֶם׃ 10 וַיְבָרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב אֶת־פַּרְעֹה וַיֵּצֵא מִלִּפְנֵי פַרְעֹה׃ 11 וַיּוֹשֵׁב יוֹסֵף אֶת־אָבִיו וְאֶת־אֶחָיו וַיִּתֵּן לָהֶם אֲחֻזָּה בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בְּמֵיטַב הָאָרֶץ בְּאֶרֶץ רַעְמְסֵס כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה פַרְעֹה׃ 12 וַיְכַלְכֵּל יוֹסֵף אֶת־אָבִיו וְאֶת־אֶחָיו וְאֵת כָּל־בֵּית אָבִיו לֶחֶם לְפִי הַטָּף׃ 13 וְלֶחֶם אֵין בְּכָל־הָאָרֶץ כִּי־כָבֵד הָרָעָב מְאֹד וַתֵּ֜לַהּ אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וְאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן מִפְּנֵי הָרָעָב׃ 14 וַיְלַקֵּט יוֹסֵף אֶת־כָּל־הַכֶּסֶף הַנִּמְצָא בְאֶרֶץ־מִצְרַיִם וּבְאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בַּשֶּׁבֶר אֲשֶׁר־הֵם שֹׁבְרִים וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת־הַכֶּסֶף בֵּיתָה פַרְעֹה׃ 15 וַיִּתֹּם הַכֶּסֶף מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וּמֵאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן וַיָּבֹאוּ כָל־מִצְרַיִם אֶל־יוֹסֵף לֵאמֹר הָבָה־לָּנוּ לֶחֶם וְלָמָּה נָמוּת נֶגְדֶּךָ כִּי אָפֵס כָּסֶף׃
Just a reminder, this is largely a blog dedicated to learning to read and understand biblical Hebrew. So, these posts are intended to focus on the Hebrew, not the theology. However, sometimes theology cannot be avoided and the theology advanced by these 6 verses simply cannot be ignored.
In this post, I provide translations for Genesis 15:1-3, 6 – a set of verses that constitute the lynchpin of the Christian doctrine of salvation by faith. A doctrine that holds that we will attain eternal life, not by good deeds or by good works, but by our belief.
St. Paul’s mistranslation of the Greek Old Testament version Genesis 15:6
You may be surprised to know that many scholars claim that 15:6 is an egregious mistranslation and that all English Bibles get it exactly backwards. However, the Hebrew text is quite explicit: God does NOT judge Avram. In fact, it is Avram who does the judging and he (begrudgingly, it seems) judges God as righteous.
The five preceeding verses, Genesis 15:1-5, are important because they set the context. Specifically, they show Avram to have become frustrated (and maybe a little angry) with God for His incessent promising of descendents without any follow-through.
Let me know what you think.
לֵךָ־נָא וְדִּבְרֵי (Now, go and study)
As you continue your study of biblical Hebrew you will no doubt encounter people who take offense to your understanding of the biblical text. You should not feel attacked. Rather, treat your interlocutor as an opportunity to clarify your own thinking and, along the way, give him or her something to think about. But, you should never, ever take it upon yourself to win the argument. Your goal must always be to walk away from the discussion knowing that your interlocutor understands your position. In effect, agreeing to disagree – so long as clarity is achieved – all you should ever expect.
So, what’s this all about?
Recently, I was confronted by an exceptionally aggressive (and fundamentalist) believer who took offense at the implications of my translation of Genesis 1:11-12 (the translation can be found on this page). The thrust of her argument was to the effect that God cannot make a mistake and therefore my translation is bogus.
As it happens, I agree with her that God cannot make an mistake but that’s not really the issue. So I offered to her one of my favorite quotes: this, from Bernard Ramm. The context was a discussion of whether the Great Flood in Genesis 6-9, was local or global.
It is not a question as to what God can or cannot do. Those who believe in a local Flood believe in the omnipotence and power of God as much as any other Christian does. The question is not: ‘What can God do?’ but ‘What did God do?’
– (Bernard Ramm,, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, Eerdmans, 1954, p. 163
This is really important to keep in mind as you engage other people about the Bible. It’s also a good habit to check your own understanding just to be sure your interpretations and translations are not colored by your pre-existing suppositions about God.
Now, go and study