Intentional mistranslation of Genesis

Genesis 5:1 onward

From the ESV, interpolated with Strong’s numbers from my interlinear Hebrew.

When God[430] created man[120], he made him in the likeness[1823] of God[430]. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man[120] when they were created. When Adam[120] had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness[1823], after his image, and named him Seth.

A less deceptive translation might read:

In the day that God created Adam, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Adam in the day they were created….

Note the strange (yet parallel) emphasis on Adam fathering a son “in his own likeness, after his image”. Elohim creates Adam in his own likeness. Adam fathers Seth in his own likeness. Is there any way to avoid the plain reading of physical resemblance here?

The emphasis on likeness becomes more suggestive when linked with Genesis 4:1.

Now Adam[120] knew Eve his wife[802], and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man[376] {with the help} of the LORD[3068].

So Eve got a 376 instead of a 120. N.B. “with the help” does not exist in the Hebrew.

One more fun bit of linkage:

Genesis 4:6

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire[8669] is for you, but you must rule[***] over it.

Genesis 3:16:

Your desire[8669] shall be for your husband[376], and he shall rule[***] over you.

Where I have marked ***, the words are the same in Hebrew, but my interlinear lacks a Strong’s reference.

This is hugely important for the interpretation of Eve’s curse. She shall “desire” her man the way sin “desires” Cain. The man shall rule over Eve the way Cain is exhorted to rule over sin.

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Filed under Feral Females, Race

9 responses to “Intentional mistranslation of Genesis

  1. wm tanksley

    The headline is overblown and silly — you give not the slightest reason to suspect deception, let alone deliberate deception, on anyone’s part. And the KJV is similar, so that doubles down on the unlikelihood of deception — when I find similarity between those two I see imitation, not creativity.

    As you noticed, one of the Hebrew words for ‘man’ is ‘adam’. You have to use context, and sometimes some grammatical cues, to know which is in focus, the man in specific or men in general. Your choice to translate “and named them Adam” is an especially mysterious one, since Adam’s name isn’t the name of a plurality. He named _them_ ‘man’. He created _him_, but then He created _them_ and named _them_. (The NET has an odd approach in collectivizing the singular ‘he’ in that verse, so that’s the one I’d be suspicious of — although elsewhere the NET seems to avoid biased translations.)

    I do agree that the parallel to Gen 5:3 (you didn’t reference it, but you cited it) is compelling. I do not see any reason to read physical resemblance as the motivating factor; on the contrary, it’s absurd in the highest, since the Noahide murder code is motivated by this ‘image’. You might as well punish destroying a good statue with death, if physical resemblance was intended.

    The word ‘rule’ is a translation of ‘mashal’, 4910. I also agree that the parallel to Cain’s situation is very strong, and the ESV seems to agree, since it even puts the same footnote in both places.

    The word the Bible used for ‘man’ elsewhere is ‘ish’. In comparison ‘adam’ is more metaphorical, more about living man than about male man. Adam literally means ‘ruddy’.

  2. Matthew

    “Your choice to translate “and named them Adam” is an especially mysterious one, since Adam’s name isn’t the name of a plurality. ”

    You beg the question.

  3. wm tanksley

    “Begging the question” would involve assuming that your conclusion was false, and arguing based on that. I did nothing of the sort. Your conclusion, stated in your headline and the paragraph before your own translation, was that the ESV was being “intentionally deceptive”. You adduced zero evidence that could possibly support the claim of intentional deception; your only evidence that it’s mistranslated is that you wrote a different translation — and why should that count as evidence? (That’s intended as an honest question, not a leading one. You may very well be a Hebrew scholar or be able to cite one. I’m no Hebrew scholar, so I can’t overpower that.)

    Your new headline is exactly as bad as the old one, by the way — ‘deception’ actually implies intention.

    However, I’m going to speculate that your reply, “you beg the question”, means that I accidentally found and questioned the central assumption of your argument (that the plural in “and let them have dominion” is somehow supposed to have singular force and somehow be directed at Adam himself rather than all mankind). I would like to see you state that assumption and even defend it rather than hiding it and claiming that the person who discovered your assumption (in spite of you never actually saying it) is committing a fallacy by questioning it. The simple question of whether that one verb is plural (it is) is a trivial point, not proving either of our cases, but as I continue reading the story I see more and more evidence that the reign over creation is extended to the entire human race, including both male and female that God created, using fairly consistent language.

    I dug around in old translations (LXX and Vulgate), and although I found some that use the singular of the verb, none of them use Adam’s personal name; they appear to be using the singular of the verb because their word ‘man’ is grammatically singular. (Once again, the Hebrew is unmistakably plural; I confirmed with the Westminster Hebrew Morphology Database since I don’t perfectly trust my own knowledge.)

    Even if you DO manage to support this allegedly central claim, you still won’t have supported your title’s inflammatory claims of intentional deception, since the same basic translation has been made in all translations I could find, so (assuming your translational skill) the best you could prove is that all translators before you were wrong.

    P.S. Your reading of “image and likeness” referring to physical likeness is immensely unlikely — even if you assume that God is talking about a physical likeness (you didn’t state any reason for believing that), Noah’s law grounds punishment for murder on each man being made in God’s image, which if it were physical would be a mere passing resemblance by that time. Doubly so for James’ grounding of slanderous words.

  4. > one of the Hebrew words for ‘man’ is ‘adam’

    This is the problematic assumption.

  5. wm tanksley

    No, it’s not problematic at all to assert that ‘adam’ means ‘man’ — in the 500+ uses of the word in the Hebrew of the Bible, it’s used to mean ‘man’ almost all the time. Only in Gen 1-5, the genealogy in 1 Chron, and controversially a verse in Hosea does it clearly refer to Adam himself; and in this case (Gen 1:26-27) its usage makes it likely to be talking about mankind in general, both because it’s grammatically more sensible and since it’s describing an authority that remains with mankind (and that is explicitly a plural authority).

    But I’m still not seeing your point. Even supposing that ‘adam’ WERE intended as the proper name rather than the generic, why would that prove that the ESV’s translation was deceptive, let alone intentional? The LXX takes the same translation, so if one’s deceptive, so’s the other. The ESV certainly could be deceived under that assumption, but they couldn’t be intentionally deceptive.

    And furthermore, assuming that they’re being deceptive (intentionally or not), what are they being deceptive _about_? Here you give almost no information at all; again I’m reduced to guessing. My best guess is that you think only Adam was made in the image of God, and that he passed on his own image (and maybe God’s image?) to Seth. Your completely ungrounded claims about ‘image’ referring to physical appearance only are evidence that this might be part of your claim. I can speculate further, but there’s just so little evidence in your post that it’s pure speculation — I’ve already gone beyond the available evidence.

    Why won’t you SAY what you mean?

  6. Because I don’t know what it means, only that men like you have lied and lied and lied about what it means.

  7. wm tanksley

    I have to take that accusation as being an expression of frustration rather than an attempt to state truth. Unfortunately, I have no clue what you’re frustrated about.

    I didn’t ask what *it* means — I asked what *you* mean. Surely you know that!

    How could you post a proposed translation and at the same time not know what it means?

    How can you know people are lying when you don’t know what they’re lying *about*? And why would you even care? Do you think the Bible is *that* opaque?

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