Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Textual Variance at Its Aggravating Finest

For the second time in my life, I am endeavoring to preach through the book of Genesis on Sunday Morning. I believe that if God ever calls me to another work, I will do so again. I believe that Genesis, and actually the Torah in general (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), is the foundation upon which the rest of Scripture rests. Indeed, if you read the prophets, especially John's Revelation, you will find that the prophets are speaking "Torah."

Nevertheless, I am now faced for the second time with a very difficult textual variant in Genesis. Here is how the New King James translates the text:
"The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it" (Gen. 2:15). This makes it seem as if the first duty of man in the garden is to work and cultivate the garden paradise. There's only one problem: the pronouns don't agree in the Hebrew. In the Hebrew, there are pronouns attached to the words translated "tend" and "keep". Literally, it would be to "tend it" and to "keep it." In Hebrew, these pronouns are feminine. The thing which they seem to refer to later in the verse, "garden", is actually a masculine noun. The problem is that the pronouns should agree in gender with the antecedent, or the noun they are representing, which they don't.

Now the OT Hebrew did not origninally have vowels. These vowel points were added by a group called the Masoretes who worked on the text between the 7th and 11th century A.D. If you take away the vowel points and search have a translation which would correspond with gender agreement, the text becomes, "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to worship and obey." The only commentary that I know of that directly addresses this gender-bender problem is Dr. John Sailhamer's The Pentateuch as Narrative. Even the usually super-scholarly Keil and Delitzsch pass over it without comment. The only one who even seems to notice is Victor Hamilton in his commentary in the New International Commentary of the Old Testament series. He writes in a footnote:
The pronominal suffix "it" on "dress" and "keep" is feminine. "Garden" is masculine. Does this indicate thtat the reference is to the ground/earth (fem.) in the garden that man is to till and tend? Or is it the case that many nouns deoting places have a variable gender (GKC 1221)? I am inclined to prefer the former explanation, if only for the fact that nowhere else is gan treated as feminine.

Now, you aren't already asleep, I want to pose to you a question. If you knew about this, would you bring it up in your lesson? Does it change how you view this verse? How would you address it in a sermon? Would you? Just some food for thought. Comments appreciated.

15 comments:

Even So... said...

I'd say not with a new congregation that doesn't know you yet, and you don't know them yet...don't do it yet...not all the way, at least...

Perhaps you might mention that it could mean this or that, but that either way, in the larger context, etc....if the scholars hardly mention it, then, well...is it that important? Sometimes it might indeed be, and your conscience can't let it go, but in this particular case, I'm not so sure it is that big of a deal...

Even So... said...

This last Sunday I preached from Psalm 90, and the background for Moses' writing is tradtionally considred to be the sin of Kadesh-Barnea, that is, Moses wrote it at the end of the wilderness journey...

However, this is not explicitly stated, and, considering the content of the Psalm, why would Moses not mention the Exodus in verses 1-11 at all? And os some I read said they believed Moses wrote it while he was 40 years in the wilderness, before the Exodus...

I did bring this up, but used iot to say that either way, Moses anguish of soul wa evident, in that he was either writing from a perspective of seeing the 1.2 million who had died, or having to go and deliver the Jews after 400 years of slavery...seeing them wander and die in the wilderness, or seeing them in the bitter bondage in Egypt, and either way, it makes the rest of the Psalm make the same sense...

I hope that may help a little...

Even So... said...

My typing is opbviusly excellent...

Brad Williams said...

:) You've got scillz.

MColvin said...

I once got hit in the head directly with a baseball. Currently, I'm slightly more confused than I was when the baseball cracked my skull.

I better step away and come back to this when I can concentrate.

Ched said...

Does it change how you view this verse? How would you address it in a sermon? Would you?

Depending on how you view the Biblical Covenants, I think it would make a difference. If the construct is understood as "worship and obey" rather than "till and keep" (Sailhamer), then the passage will take on an entirely different feel.

In one, the people were put in the garden to take care of the garden. In the other, the people are put there with the express purpose of worship and obedience. It makes sense that right after God tells them to "worship and obey," he gives them a command to obey.

In this sense, the rest of the biblical covenants build on the covenant between God and his people as a result of creation. God's people are to exist in his kingdom for the expressed purpose of worshiping and obeying. The rest of the covenants (culminating in the New Covenant) are means of bringing about elements of this initial covenant (e.g., the worship and obedience of Israel and the nations).

Anyway, just a thought,

Joe Blackmon said...

To me, this would seem to be more information than they would need to know. Ultimately, I don't think I'd freak out about this if I was in the congregation and you told me. You might risk losing some people while trying to make a point.

Just my 2 cents. Really emjoyed the blog, dude.

Joe Blackmon said...

BTW, we moved from Scottsboro, Alabama to Tennessee a few years ago. I'm an accountant, but I used to run the Papa John's Pizza in Scottsboro and did manager training at the one in Albertville. Small world.

Brad Williams said...

Matt,

That was exactly the sort of reaction I was going for.

Ched,

I see that you've read Dr. Sailhamer's work as well. I largely agree with your conclusions as well. How would you present this section of text to the church?

Joe,

It is a small world. I once worked at Domino's Pizza in Albertville. Can we still be friends?

Anonymous said...

...as one who will be hearing you on Sunday - I am with Matt...

I mean that in the nicest way...ha...

MdA

Joe Blackmon said...

Brad

Domino's? Dude, that is just wrong. Everybody knows Pizza Hut is better. Haa haa

Drop me a line via email. Address is in my blogger profile.

later

J B said...

So Brad, are you saying that pronouns were incorrectly added thousands of years after the original account was written?

Seems like both translations would work in the context of the rest of the Bible, although it is interesting that there is a possible discrepancy.

When you figure it out, let me know!

mcolvin said...

Ok...now that the baseball bruise is healing and I've had time to digest this a bit, here goes my very feeble attempt at answering your questions:

1. I would not bring it up in the lesson. Not being versed in the translations, I would only butcher it more. I would probably discuss worship and obey vs tend it and keep it. Most would understand that. It's just he process of getting there that causes baseballs to fly.

2. 'Worship and obey' is much different than 'tend it' and 'keep it'. So yes, it does change what could be interpreted.

3. Sermon...Not so sure I'd dwell into the explanation of the pronouns and conjunction junctions. I guarantee you that you would lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 99% listening and 100% not listening. I believe pointing out the difference is important, but the explanation is tough to follow.

4. I don't preach, but if I ever teach from this verse, I won't touch it, see answer 1.

Looking forward to it.

MC

Brad Williams said...

JB,

No, not the pronouns. The pronouns suffixed to the end of "work" and "tend" were in the original text. What I would be questioning is the addition of the vowels.

Pappy said...

I think it is definitely worth mentioning. How deep you go may be the real question. Even if mentioned in passing, it seems important enough to state.

Im praying for you, Preecha. Keep preechin the word!