a foreignising translation of genesis 1, part III

It’s been too long since the last installment in this series, partly due to holidays, partly due to internet problems, and partly due to being too busy, but here come the next two days of Genesis 1 at last.

Then God said, “Let the waters under the sky be collected to one place so that dry ground appears.” And it was so. Then God named the dry ground “land” and he named the collected waters “seas.” God recognised that it was good.

Then God said, “Let the land sprout plants: crops1 and fruit-trees producing varieties of fruit containing its seed.” And it was so. So the land produced plants—varieties of crops and varieties of trees bearing fruit containing its seed. God recognised that it was good, and there was evening and then morning, a third day.

Then God said, “Let there be lights on2 the barrier of the sky to separate between the day and the night, and let them mark the times for days and years, and let them be lights on the barrier of the sky to shed light on the land.” And it was so.

God made the two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night—and the stars. God placed them on the barrier of the sky to shine on the land, to govern3 the day and the night, and to separate between the light and the darkness. And God recognised that it was good. And there was evening and then morning, a fourth day.


1. The expression עשב מזריע זרע is usually rendered “seed-bearing plants.” This raises the question: why the qualification about seeds, are there any plants which do not bear seeds? I suspect something more specific is on view here, and that is that the plants on view are crops and that the expression focuses on the ‘sowing’ aspect of the verb זרע. By extension, the reference to ‘fruit-trees’ probably focuses specifically on those cultivated for food. Furthermore, verses 29–30 specifically identify these plants as being for human consumption but also draw a distinction from other plants (כל ירק עשב) which are for animals. Cultivated crops are certainly in view later in Gen 2:5.

2. Note HALOT on the use of the preposition ב says “5. in association with high objects ב means upon: בחרב 1K 89, בסוסים Is 6620.” So also in subsequent uses of ב here in reference to the placement of lights on the barrier.

3. “Govern” is fairly neutral in Australian English, although I’m concerned a little over its connotations in US English where you actually have governors (or a “governator” in California), so the term may be less suitable in that context.

4 thoughts on “a foreignising translation of genesis 1, part III

  1. Martin,

    Very nice. Your idea that seed-bearing plants is an expression for crops makes a lot of sense in context.

    I’m not sure the locative preposition “b” can be parsed into separate bins such that it sometimes means “in” and sometimes means “on.” I don’t think that is how the semantics of prepositions work.

    “B” is a locative preposition which, in terms of target language needs, sometimes has to be translated “in,’ sometimes “on,” sometimes “from,” etc. In this case, “in” or “on” are possible.

    It’s kind of subtle. *On* the ceiling of my kitchen, track lighting was installed. “In” the ceiling of my office, the [recessed] florescent lighting doesn’t work very well anymore.

  2. Hi John,

    I don’t mean to claim that, in its original context, the preposition would have been thought to have had discrete sets of meanings (apart from possible idiomatic usages which I don’t think apply here). However, the semantic range of ב doesn’t align precisely with any single English preposition and so I think HALOT reflects the fact that certain contexts are more amenable to certain English terms than others and that there may be patterns to such usage.

    In other words, I agree!

    And watch those recessed fluorescent lights: I once saw some switched on and what looked like a sheet of flame spread across the ceiling (fortunately without igniting anything)…

  3. you might consider that since it is explicitly stated that every herb which bears seed and every tree which bears seed is given for food. Thus, if something does not bear seed, it is not for food, not to be eaten. Then, the specific prohibition to not eat of specific trees indicates they are not crop bearing, not reproductive and for another purpose: tree of knowledge of good and evil, and tree of life. IOW there was a purpose for indicating “without seed”.

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