a foreignising translation of genesis 1: part IV

Well, at last it is time to finish the remainder of Genesis 1. I’m sure there remains much room for improvement, so I’m still open to any and all suggestions. I’m also aware that there are parts of the text which remain susceptible to inappropriate domestication, so this is in no way intended to be a finished work!

Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living things, and let flying things1 fly over the land, in front of the barrier of the sky.” And God established the great sea-monsters2 and all the varieties of squirming living things with which the waters swarm, and all varieties of winged flying things. God recognised that it was good.3

And God blessed them with the words, “Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let the flying things multiply on the land.” And there was evening and then morning, a fifth day.

Then God said, “Let the land produce varieties of animals—varieties of cattle, creeping animals, and wild animals.” And it was so. God made the varieties of wild animals, varieties of cattle, and all varieties of animals which creep over the ground. God recognised that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind as our representation4 to be our proxy5 so they may rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, and over the entire land as well as all of the creeping animals which creep over the land.”

So God established humankind as his representation,
as the representation of God he created that one,
male and female he created them.

Then God blessed them with the words, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the land and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea, the flying things of the sky, and all the animals which creep over the land.” And God said, “Now I give you all the crops which are on the land and all trees bearing fruit containing its seed—these shall be your food. To all the wild animals, to the birds of the sky, and to the animals which creep over the land which are alive, [I give] every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God recognised that all which he had made was now very good. And there was evening and then morning, a sixth day.

Then the sky and the land was finished, and all their entourage. By the seventh day God had finished the work which he had done, so he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. And God blessed the seventh day and made it sacred, because on it he rested from all his work which God established.

1. In light of the apparently all-encompassing reference in the previous clause to sea-life, it seems probable that עוף here refers to more than merely birds but encompasses everything that flies (see Lev 11:20; Deut 14:19). Using “flying things” also allows me to preserve something of the parallelism of the Hebrew ועוף יעופף.

2. Translations for התנינם הגדלים include “great sea creatures” (ESV, NET), “great creatures of the sea” (NIV, TNIV), “great whales” (KJV), “huge whales” (Message). These all overly domesticate a term which likely incorporated some element of mystery: “something large lurking in the depths whose identity is not entirely clear to us.”

3. The term “good” is pretty vague, but then so also is the Hebrew טוב. Hamilton translates as “beautiful,” although there are other Hebrew terms (e.g. יפה) which may better express the aesthetic quality inherent in this English word. Perhaps “suitable” or “appropriate” would be good renderings (if Sailhamer’s emphasis on the anthropocentric nature of the narrative is correct, then God’s observation would highlight the suitability of each phase of creation for human habitation). HALOT’s suggestion, “in order, usable,” would seem to fit well here.

4. “Image” and “likeness” are difficult primarily because they incorporate millenia of theological baggage. “Representation” is nice because it incorporates the notion of physicality inherent in “image” but also invokes the idea of a representative which is inherent in the use of צלם but absent from the English “image.”

5. Obviously “proxy” fails to reflect the aspect of physical resemblance inherent in “likeness,” but I’m trying to avoid “likeness” in order to distance the translation from the theological baggage which would otherwise be imposed upon the text by the use of conventional terms. On the other hand, “proxy” nicely conveys the notion of representation inherent in both צלם and דמות.

2 thoughts on “a foreignising translation of genesis 1: part IV

  1. Hi Dannii. The “usual” translation is “saw” which sounds a little passive, but is also quite vague (which is not necessarily bad). I think that Gen 1 is more purposive than the passivity I associate with “saw,” and that the declarations that something is “good” imply that it is suitable for the purpose for which it was designed. As such, I chose “recognised” to emphasise the notion of divine acknowledgment that whatever was “good” was being approved as suitable to fulfil its purpose within the created order.

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