God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Professor Ellen van Wolde and bara in Genesis

The Dutch Trouw has an article about Professor Ellen van Wolde’s notion that:

Zo stuitte ze op de openingsverzen van het bijbelboek waarop ze ooit promoveerde. Preciezer: Op het werkwoord bara. Dat betekent volgens iedereen ‘scheppen’, maar voor Van Wolde voldeed die vertaling niet meer. “Het klópte gewoon niet.” Bij het werkwoord was God het onderwerp (God schiep…), gevolgd door ‘steeds twee of meer lijdende voorwerpen’. Waarom schiep God niet één ding of dier, maar steeds meerdere? Omdat, stelde Van Wolde vast, God niet schiep, maar scheidde. De aarde van de hemel, het land van de zee, de zeemonsters van de vogels en het gekrioel op de grond. [Emphasis added.]

That is, according to Van Wolde, bara means “separated,” not “created.” Her evidence is that the verb applies to more than one thing at a time: “heaven” and “earth,” for example, which she takes as “separated heaven from earth.”

I don’t see it.

There’s enormous evidence from elsewhere that bara means “create,” not “separate.” And even though Genesis starts out by things that are created in pairs or groups, we don’t have to look far to see counterexamples: The first part of Genesis 1:27 (“God barad adam“), Genesis 5:1 (similar), Isaiah 43:1 (“…Adonai, who barad you…”), Malachi 2:10 (“[we are all the same because] one God barad us”), Amos 4:13 ([the one who “forms the mountains and baras the wind”), Ezekiel 21:35 (“in the place where you were barad … I will judge you”), etc. Even her own example from Genesis 1:21 (“sea monsters,” and “birds”) seems barely to fit her thesis.

And for that matter, there is a verb “separate” (hivdil) in the creation story.

I wouldn’t want my own work judged from a newspaper account of it, but in this case we all have the lexical data. It’s true that bara sometimes applies to more than one thing. But even without the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I think it would be an unwarranted leap to therefore assume that the verb means “separate.”

[UPDATE: For more, see here, here, and here.]

[UPDATE 2: I’ve put together a short review of Dr. Van Wolde’s paper.]

October 9, 2009 Posted by | translation practice | , , , , , | 12 Comments