[b-hebrew] Genesis 3:15 and order of ideas

Heard, Christopher Christopher.Heard at pepperdine.edu
Tue Dec 21 21:46:41 EST 2004

In response to some other stuff, mshulman wrote:
>> Unfortunately that is a very non-Biblical view. Women are considered to
>> have seed. See Leviticus 12:2.

Revdpickrel replied:
> Lev. 12:2 does not support that a woman has a seed,  it supports that she has
> conceived seed from a male and has become preg.  That means the little
> swimmer has found an egg and she has become with child.  There was still a man
> present here.

To be precise, Lev 12:2 does not use the noun zera(, "seed." It uses the
verb zara(, "to sow [seed]," in the rare hiphil form of that verb,
specifically tazriya(, the 3rd person feminine singular form. My Accordance
software finds only three instances of the hiphil of zr( in the Tanakh.

In Gen 1:11, 12, it is the masculine singular participle in the phrase
(esheb mazriya( zera(, something akin to "herbs sowing seed." It's clear
enough here that the (esheb is itself the source of its own "seed." In Gen
1:11, 12, unlike Lev 12:2, the noun zera( does actually appear as the object
of the verb zara(. Nevertheless, it at least hints that the agent who does
the zara(-ing provides the zera(. It would be plausible, though not entirely
decisive, to read the tazriya( in Lev 12:2 in a sense parallel to mazriya(
in Gen 1:11, 12.

Even if one does not take the use of mazriya( in Gen 1:11, 12 to imply that,
always, the one who does the hiphil zara(-ing supplies the zera(, Lev 12:2
still has the woman as the active agent of the zara(-ing, the "sowing," not
as a passive recipient of zera(.

The above instances are the only ones I can find of the hiphil of zara(. I
cannot find any instance of the qal of zara( being used to indicate
impregnation of a woman by a man. The only verse that really comes close to
that is Jer 31:27, which quotes the LORD saying that in days to come
"vazartiy )et-beyt Yisra)el ve)et-beyt Yehudah zera( )adam vezera( behemah."
Since )adam is grammatically masculine, and behemah is grammatically
feminine, and both have seed, and the deity will zara( both, I would suggest
that the obviously quasi-metaphorical, or at least metaphysical, statement
here does little to adjudicate the question whether female humans "have"

In any event, the whole question raised on the list recently is misguided
from the beginning, because it limits zera( very narrowly to semen. Of
course women don't have semen. But zera( demonstrably means "semen" only in
a few Levitical mitzvot (Lev 15:16-18, 32; 22:4), and only in the phrase
shikbat-zera(, "emission of semen." In those contexts, it is precisely the
case that the semen does _not_ go into a woman to impregnate her.

Ordinarily, when a man has zera(, zera( means "offspring, descendants," not
"semen." Even in Genesis 38:8-9, where one might expect zera( to mean
"semen," it does _not_. Zera( appears three times in Genesis 38:8-9, each
time in the sense of "offspring, descendants," _not_ "semen."

Now, women _clearly_ have zera( in the sense of "offspring, descendants" in
the Tanakh. This is the meaning in Gen 3:15, though since that is the verse
at issue I should not try to use it to prove the point. So I will cite
Genesis 16:10, where it is absolutely clear that Hagar has zera( in the
sense of offspring, and got them in the absolutely ordinary way of being
impregnated. There is absolutely no linguistic distinction between "your
seed" in Gen 16:10 and "her seed" in Gen 3:15, except for the prepositional
suffix, but both pronouns refer to women. Add to this Gen 24:60, the
family's blessing on Rebekah that references "your [Rebekah's] zera(." Also
relevant is 1 Sam 2:20, where Eli blesses Elkanah, "yasem Adonai leka zera(
min-ha)ishshah," "may the LORD bless you with 'seed' _from_ the woman." Here
it is clear that zera( comes from, not into, the woman, and that it means
"descendants, offspring."

So do women have semen? Of course not. Do women have zera(, "seed"?
Absolutely, if we understand the word as it is actually used of humans in
the Tanakh, to mean "offspring, descendants."

R. Christopher Heard
Assistant Professor of Religion
Armstrong Fellow in Religion
Pepperdine University

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