[b-hebrew] Genesis 3:5 - and ye shall be as gods

Harold Holmyard hholmyard at ont.com
Thu Aug 17 23:35:04 EDT 2006

Dear Steven,

>After I posted, I noticed that Daniel Wallace actually does 
>make the grammatical argument, possibly the only place
>it was addressed on the web till this thread. 
>Genesis 3:4-5
>The serpent said to the woman,
>“Surely you will not die for God knows that when you eat 
> from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings
> who know good and evil.”
>Or perhaps “like God, knowing.” It is unclear how the plural participle translated “knowing” is functioning. On the one hand, (yodÿ’e) could be taken as a substantival participle functioning as a predicative adjective in the sentence. In this case one might translate: “You will be, like God himself, knowers of good and evil.” On the other hand, it could be taken as an attributive adjective modifying (’elohim). In this case has to be taken as a numerical plural referring to “gods,” “divine beings,” for if the one true God were the intended referent, a singular form of the participle would almost certainly appear as a modifier. Following this line of interpretation, one could translate, “You will be like divine beings who know good and evil.” The following context may favor this translation, for in 3:22 God says to an unidentified group, “Look, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” It is probable that God is addressing his heavenly court (see the note on the word “make” in 1:26), the members of which can be called “gods” or “divine beings” from the ancient Israelite perspective. (We know some of these beings as messengers or “angels.”) An examination of parallel constructions shows that a predicative understanding (“you will be, like God himself, knowers of good and evil,” cf. NIV, NRSV) is possible, but rare (see Gen 27:23, where “hairy” is predicative, complementing the verb “to be”). The statistical evidence strongly suggests that the participle is attributive, modifying “divine beings” (see Ps 31:12; Isa 1:30; 13:14; 16:2; 29:5; 58:11; Jer 14:9; 20:9; 23:9; 31:12; 48:41; 49:22; Hos 7:11; Amos 4:11). In all of these texts, where a comparative clause and accompanying adjective/participle follow a copulative (“to be”) verb, the adjective/participle is attributive after the noun in the comparative clause. 
>Personally I think statistical analysis is often misused and abused in grammatical
>discussions, so I don't give much weight to either Daniel's or yours, on opposite
>sides of the same issue.  Grammar is full of individualistic and small group 'exceptions',
>which to the unawares may look like statistical anomalies. Context is king. 
>However, it sounds to my layman's mind that Daniel Wallace has done a decent
>overall job of explaining the grammar, and his analysis differs widely from yours,
>as you don't even consider the "attributive adjective modifying (’elohim)".
>Apparently it can be considered the more natural fit. 
>So I see good reason for staying with the most common historical Jewish 
>and Christian Hebraist understanding. 

HH: Thanks. He may be right.

Harold Holmyard

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