[b-hebrew] Light be made versus Let there be light.

James Christian jc.bhebrew at googlemail.com
Tue Oct 13 17:17:26 EDT 2009

Sorry for the delay in reply. Been busy lately with transfers to new
universities. I'm now doing a new PhD at Essex with a first year MA in
computational linguistics. Should be fun. Anyway, on with the discussion...

Some time ago Steve made the question below and expanded on it off list to
me. He said he wouldn't mind me answering on list.

Just to make things clear I am not advocating that Wycliffe's translation
was superior to Tyndale's. Neither am I advocating the reverse. In fact I am
not advocating anything. The issue is far from resolved in my mind. My
intention was to stimulate discussion to help me resolve the question. The
way I see it is this:

We are clearly attempting to translate a situation which does not occur in
everday life and so is difficult to find corresponding natural language
equivalents of as ideal target language translations. My understanding is
that Tyndale 'invented' the English idiom 'Let there be...' for this very
reason. So the question is this. Was the Hebrew also an example of such rare
and funny sounding language? I have reason to believe it wasn't. Did Moses
(or the author) make up a funny sounding Hebrew expression to express this?
Or did he reuse easily understood formulas and forms? I am not certain but I
think he did. Can anybody suggest any similar formulas or forms from other
parts of the Tanakh? If so, this would seem to suggest implications about
the register of the language used in the creation account.

In conclusion, I have no answers. Only more questions. The Greek
translations show one understanding. That understanding seems to be echoed
in the Latin. Wycliffer attempted to echo that Latin and Tyndale concluded
that the English of his day had no form corresponding to the Hebrew and so
coined a new phrase. What do the list members think? Was Tyndale justified
in coining a new phrase? Is the register in Hebrew equally strange?

James Christian

2009/10/2 Steve <cosmos at intergate.com>

> James and list members:
> If anyone knows (if the information exists at all), what is the logic that
> Tyndale used in the translation: "Let there be light..." Do other
> translations that render the Hebrew this way merely follow suit, or have
> they chosen based upon considerations from within the text?
> Thank you,
> Steve Teague
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "James Christian" <
> jc.bhebrew at googlemail.com>
> To: "b-hebrew" <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
> Sent: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 7:05 AM
> Subject: [b-hebrew] Light be made versus Let there be light.
>   Hi all,
>> recently I said:
>> ויאמר אלהים יהי אור Traditionally we translate this as 'And God said "Let
>> there be light"'. The 'let there be light' idiom we owe to William Tyndale
>> who coined the phrase structure 'let there be...'. Personally, I don't
>> think
>> this is particularly good English (at least not in our modern world). I
>> see
>> this as a direct command 'Make light!'. The Greek of the LXX agrees with
>> the
>> thought of a direct command using the verb 'to make' but uses the passive
>> version 'καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός γενηθήτω φῶς'. In English, we get the awkward
>> translation of 'light be made' which can be made more palatable by a
>> return
>> to the 'let...' structure 'let light be made'.
>> Just now I checked the Tyndale and Wycliffe translations online using
>> the crosswire parallel reader at
>> http://www.crosswire.org/study/parallelstudy.jsp?key=genesis I was
>> pleasantly surprised to see that Wycliffe offered a similar
>> translation view:
>> Wycliffe: And God seide, Liyt be maad, and liyt was maad.
>> Tyndale: Than God sayd: let there be lyghte and there was lyghte.
>> I don't honestly see objections on the basis of the use of the verb
>> 'make' as particularly valid. This may well have been a part of the
>> semantic field of the verb HYH. Whoever translated the LXX certainly
>> seemed to think it was or that an idiomatic translation commanded such
>> an understanding. The Latin Vulgate rendition 'dixitque Deus fiat lux
>> et facta est lux' also seems to support such a view with its use of
>> 'fiat'.
>> James Christian
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