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

Steve Teague cosmos at intergate.com
Fri Oct 16 10:03:03 EDT 2009

James wrote:

  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

  Steve writes:

  Since no one else has responded to your questions, I want to add two more to the mix.

  From a gramatical point of view, I read that the word in question is a jussive form of the verb and indicates a mild command or strong wish. What or whom is being commanded? Is light being commanded? Or is it something else? Tyndale's translation might indicate, or at least allow for the possibility that it is something else besides light, but Wycliffe's seems to say that it is light. From that perspective it seems to me that the two translations are radically different. Does the text allow for each?

  Additionally, can these questions be answered from the text alone? Lurking on the list suggests to me that answers from the text of any part of the Hebrew Bible are sometimes difficult to come by, and this is doubly true for Genesis 1 and 2, which suggests another question for these two chapters in particular: Might it be that the purpose of Genesis 1 and 2 is (partly) to generate questions, since that is mostly what even educated gramarians and such come up with?

  At every turn in the subject verses questions pop up that seem planned, and un-answerable from the text alone. For example: the very first word (bereshyth: in beginning) leaves many open questions (in fact, there have been many arguments about even what the questions should be). I find many different answers, but none with across the board acceptance. The same is true for "day" in later verses, and many others.


  Steve Teague

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