CLAOTB: Hebrew Terminology

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Considering Lingual Aspects of the Bible:
Hebrew Terminology

 

As I mentioned in the previous section CLAOTB: Translation and Terminology, in the opening narrative of Genesis there are two distinct Hebrew terms that are translated into the English term “man” and one Hebrew term that is translated into the English term “woman”.

The Hebrew term adam is translated into two distinctive English terms: “man” and “Adam”.

The Hebrew term ish is also translated into two distinctive English terms: “man” and “husband”.

The Hebrew term ishshah is translated into two distinctive English terms “woman” and “wife”.

That Hebrew-to-English reality is difficult for the English reader.

That is because we, as English readers, assume that there is a specific Hebrew term for:
– “adam”,
– “man”,
– “husband”,
– “woman”, and
– “wife”.

When in the Hebrew, there are three distinctive terms (adam, ish, ishshah), coming over into five distinctive English terms (“adam”, “man”, “husband”, “woman”, “wife”).

Many will argue that when translating from Hebrew-to-English it is proper to have two distinctive terms for:
ish (“man”, “husband”), and
ishshah (“woman”, “wife”).

But I am not certain there should be two distinctive English terms for each of those three Hebrew terms.

Why?

Because the Hebrew makes no distinction, irrespective of context.

Additionally, lingually, except for when the Hebrew spelling changes any elements like prefixes, suffixes, and number (singular or plural), in Hebrew
adam is adam,
ish is ish, and
ishshah is ishshah.

In the following groups, I have provided examples of the Hebrew terms. I will replace the English term with the transliteration of the Hebrew term, by providing the root Hebrew term and therefore not show any variations based on grammatical variants (e.g. prefix, suffix).

The groups are not exhaustive to represent the entire range of the book of Genesis, but the examples are sufficient to establish my point that the Hebrew linguistics are consistent whereas the English alternates terminology.

When one examines the verses in the following list with the KJV, one will find the English terms. Even though this is based on the KJV, I encourage my reader to have their English Bible for comparison.

Genesis 1.26-27
    – “…Let us make adam in our image…” (H120, 1.26)
    – “So God created adam in his own image…” (H120, 1.27)

Genesis 2.7-8
    – “…God formed adam of the dust…” (H120, 2.7)
    – “…God planted a garden… and there he put adam…” (H120, 2.8)

Genesis 2.15-16
    – “…God took adam and put him in the garden…” (H120, 2.15)
    – “…God commanded adam…” (H120, 2.16)

Genesis 2.18
    – “…God said ‘It is not good that adam should be alone…'” (H120, 2.18)

Genesis 2.21-23
    – “…God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam…” (H121, 2.21)
    – “…the rib, …God had taken from adam…” (H120, 2.22a)
    – “….made he ishshah…” (H802, 2.22b)
    – “….and brought her unto adam.” (H120, 2.22c)
    – “…Adam said… she shall be called ishshah…” (H121, H802, 2.23a)
    – “…because she was taken out of ish.” (H376, 2.23b)

Genesis 2.24-25
    – “Therefore shall ish leave his father and mother…” (H376, 2.24a)
    – “…shall cleave unto his ishshah…” (H802, 2.24b)
    – “…they were both naked, adam and his ishshah…” (H120, H802, 2.25)

Genesis 3.1-2
    – “…he said unto ishshah…” (H802, 3.1)
    – “And ishshah said…” (H802, 3.2)

Genesis 3.4
    – “…said unto ishshah…” (H802, 3.4)

Genesis 3.6
    – “And when ishshah saw…” (H802, 3.6a)
    – “…she took… and gave also unto her ish…” (H376, 3.6b)

Genesis 3.8
    – “…Adam and his ishshah hid…” (H121, H802, 3.8)

Genesis 3.12
    – “…ish said, ‘the ishshah whom…'” (H376, H802, 3.12)

Genesis 3.13
    – “…God said unto the ishshah…” (H802, 3.13a)
    – “…ishshah said…” (H802, 3.13b)

Genesis 3.15-17
    – “…between thee and ishshah…” (H802, 3.15)
    – “Unto ishshah he said…” (H802, 3.16a)
    – “…and thy desire shall be to thy ish…” (H376, 3.16b)
    – “unto Adam he said…” (H121, 3.17a)
    – “…the voice of thy ishshah…” (H802, 3.17b)

Genesis 3.20-22
    – “…Adam called his ishshah…” (H121, H802, 3.20)
    – “Unto Adam also and to his ishshah…” (H121, H802, 3.21)
    – “…Behold adam is become…” (H120, 3.22)

Genesis 3.24
    – “…he drove out adam…” (H120, 3.24)

Importantly, in the English, “Adam” is considered his personal name (cf. Gen. 2.21, 3.8, 3.17, 5.1, and 5.3-5).

While H121 refers directly to the man by stating his personal name, H121 (Adam) is directly associated (cognated) with H120 (adam).

That is known because part of the Strong’s notes for H121 states that H121 is “The same as H120”, which makes it difficult to ascertain why Strong’s assigned two separate numbers.

As for the above examples, for me, those examples seem adequate to establish the Hebrew lingual use versus the English translation of those Hebrew terms (adam, ish, and ishshah).

As it can be seen with an English Bible comparison, sometimes the Hebrew term adam is translated into the English term “man” and sometimes the Hebrew term adam is translated into the English term “Adam”.

Similarly, sometimes the Hebrew term ish is translated into the English term “man” and sometimes the Hebrew term ish is translated into the English term “husband”.

Additionally, sometimes the Hebrew term ishshah is translated into the English term “woman” and sometimes the Hebrew term ishshah is translated into the English term “wife”.

That type of translation creates inconsistency for the English reader, making it difficult to have one-to-one correlation from English back to Hebrew, because, as English readers, we assume that there is going to be a different Hebrew term for “adam”, a different Hebrew term for “man”, a different Hebrew term for “husband”, a different Hebrew term for “woman”, and a different Hebrew term for “wife”.

But, as I said earlier, linguistically, in the Hebrew:
adam is adam;
ish is ish; and
ishshah is ishshah.

So which translation is it?

Does adam mean “man”?
or
Does adam mean “Adam”?

Does ish mean “man”?
or
Does ish mean “husband”?

Does ishshah mean “woman”?
or
Does ishshah mean “wife”?

Some might retort postulating that context guides the translation.

There is part of me that wants to agree.

For instance, when the Hebrew term adam lingually and literarily refers to the man “Adam”, then the Hebrew term should be transliterated into the English term “Adam”.

However, there are other times that the Hebrew term adam is not referring lingually or literarily to the man Adam and therefore the Hebrew term adam should be translated into an English term like “humanity” (or something similar) and remain consistent in translation.

However, in the discussion about translating things in context, what is not usually brought into the discussion is that “contextual” translation is often affected and influenced by both ecclesiastical context and traditional Bible translation context when rendering the Hebrew into the English.

For me, ecclesiastical context and traditional Bible translation context are secondary to understanding the actual Hebrew text.

Therefore, I want to be as faithful to the lingual and literariness of the Hebrew text as possible.

Doing such should retain the linguistic and literary context.

Doing such would primarily focus on the lingual and literary contexts, even if/when doing so challenges ecclessiastical context and traditional Bible translation context.

In other words, there is no lingual or literary need to translate the Hebrew term ish into two English terms, and there is no lingual or literary need to translate the Hebrew term ishshah into two English term.

That is why I postulate the following:

Since the Hebrew term ish makes no distinction between “man” and “husband”

then
English translations need to take the Hebrew ish into one English term: “man”

and
since the Hebrew term ishshah makes no distinction between “woman” and “wife”

then
English translations need to take the Hebrew ishshah into one English term: “woman”.

That should be unbiased.

That should be true to the lingual and literary contexts.

Therefore doing that would permit the English reader to read the narrative for themselves and draw any conclusions about any personal relationship that a man (ish) may or may not have with a woman (ishshah).

That means Genesis 2.21-25 would be translated similar to the following:

And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept. And He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh thereof.

And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from Adam, He made woman, and brought her unto Adam.

Adam said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called ‘woman’, because she was taken out of ‘man’.”

Therefore shall man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his woman, and they shall be one flesh.

They were both naked, Adam and his woman, and were not ashamed.

With that type of translation effort – a blend of transliteration and translation, the English reader can make the proper assumption that there are three distinctive Hebrew terms that give the English translation, and the English reader is permitted to draw their own conclusions about the personal relationship.

In the next section, I will spend additional time looking into how the Hebrew terms are translated into the English.

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