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The Masoretic version of Genesis 4:8 reads as follows:

וַיֹּאמֶר קַיִן, אֶל-הֶבֶל אָחִיו; וַיְהִי בִּהְיוֹתָם בַּשָּׂדֶה, וַיָּקָם קַיִן אֶל-הֶבֶל אָחִיו וַיַּהַרְגֵהוּ.

And Cain said to his brother Abel, and it was when they were in the field that Cain rose up to Abel his brother and killed him.

The text has an obvious omission—what did Cain say to Abel? I don't want an answer that claims that "wa-yomer Ka-in" is a "Cain spoke", because the verb is not speak, it is say, and it requires embedded dialogue to be grammatical.

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The NET Bible textual criticism note is helpful here:

The MT has simply “and Cain said to Abel his brother,” omitting Cain’s words to Abel. It is possible that the elliptical text is original. Perhaps the author uses the technique of aposiopesis, “a sudden silence” to create tension. In the midst of the story the narrator suddenly rushes ahead to what happened in the field. It is more likely that the ancient versions (Samaritan Pentateuch, LXX, Vulgate, and Syriac), which include Cain’s words, “Let’s go out to the field,” preserve the original reading here. After writing אָחִיו (’akhiyv, “his brother”), a scribe’s eye may have jumped to the end of the form בַּשָּׂדֶה (basadeh, “to the field”) and accidentally omitted the quotation. This would be an error of virtual homoioteleuton. In older phases of the Hebrew script the sequence יו (yod-vav) on אָחִיו is graphically similar to the final ה (he) on בַּשָּׂדֶה.

Clarke's Commentary on the Bible points out:

In the most correct editions of the Hebrew Bible there is a small space left here in the text, and a circular mark which refers to a note in the margin, intimating that there is a hiatus or deficiency in the verse.

I don't know what he means here by "correct" (it's not a helpful if it just means the ones that support his reading on this point), but it is interesting that some scribe were aware of the problem. Also interesting is that they seem not to be aware or satisfied with the solution found in other versions. So a reasonable possibility is that the MT lost a phrase and translators made their best guess about what was left out in order to produce a grammatically correct rendering in the target language.

It seems that many modern English translations supply the missing phrase from the Septuagint. For instance, here is the NIV translation:

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let’s go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.—Genesis 4:8

Others supply the extra text in the form of a footnote:

Cain spoke to Abel his brother.1 And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

(Genesis 4:8 ESV)

  1. 4:8 Hebrew; Samaritan, Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate add Let us go out to the field

But whether the Masoretic Text dropped the phrase (due to scribal error) or the others added it (to make the sentence more understandable) or both is somewhat unclear. What's not unclear is that Abel's murder was premeditated.

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  • It's ungrammatical, not dramatic. MT has it right (this was also my first choice, preserve the grammar error in English, before seeing LXX and then Samaritan). This is J writing, J doesn't make grammar errors. There is 0% chance that Masoretic is right here. – Ron Maimon Apr 11 '12 at 16:49
  • It's not just septuagint, but also Samaritan, and Samaritan provides the Hebrew--- nelecha ha-sadeh. I can't doubt that this elegant phrase was there, it's Masoretic that's corrupted. Also, it's a nice example of J's beautiful style, she is terrific with literary pacing. – Ron Maimon Apr 12 '12 at 6:56
  • I am sure most will think it nonsense, but... The word 'say' is the same as for 'lamb'. If you are looking for a reason to drop the actual quote (or not include it originally), perhaps the scribe was showing us that Cain intended to make Abel his 'lamb'. Of such things are riddle made of. – Bob Jones Jun 15 '12 at 0:43
  • @BobJones: The word say is in no way related to the word "lamb", lamb is "seh" and say is "amar". – Ron Maimon Sep 1 '12 at 6:17
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There is no compelling reason to believe something has been omitted from the text. Here is what I get from the Hebrew:

So Cain spoke with his brother Abel, but as they came into a field Cain then rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

Details: enter image description here

The OP contends that the verb [אמר] is not speak, it is say, and it requires embedded dialogue to be grammatical.

This is clearly true of Genesis 18:15 (KJV), for example:

... And he saidויאמר, Nay; but thou didst laugh.

By itself "And he said" is incomplete, requiring the text of what was said for it to make sense. However, the usage of אמר is not so narrowly constrained.

Consider these examples:

  1. And God spokeויאמר unto Noah, and to his sons with him, sayingלאמר, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;
    -- Genesis 9:8-9 (KJV)
  2. And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spokeויאמר unto Abraham, sayingלאמר, God is with thee in all that thou doest:
    -- Genesis 21:22 (KJV)
  3. And Shechem spokeויאמר unto his father Hamor, sayingלאמר, Get me this damsel to wife.

    In each of these instances אמר stands in an independent clause (complete thought), followed by a dependent clause לאמר + the dialogue. Rendering these examples as "<person> spoke unto <person>, saying, ..." reflects this, whereas "<person> said unto <person>, saying, ..." does not, since the dialogue is not "embedded" with the verbal form of אמר but the participle form.

  4. Exodus 1:15-16 further evidences this:

    15And the king of Egypt spakeויאמר to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: 16And he saidויאמר, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.

    Here אמר stands in two independent clauses. While the second would be fine as "And he said, ...", giving the first as "The king of Egypt said to ... Shiphrah and ... Puah:", would fail the OP's requirement of needing embedded dialog to be grammatical. Clearly, the first is rightly given as, "The king of Egypt spoke to ... Shiphrah and ... Puah:"

  5. Then there is Exodus 19:25 (KJV):

    So Moses went down unto the people, and spokeויאמר unto them.

    אמר stands here in an independent clause, and there is no dialogue for Moses within cooee. Again, giving this verse as, "So Moses went down unto the people, and said unto them", would fail the OP's requirement of needing embedded dialog to be grammatical. There being no embedded dialog means the verse is correctly given as, "So Moses went down unto the people, and spoke unto them."

Conclusion

How does all this play out for Genesis 4:8?

Since the MT does not preserve any dialogue for Cain, then it can only be rendered as an independent clause, i.e. "Cain spoke to/with his brother Abel ...", which I have shown is not grammatically unsound. Therefore the OP's claim that the verb [אמר] is not speak, it is say, and it requires embedded dialogue to be grammatical. is invalid.

Is the MT corrupt? The OP seems to believe so, but whether it is corrupt by omission or others are corrupt by inclusion, who can tell?. When all is said and done though, if people can't discern the nature of God and what pleases Him and the nature of Man from what has been preserved in the MT, then they are unlikely to ever do so.

11For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. 12It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? 14 But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
-- Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (KJV)

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I addition to some of the textual variants cited in the other answers, two of the ancient Aramaic translations also include the missing phrase "Let's go out to the field".

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan

ואמר קין לות הבל אחוהי איתא ונפוק תרוינן לברא

Targum Yerushalmi

ואמר קין להבל אחוי איתא ונפוק לאפי ברא

However, this is not necessarily evidence of an original Hebrew text with this phrase, as the Aramaic translations often add in explanations that are not translations of the actual text.

As to the premise that the word ויאמר cannot be a standalone word for talking (without specifying what was said), this is not true. As Samuel David Luzzato points out, we have a clear example of this in Exodus 19:25.

וַיֵּרֶד מֹשֶׁה אֶל הָעָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם

So Moses went down to the people and told them. (ESV)

Like many other commentators, Luzzato explains that our verse means that Cain told Abel what God had just told him in the previous two verses.

Even the Septuagint, the Vulgate, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Syriac Bible – which add in the text that Cain spoke to Abel – do not add any text in Exodus 19:25.

Septuagint

κατέβη δὲ Μωυσῆς πρὸς τὸν λαὸν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς.

And Moses went down to the people, and spoke to them. (Brenton)

Vulgate

descendit Moses ad populum et omnia narravit eis

And Moses went down to the people and told them all. (Douay-Rheims)

Samaritan Pentateuch

וירד משה מן ההר אל העם ויאמר אליהם (STEP)

So Moses went down from the mountain unto the people, and spake unto them. (STEP)

Syriac Bible

ܘܢܚܼܬ ܡܘܫܐ ܠܘܬ ܥܡܐ ܘܐܡܼܪ ܠܗܘܢ܂ (CAL)

And Cain said to Abel his brother, Let us go to the plain; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. (Lamsa)

While the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and Targum Yerushalmi do in fact add in words in Exodus 19:25, as I mentioned above this does not prove that there was a variant Hebrew text since the targums often insert explanatory words beyond the exact translation.

David Zvi Hoffman in his commentary to Genesis 4:8 notes that the Septuagint, Syriac, and Pseudo-Jonathan have the additional phrase of "let's go to the field", but he points out that the term אמר can be used as a standalone term. He mentions several examples of this: Jonah 2:11, II Chronicles 1:2, II Chronicles 35:24 (this verse does not seem to contain such an example), and Exodus 19:25.

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According to the Arabic version of the bible it uses the verb كلم, which is "talk" in English...I don't think this is a mistake You see in verse 7 God was talking to Cain and warning him about the crouching sin. If you were asked to predict what would happen next, what would you say? I would personally guess that Cain apologized to God and gave another offering...but it seems that Cain didn't really do that, he instead went and talked to his brother. Firstly remember that Cain was actually facing down (when he fell) and also remember that back then they didn't have phones, so I imaging Cain stood up, and his mind was filled with ways to avenge against Abel...he didn't at all think of what God told him, but in fact did the exact opposite and allowed his pride to take control...it wouldn't really matter what Cain said to Abel...if there was a dialogue statement it would have been like a normal action...but the omission of the dialogue puts more emphasis on the fact that Cain talked to Abel rather than repenting for what he did...rather that talking to God

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  • Welcome to the Hermeneutics forum, Person. This forum is different from most others because it requires scriptural, linguistic, scholarly, or other research to support any and all assertions. Your reference to the Arabic translation is appreciated. You might also consider looking at the Greek Septuagint for another view, this one by scholars who translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek several hundred years BC/BCE. The Syriac Peshitta might also shed some light on the question to see what choices those translators made. Best wishes, – Dieter Jun 14 '18 at 2:56
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Cain said "Let us go out into the field", as attested by LXX:

[Septuagint Genesis] 4:8

And Cain said to Abel his brother, Let us go out into the plain; and it came to pass that when they were in the plain Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

I assume that "plain" is "sadeh", by the repetition of "sadeh" later. I prefer to translate "sadeh" as "field" rather than "plain". The Samaritan Pentateuch has in 4:8

נלכה השדה

Nelecha ha-sadeh

"We'll go to the field"

And considering the identity of the remainder of the chapter to the Masoretic version, this is certainly the elided text.

I should point out that one can see just by grammar that there is omitted text--- "amar" cannot appear, just by Hebrew grammar, without spoken dialog next to it, just as "I said" is ungrammatical in English.

Highly likely that Masoretic is corrupted

It is very likely that Masoretic is corrupted, because grammar errors in J are rare, and the ones that do occur are arguably intentional. But the probability is 1 part in 20 not 1 part in 10,000, so one cannot claim certainty. The problem is that it is possible that the original did not have the text, and it was supplied later because of the grammatical awkwardness. The only argument against this is that the LXX and Semaritan agree.

I can't see a motivation for deleting the text intentionally--- especially not leaving a gaping hole like that, but it is not possible to be certain in this case, only to put a greater likelihood.

Unfortunately, certain religious traditions give a bias to the hypothesis that Masoretic is never corrupted, which means that one must be careful to counterbalance this with a certain amount of resistence, in insisting that it is still likely that it is in fact the Masoretic version which is corrupted.

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  • 8
    -1 for "0% chance". When it comes to history, that is nonsensical. – Jon Ericson Apr 11 '12 at 17:53
  • @JonEricson: I'm rounding down to four significant figures, and to this accuracy, this value is correct. It is for all intents and purposes certain. – Ron Maimon Apr 11 '12 at 18:01
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    I think you are overestimating the precision of your experimental apperatus – Jack Douglas Apr 11 '12 at 18:10
  • If anything, I am way underestimating the precision of textual analysis. You don't have an appreciation for the exponential explosion of language--- the sheer number of possible texts--- any text at all is an insane amount of information, and there is much more information in the word-choice and grammar than in the meaning as extracted in the highest level. This allows author identification, and redaction identification, which is all I am doing. – Ron Maimon Apr 11 '12 at 18:36
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    @Monica: No, I was totally wrong, you were right, it just took me a few hours to appreciate it--- it is natural in modern and ancient Hebrew both, just as it is in English. I was thrown off by the fact that I already expected a "field" in the missing dialog. I should readjust my probabilities then, but the first grammar error is real. – Ron Maimon Apr 12 '12 at 6:29
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The medidative meaning of the text is important. The text conveys the meaning that when a dialogue breaks or become meaningless, that is when human beings kill each other. The failure of a meaningful conversation leads even to murder

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  • Welcome to the forum, Allan. Because we're restricted to hermenuetics, a meditative or a pedagogical answer is going to be insufficient. What's needed here is an analysis of the Hebrew to make sense of the verse. One can also refer to the LXX to see how Jewish scholars translated this verse in Greek, based on their understanding from over 2,200 years ago. You might want to look at some highly rated answers here as examples. Best wishes, – Dieter Jun 5 '18 at 2:16
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Although alot of people upset when they reach to place in the text that something is missing there, i personally think that the bible just omit parts that are not important for the story.

In this case it's not neccery or important to know what exact Kain said to him - the most important part is that he killed him. This is why we don't know even what is the name of that field...

Other examples are "Lot's wife" or "the queen of Shva" and many more.

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