Genesis 7:21 reads:
וַיִּגְוַ֞ע כָּל־בָּשָׂ֣ר ׀ הָרֹמֵ֣שׂ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ בָּעֹ֤וף וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבַ֣חַיָּ֔ה וּבְכָל־הַשֶּׁ֖רֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵ֣ץ עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וְכֹ֖ל הָאָדָֽם׃ (WLC)
The ESV translation is fairly typical:
And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind.
I have been picking @Susan's brain on this verse for several days in The Library chat room, so I thought I'd go ahead and make this into a question so the results of those thoughts are more visible and to possibly also gain additional insight...
The phrase "all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth" is a bit strange in English, not just because of the "swarming" repetition (which I understand to be somewhat normal in Hebrew) but also because it is conjoined with several simple nouns. A basic principle of English (and as far as I know all language's) syntax is that you can only conjoin like with like. While both "birds" and "all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth" are noun phrases and thus conjoining them does create a grammatical sentence, it is a combination that gives the reader a different impression because the phrase "sticks out".
The sentence is certainly grammatical and doesn't need explanation, the construction makes me think the author was doing something that would be obvious to native speakers but is opaque in English. There is also the repetition of "on the earth," which may or may not provide a clue.
What, if anything, is the author of Genesis 7:21 doing with the phrase "all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth"?
- Nothing, it would be a normal, idiomatic phrase in ancient Hebrew. Paraphrasing, something like:
And all creatures on the earth died: birds, livestock, beasts, swarmers, and mankind.
- Using the phrase to make the verse more poetic
- (My own unlikely suggestion, inspired by YLT's use of "teeming" which meant prolific in Young's day) Summing up the previous conjuncts (finishing the thought bracketed by "on the earth") back into the first to emphasize all the animals died.
And all creatures on the earth died, the birds, the livestock, and the beasts, that is all of the many the abundant/prolific creatures, and mankind also.
- (Susan's solid suggestion) Bracketing off the animals from mankind. That is, putting them in separate classes
And all flesh on the earth died: all the animals - birds, livestock, beasts, and swarmers - and all of mankind.
- (John Martin's solid suggestion) Specifying it is only the land swarmers in mind (Lev 11:10 talks of שֶׁ֣רֶץ הַמַּ֔יִם, potentially "swarmers in the water" although not usually translated that way).
And all creatures on the earth died: birds, livestock, beasts, land swarmers, and mankind.
- Some other form of emphasis