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The Hebrew language uses an idiom in which two occurances of the same word is used side by side. From what I understand, this is meant to show emphasis.

Genesis 2:16 in the KJV says:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat

The actual Hebrew says:

ויצו יהוה אלהים על־האדם לאמר מכל עץ־הגן אכל תאכל

And commanded YHVH God upon the man, saying, From every tree in the garden, eating you eat

In the next verse, the same double-word idiom is used for "die":

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (KJV)

ומעץ הדעת טוב ורע לא תאכל ממנו כי ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות

but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, not eat from, because in the day that you eat thereof, dying you die

Why do translators add "may freely" before "eat"? Shouldn't this say:

And commanded YHVH God upon the man, saying, From every tree in the garden, you shall surely eat

  • @AbuMunirIbnIbrahim I read the article, but it doesn't say anything about "eating you eat". Are you saying that "you shall surely eat" is the correct translation? – Cannabijoy Nov 2 '16 at 9:05
  • Maybe "You may certainly eat" is better in modern English. The figurative sense is "You are welcome to eat from any tree in the garden, but ...". The emphasis is needed to provide contrast with the tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, from which the man was commanded not to eat. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Nov 2 '16 at 9:13
  • @AbuMunirIbnIbrahim The article you provided doesn't say anything about the idiom meaning "may", as though the phrase is conditional. According to the examples in the article, this term-repetition means the phrase is "absolute". Wouldn't this mean God is saying Adam is surely going to eat of every tree in the garden? – Cannabijoy Nov 2 '16 at 9:26
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  1. I wish to dispute any so-called double-word idiom.

    • That would be like saying {זה הדרך לדרך - this is the path to traverse} is a double-word idiom.
    • מות תמות = by death you shall perish - What double-word idiom?
    • אכל תאכל = food you shall eat - What double-word idiom?
    • it is merely that Hebrew is simplistic and therefore has highly normalized/canonicalized vocabulary structure, such that Hebrew is easily paradigmatic towards the simple linearity of Euclidean/Cartesian topology. Unlike the obfuscated non-linearity of English vocabulary. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonical_form, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Database_normalization.
  2. I'm unable to find any word "but" in the Hebrew of the verses you provided.

  3. Imperative vs Cohortative vs Predictive. e.g. { ראו vs תראה }

    • e.g. {ראו בן} = look! son = reuben. Parents got so excited having the first son.
  4. The vav-inversive/conversive theory is completely wrong and foolhardy.

    • vav-inversive theory has been inconsistently applied.
    • Biblical Hebrew is simplistic, down-to-earth, primitive language. How could the Hebrew of shepherds, farmers and soldiers would even get bogged down with the rules of vav-inversion????
    • It is a straightforward sequentially stative language. There is no tense. The temporal reference of a phrase is wrt the previously established temporal state.
    • There are other sequentially stative languages, and so-called Bible scholars thought it expedient to invent a vav-inversion theory ignoring the existence of other such langauges?
  5. The vav is merely a temporal continuator. It would be wrong to manufacture a "but" contraindicative from a vav.

  6. All vs Every

    • {מכל עץ} (from-all singular-tree) = from every tree.
    • {מכל עצים} (from-all plural-trees) = from all trees.
  7. NEVER read Hebrew, especially biblical Hebrew (or Quranic Arabic) with an English language mindset, or any European language mindset. Abandon your prior understanding of English language, when reading the books between Genesis to Malakhi (chronologically speaking).

If English were a sequentially-stative language:

Yesterday I come home. Last week I already tell my brother I will-come home yesterday. And I will buy plane ticket. Tomorrow I will-meet my brother. And I will-meet my friends next week, and I will-tell them I already meet my brother.

Kelmarin saya balik kampung. Minggu dulu telah aku beritahu adik aku akan aku balik kampung. Dan aku akan-beli tikit penerbangan. Besok aku akan-temu adik aku. Dan aku akan-temu sahabat ku minggu depan, and aku akan-memberitahu mereka telah aku temui adik aku.

Why would anyone even think of inventing an and-inversion theory out of the brand of English I demonstrated above, or dan-inversion theory out of the corresponding Malay/Indonesian I demonstrated? But that is exactly what they did to biblical Hebrew.

Let's analyse the verse you provided using anti-{vav-inversion theory}

  • ויצו יי אלהים על־האדם
    • then commands Hashem Elohim upon the man
  • לאמר מכל עץ הגן אכל תאכל
    • to say, from every tree of the garden food shall you eat

I have to question, what is the point of this question except as yet another evidence of the defective translations of the English Bibles.

My answer seems incomplete, because I don't see the point in any further explanation.

  • Thank you for the answer. I'm sorry my "but" offended you =-) Are you saying that just as God predicted "by death you shall perish", He also commanded and predicted "from every tree of the garden food shall you eat"? That's really what I want to know. – Cannabijoy Nov 3 '16 at 9:20
  • If you wish to categorize the phrase "I will come home tomorrow" as a prophecy. – Cynthia Avishegnath Nov 3 '16 at 13:26
  • Just as there is no such thing as vav-inversion in biblical Hebrew, there is actually no hard and fast rule about a phrase being cohortative. It depends on the universal moods of language etiquette. {I will eat the cake} is commitment. {You will eat the cake} is either predictive or rudely cohortative or commandeering. – Cynthia Avishegnath Nov 3 '16 at 14:05
  • Thank you for clarifying. If this is so, is it possible this entire passage says "Then commanded YHVH God over the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden food shall you eat. Of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you should not eat from, because in the day that you eat thereof, by death you shall perish"? – Cannabijoy Nov 3 '16 at 20:57
  • OUAT, there was a swan on a lake. At the edge of the lake was a waterfall. She told a visiting dog about the waterfall, that don't go near the edge otherwise death is certain. Then the dog asks - are u saying "I should not"? Because in dog language, we r either commanded to or not to. The swan sighed, just don't go near the edge, ok? The dog insisted, not ok, you have to tell me if "I should not go near" or "I am allowed not to go near". The swan sighed again, whatever! – Cynthia Avishegnath Nov 4 '16 at 4:34
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In Gen 2:17, some sort of verbal form’s repetition - linked with the meaning of ‘to die’ - must possess a proper and univocal sense (traditionally, this phenomenon is called ‘Infinitive Absolute’).

We have to ask ourselves, The sense of this repetition is related with an emphatical/intensive nuance? Or with an axpect linked with a certainty sense?

Let us proceed step by step.

Young's Literal Translation (and the like): “and of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou dost not eat of it, for in the day of thine eating of it - dying thou dost die”.

The Young’s Literal Translation-style translations have no sense, at all. What means - really - ‘dying thou dost die’? Nothing (in English language).

It is very interesting, as this regard, the passage of 1 King 2:37 ( תמות מות כי תדע ידע). In this verse we found two verbal repetitions, one related to the sense of ‘to know’ (IDO TDO), and the other to the sense of ‘to die’ (MUT TMUT).

Now, let we examine this expression according the various hypothesis.

YLT-style hypothesis: “knowing you will know that dying you will die”. An absolute non-sense, in English language (in Italian, also);

Certainty hypothesis: “you will have to know for sure that you will die, without fail”. A very apt translation.


Now, returning to Gen 2:17, we may repeat the experiment. We have to include also the previous verse (16) because it is contextually linked with the 17.

Not everybody knows the fact that this verse possess two verbal repetition (like 1 Kin 2:37). In fact, we read (Gen 2:16, 17, I’ve marked the verbal repetition with bold):

Gen 2:16 ויצו יהוה אלהים על־האדם לאמר מכל עץ־הגן אכל תאכל׃ Gen 2:17 ומעץ הדעת טוב ורע לא תאכל ממנו כי ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות

What is the commonest translation of this paragraph?

KJV: [16] And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, [17] but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Like you see the KJV-style translation implies two different meaning of the two verbal repetition! But this is not logical, at all.

If we accept to assign to the first verbal repetition (AKL TAKL) the meaning of ‘mayest freely eat’ I’ve so choose the emphatical/intensive hypothesis. In this case, why - as regards the second verbal repetition (MUT TMUT) - I would skid to the certainty hypothesis, translating “thou shalt surely die”? Where is the coherence?

A given, single, linguistic phenomenon (in this case, the verbal repetition, aka ‘Infinitive Absolute’) ideally matches with a given, single meaning. This is an universal grammar principle (in every language).

So, what meaning is the best meaning we may apply to the phenomenon of the verbal repetition? The certainty of the verbal-expressed action/condition.

You may ascertain for yourself the correctness of this conclusion examining the following sampling Bible passages (1 Sam 22:16; 1 Kin 2:37, 42; 2 Kin 1:4; Jer 26:8; Eze 3:18, 33; 8:14).


Then, a better translation of Genesis 2:16, 17 (along with my inserted ‘amplifications’) can be:

IEUE God urged the man, saying: ‘From the whole of the Tree of the protected garden you will eat, beyond all doubt [Adam can’t avoid eating some fruit of the trees. His peculiar bio-physical structure forced him to do so]. [17] Whereas, from the tree of the knowledge concerning good and bad, do not eat from it. For in the period you will eat from it you will die, beyond all doubt [Adam can’t avoid dying after eating the forbidden fruit]’.”

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    Saro I see you provided the same answer to two similar questions so I marked this question as duplicate of the other one. – Bach Apr 11 '19 at 15:56
  • Well done. I've thought that if exist two duplicate questions, so I may answer them with duplicate answers... – Saro Fedele Apr 11 '19 at 15:59
  • All users are free to downvote who they want but I think is very useful for all to indicate the reasons of this choosing. In this manner, other users will be able to compare different views. This method is also useful for the poster, so he may improve his following posts. – Saro Fedele Apr 17 '19 at 13:58
  • I agree with you Saro that the reasons for downvoting should generally be specified. It can be very annoying. – Bach Apr 17 '19 at 15:34

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