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Most translations have 'because of the ground', some use 'arising from the ground', but the ESV stands out with 'out of the ground':

and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Genesis 5:29 ESV

Vos specifically calls out "out of the ground" as the wrong translation on p58 of his Biblical Theology:

…the utterance of Lamech, Noah's father, at the birth of his child: "This same shall comfort us for our work and toil of our hands, because (not out of the ground) of the ground which Jehovah has cursed"

Vos does not give any, but are there particular grounds to think the ESV is wrong to go with 'out of the ground'?

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  • A more glaring issue in the ESV translation is the change in phrase order, as that has much more impact on the meaning of the verse in translation.
    – user17080
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 16:41
  • It seems to me that perhaps this is a literary device meant to evoke the fact that Adam was created from the ground and was cursed to return to dust and the ground at his death. Finally, when God cursed the ground so that Adam had to toil in labor seems to be linked to this passage. I'm sensing a theme here. Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 17:05
  • @JamesShewey That's a cute idea, but it has no basis in the verse, where "from the earth that God has cursed" is the ultimate of three consecutive prepositional phrases all using a form of "from"' modifying the verb ינחמנו, will console us. The word choice alone in the MT makes it clear to what verses this verse refers, no need to twist the phrase order to get that effect.
    – user17080
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 11:29

3 Answers 3

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Green's literal, interlinear Hebrew translation of the Masoretic text of Genesis 5:29 gives :

This one/shall comfort us/from our work/and the toil of/our hands/from/the ground/ which Jehovah has cursed.

The biblehub literal interlinear gives :

This shall comfort us from our work and toil of our hands concerning our work of the ground which the Lord has cursed.

Young's literal translation gives :

This [one] doth comfort us concerning our work and concerning the labour of our hands because of the ground which Jehovah hath cursed.

These three literal translations indicate that the curse of Jehovah has affected the ground and caused them toil. But in the midst of this toil they shall be comforted by the one now born.

The ESV translation is implying that the child born will somehow bring good out of the cursed ground, which is an interpretation and not a translation.

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  • Not listed on BibleHub, but I've just discovered the RSV (which the ESV is based on) has 'out of the ground' too. This maybe indicates an error carried over rather than a particular translation decision by the ESV team. Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 11:24
  • @JackDouglas That's why I always go back to the literal translations whenever I have a query. Interpretations get carried on .. . and on. I've put the link in for biblehub, I forgot it.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 11:28
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The ESV translation changes the MT word order of Genesis 5:29 completely, resulting in a reading that implies either that it is Noah who is coming out of the ground or that Noah will bring something out of the ground that will comfort us (maybe referring to the wine in Genesis 9:20-21?). This is plain silly.

The MT word order is:

And his name was called "Noah", to say "This one will console us from our labors and from the toil of our hands, from the earth that God has cursed".

The ESV changes the final "from the earth that God has cursed" to a dependent clause and moves it from the end of the verse to the beginning, and changes its meaning from and adverbial prepositional phrase modifying "he will console us" to an adjectival prepositional phrase ambiguously modifying either "he", Noah, who will come out of the ground, or some unspecified thing that Noah will bring out of the ground with which to console us. In the MT there is no hint of a reading that Noah might himself come out of the ground himself or might bring something out of the ground. This is misleading translation at its best.

The ESV translation breaks the classic OT parallelism and consecutive, crescendo of synonymous prepositional phrases built on "from". The last phrase in fact explains the reason for the previous two phrases, "our labors" and "the toil of our hands" and crucially, connects the narratives of the Noah cycle to the narratives of the creation cycle ending in Genesis 3:17-19 to create a single continuous narrative. It is a dramatic punch that must be left to the end of the verse. Genesis 5:29 is introducing us to Noah as the savior who is expected relieve us from the uncomfortable situation in which we were left in Genesis 3:17-19.

The MT for Genesis 5:29 is:

וַיִּקְרָ֧א אֶת־שְׁמ֛וֹ נֹ֖חַ לֵאמֹ֑ר זֶ֞‍֠ה יְנַחֲמֵ֤נוּ מִֽמַּעֲשֵׂ֙נוּ֙ וּמֵעִצְּב֣וֹן יָדֵ֔ינוּ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵֽרְרָ֖הּ יְהֹוָֽה

There are three consecutive adverbial prepositional phrases using "from" modifying ינחמנו, "he will console us":

וַיִּקְרָ֧א אֶת־שְׁמ֛וֹ נֹ֖חַ לֵאמֹ֑ר זֶ֞‍֠ה יְנַחֲמֵ֤נוּ מִֽ מַּעֲשֵׂ֙נוּ֙ וּמֵ עִצְּב֣וֹן יָדֵ֔ינוּ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵֽרְרָ֖הּ יְהֹוָֽה

The first two "from" forms are contractions, the letter mim, מ, "m" as a prefix to מעשנו, "our labors" and עצבון ידינו, "the toil of our hands". The last "from" form is the complete word מן' "from" before האדמה, "the earth". The use of the full form of "from" in the final phrase add emphasis and indicates that it is the ultimate cause of the labors and toil in the first two phrases. The KJV, NIV and other conventional translations are therefore justified in translating this final "from" as "because".

This force of this verse, which is lost in all of the translations, is conveyed by alliteration built on the letter mim, מ, "m" in the "froms" and in the words "his name", "to say", "will console" and "earth" (or "ground"):

וַיִּקְרָ֧א אֶת־שְׁ מ֛ וֹ נֹ֖חַ לֵא מֹ֑ ר זֶ֞‍֠ה יְנַחֲ מֵ֤ נוּ מִֽ מַּ עֲשֵׂ֙נוּ֙ וּמֵ עִצְּב֣וֹן יָדֵ֔ינוּ מִ ן־הָ֣אֲדָ מָ֔ ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵֽרְרָ֖הּ יְהֹוָֽה

A total of eight mim's in seven out of the fifteen words in the verse.

The referent verses are Genesis 3:17:

וּלְאָדָ֣ם אָמַ֗ר כִּֽי־שָׁמַ֘עְתָּ֮ לְק֣וֹל אִשְׁתֶּ֒ךָ֒ וַתֹּ֙אכַל֙ מִן־הָעֵ֔ץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר צִוִּיתִ֙יךָ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ אֲרוּרָ֤ה הָֽאֲדָמָה֙ בַּֽעֲבוּרֶ֔ךָ בְּעִצָּבוֹן֙ תֹּֽאכְלֶ֔נָּה כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ

in which most English translators would translate מִן־הָעֵ֔ץ as "from the tree" and א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ as "not to eat from it".

The verse uses the same word for "toil", עצבון as used in Genesis 5:29, and the same word for "cursed", ארורה.

and Genesis 3:19:

בְּזֵעַ֤ת אַפֶּ֙יךָ֙ תֹּ֣אכַל לֶ֔חֶם עַ֤ד שֽׁוּבְךָ֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה כִּ֥י מִמֶּ֖נָּה לֻקָּ֑חְתָּ כִּֽי־עָפָ֣ר אַ֔תָּה וְאֶל־עָפָ֖ר תָּשֽׁוּב

in which most English translators would translate אֶל־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה כִּ֥י מִמֶּ֖נָּה לֻקָּ֑חְתָּ as "to the earth because from it you were taken".

So, there is no room for "Out of the ground" here, and no reason to change the order of the phrases in the verse.

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The original written Hebrew would have been something like מן (mn), which the Masoretes interpolated to מִן (min). According to Swanson's Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semitic Domains, min can mean "from", "part of", "made of", "by means", "since", "because of", "than", "more than". The Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon adds "out of", "on account of", "off", "on the side of", and "so that not" to the list of possible meanings.

The Septuagint translates מן in this instance to the preposition ἀπό (apo), which has more or less the same scope of meanings in Greek that min has in Hebrew.

The JPS Tanakh - a Jewish translation of the Masoretic Text - reads, ... out of the very soil which the Lord placed under a curse.

I think all of the meanings you list are appropriate. The idea is that man's need to toil originates from God's curse of the ground. Rashi, expounding on Talmudic commentary, explains:

Before Noah came, they did not have plowshares, and he prepared [these tools] for them. And the land was producing thorns and thistles when they sowed wheat, because of the curse of the first man (Adam), but in Noah’s time, it [the curse] subsided.

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