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Follow-up to: Why did Joseph's brothers talk about Joseph pleading for his life later?

Genesis 42:21, NIV:

They said to one another, "Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come upon us."

However, the ESV says nothing about begging for his life:

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” Why this difference?

What is the reason for this difference? Which one is correct?

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New American Standard Bible, Genesis 42;21

Then they said to one another, "Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul [life] when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us."

when he pleaded
בְּהִתְחַֽנְנ֥וֹ (bə·hiṯ·ḥan·nōw)
Preposition-b | Verb - Hitpael - Infinitive construct | third person masculine singular
Strong's Hebrew 2603: To bend, stoop in kindness to an inferior, to favor, bestow, to implore

In https://biblehub.com/genesis/42-21.htm, only 2 out of 28 translations use the phrase "for his life". It is not in the original Hebrew subordinate clause. In this case, ESV is more faithful to the original than NIV. By hindsight, we knew that they didn't kill Joseph.

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    That's interesting... so the NIV may have gotten it wrong? That could make sense, because based on my previous question it's unclear exactly what they meant by this given that they did not, in fact, kill him. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Aug 2 '20 at 16:41
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    No translation/version is perfect. They all got it wrong some where. – Tony Chan Aug 2 '20 at 16:56
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    it appears that the NIV is pulling the word for "his soul" - נַפְשׁ֛וֹ - which can also mean life - forward. Hebrew sentences are not always easy to translate into English. There can be variations in how a sentence is translated into another language. Before jumping to the conclusion that someone is "wrong" we have to look at Tony's comment that no translation is perfect! – S. Broberg Aug 2 '20 at 18:38
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Here are a couple of very literal versions of Gen 42:21 -

  • YLT: And they say one unto another, 'Verily we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul, in his making supplication unto us, and we did not hearken: therefore hath this distress come upon us.'
  • KJ2000: And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.

They acurately but a little awkwardly reflect the Hebrew. These are rather wooden (unsurprisingly) and so many try to smooth out the English by giving something like:

  • ESV: Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.”
  • NASB: Then they said to one another, "Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us."
  • BSB: Then they said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.”

These all reflect the Hebrew well. Some versions go a little further (but only slightly) by suggesting this:

  • NET: They said to one other, "Surely we're being punished because of our brother, because we saw how distressed he was when he cried to us for mercy, but we refused to listen. That is why this distress has come on us!"
  • NIV: They said to one another, "Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come on us."
  • NLT: Speaking among themselves, they said, “Clearly we are being punished because of what we did to Joseph long ago. We saw his anguish when he pleaded for his life, but we wouldn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this trouble.”

Note that these later versions interpret the anguish as pleading for his (Joseph's) life which is strongly implied in the original, but not explicit.

There is no perfect version! That is why it is best to compare several versions.

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