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Not a Hebrew scholar here but a Rabbi and I read our versions of Genesis 18:12 and I noticed a difference in wording. When Sarah laughed, his version rendered roughly “shall I have smooth skin” and the ESV reads “shall I have pleasure” as follows:

So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?"

Specifically, where do Jewish scholars derive this reading? IS THERE A DIFFERENCE IN THE ACTUAL HEBREW LETTERS AMONG MANUSCRIPTS? if so, which manuscripts say smooth flesh and why the variance and which is more reliable and why? Where do Christian scholars derive their reading?

I have been through this exercise a few times with Jewish friends—including in their translation of Psalm 22 re: crucifixion- again very different. I forget what the issue was in that case was but I recall the Christian scholars relied on fewer but higher quality manuscripts and there appeared to be much better reasoning for the Christian scholar translation from what I could gather as a non-scholar. The Hebrew scholars were relying on later and numerically more manuscripts. So, in addition to the specific question on Genesis 18:12, some commentary on why differences between Hebrew scholar translations and Christian scholars translations exist in various cases. Is there a way to advance this Christian-Jewish dialogue in a way that helps promote some understanding of why there are frequent differences in our translations—possibly a few facts that may explain the variances such as that Hebrew scholars use the Masoretic text (later) and Christian scholars use the Dead Sea scrolls? Are Hebrew scholars generally closed to re-evaluation of traditional readings based on comparing manuscripts? It would be difficult or impossible for a gentile to convince a Rabbi (who likely considers himself a better Hebrew scholar than every gentile on the planet) to adopt a different translation ever. But some general principles if available may help the dialogue. Thank you very much.

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  • Which specific translation says smooth skin? – curiousdannii Oct 19 '20 at 13:54
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    @Stephen, welcome to BH community. Since a word in any language, ancient Hebrew in particular, can have a quite a broad semantic range, the best "principle" is to translate a word in the context. A side note: it seems, "smooth skin" for עֶדְנָ֔ה is a bit euphemistic or an emendation at best. – Sam Oct 19 '20 at 21:32
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In Gen 18:12 the operative word is עֵדֶן (eden) which occurs 5 times in the OT: Gen 18:12, 2 Sam 1:24, Ps 36:8, Jer 51:34, Amos 1:5, all with the idea of delight or pleasure. The meaning is clear from BDB:

I. [עֵ֫דֶן] noun [masculine] luxury, dainty, delight; — plural absolute עֲדָנִים luxuries 2 Samuel 1:24 Si versa l. (read perhapsסְדִינִים [see סָדִין] Klo Gr HPS); plural suffix Jeremiah 51:34 he hath filled his belly מֵעֲדָנָ֑י from my dainties (figurative of Nebuchadnezzar's plunder; Gie reads מַעֲדַגָּ֑י); ᵑ7 Gf Rothst join with following: from my dainties hath he thrust me forth; figurative of delights of worshipping ׳י, נַחַל עֲדֶנֶיךָ Psalm 36:9 ׅ "" (דֶּשֶׁן כֵּיתֶ֑ךָ.

עֶדְנָה noun feminine delight; — Genesis 18:12 (sexual).

I do not know how "smooth skin" might arise.

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The word we are discussing is עֶדְנָה. There is no difference in the Hebrew words. If you want an understanding of how it is translated as "pleasure" Dottard explained this translation. There are also Jewish translations which prefer this explanation. I will focus on Rashi's translation.

Rashi gets this translation from translating the word as Mishnaic Hebrew. He quotes the following as an example "דתניא (נמי הכי) רבי יהודה אומר אנפקנון שמן זית שלא הביא שליש למה סכין אותו שמשיר את השיער ומעדן את הבשר׃" (Mishnah Menachot 86a). The important section is "ומעדן את הבשר" which means "and to smoothen (מעדן) the skin" The word מעדן, which means to smoothen in Mishnaic Hebrew, shares the root עד״ן with the word עֶדְנָה. Thus he translates עֶדְנָה as being smooth skin.

Note: I am not commenting on the accuracy of this translation, simply on how Rashi translates this phrase. According to almost all Jews, despite Rashi being a helpful commentary, he is not perfect and can make mistakes. Agreement with his opinions are not required.

As for Psalm 22, the difference is not higher quality manuscripts but a difference in a word. The word we are discussing is כארי in the phrase כארי ידי ורגלי in the MT. The MT vocalizes this word as כָּאֲרִי. The word כארי can only be translated as "like a lion" regardless of vowels. The Christians often translate this word, only in this place, as "pierced," and they point as evidence to the Septuagint, which is a problematic translation in and of itself, as the Septuagint was controlled and edited by the Church. When we bring in the DSS, it reads כארו ידיה ורגלי. We know that כארו is not a word in Hebrew, and thus this word must have a scribal error. The incorrect spelling of the word ידיה instead of ידי also indicates a sloppy scribe. The Jews claim that the scribe accidentally lengthened the י until it became a ו. We know that this is an extremely common scribal error. The Christians claim that there was an extra א added between the letters כ and ו which would mean that the word is to be read as כרו which means to dig, and by extension to crucify. The scribal error of a י turning into a ו is a much more likely scribal error than an extra א's being added. Another issue is that the reading as כָּאֲרִי fits the context of the Psalm better. Also, how would Paul and "Matthew" have missed this one?

Jews are generally not closed minded to re-evaluation; however, the DSS is a very unreliable source for certain things as it seems to prefer phonetic spelling over traditional spelling. It can be used to get some ideas for certain texts; however, sometimes the findings are mischaracterized to support a particular narrative such as the case with כארו. The Christians are generally less willing to accept a mistake. If the Christian bible misquotes a text from the Jewish bible, which happens frequently, such as the incorrect translation of עלמה as "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14, when it clearly means "young woman" and is translated as such everywhere else in their bibles, they are most often unwilling to change their incorrect translation. With Jewish commentators, there are many different opinions several of which disagree with each other. The Talmud itself presents many different opinions on different topics which often contradict each other. Most Jews generally pick the opinion which makes the most sense to them; however, in terms of matters of Jewish law, the majority opinion is required to be followed.

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Perhaps some etymology and figures of speech would help. Eden (Ayin-Daleth-Nun) seems to come from the adverb od, ayin-vav-daleth, meaning more. This is a metonymic etymology: pleasure (eden) is related to more. The terminal nun would indicate intensity (there is controversy about terminal nuns but some grammarians see them as indicating intensity). So eden is intensely more (Note: I am not indulging in two-letter roots since eden never comes in verbal form).

Some other derivatives of od, ayin-vav-daleth, are to encourage (ohdayd) or testament giving more meaning and memory to an event.

With that background the verse says "after my withering (menopause?) I have pleasure" I have no argument for translating this sexually. But withered skin is one post-menopause symptom; Sarah perhaps regained all of her youth, even her skin.

Bottom line: I don't believe ednah should be translated as primarily meaning smooth skin. Rather it refers to pleasure, enjoyment, the state of "I want more" and metonymically that can refer to smoothness of skin. I think this is the simplest approach

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