5

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.

3
  • Which specific translation says smooth skin?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 13:54
  • 1
    @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
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 21:32
  • 1
    @curiousdannii, For a Jewish translation with "smooth flesh" and commentary, see Jewish Bible, Genesis 18:12. Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 4:01

5 Answers 5

1

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.

1

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.

1

"Smooth skin" is not a mainstream translation in either Judaism or Christianity, but rather a midrashic gloss. The issue here is we have a hapax legomenom so this creates some wiggle room, especially when it comes to euphemisms for things like menstruation, sexual desire, etc.

First, here are some mainstream translations from Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic sources:

  • JPS Tanakh (1985)

And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband so old?”

  • ESV

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

  • Douay-Rheims

And she laughed secretly, saying: After I am grown old, and my lord is an old man, shall I give myself to pleasure?

The Targum Neofiti nails it, IMO, with the following:

And Sarah wondered in her heart saying: “After I have grown old, is it possible for me to return to the days of my youth and to have pregnancies; and my husband Abraham has grown old.”

The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, after pointing out that the root almost always means 'pleasure' in some form:

The hapax legomenon ʿeḏnâ refers to something an old person has lost. Sarah resists believing the promise that she will have a son: “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I yet have ʿeḏnâ?” (Gen. 18:12). Given the context, translators have assumed the meaning “youthful vigor” (Targ.; Symmachus; Joüon) or, picking up on Middle Heb. ʿiddôn, the meaning “period, menstruation” (Gen. Rab. 48; Rashi). Although in view of Old Aram. ʿdn, “be fruitful,” one might assume the meaning “fertility,” in this particular text (the perfect refers to an individual act rather than an enduring condition), it seems more appropriate to begin with ʿdn in the sense of “luxuriate, enjoy,” to understand ʿeḏnâ as a reference to sexual desire, and to translate something to the effect “bliss of love” (Vulg. voluptatem operi dabo). Sarah’s other justification for her unbelief also suggests this: “my husband [Abraham] is old.” It is merely etymological sleight-of-hand, prompted by the desire to free the ancestress Sarah from the stigma of aging, when the Midrash (loc. cit.) analyzes the word as ʿaḏî nāʾeh, “precious ornaments,” and interprets accordingly.

Kedar-Kopfstein, B. (1999). עֵדֶן. G. J. Botterweck, H. Ringgren, & H.-J. Fabry (Eds.), D. W. Stott (Trans.), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Revised Edition, Vol. 10, pp. 485–486). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

1

A verse that comes near to speaking of smooth skin is this:

And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck: (Genesis 27:16, KJV)

In this verse, "skins" is from עוֹר (H5785: `owr) and "smooth" is from חֶלְקָה (H2513: chelqah). Neither of these words is much similar to the "pleasure" of Genesis 18:12, עֵדֶן (H5730: `eden), as neither has either the nun or the dalet.

Sarah is asking, incredulously, if she would have pleasure. The context is that of having a son. What would give her the most pleasure?

  1. Smooth skin
  2. Sexual relations
  3. Holding a baby boy, her own son, in her arms--for the first time in her life

I don't think there is a huge question regarding how to interpret this one. It's obvious. As to the Hebrew word used here for "pleasure," it is somewhat of a general term to indicate enjoyments, delights, or luxuries. There's no doubt that Sarah would have considered it a luxury almost beyond her dreams to have a son--for which she had likely lost hope long before. She would have been delighted to have the pleasure of such an addition to the family.

Here are the three other verses in the Bible that use the same Hebrew word for "pleasure" or "luxury":

Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel. (2 Samuel 1:24, KJV)

They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. (Psalm 36:8, KJV)

Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon hath devoured me, he hath crushed me, he hath made me an empty vessel, he hath swallowed me up like a dragon, he hath filled his belly with my delicates, he hath cast me out. (Jeremiah 51:34, KJV)

As the bolded words indicate, עֵדֶן (`eden) was translated as "delights," "pleasures," and as "delicates." There is zero indication of "smooth skin," which seems likely to be a spurious interpretation.

The Masoretic texts which some claim are newer are the more original, even if the material they are written on may be newer. The manuscripts would wear out through repeated use and copying. Manuscripts which had mistakes were set aside. If a copyist made more than two or three mistakes on a single section, that entire section was supposed to be destroyed. It seems some of them were just set aside, not used again, and, being preserved longer through disuse, now have surfaced and some claim they are older. But the majority of the manuscripts indicate which ones were more trusted to be copied.

0

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

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.