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There are a few translation of Genesis 3:15 which reference the one who will crush the serpent's head using the feminine pronoun 'she'. For example, the Douay-Rheims Bible renders the verse as:

“I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel”.

It seems as though each version that renders it such is based upon the Latin Vulgate.

From this website comes the following:

If the translator had access to the original Hebrew Text of the Old Testament, they could easily see that the pronoun was 3rd person, singular, and masculine. In Hebrew and Greek, gender is grammatical and does not reference male or female, unlike English. Thus in Hebrew as well as Greek, the pronoun looks to its antecedent which is ‘seed’ and therefore, could never be translated as “she.” The Septuagint (300-132 BCE) which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew text, reflected this in their language by using a 3rd person, masculine, singular pronoun. The apparent problem arose with the Latin texts. In case you are curious, the difference between the ‘he’ and ‘she’ in Latin is the last letter. ‘Ipsa’ for ‘she’ and ‘ipse’ for ‘he.' In the 4-5th century, we can find Latin translations using ‘ipsa’ rather than ‘ipse.' Augustine (354–430) preferred this interpretation as well. Jerome completed His Latin translation of the OT around 405 AD. However, before we lay blame on Jerome for this error, evidence suggests that Jerome’s original translation followed the Hebrew text correctly. His other writings corroborate this fact (See Saint Jerome's Hebrew Questions on Genesis).

The article goes on to suppose that a copyists error (trading ipse=he for ipsa=her) found it's way into the Latin Vulgate.

The Wycliff Bible also has the feminine pronoun:

Y schal sette enemytees bitwixe thee and the womman, and bitwixe thi seed and hir seed; sche schal breke thin heed, and thou schalt sette aspies to hir heele.

Interestingly, the Wycliff Bible, translated and hand written in the 1380's, was not based upon the Greek Textus Receptus but upon Jerome's Latin Vulgate as it was the only source material to which he had access.

  1. Are there any translations containing the feminine pronoun which are based on texts other than the Latin Vulgate?

  2. Is there solid, scholarly support either that 'she' is correct or is a copyist error?

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  • It's certainly not Jerome's fault even if it was a copyist error. The Old Latin/Italic versions also use ipsa based upon the Septuagint which despite the claims of the article you shared also has a feminine pronoun (At least in some manuscripts) ellopos.net/elpenor/physis/septuagint-genesis/3.asp?pg=2 – eques Feb 11 at 14:04
  • @eques The article does not blame Jerome but indicates that his original translation followed the Hebrew 'he'. – Mike Borden Feb 12 at 1:37
  • Well I may have partially misread your post, but the point is that it's not unique to the Vulgate. What is even meant by Jerome's "original translation"? To my knowledge, Jerome did only one translation of the Bible with the exception of the Psalms where he did 3 – eques Feb 12 at 13:30
  • @Eques I have seen reference that Jerome's original manuscript is lost to us leaving only copies, some with ipsa and others with ipse but I cannot recall where. – Mike Borden Feb 12 at 13:55
  • That may be. The contention is not as far as I saw between ipsa and ipse but ipsa and ipsum (referring back to the seed). – eques Feb 12 at 14:03
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Yes, the Latin Vulgate has the error. I have come across other errors in Jerome's Latin Vulgate which I put down to certain learned biases that seeped into the church at Rome over the first 300 - 400 hundred years.

The word "hu" from the original Hebrew is 3rd person singular and can be translated as either he, she, or it. (1) The word should rightfully be translated as "he" because the antecedent is "zera" or Seed which is masculine. (2) It is recognized in the BDB definition at 1.a as "he". (3)

The Interlinear from the Hebrew correctly has "...and between your seed and her Seed, he shall..." (4)

The only English translations I find that use the feminine "she" are the Douay Rheims and Wycliff. All others use a variation of "he", or "it", or "her child", "her offspring," or "one of hers". The usual English translation uses "he shall".

I do not have access to any other language translations so cannot speak to those of the French, Spanish, German, etc. But, the background of Jerome's Latin Vulgate is reported to be from the Greek Septuagint for the Psalms, Job, and a few of the apocryphal books. Then he decided the Septuagint contained errors, and began using the "original" Hebrew texts or "Tanakh" for the rest of the OT books. (5) Even this is questioned by some who believe he used both the Septuagint and the Tanakh. (6)

I have not found any other English translations than those 2 you have mentioned that relied upon the Latin Vulgate. They recognize that the Vulgate had too many errors to be reliable.

There is solid scholarly support that the use of "she" in the Latin Vulgate is in error. From Adam Clarke's Commentaries, the word is "he":

"But there is a deeper meaning in the text than even this, especially in these words, it shall bruise thy head, or rather, הוא hu, He; who? the seed of the woman; the person is to come by the woman, and by her alone, without the concurrence of man. Therefore the address is not to Adam and Eve, but to Eve alone; and it was in consequence of this purpose of God that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin; this, and this alone, is what is implied in the promise of the seed of the woman bruising the head of the serpent. Jesus Christ died to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, and to destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. Thus he bruises his head - destroys his power and lordship over mankind, turning them from the power of Satan unto God; Acts 26:18. And Satan bruises his heel - God so ordered it, that the salvation of man could only be brought about by the death of Christ; and even the spiritual seed of our blessed Lord have the heel often bruised, as they suffer persecution, temptation, etc., which may be all that is intended by this part of the prophecy." (7)

The recognition that the prophesy was ultimately the promise of the Messiah through the lineage of Eve's children was prominent. The Blue Letter Bible has:

"3.Not Virgin Mary

The Latin Vulgate version of the Old Testament has an unfortunate translation in Genesis 3:15. It changes the pronoun from the masculine his to the feminine. This unfortunate translation gave wrongful support for the claims concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary. The idea that Mary was the seed of the woman has no basis in fact in the Scripture." (8)

Excerpt from The Pulpit Commentary:

"...and the seed of the woman signifying those whose character and life should be of an opposite description, and in particular the Lord Jesus Christ, who is styled by preeminence "the Seed" (Galatians 3:16, 19), and who came "to destroy the works of the devil" (Hebrews 2:4; 1 John 3:8). This we learn from the words which follow, and which, not obscurely, point to a seed which should be individual and personal. It - or he; αὐτος (LXX.); not ipsa (Vulgate, Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory the Great; later Romish interpreters understanding the Virgin) - shall bruise." (9)

And, from the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges:

"The Vulgate ipsa conteret caput tuum is noticeable. By an error, it rendered the Heb. masc. pronoun (“he” = LXX αὐτός) by the feminine pronoun “ipsa,” ascribing to the woman herself, not to her seed, the crushing of the serpent’s head. The feminine pronoun has given rise to some singular instances of exegesis in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary." (Ibid)

In summary, I believe the answer to your questions are:

  1. No, there do not appear to be any other translations than those based upon the Latin Vulgate that use the pronoun "she"; and

  2. Yes, there is scholarly support that the "she" of the Latin Vulgate is in error.

Notes:

  1. Strong's Heb. 1931, "hu" at Biblehub

  2. Strong's Heb. 2233, "zera" at Biblehub

  3. Brown-Driver-Brigg's 1.a - "Genesis 3:15 הוא ישׁופך ראשׁ he (ᵐ5 αὐτὸς) shall bruise thee as to the head (opposed to the following אתה thou),"

  4. Gen. 3:15, Interlinear at Biblehub

  5. Vulgate - Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Vulgate

  6. What is the Latin Vulgate - here

  7. Adam Clarke on Gen. 3:15 - StudyLight

  8. Blue Letter Bible on Gen. 3:15 - here

  9. The Pulpit Commentary on Gen. 3:15 - Biblehub

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  • (+1) Great answer. To add to the list of church fathers you've attested, Tertullian also belongs in the feminine-reading camp. At face value the masculine reading also appears to be supported by Irenaeus (Against Heresies), Theophilus of Antioch, Hippolytus, Cyprian and the Apocalypse of Moses. Augustine's position would be worth an answer all its own - he seems to follow a feminine or neuter view but typically interprets the feminine subject as the Church. – Steve Taylor Feb 22 at 8:36
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Tl;dr: No, I don't think there's consensus about how the Hebrew "זַרְעָ֑הּ ה֚וּא" should be translated, but the pronoun "she" doesn't seem to be justified in my view and receives little scholarly support.

I found 2 good articles on Genesis 3:15 by OT scholars (no paywall): here and here. A non-journal article describing the Catholic position that I think is representative is here.

I'm very partial to the argument made by Collins (first link) that the noun "זֶרַע" describes an individual rather than Eve's posterity in general because essentially everywhere else where the Hebrew has "זֶרַע" as the antecedent of a singular pronoun e.g. "זַרְעָ֑הּ ה֚וּא" it refers to a single individual (for another example he gives 2 Samuel 7:12-13:

"וַהֲקִימֹתִ֤י אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֙ אַחֲרֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֵצֵ֖א מִמֵּעֶ֑יךָ וַהֲכִינֹתִ֖י אֶת־מַמְלַכְתּֽוֹ׃

‏ה֥וּא יִבְנֶה־בַּ֖יִת לִשְׁמִ֑י וְכֹנַנְתִּ֛י אֶת־כִּסֵּ֥א מַמְלַכְתּ֖וֹ עַד־עוֹלָֽם׃"

"...I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." (NIV) Here "זַרְעֲךָ֙" ("your seed/offspring") is a prophesy about a specific person (Solomon) and therefore is the antecedent for the pronoun "ה֥וּא" at the beginning of v.13 which is singular.

As an example of general "posterity" he gives Genesis 17:9:

"אַתָּ֛ה וְזַרְעֲךָ֥ אַֽחֲרֶ֖יךָ לְדֹרֹתָֽם" ("you and your descendants after you for the generations to come"). The key here, I think, is that the suffix "יךָ-" on "אַֽחֲרֶ֖" ("after") is a plural masculine suffix indicating that "זַרְעֲךָ֥" is to be taken as plural.

Collins does note that much scholarship about Genesis 3:15 treats it as referring to a general or collective posterity, however, and you can examine the sources he cites for yourself.

As for the gender of the pronoun "ה֚וּא", the scholarly articles are dismissive of translating it as "she." Collins says:

That is to say, the word zera‘(‘seed’) is taken as a collective, and the pronoun hû’ is masculine singular in order to match its antecedent (za‘āh, ‘her seed’), and is better rendered ‘it’ or even ‘they’ (so too the suffix on těšûpennû, ‘you will bruise him/ it/them’). Authors who find a Messianic promise in this verse do not usually dissent from this grammatical analysis. They tend to see the Messiah as the representative or crystallisation of the woman’s seed/posterity.

So he doesn't even mention "she." The second article does, but treats it as a footnote:

The fact is also well known that the LXX chose to render the Hebrew pronoun hu' with autos, making it a masculine, whereas the Hebrew does not demand anything more than a neuter. The Vulgate, on the other hand, rendered this same pronoun with the feminine ipsa, thus giving support to a mariological understanding.

In its longer discussion of "ה֚וּא" the second article says the main contest is between "he" and "it":

Translation Problem Two: How to render the pronoun hu'.-- In the Hebrew text this pronoun refers back to zerac, which is a masculine word. Thus the masculine hu' could simply be explained in this sense. Since in English the word "seed" is neuter one could defend the choice of "it" as a translation for hu'. This is the way the King James Version rendered it, though both ASV and RSV use "he." The Dutch New Version retains "it." This reflects the ambiguity of the original and, in a certain sense therefore, might be called a good translation. However, the rendering "he" has also some very ancient and venerable support. The Septuagint chose that word (Greek: autos). This choice is all the more remarkable since the Greek, in distinction from the Hebrew, has a choice of masculine, feminine, and neuter. The Greek word for "seed" (sperma) being a neuter, the Septuagint could have followed this up with a neuter (auto). Apparently it felt the personal reference at this point to be strong enough to choose autos instead. And, indeed, something of the personal next to the collective does play a role in this passage.

Finally, even the Catholic article concedes that the rendering "she" is probably an error even if it expresses a defensible idea:

Christians have recognized since the first century that the woman and her seed of Genesis 3:15 do not simply stand for Eve and one of her righteous sons, such as Abel or Seth. They prophetically foreshadow Mary and Jesus. The first half of the verse (speaking of the enmity between the serpent and the woman) has been applied to Mary, and so the second half (speaking of the crushed head and heel striking) also has been applied to Mary.

Though the variant that uses “she” and “her” probably came from a copyist’s error, the idea it expresses is true. There is a sense in which Mary crushed the serpent’s head and in which she was struck at by the serpent. She didn’t do these things directly, but indirectly, through her Son. It was Jesus who directly crushed the serpent’s head from the cross and Jesus whom the serpent directly struck on the cross. Yet Mary cooperated in these events.

So in summary, it seems that "she" is probably not the best translation of "ה֚וּא" in Genesis 3:15. In contrast with Revelation Lad's answer, I didn't find anyone who interpreted the pronoun as actually referring to Eve. It seems to most likely be a copyist's error, as you noted, and probably intends to refer to Mary.

Disclaimer: I'm just starting my study of Biblical Hebrew, so while I'm trying to confirm this answer with authoritative sources I have little experience myself. I used the Polyglot Bible with Strong's lexicon in preparing this answer. For English translations of the Hebrew text I used the NIV.

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The Idiomatic Use of הוא
As noted in this question Why does Genesis 3 use male pronouns for Eve? and the answers, the pronoun in question is הוּא which is properly masculine or neuter. But as Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon states, in the Pentateuch it also takes in the feminine as an idiom. Therefore, from the use of language as found in the Mosaic Law, either he or it, or she are possible.

The King James translators opted for the neuter which literally conveys an ambiguity:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15 KJV)

ואיבה אשית בינך ובין האשה ובין זרעך ובין זרעה הוא ישופך ראש ואתה תשופנו עקב

If he, she, or it are possible, then neither he or it, or she may be termed as mistranslations. Rather, a particular rendering reflects the specific emphasis a translator must choose when the new language lacks an idiomatic term such as present in Hebrew.

The Necessary Ambiguity
The ambiguity of the Hebrew use is necessary when God's work of salvation is overlaid on the natural world of biological ancestry. Consider the first promise made to Abram:

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12 ESV)

The immediate application is with Abram and all of the pronouns are given in masculine terms. As time goes on, it becomes apparent that Abram's descendants will be the means by which this promise is fulfilled; so "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" becomes ambiguous. When "you" is understood to mean the descendants, the meaning cannot be restricted to a masculine condition and a translator could choose a neuter "you" if one was available.

As the words are the LORD's, "you" must also continue to apply to Abram even if he dies. In that case, a translator may place emphasis on the original promise by rendering "you" as distinctly masculine. This preserves the sense of the promise at the expense of misstating the future. Nevertheless a distinctly masculine "you" cannot be taken to exclude the other gender. In fact, the fulfilled promise will proceed from Sarah and so the masculine "you" should not be used as a means of excluding her regardless of the linguistic rules governing pronoun gender.

Genesis 3:15
What is said to the serpent is done in the presence of the woman and there is a portion which pertains to her. Therefore, in the same way what was said about Abram's seed applies to him throughout all time, what was said about the woman's seed applies to her throughout. Just as it remains proper to speak of what was said to "him" (Abram) despite his death; it is proper to speak of what was said about "her" (the woman). When the seed bruises the serpent's head, it is not necessarily wrong to say she was responsible since were it not for what was said about her, her seed would not be the means by which it was fulfilled. The limitations of the language do not alter either the initial setting or the result anymore than the literal language used when speaking to Abram should be used to exclude his wife.

More importantly, it is the LORD who specifically identifies the woman not the man as the source of the seed. Since the man is also present and, logically, must be the partner by which the seed could also be called, the phrase can reasonably be interpreted to mean "her [not his] seed." A Christian perspective which also understands how this was fulfilled could reasonably conclude her seed implied a virgin birth.

A translation which reads she shall bruise thy head and you shall bruise his heel is one which preserves an emphasis on the origin (she) and gender of the seed (he), and arguably, one which better preserves the initial sense in which the LORD specifically said her seed and not the man's.

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    Is this a promise to the woman or is it a judgement declared to the serpent? I'm struggling with this because it feels a bit like giving Tom Brady's mother undue credit for the Superbowl victory. – Mike Borden Feb 17 at 1:40
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The Septuagint does contain the female pronoun at least in some manuscripts:

καὶ ἔχθραν θήσω ἀνὰ μέσον σοῦ καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τῆς γυναικὸς καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σπέρματός σου καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σπέρματος αὐτῆς·

αὐτῆς is "of her" (singular feminine genitive)

https://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/physis/septuagint-genesis/3.asp?pg=2

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    Yes, "of her seed" because it is the seed of the woman but, from what I can see, the pronoun in question remains masculine, "he shall crush your head". – Mike Borden Feb 13 at 13:42
  • Ah yes. Read the wrong pronoun. I've found references (which would have to be followed) that at least assert it pre-dates Jerome and traces it back to the Septuagint, at least partially due to differences in Hebrew and Greek for grammatical gender. Hebrew uses masculine as "neuter" but seed is neuter in Greek – eques Feb 15 at 13:30
  • I don't have an issue with "it" or "he" as I understand the reference is ultimately to Christ the "seed" but if "she" is correct then the entire meaning is changed and it matches neither the Hebrew nor the Greek. – Mike Borden Feb 15 at 17:30
  • The entire meaning is not really changed -- Catholic theology for instance doesn't hang upon it being she here. – eques Feb 15 at 17:43
  • Mariologists (sp?) look to it fairly strongly, I'd say, as evidenced by the Militia Immaculata. Mary, as the second Eve, being the one who crushes the serpent's head – Mike Borden Feb 15 at 18:06

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