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KJB Genesis 29:31 And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.

NKJB When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.

Why do King James translators tone down in the heat in the new version?

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The translation of שָׂנֵא (sane) as "unloved" is frequent in more modern translations in many places such as Gen 29:31, 33, Deut 21:15, 16, 17, Prov 30:33, etc.

There is a similar Hebraism in Luke 14:26 -

  • “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. See also Matt 10:37.

This is despite the explicit instruction to love one another (John 13:34, 35) and to "honor your father and mother", Matt 15:4, Mark 7:10. Thus, the Hebraism to "hate" can sometimes mean to simply love less than another person.

In the case of Jesus' comments about hating father and mother - He clearly intends that we simply love Jesus supremely - more than Father and Mother and that in the Hebrew mind this is "hating father and mother" compared to Jesus.

The same is true of Leah and Rachel. Jacob love Rachel but "hated" Leah, that is, he loved her less. [Note that if Jacob actually hated Leah, he was able to divorce her but that is another matter.]

This is why the modern version say, "unloved" in Gen 29:31. The fact that Jacob buried Leah in the family cave of Machpelah (and Rachel was not) shows that Jacob did love her to some extent.

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The change is to give a better translation of the meaning of the Hebrew.

The best explanation I've seen is Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg's explanation in his commentary on Genesis, Becoming Israel, p.72 in pdf version:

In fact, the idea of “disliking, hating or favoring someone less” works quite differently in Biblical Hebrew.

This is especially true when it is expressed in contrast of “loving someone.” The phraseology expresses the idea of intensity of feeling in comparison. In other words, “Jacob I loved… Esau I hated” (Mal. 1:2-3) is rendered quite literally in our modern terms. Translated from ancient Hebrew and interpreted into our modern way of speaking it could arguably mean something like “Esau I loved, but Jacob I favored with my great covenantal love.” The same is the case with Jesus’ statement that one must love Him and hate his parents (Luke 14:26). This is an idiomatic Hebraism that makes a comparison and does not actually instruct one to express hatred towards one’s parents. That would be absurd, given God’s explicit commandment to honor them.

See Jesus' command to hate your father and mother in Luke 14:26

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  • This is a great reference, thanks! +1
    – Robert
    Aug 26, 2021 at 18:08

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