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Genesis 1:10 ויקרא אלהים ליבשה ארץ ולמקוה המים קרא ימים וירא אלהים כי טוב

Vulgate: Et vocavit Deus aridam Terram, congregationesque aquarum appellavit Maria. Et vidit Deus quod esset bonum.

LXX: καὶ ἐκάλεσεν ὁ θεὸς τὴν ξηρὰν γῆν, καὶ τὰ συστέματα τῶν ὑδάτων ἐκάλεσεν θαλάσσας· καὶ ἴδεν ὁ θεὸς ὅτι καλόν.

Douay-Rheims: And God called the dry land, Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

From what I can tell, the Hebrew word מקוה means "collection/congregation/gathering-together" and it is grammatically in the singular construct state here in Genesis 1:10. However, the Latin Vulgate and the LXX (in addition to the Greek translations of Aquila, of Symmachus, and of Theodotion, as quoted in Origen's Hexapla, PG 15) translate the word in the plural.

But vast majority of the English bibles translate in the singular. (Even the Douay-Rheims, surprisingly, which for the most part tends to follow the Vulgate.)

So should Genesis 1:10 be translated "collection" or "collections?"

Here are some ideas (both pro and con) that came to mind. Feel free to critque or add to them.

In favor of singular:

  • The Hebrew word is grammatically singular, so it perhaps makes more sense to translate it "collection"

In favor of plural:

  • Even though מקוה is grammatically singular, perhaps it has a plural meaning? Kind of like how פְּנֵ֥י in Genesis 1:2 is grammatically plural but has a singular meaning (i.e. "face," not "faces")

  • Strengthening the above point, מקוה never appears in the plural form (at least not in the Hebrew scriptures)

  • It says that God called the congregation/congregations "Seas." Now seas is plural, so it makes sense that congregations should also be plural

  • Perhaps "congregation" and "congregations" have pretty much the same meaning so either translation is fine?

I want to point out also that the different bibles are by no means consistent on how they translate מקוה. The same word appears in Exodus 7:19, again in the singular, but English bibles tend to translate it in the plural in Exodus 7:19 even though they previously translated it in the singular in Genesis 1:10.

For the present purpose, I care more about understanding the grammar than the theological implications.

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Native Hebrew speaker here. מקוה (also מקווה) is grammatically singular, plural is מקוואות (Mikva'ot). Note that it's the same word like Mikveh - bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism (Wikipedia English, Wikipedia Hebrew). There is also Masehet Mikvaot (Wikipedia Hebrew), so this plural dates back at least to the Mishnah (~3rd century CE).

Indeed, the sentence grammatically conflates singular and plural. I guess you could interpret it as Him deciding to take the one big gathering of water, and split it (at least semantically) into several seas - Mediterranean, Red Sea etc.

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  • +1 Good response. Glad to have someone fluent at Hebrew step in.
    – Perry Webb
    Mar 7, 2022 at 10:01
  • +1 Thank you for these insights. One thing I'm still wondering is whether מקוה has a plural form in Ancient Hebrew, or only in Modern? Mar 7, 2022 at 16:57
  • There seems to be differences between Tanakh Hebrew and Modern Hebrew; for example, רֵעַ (also means neighbor) seems to be rarely used for friend in Modern Hebrew. "Although the biblical text has no word for “friendship,” there are a number of words for “friend.” Most common is rēaʿ and related nouns such as rēʿâ, raʿyâ, rēʿeh, and mērēaʿ, each apparently derived either from a root r ʿ h or a root r ʿʿ, both meaning something like 'to associate with' or 'to affiliate with,'” -- Olyan, S. M. (2017). Friendship in the Hebrew Bible (J. J. Collins, Ed.; p. 4). Yale University Press.
    – Perry Webb
    Mar 8, 2022 at 1:16
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    @PerryWebb: For רֵעַ, it's still used in modern Hebrew as "friend" (not really neighbor), although it's not colloquial. It's also used as a name, like the musician רע מוכיח. Friendship is רעות (Re'ut), like in the classic song הרעות (HaRe'ut) about friendship among soldiers.
    – Jonathan
    Mar 8, 2022 at 8:25
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    @Pascal'sWager: I found a ref to Mikvaot, I edited my answer for that.
    – Jonathan
    Mar 8, 2022 at 8:27
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The Jewish Publication Society's translation is:

God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering of waters He called Seas. And God saw that this was good. (Gen. 1:10, JPS Tanakh)

You are reading too much into the text. One needs to translate this based on what makes sense in that language. For example, water in Hebrew is מַיִם (the name of the actor with the neural science doctorate) which is plural and can be translated water or waters. However, seas יַמִּ֑ים is definitely plural. However, you can look at it this was there are many seas/waters, but the gathering/collection/congregation took place as one gathering.

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As Jonathan pointed out, מקוה is indeed singular. Hence, the more literal translation would be "congregation."

"Congregations" is a slightly less literal translation, but nevertheless it's also acceptable because the meaning is essentially the same. In the very next verse God creates the "fruit tree" (singular). Did He create only one? By no means! The generic "fruit tree" in Genesis 1:11 stands for a whole multitude of fruit trees, hence "fruit trees" would also be an acceptable translation.

St. Jerome probably decided to translate מקוה as congregationes because he interpreted the grammatically singular "collection" of water as standing for a whole multitude of collections, each collection being its own sea. (I don't think he was merely copying the LXX, because he was translating directly from the Hebrew and tends to side with the Hebrew where the two texts differ, for example with tohu wa-bohu in Genesis 1:2 and the genealogy in Genesis 5.) Aquila and the others likely followed the same line of thought.

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