4

In Gen. 2:17 God warns: "you shall surely die." The Hebrew for "surely die" is מוּת מוּת מוּת (mut, mut mut) or die.. die DIE! ( Blue Letter Bible) There are many other examples. One that I was informed of recently is the English phrase "children and children’s children." This phase, literally meaning children and grandchildren, appears several times in the O.T. One example:

You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. -Genesis 45:10

According the the Blue Letter Bible the Hebrew text for "children and children's children" is "בֵּן בֵּן בֵּן בֵּן" (bēn bēn bēn bēn) - "son son son son."

These translations make sense but they make me wonder how translators deal with such issues, as well as what other cases there might be. My expertise in the subject is limited. I'd appreciate a short briefing on this from someone with a working knowledge of Biblical Hebrew, together with any known links to online literature on the subject.


It turns out my question was based on bad information. Thanks to those who explained in comments or answers.

3
  • 1
    You need to use a better interlinear - the Blue letter Bible lists only the root (lexical) form of the word and does not include its conjugations, prefixes and conjunctions which are supremely important. Thus, these words are not simply repeated. This is basic Hebrew grammar and does not involve hermeneutics!
    – Dottard
    Sep 19, 2022 at 21:33
  • can you suggest a preferred online interlinear? Also would have considered it off topic if the BLB interlinear version were correct? I thought translation issues were kosher. Sep 19, 2022 at 21:49
  • 1
    Try biblehub.com/interlinear/genesis/45-10.htm and biblehub.com/interlinear/genesis/2-17.htm This is not a translation matter - it is basic Hebrew grammar.
    – Dottard
    Sep 19, 2022 at 22:18

2 Answers 2

8

Repetitions in the Bible are quite frequent (over 220 times) and generally fall into two categories:

  1. literal meaning of two things
  2. An intensification. Sometimes this can also mean "every" (e.g. "every morning" for "morning morning" or "every day" for "day day", "every man" for "man man").

Most translations do a good job distinguishing between these and correctly render the Hebrew. Here is the list of repetitions in Genesis and Exodus:

  1. double meaning conveyed
verse hebrew KJV translation
Gen 7.2, 7.3 שִׁבְעָ֥ה שִׁבְעָ֖ה "by sevens"
Gen 7.9, 7.15 שְׁנַ֨יִם שְׁנַ֜יִם "two and two"
Gen 22.11 אַבְרָהָ֣ם אַבְרָהָ֑ם "Abraham, Abraham"
Gen 32.10 י֣וֹם י֑וֹם "day by day"
Gen 46.2 יַעֲקֹ֣ב יַעֲקֹ֑ב "Jacob, Jacob"
Ex 3.4 מֹשֶׁ֥ה מֹשֶׁ֖ה "Moses, Moses"
Ex 34.6 יְהוָ֣ה׀ יְהוָ֔ה "The LORD, The LORD"
  1. intensification
verse hebrew KJV translation
Gen 7.19, 17.2, 17.6, 17.20, 30.43 מְאֹ֥ד מְאֹ֖ד "exceedingly"
Ex 1.7 מְאֹ֥ד מְאֹ֖ד "exceedingly"
Gen 14.10 בֶּֽאֱרֹ֤ת בֶּאֱרֹת֙ "full of slimepits"
Gen 32.17 עֵ֥דֶר עֵ֖דֶר "every drove"
Ex 3.15 דֹ֥ר דֹּֽר "all generations"
Ex 8.10 חֳמָרִ֣ם חֳמָרִ֑ם "upon heaps"
Ex 16.5 י֥וֹם יֽוֹם "daily"
Ex 16.21, 30.7, 36.3 בַּבֹּ֣קֶר בַּבֹּ֔קֶר "every morning"
Ex 36.4 אִֽישׁ־אִ֥ישׁ "every man"
2
  • 1
    Kind of like English: "time and time again" or "for days and days"
    – Barmar
    Sep 20, 2022 at 16:01
  • 1
    I want to thank both those who corrected my mistaken reliance on the Blue Letter Bible's rendering of Gen. 17, as well as @Robert who provided a good answer to the underlying question. Sep 20, 2022 at 17:29
3

How should intentionally repeated words in Hebrew be translated?

You might want to provide other examples because there are no consecutively repeated words in Gen 2:17 or 45:10.

Gen 2:17 reads מוֹת תָּמֽוּת rather than having the noun מוֹת thrice. The second word (i.e., תָּמֽוּת) is the conjugation of the verb to die.

Similarly, Gen 45:10 does not have multiple consecutive instances of the noun בֵּן. Instead, it reads בָנֶיךָ וּבְנֵי בָנֶיךָ, which means your children and your children's children. The inflection for the possessive adjective "your" preempts the consecutive repetitions of the noun.

As for actual repetitions of words or phrases, Dr. Barrick in what he calls the Fallacy of Reduction advocates for preserving the repetitions even if their intent or reason of being seems or is inexplicable. Although I agree that translators ought not to mutilate biblical text, Dr. Barrick gives no persuasive exegesis of repetitions. He mostly suggests that these might be intended for emphasis or to reflect "a special regard" of certain elements of the story (such as a ceremony or ritual).

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