Genesis 12: 1 Verb: “Said” vs. “Had Said”

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Jim Stinehart
Posts: 352
Joined: Sat Sep 28, 2013 11:33 am

Genesis 12: 1 Verb: “Said” vs. “Had Said”

Post by Jim Stinehart »

Genesis 12: 1 Verb: “Said” vs. “Had Said”

In this post I would like to ask for help in understanding the narrative form of the Hebrew verb “to say” / אמר at Genesis 12: 1. Should it be translated as “had said”, or rather should it be translated as “said”? Or is it the case that Hebrew grammar itself is neutral as to these very different translations?

I note that the first word at Genesis 12: 1 and at Genesis 16: 11 is the narrative form of the Hebrew verb “to say” / אמר, and has the identical form in both places: וַיֹּ֤אמֶר. Yet they often are not translated the same. As to the critically important Genesis 12: 1, almost half the translations go with “had said”, whereas a slight majority use “said”, as do almost all translations of Genesis 16: 11.

There is a huge difference in meaning here, impacting one’s entire understanding of the Hebrew Bible as a whole (including, but not limited to, the question of Abram’s native land), depending on which translation is correct. After the family has been reported to have arrived at Harran after being at Ur, compare KJV with JPS 2003 as to what comes next:

KJV: “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee”.

JPS 2003: “The LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

One commentator dryly observed: “ ‘Now’ and ‘had said’ are both placed in this verse by translators [such as KJV] who believe that these verses refer to a previous call of God at Ur”. Is that true? Are we at the mercy of the translators as to the meaning of the Bible? Doesn’t Hebrew grammar provide some sort of an answer here?

Ignoring normal English word order (which lists the speaker between the words “And” and “said”, but to examine meaning, it is probably better to go with ultra-literal Hebrew word order), וַיֹּ֤אמֶר at Genesis 16: 11 is always translated as: “And said…”.

Yet almost half of the translations of וַיֹּ֤אמֶר at Genesis 12: 1, by contrast, have some version of “had said”:

“Now had said…” [KJV]
“For had said…” [1599 Geneva Bible]
“Had said…” [NIV; Orthodox Jewish Bible]
“And had said….” [Darby]

A slight majority of translations use “said” or “And said” or “Now said”:

“Said…” [JPS 2003]
“Now said…” [NRSV; NASB; JPS 1917]
“And saith…” [YLT]
“And said…” [Vulgate (English translation); Septuagint (NETS)]

* * *

For what it’s worth, in translating Genesis 12: 1, I myself would tend to follow JPS 2003 as to the first half, and KJV for the second half, resulting in:

<<The LORD said to Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee.>>

Is Hebrew grammar any help here? Or are we at the mercy of translators’ and analysts’ overall view of the Bible as to whether וַיֹּ֤אמֶר at Genesis 12: 1 should be translated as “said” or “had said”?

Jim Stinehart
Schubert
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Location: Canada

Re: Genesis 12: 1 Verb: “Said” vs. “Had Said”

Post by Schubert »

Jim, I see no answer in the Hebrew; in any event, one should be careful not to read too much into the choice of some translators to use "had said".
John McKinnon
ducky
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Re: Genesis 12: 1 Verb: “Said” vs. “Had Said”

Post by ducky »

In Hebrew, it doesn't matter, the verb is the same.

As for the question itself of where was this saying to Abraham.

It is not very clear.
One can say that it was in Haran, after the family already settled there.

But others say that it was in Ur.
in the previous chapter, it is said that Terah took Abraham and the others.
But later on that verse, it is said ויצאו אתם (and not ויצאו אתו or ויצא אתם), which give the sense that Abraham is also one of the dominant actors of leaving Ur toward Canaan.
So one can say, that it was already in Ur that Abraham got this message, and left Ur with his father (that left it from his reasons) - and maybe he was even the initiative.

And maybe, the saying was given in Ur and also later in Haran (as an "echo") since he started his "mission" to go to Canaan but still didn't finish it.
David Hunter
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