This verse has been brought to my attention recently and made me realize that there was a significant difference between the MT and LXX that I missed. So I decided that for today’s Septuagint Saturdays it would be worthwhile to revisit this text.
Previously, I noted, based on the difference between τηρήσει and שׁוף, that “it seems, to this translator at least, that the LXX has taken a little thunder out of the protoeuangelion.” While that remains true of that translational observation another, significant translational observation points in the other direction. Thus the new section of this post, below, under αὐτός vs. הוא. I have also added a short ‘concluding thoughts’ section and a bibliography.
The Curse of the Snake and the Woman
Gen. 3:15 καὶ ἔχθραν θήσω ἀνὰ μέσον σου
καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τῆς γυναικὸς
καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σπέρματός σου
καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σπέρματος αὐτῆς
αὐτός σου τηρήσει κεφαλήν
καὶ σὺ τηρήσεις αὐτοῦ πτέρναν
Gen. 3:16 καὶ τῇ γυναικὶ εἶπεν
πληθύνων πληθυνῶ τὰς λύπας σου
καὶ τὸν στεναγμόν σου
ἐν λύπαις τέξῃ τέκνα
καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα σου ἡ ἀποστροφή σου
καὶ αὐτός σου κυριεύσει
15 And enmity I will place between you
and between the woman
and between your seed
and between her seed
he will lie in wait for your head
and you will lie in wait for his heel.
16 And to the woman he said,
I will greatly increase your pain
and your groaning;
in pain you will bear children.
And to your husband will be your returning
and he will dominate you.
How this verb translates the MT equivalent will be discussed below, but my translation of this verb as ‘lie in wait for’ needs some explaining. The standard translation for this word is to ‘guard, watch.’ However, I have taken my cue from LEH, which lists ‘lie in wait’ as a possible translation. This seems best to me in order to convey the hostility of this action that is clearly intended by the context.
MT vs. LXX
αὐτός vs. הוא
At first glance there is no reason to think that αὐτός is not a straightforward literal translation of הוא, because it is. However,on second glance, one notices that here, and perhaps only here, do “the translators of the Greek text break their own grammatical rules” (Kaiser, 40). In the MT הוא, a masculine singular pronoun very clearly refers to זרע, a masculine singular noun. However, the equivalent of זרע in the LXX is σπέρμα, a neuter singular noun. Thus to have σπέρμα be the grammatically correct referent to αὐτός we would have expected it to be in the neuter form: αὐτὸ. Therefore, the LXX has personalized σπέρμα so that it refers to a single masculine individual as opposed to the collective singular that is possible in the MT (thus Wevers, 44 and Kaiser, 40). According to Kaiser, only here do the translators of the LXX break their own grammatical rules (40). It would be interesting to do a search and see if this is true, but for now we will have to take Kaiser’s word for it and assume that this is an intentional breaking of the rules for a purpose.
τηρήσει vs. שׁוף
The MT says that the serpent will bruise/crush the heel of the son, and he will bruise/crush the head of the serpent. In both cases, using the Hebrew word שׁוף, ‘to bruise, crush.’ This verb is easy to understand in terms of the son ‘crushing’ the head of the serpent, but seems difficult when it is describing the bite of the snake. Some commentators have taken their cue from the Vulgate which what the “woman’s seed would do to the serpent [by] the verb conterere “to crush.”” And describes what the “serpent would do to the woman’s seed, [by] the verb insidari “to lie in wait.” (TWOT). We could thus propose that the first verb, ישׁופך, should be understood as coming from the root Hebrew verb שׁאף II, “to trample under foot;” and the second verb, תשׁופנו, should be understood as coming from the Hebrew root, שׁאף I, “to gasp, pant after.”
Rather, it seems to me that the Vulgate is combining the two meanings of the LXX and MT and using the verb that makes the most sense in the context. While the MT and LXX are both using the same verb to show the reciprocity of the enmity between the serpent and the son. It is difficult to say whether the LXX is reading the verbs in the MT as coming from שׁאף, or is offering their own action to show the enmity between the serpent and the son. My hunch is the latter.
This does have some serious theological significance. This statement is considered by many to be the protoeuangelion, ‘the first gospel.’ The MT’s verbs suggest actual striking, which would be fatal in the case of the serpent. Thus, the promise that the son will eventually kill the serpent. However, the verbs in the LXX merely suggest the enmity between them. It seems the emphasis in the LXX is on the plotting to do each other in, rather than the actual deed. Thus, it seems, to this translator at least, that the LXX, in this case, has taken a little thunder out of the protoeuangelion.
πληθύνων πληθυνῶ vs. הרבה ארבה
This translation needs mentioning because it is a clear case where the Greek of the LXX is reflecting a Semitic idiom. It is common in the Hebrew Bible to use an infinitive construct followed by a finite verb of the same root to emphasize the action, or the severity of the action or the certainty of the action. Thus the NRSV translates the MT, “I will greatly increase…” In a context that was not stressing the severity it could have been translated ‘I will certainly increase….’ The NETS has translated the Greek πληθύνων πληθυνῶ, in a similar way, “I will increasingly increase…,” though I think this is a more wooden translation to reflect the idiom. But the point is that the Greek active participle followed by a future indicative is trying to express the Hebrew idiom.
ἀποστροφή vs. תשׁוקה
The Hebrew noun תשׁוקה, is only used in Genesis here and in 4:7 where it describes sin ‘desiring’ you. It seems, then that it has a negative connotation, i.e., the desire to dominate (so, Waltke, Old Testament Theology, 266). The LXX seems to imply, not dominating but submitting. So that, the woman’s recourse (NETS) or return is to her husband. This implies to me that the situation of the woman’s submissive role is a product of the fall, rather than as Waltke would interpret and the MT would suggest that it is the woman’s desire to dominate that is the product of the fall. I need to consider this more but this has been a long post and I think I’ll leave it at that. Something to ponder.
If the LXX translators truly saw in this text the promise of Messiah, as seems to be the case based on their use of αὐτός, the change from שׁוף to τηρήσει seems especially peculiar. Does it seem fair to suggest that at this point in the biblical narrative, the promise of the Messiah (or at least of the ‘promised son’) is merely a promise for an offspring that will oppose the serpent? Perhaps the theology of the promised son, that expects a final victory over the serpent must come later.
R.L. Harris, G.L. Archer, Jr., B.K. Waltke, eds. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1980); Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995); J. Lust, E. Eynikel, K. Hauspie, A Greek – English Lexicon of the Septuagint (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1992, 1996); John W. Wevers, Notes on the Greek Text of Genesis (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1993).