Having reviewed both books by Fitzmyer and Kaiser, and having noticed their significant differences, I thought it would be interesting to compare the two of them on certain key texts. Here is a first look at Fitzmyer vs. Kaiser. We’ll start at the beginning, with Gen. 3:15.

Gen. 3:15 is also known as the protoeuangelion, because it is often interpreted as the ‘first gospel.’ It is often understood to be the first promise of a coming deliverer. The crux of the interpretation turns on the understanding of the Hebrew word ‘he/him’ (הוא). Here is a comparison of the views of Kaiser and Fitzmyer.

Gen. 3:15

Gen. 3:15 ואיבה אשׁית בינך ובין האשׁה ובין זרעך ובין זרעה הוא ישׁופך ראשׁ ואתה תשׁופנו עקב׃

Translation:

‘And enmity I will put between you and between the woman, and between your seed and between her seed. He will strike you [on the] head and you will strike him [on the] heel.’

Fitzmyer Kaiser
“The pronoun should not be rendered ‘he,’ because that immediately specifies an individual male, whereas the Hebrew speaks of a collectivity, ‘your seed, your offspring.’ (27) “the reference to ‘his heel’ bears out the correctness of understanding Hebrew [הוא] as a singular masculine pronoun in the phrase ‘he will crush your head.” (39)       

 

the LXX: “only in 3:15 did the translators of the Greek text break their own grammatical rules, which require that the pronoun agree with its antecedent in gender and number.” (40)  Kaiser sites, Martin, saying “The most likely explanation for the use of [masculine pronoun] autos [rather than the neuter pronoun auto] in Gen 3:15 to refer back to [the neuter noun] sperma is that the translator has in this very way indicated his messianic understanding of this verse.” (40, citing, Martin, 427)

“‘Seed’ is often used as ‘offspring’ in a collective sense: e.g., Gen 9:9; 12:7; 13:16; 15:5, 13, 18; 2 Sam 7:12.” (27) “the very fact that the noun ‘seed’ is a collective singular deliberately provides for the fact that it may include the one who represents the whole group as well as the group itself.” (39)

 

Evaluation

Regarding the first argument, Fitzmyer does not give us much to work with. His basic point is that the pronoun ‘he’ (הוא) should not be understood as singular because the word ‘seed’ (זרע) is a collective noun referring to a plural group. Kaiser’s argument on the other hand, that the singular reference to ‘his heel’ (תשׁופנו עקב; lit.: ‘you will strike him [on the] heel”), is also not convincing because the reference to heel must be singular according to grammatical rules of Hebrew (a pronoun must match its antecedent in person, number and gender). Kaiser’s argument, that the LXX translators saw this passage as Messianic is stronger. The use of αὐτός where αὐτό would have been expected, according to the rules of Greek grammar (same as in Hebrew), clearly implies something of a Messianic reading by the LXX translators. However, even in the LXX there is doubt as to how messianic this passage was viewed (cf. my comments on this text here). 

 

Regarding the second argument, that the term ‘seed’ (זרע) is often used as a collective, neither Kaiser nor Fitzmyer seems particularly strong. Fitzmyer says that the term seed most often references a group and Kaiser says that it allows for a singular meaning within a group. Neither has provided an argument for this case here in 3:15, they have both presented their preferred interpretive possibility, without making a strong argument for what is most probable in this case. What we see in this case is that there are no real clues provided by the author in trying to decipher how the reference to ‘he’ should be taken. It seems that the author really leaves it open and leads us to ask the question: ‘Who is he?’ (for all you Hebrew students out there, yes that pun was very intended)

Bibliography

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The One Who Is to Come (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2007); Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995); R.A. Martin, “The Earliest Messianic Interpretation of Genesis 3:15,” JBL 84 (1965): 425-27.

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