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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Words of Ambiguous or Uncertain Reference

Related to the preceding problem is the fact that frequently a word will have two or more quite distinct senses, and on some occasions it is difficult to decide which is the most appropriate one. A case in point is the verb qana, which generally means ‘to take possession of’ or, more specifically, ‘to buy’, but occasionally signifies ‘to create’ (a meaning associated with the cognate verb in, for example, Ugaritic). This meaning has been seen at Gen. 4: 1; 14: 19, 22; Deut. 32: 6; Ps. 139: 13, and Prov. 8: 22. Of particular interest here are the first passage and the last one. In the case of the last passage there is clearly an enormous theological difference between wisdom being ‘acquired’ by God, as a prerequisite of his creative activity (in which case wisdom clearly existed, alongside God, before creation; cf. Job 28: 23–7), and its being ‘created’ by him, in which case the absolute sovereignty of God is maintained. Against this background we should probably understand the LXX's choice of the verb ktizo (‘establish, create’) here (and in a dependent passage at Sir. 1: 9).

At Gen. 4: 1, qaniti 'iš 'et yhwh, the issue of what qana means (did Eve acquire a man or create one?) is complicated by uncertainty about the meaning of the particle 'et. One line of interpretation takes 'et to be the object marker; cf. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (completed after the seventh century CE): ‘I acquired a man, an angel of Y’ (in allusion to Cain's demonic paternity). In general, though, the preposition 'et is understood here, not in the usual sense, ‘with’, but ‘by means of’, ‘with the help of’, a sense which, however, is only rarely attested (cf. e.g. Judg. 8: 7). Attempting to conserve the more usual sense of prepositional 'et, Rashi, basing himself on an earlier tradition, interprets as ‘I have become a partner with God in creation’ (as against the earlier creation of Adam and Eve by God alone). The interpretative tradition also reflects doubt about the identity of the ‘man’ ('iš). He is generally taken to be Eve's son, Cain, but outside this context the term would more naturally be expected to refer to her husband, Adam. Hence, an early tradition interprets as ‘behold, I (re)gain my husband through Y’. Here, then, we have an example of a recurrent basic issue in translation: namely, how to understand an ambiguous or difficult word when an equal amount of uncertainty is attached to the other words that we need to be able to understand in order to provide an interpretation, through context, of the first word!

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