The Curse Of Cain Reconsidered: A Study Of The Translation Of “Min Ha’adamah” In Genesis 4:11a -- By: Todd Borger

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 08:1 (Spring 2017)
Article: The Curse Of Cain Reconsidered: A Study Of The Translation Of “Min Ha’adamah” In Genesis 4:11a
Author: Todd Borger


The Curse Of Cain Reconsidered:
A Study Of The Translation Of “Min Ha’adamah” In Genesis 4:11a

Todd Borger

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Genesis 4:11a has traditionally been rendered into English with some variation of “You are cursed from the ground.” E. A. Speiser’s interpretation of the Hebrew word ארור (“cursed”) to mean banishment has also had great influence on modern interpretation of this verse. A closer study of the grammar of the sentence and the larger context of Genesis 3 shows that a better translation of this verse is “You are cursed more than the ground.” This translation shows not only the extension of the curse from the serpent to the land and now to Cain, but it also shows the amplification of the curse as Cain is specifically cursed more than the ground was cursed in Genesis 3.

Key Words: Cain, curse, grammar, primeval history, translation

The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis is fraught with several unsolvable riddles. Hardly a verse goes by in the chapter without some textual, linguistic, or theological problem arising. Genesis 4:11 is no exception to the general tenor of the chapter. Many English translations are unified in rendering the first part of this verse Cursed are you from the ground or with variations and explications. That simple sentence, however, is rife with problems, and there are notable exceptions within the English translation traditions. This essay will look at several of the problems in the verse and focus on one particular translation issue—the rendering of the preposition מן in the expressionמן האדמה (min ha’adamah).

This essay will look first at the variety of published English translation options. The purpose of that section is not to limit our discussion to the range of options chosen thus far. The section summarizing the various translation traditions is illustrative to show the range of possibilities. The following section will contain a brief survey of the history of interpretation of this verse, showing some of the interpretive options and opinions concerning this verse. Following that section will be an analysis of the syntactical options for translating מן האדמה. Finally, we will show how this phrase could be seen in relation to the larger context, both in the immediate context of Gen 4:10-11 and in the larger context of Genesis 3-4. The essay will conclude with the thesis that the best English translation of the phrase מן האדמה in Gen 4:11 is with the comparative you are cursed more than the ground.

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