Further Observations On The Term ‘Seed’ In Genesis -- By: T. Desmond Alexander

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 48:2 (NA 1997)
Article: Further Observations On The Term ‘Seed’ In Genesis
Author: T. Desmond Alexander

Further Observations On The Term
‘Seed’ In Genesis

T. Desmond Alexander

In a recent study relating to Genesis 3:15, Jack Collins observes that certain syntactical features make it possible to distinguish between זֶרַע meaning ‘seed’ (singular) and ‘seeds’ (plural).1 This is important because the noun זֶרַע itself does not have distinctive singular and plural forms; the singular form זֶרַע also functions as a collective noun. After surveying all the occurrences of זֶרַע meaning ‘offspring’ in the Hebrew Bible, Collins concludes that when a writer wishes to indicate that זֶרַע ‘denotes a specific descendant, it appears with singular verb inflections, adjectives, and pronouns’.2 On this basis the ‘seed of the woman’ in Genesis 3:15 must be understood as referring to a single individual and not numerous descendants.

There are, however, two texts within the book of Genesis which Collins fails to discuss adequately: 22:17-18a and 24:60. Both are taken by Collins to be examples of passages in which זֶרַע must be understood as having a collective meaning.3 At first sight this appears correct. Genesis 22:17a speaks of Abraham’s ‘seed’ becoming as numerous ‘as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore’ (NRSV). Similarly, in Genesis 24:60a Rebekah’s closest relatives bless her with the words, ‘May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads’. In both passages the reference to many descendants is then immediately followed by similar, but not quite identical, phrases. Genesis 22:17b reads:

וְיִרַשׁ זַרְעֲךָ אֵת שַׁעַר אֹיְבָיו

With minor variations this is echoed in Genesis 24:60b:

וְיִירַשׁ זַרְעֵךְ אֵת שַׁעַר שֹׂנְאָיו

Both of these passages are usually understood as ...

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