Jewish Rabbis and Gen. 3.15

Here is an illuminating study highlighting some history of how Rabbis approached Gen. 3.15 and Gen. 4.1. I knew that Gen. 4.1 was a reference back to the Promise in 3.15 but didn’t know all the issues of the grammar. HaDavar Ministries has a good discussion as to her statement: “I have gotten a manchild, The Lord” in 4.1: http://www.hadavar.org/critical-issues/messianic-prophecy/the-torah/genesis-3-the-seed-of-the-woman/rabbinic-support/

A “Targum” was an explanation of the scriptures by the Rabbis much as a commentary is to a written Christian work. Also, when this article mentions “accusative” it refers to the *case* of word-form languages. As far as I know, most languages are word-form in their logic as opposed to English, which has as its logic: word-order. So, in English: Jack kissed Jill, we know who the subject and direct object are by the order the words appear relative to each other. Whereas, in a word-form language, the order of the words have much less relevance. Instead, the word-form language will change the form (spelling), add a suffix or prefix, or in certain ways denote to the reader (or hearer) what place the word has in the sentence. So, the accusative case of the word denotes the direct object (the direction of the verb).

 

Genesis 3:15 is taken as Messianic by these rabbinic authorities.

  • Rabbi David Kimchi:

As Thou wentest forth for the salvation of Thy people by the hand of The Messiah the Son of David, who shall wound Satan, the head, the king and prince of the house of the wicked.[1]

  • Midrash Rabbah(23):

Rabbi Tanchuma said in the name of Rabbi Samuel, Eve has respect to that Seed which is coming from another place. And who is this? This is the Messiah, the King.[2]

Dr. Alfred Edersheim in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (appendix 9), mentions additional rabbinic opinions supporting the understanding that Genesis 3:15 refers to the Messiah.

This well-known passage is paraphrased, with express reference to the Messiah, in the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and the so-called Jerusalem Targum. Schottgen conjectures that the Talmudic designation of “heels of the Messiah” in reference to the near Advent of the Messiah in the description of the troubles of those days may have been chosen partly with a view to this passage.[3]

Dr. Edersheim’s remark is confirmed by Franz Delitzsch in his work, Messianic Prophecies in Historical Succession, with the addition of a Messianic link to one of the midrashim.

The Palestinian Targum testifies that in Gen. iii.15 there is promised a healing of the bite in the heel from the serpent, which is to take place “at the end of the days, in the days of the King Messiah.” In the Palestinian Midrash to Genesis (Bereshith Rabba xii) we read: “The things which God created perfect since man sinned have become corrupt and do not return to their proper condition until the son of Perez (i.e. according to Gen. xxxviii. 29, Ruth iv. 18 ff. the Messiah out of the tribe of Judah) comes.”[4]

Additional Messianic links are revealed by Joseph Samuel C.F. Frey in his two volume work, Joseph and Benjamin.

Our ancient Rabbis, as with one voice, have declared that by the seed of the woman, who was to bruise the head of the serpent is meant the Messiah. You know as well as I, their common saying, “that before the serpent had wounded our first parents, God had prepared a plaster for their healing; and as soon as sin had made its entrance into our world, the Messiah had made his appearance.” Hence both the Targums, that of Onkelos, and that of Jonathan, say “that the voice which our first parents heard walking in the garden, was the Memra Jehovah, ie. the word of the Lord, or the Messiah, who is always meant by this expression;… In the Targum of Jonathan, and that of Jerusalem, it is said, “the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent, and they shall obtain healing, or a plaster for the heel, (the hurt received by the Serpent,) in the days of Messiah the King.”[5]

It is self-evident from these references that our understanding of Genesis 3:15 as a prophecy of the Messiah falls within the Jewish frame of reference. It is not a position dreamed up by some non-Jewish missionary intent on deceiving gullible Jews into forsaking their people and their religion. The Messianic impact of this prophecy is very clearly seen by the rabbis.

However, there is more significance lurking in Genesis 3:15. Eve’s understanding of Genesis 3:15 is revealed in her remarks found in Genesis 4:1 regarding the birth of her first son.Genesis 4:1 reads, (literally), “I have brought forth a man – Jehovah.” Most versions do not translate Genesis 4:1 in this manner.

The translation issue circles around the little Hebrew word “et.” this little word can be either an accusative particle indicating the definite direct object or it can be a preposition. Prepositions are placed before certain words to form a phrase that indicates a relationship such as in, on, by, etc. Most translators evaluate the word as a preposition and therefore translate the verse, “and she said,’I have gotten a manchild with the help of (et) the LORD.’”[6] This translation decision, or very similar renderings, are found in the New American Standard Bible (NASB), New Living Translation (NLT), New International Version (NIV), Revised Standard Version (RSV), English Standard Version (ESV), King James Version (KJV), American Standard Version (ASV), New King James Version (NKJV) and Tanakh versions.

Two Aramaic paraphrases of Genesis 3:15 make this decision as well.

And Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, “I have acquired the man from before the Lord.”

And Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, “I have acquired the man from before the Lord.”

In spite of the translation decision of these standard translations and two Targumims, we believe evaluating “et” as an accusative particle is the better position. Why would such a minority position be a better position to take? There are a number of reasons

Context

The first reason is found in the context in which the word is found. The accusative particle is used five times in verses one and two of Chapter 4. It is not seen in the English translation because its function is to identify the direct object of the sentence. It is not a translatable word. A literal rendering of verses 1 and 2 into English will enable the non-Hebrew reader to understand the context.

Now the man knew (et) Eve his wife, and she conceived and gave birth to (et)Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild (et) Yahweh.” Again, she gave birth to his (et) brother (et) Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

Genesis 3: Rabbinic Support

When we look at the context, we see that the name Yahweh falls right in the middle of consistent constructions. The four proper nouns Eve, Cain, Yahweh, and Abel along with the common noun brother are all preceded by et. In four of the constructions, et is properly rendered as a particle indicating the direct object of the verb. Only in the case of the proper noun, Yahweh, have the translators chosen to render et as a preposition. Consistency in translation would dictate a consistent usage of the word et. It is better to take the word consistently as an accusative particle and translate the verse, “I have gotten a man – the Lord” because this rendering does not violate the pattern of the context.

Rabbinic Agreement

Another support for this position is found in of the Targumim, Targum Jonathan. Targum Jonathan to Genesis 4:1 reads:

And Adam knew his wife which desired the Angel, and she conceived and bare Cain, and said, ‘I have obtained THE MAN, the Angel of Jehovah.’[8]

In this rendering, the translator rendered the proper noun Yahweh with the substitute phrase “The Angel of the Jehovah.” In addition, no preposition such as “with the help of” is utilized. Et is rendered as an accusative particle indicating that the direct object of the verb is “The Angel of the Lord.”

In addition, supporting insight is found in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary.

The evidence from the versions (LXX, dia tou theou; Vul., per deum) suggests that the accusative sense of “I have brought forth a man, the Lord,” was not acceptable to the early translators, and they avoided that sense by means of a free translation. The modern translation “with the help of the Lord” (NIV)… is not attested elsewhere in Scripture.[9]

The comment that evaluating et as a direct object indicator was not acceptable to early translators is substantiated by rabbinic comments in Bereshith Rabbah xxii. 2.

WITH THE HELP OF (ETH) THE LORD. R. Ishmael asked R. Akiba: ‘Since you have served Nahum of Gimzo for twenty-two years, [and he taught], Every ak and rak is a limitation, while every eth and gam is an extension, tell me what is the purpose of the eth written here?’ ‘If it said, “I have gotten a man the Lord,’” he, replied,’ it would have been difficult [to interpret]; hence ETH [WITH THE HELP OF] THE LORD is required.’[10]

The point of the exchange between Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Akiba is the evaluation of et (spelled ETH in the Soncino Midrash Rabbah). Rabbi Ishmael clearly understands the implication if et is evaluated as a direct object indicator. If et is a direct object indicator, then Eve is stating that she believes she has given birth to God or a God/man. Concerned about this implication, he asks the advice of Rabbi Akiba. Rabbi Akiba clearly understands the implications as well and acknowledges this by replying that if et is evaluated as a direct object indicator, “it would have been difficult [to interpret].” In other words, that sense would not be acceptable to rabbinic theology and therefore et must be evaluated as a preposition. As a result, the free translation [WITH THE HELP OF] THE LORD is the required translation.

The little particle et is significant enough in Genesis 4:1 to cause a bit of controversy. The context favors evaluating it as a direct object indicator. However, those who cannot accept the implications of the context and that evaluation are forced to evaluate the particle differently even though the outcome is a free translation rather than a literal translation.

Dr. David L. Cooper summarizes the issue.

In Genesis 4:1 – the statement of Eve when Cain, her first son, was born, “I have gotten a man even Jehovah.” She correctly understood this primitive prediction but misapplied it in her interpreting it as being fulfilled in Cain, her son. It is clear that Eve believed that the child of promise would be Jehovah Himself. Some old Jewish commentators used to interpolate the word “angel” in this passage and say that Eve claimed that her son was “the angel of Jehovah.”[11]

The significance of this exercise lies in the fact that Eve thought she gave birth to a supernatural deliverer, a Divine Messiah, a God/man. This insight is the significant fact lurking in the background of Genesis 3:15. In Genesis 3:15, God is promising that a supernatural deliverer will and devastate Satan. Eve understood the prediction in precisely those terms. Her mistake was in thinking that her son, Cain, was that supernatural savior.

In approximately 700 BC, Isaiah would predict the coming of the supernatural deliverer when he was given the revelation of the virgin birth. The supernatural deliverer would be Emmanuel – God with us. This prediction was realized in the actual birth of the supernatural deliverer, the God/man, Yeshua HaMashiach. With that comment, we move into the next segment of our study, the fulfillment in Yeshua.

  1. ^ “How to Recognise the Messiah,” Good News Society, p. 5
  2. ^ Ibid.
  3. ^ Edersheim, A. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (electronic ed.), p.689
  4. ^ Delitzsch, Franz., Messianic Prophecies in Historical Succession, (Eugene, Wipf, and Stock Publishers, 1997), p. 39
  5. ^ Frey, Joseph Samuel, C.F., Joseph and Benjamin, (Jerusalem: Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 2002), p. 154-155
  6. ^ The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1977).
  7. ^ Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, (Deutsche Bibelgessellschaft Stuttgart) 1990.
  8. ^ “How to Recognise the Messiah,” p. 5
  9. ^ Gaebelein, F.E. Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), p. 63
  10. ^ Soncino Classics Collection: The Soncino Midrash Rabbah, (Chicago: Davka Corp.)
  11. ^ McDowell, Josh., Evidence that Demands a Verdict, (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1972), p. 145

Author: Alex the Less

My education: BA (Bible), M.Div, BBA (HRM). Also, I have been a professional carpenter for about 25 years. Now retired, I have more time to study the bible and write about it.

2 thoughts on “Jewish Rabbis and Gen. 3.15”

  1. Very interesting. I can see how Eve would think that Cain was the promised God/man. Never thought about that since I did not know about the language translation aspect.

    1. Hi Nonna,

      Yes, I had heard this either preached or mentioned in class that this was her reference. It was presented as an optional reading which is how most study bibles present it if they deal with it at all.

      The animal skins that were used to clothe the pair suggest a substitutionary death as well as Able bringing “the firstlings” as a sacrifice (in vs. 4). Of course these things are implicit and the significance of these two sacrifices are not spelled out on the surface of the text. Obviously, our first ancestors knew the issues it seems.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s