On Genesis 3:1a And The Common English Bible

The Common English Bible translates Genesis 3:1a, וְהַנָּחָשׁ֙ הָיָ֣ה עָר֔וּם מִכֹּל֙ חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָׂ֖ה יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֑ים, “The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made.” The whole of their translation of Genesis is available in a PDF file.
There are a couple of things I like about this translation and a couple that concern me. First, I like that they use “snake” rather than “serpent.” To the modern ear, “serpent” has am otherworldly ring. It just doesn’t seem quite like a serpent is a real animal. Second, I like it that they translate עָרוּם, “intelligent.” I don’t know that I can defend the exact overlap of the semantic ranges of the Hebrew and the English but I rather like the translation. Almost any word used to translate עָרוּם needs some explanation. Is there an English work in the common range of “intelligent” and “crafty”? I also like that they point out in a note that עָרוּם sounds like the Hebrew word for naked. This is but one of many puns in Genesis 2 and 3.
What really bothers me is their translation of הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר as “wild animals.” I think that this expression distinguishes between the “animals of the field” from “the birds of the sky.” See Genesis 2:19, כָּל־חַיַּ֤ת הַשָּׂדֶה֙ וְאֵת֙ כָּל־עֹ֣וף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם , “all the animals of the field and all the birds of the sky.” I think this is an important distinction that helps us understand the nature of the snake and even the meaning of עָרוּם. How? Stay tuned or ponder this post.
Via Claude Mariottini who pointed out the PDF files and has his own thoughts on Genesis 3:15.

3 thoughts on “On Genesis 3:1a And The Common English Bible”

  1. Hi Duane – I think intelligent is too abstract. And I agree that those animals of the field are teachable – maybe even domesticated. I was just wrestling with this one in Psalm 8. Eventually went to herd.

  2. Bob,
    Good to hear from you.
    You are correct that intelligent is too abstract but I also think “crafty” is too pejorative. The snake had a skill and I think the word was used to indicate that skill. But because of the dynamics of punning, the author didn’t use quite the best word.
    As to “animals of the field”: I’m not so sure that the animals of the field are so teachable; rather they teach. See Job 12:7-9 where we likely do see domesticated animals as well as birds and fish as potential teachers. I don’t see how one can understand domesticated animals, at least, in this context. I think snakes are a little hard to herd. 🙂

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