Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Grammatic Multiples

Whereas grammar in most languages is generally assumed to be important because it creates structure and order, Biblical grammar also has a powerful effect on the meaning of a text. For example, the “et” participle serves a unique function of creating a direct object. Although it technically has no translation, many of the commentators who are experts in Biblical grammar find that the “et” often has non-traditional uses, such as being a stand-in for “eem,” meaning with.

The non-traditional translations of “et” are often determined by the context of the sentence. One of the most interesting interpretations made with the “et” participle is to be found in the first two verses of Genesis 4: “And Adam knew (the Biblical ways of saying “had relations with”) Eve his wife, she conceived and bore (et) Cain...and she bore again (et) his brother (et) Abel...”

Rashi, the quintessential Biblical commentator, writes about these verses: “these three ets teach us that she [Eve] bore a twin sister with Cain, and with Abel were born two twin sisters, therefore it is written ‘And she bore again.’” Rashi refers his readers back to Genesis Rabbah, a book of Midrash compiled by the sages. There it states: “Rabbi Joshua ben Karhah said: Only two [Adam and Eve] entered the bed, and seven left it: Cain and his twin sister, Abel and his two twin sisters...”

Multiple births fascinate us, but, as one can see from the story of Eve bearing quintuplets (twins plus triplets), it is part of the natural workings of the world.

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