Moffatt's Unwarranted Liberties

Moffatt's misleading translation of Genesis 2:4


Moffatt's Unwarranted Liberties

Prof. James Moffatt's translation of the Old Testament, we find a part of verse 4 of Genesis 2 lifted out of its place, and inserted (with a strange translation) at the beginning of the first chapter, so that Moffatt now makes the beginning of Genesis read as follows:

2 This is the story of how

4a the universe was formed

1 When God began to form the

2 universe, the world was void and vacant. . .

What authority in sound scholarship does he have for transferring this clause from the next chapter, or for thus translating it?

There seems to be no scholarly authority for doing either one. The professor seems in both the Old Testament and the New to indulge almost a. mania for rearranging the parts of the text to suit what he seems to think would be a more "literary" sequence of parts. But in this case he seems also to have been led to make a mistranslation of the passage involved, in order to make the passage seem to fit where he has misplaced it.

A writer in a recent number of "The Bible League Quarterly" (London) takes Professor Moffatt very severely to task for both this re­arrangement and the translation of the passage itself. This writer points out that there are ten sections in Genesis, each of them being introduced by the phrase: "These are the gen­erations of —" In each section the author first announces his subject, and then gives its de­tails or its "generations." The expression seems to be a sort of transition phrase, bridg­ing over from something preceding to that which is to follow; it never means "first forma­tion," but always "subsequent progeny," and is so given in all the lexicons. This word occurs ten times in all of these ten sections; and in all of the other nine times (except this one) Moffatt himself translates it in the usual way, "descendants."

Furthermore, the writer, whom we have al­ready quoted, points out that the Jews have always been accustomed to name each of the books of the Scriptures after its opening words. Thus they have always called Genesis Berhe­shith,—"In the beginning." This itself is con­clusive proof that Professor Moffatt has no documentary authority for inserting something else at the very beginning of this book.


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December 1936

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