Genesis 40-41 HCSB

Genesis 40:19, 22

Gen. 40:19 In just three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from off you—and hang you on a tree. Then the birds will eat the flesh from your body.”

Gen. 40:22  But Pharaoh hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had explained to them.

The footnote gives the alternate translation for “hanged” as “impaled.” NIV 2011 also opts for this translation in the text itself. I think in the traditional translations, the use of “hanged” has been so ingrained that at first glance it seemed a little odd to translate תָּלָה as “impaled.” But upon further investigation, the footnote makes sense.

As I looked at a few sources, I found that this sense of “impaled” makes some sense, even though several references are much later than the time of Moses. In TWOT the author references at least thee ancient pagan nations (Egypt, Persia, and Mesopotamia) and their use of impaling.

Since Herodotus (History, 3.159) indicates that impaling was a common method of execution in Persia (see also Ezr 6:11 ASV and RSV), perhaps תָּלָה עַל עֵץ, traditionally rendered “he hanged on a gallows/tree,” means rather “he impaled on a stake,”

 The same notion underlies Gen 40:19, 22; 41:3, reflecting Egyptian practice. A somewhat similar sense underlies Lam 5:12 reflecting Mesopotamian practice. (TWOT, para. 18613)

Other passages where “impaled” fits is Ezra 6:11 (even NAS95 uses “impaled”). One wonders why there is not a footnote then for Genesis 41:3, which is the same context as the original text above.

At first glance in checking other passages, HCSB seems inconsistent in translating this word. Then looking at the context, it appears that “impale” is used when the context is one of the three pagan nations, and “hang” is used for Israelite contexts (Deuteronomy 21:22, 2 Samuel 4:12; Joshua 8:29; Joshua 10:26). However, if that were the case, then HCSB did not follow that pattern in Esther 7:9 (“hang”) and Lamentations 5:12 (“hang”), which clearly take place in the pagan nations..

So, the footnote makes sense, and perhaps the text and footnote could be reversed, and update 41:3 to reflect the same.

Missing Emphasis

Genesis 41:29 (28–30 for context)

HCSB 28 “It is just as I told Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt. 30 After them, seven years of famine will take place, and all the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten. The famine will devastate the land.

NAS95 29 “Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt;

What is missing is at the beginning of v. 29. In Hebrew, the word הִנֵּ֛ה “ calls attention to the following noun.” In the older translations (and still in NAS95) the word “behold” (or occasionally “look” but which seems weaker, see HCSB Gen. 31:51) is used to function in this way. See also,

Genesis 15:15

HCSB When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch appeared and passed between the divided animals.

NAS95 It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.

Genesis 31:51

HCSB Laban also said to Jacob, “Look at this mound and the marker I have set up between you and me.

NAS95 Laban said to Jacob, “Behold this heap and behold the pillar which I have set between you and me.

Genesis 22:7

HCSB Then Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, “My father.” And he replied, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

NAS95 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Genesis 34:21 (follows a noun to emphasize it)

HCSB “These men are peaceful toward us,” they said. “Let them live in our land and move about in it, for indeed, the region is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as our wives and give our daughters to them.

NAS95 “These men are friendly with us; therefore let them live in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters in marriage, and give our daughters to them.

Note that in each case, HCSB does not translate the Hebrew word, whereas generally NAS 95 does; and when it does translate the word, it does so with “look” or “indeed.” While “behold” is not commonly used in contemporary English, the role the Hebrew word plays is important, emphasizing the following in some way. To not translate הִנֵּ֛ה in any way seems to miss that point. “Look” does not seem to carry the emphatic role of הִנֵּ֛ה and suggests a visual action, which is not necessarily intended in the Hebrew. “Indeed” could work in certain contexts.

Bottom line: I have not found an adequate translation for הִנֵּ֛ה that is still understandable in contemporary English. In my mind I still prefer “behold” over nothing in the English text.


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3 Responses to Genesis 40-41 HCSB

  1. scrofa11111 says:

    Hi Rich,

    When I was reading through Genesis some months ago I wrestled with the same “hang” vs. “impale” discussion. HALOT mentions that in Persia the verb was sometimes “impale.” They go onto mention that in Egypt only “impale” is attested (in Egyptian literature). I kind of gave up one way or the other. The HCSB probably does the best: they took their stab and then footnoted the other option. Here’s the quote from HALOT:

    —b) practised by the Persians Est 514 64 79.10 87 913f.25; here it is clearly a shaming action, or alternatively a way of displaying those who have been killed, but the practise may also have been used on rare occasions in    order to put someone to death; and this then brings up the question of impalement used as a means of punishment, so Bardtke KAT 17/4–5: 313 on Est 223 (nif.) with reference to Herodotus 3: 159; 4: 43: ἀνασκολοπίζω (vb. from σκόλοψ stake); cf. also BArm. זקף pt. passive זְקִיף impaled Est 611; but this vb. does not appear in Sept. for those occurrences; instead it has κρεμανύναι ( ἐπὶ τῷ ξύλῳ) Est 64 913f; 87 ( ἐπὶ ξύλου), κρεμασθῆναι ἐπὶ τοῦ ξύλου 514 710, abs. 925; σταυρωθῆνοι ἐπ᾿ [τοῦ ξύλου] 79 to be hung on the gallows; so TWNT 7: 581; cf. also Sept. Est 812r. These instances show that also in Esther what is being primarily suggested is punishment by hanging on a gallows.
    —c) in Egypt: וְתָלָה אוֹתְךָ עַל־עֵץ he will hang you (have you hanged) on a gallows Gn 4019; equivalent to the shortened expression תָּלָה with acc. of the person Gn 4022 4113. It is probably to be understood in the same way as 2b. In Egypt only to impale is attested,

    “תלה,” HALOT, 4:1738-1739.


    • exegete77 says:

      Thanks, Steve. Yes, I had looked at HALOT, but wondered whether I should cite more on that topic. I’m glad you did. I also agree that there isn’t much improvement, except for the perceived inconsistency.


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