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Studies on the Bible

No. 1

Genesis 3:22.

הן האדם היה כאחד ממנו לדעת טוב ורע

Is according to the authorized English version, “Behold the man is become as one of us to know good and evil.” Mendelssohn translates it in the same manner. This passage always appeared to me very difficult and obscure. The difficulty consists in the term אחד ממנו “one of us,” which plainly implies a divisible plurality. In consulting the various commentators, I find that Rashi quotes the following remark from the Bereshith Rabbah:—“Behold he is an only one below, (or among the lower creation,) as well as I am an only one above, and in what consists his unity? In knowing good and evil, which is not the case with the brute creation.” Although this remark of Rashi may appear very simple in itself, it yet (in my humble opinion) contains the only true interpretation of the text in question. But in order to arrive at the proper meaning of the above quotation, it is necessary to notice two things; first, according to Rashi’s opinion, there is a great difference between אֶחָד and אַחַד inasmuch as the first means simply one, whereas the other signifies something that is singled out or unique. See for example, Gen. 26:10: “Will nigh one of the people,” etc. Rashi there remarks, המיוחד בעם זה המלך “The peculiar one of the people this is the thing.” Gen. 49:16. כאחד שבטי ישראל “like one of the tribes of Israel.” Rashi there says, “All Israel shall be as one with him, and he shall judge all of them, and he prophesied this on Samson.” The term כְּאַחַד שבטי ישראל may also be interpreted “like the peculiar one of the tribes, this is David who issued from Judah.” In short, wherever we meet with the word  I find that Rashi invariably interprets it to mean something peculiar, singled out, or (for want of a better expression) unique. 2. Some grammarians contend that the word  with a Dahgesh is the  is the third person, masc. sing.; and without the Dahgesh is the first person, plural. The word  in our text* has the Dahgesh; it can therefore not be the first person. Taking these two points into consideration, we may come to a satisfactory solution by rendering the text in question according to Rashi’s views, this: “Behold man has become as an only one of his own species (namely, in the material world) to know good and evil, (which is not the case with the brute creation;”) the meaning of which is, that since his eating of the tree of knowledge he acquired that distinction. I verily believe that Onkelos intended to convey the same idea in his translation. He renders it, הא אדם יחידי בעלמא מיניה למידע טב וביש. It appears that Onkelos’s translation has caused as much difficulty as the original. Rabbi Samuel David Luzzato, in his work Oheb Gare, finds fault with some editions where the disjunctive accent (זקף קטון) is placed on מיניה. He says “it ought to be placed on בעלמא;” he therefore understands the Targum thus: Behold man is now an only one in this world, of himself to know good and evil.” But if I were allowed to differ with this most learned of modern critics, I would certainly read itבעלמא מיניה and translate is, “Behold man has become an only one in this world of his,” (meaning the lower creation.)

* In all our Bibles the word has always the Dahgesh; but our correspondent refers to the opinion of certain grammarians merely, who actually make this distinction. But without this his construction may be the correct one; as, at all events, the third person has always the D.—Ed. Oc.

Since writing the above, I found my opinions substantiated by two very respectable witnesses, namely, Buxtorph’s edition, wherein the disjunctive accent is on מיניה, and the Polyglott Bible, where not only the accent is on מיניה, but the words בעלמא מיניה are joined together with a hyphen; and where they give the Latin translation of Onkelos: “Ecce Ada unicus est in seculo ex se, sciens bonu et malu;” from which it will be seen that Onkelos has generally been understood as I stated. Now, Mr. Editor, what I have advanced is merely a suggestion; and if I am wrong I shall be very happy to be corrected by some of your learned correspondents. Should this article prove palatable to your readers, I shall from time to time communicate more of my reflections on the Holy Scriptures, hoping that our erudite men will rouse themselves from their lethargy, and give us all the benefit of their secret meditations.


New York, May 9th, 5607.