Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav


What is the real meaning of the Hebrew word ‘hesed’ in the Bible?


An excellent question, because the agonizing and linguistic contortions surrounding this word among non-Hebrew speakers have always puzzled me.

The traditional translation—lovingkindness—is totally inapt on several grounds: it’s a made-up word, cloyingly sentimental, semantically wrong, and rhythmically horrible, wreaking havoc on the meter of any verse in which it is present.

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What is lost in the translation of the Bible from Hebrew to English?

The old adage is that reading something in translation is like kissing a beautiful woman through a veil.

In the case of the Hebrew Bible, this is actually not true: reading it in translation is like kissing a drawing of a beautiful woman recreated by a police sketch artist based on someone’s description…

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Q: What is the meaning of “timshel” in Hebrew?

John Steinbeck (and following him, the TV series Hell on Wheels) got it wrong: the Hebrew word is actually timshol, not timshel, and it means “thou shalt rule over” or “thou shalt control”—not “thou mayest.”

The context is what God says to Cain (Gen. 4:7), who is disheartened by the fact that God had preferred Abel’s offering of the “firstlings of his flock” over Cain’s offering of “fruit of the ground”:

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