Vayeishev: Language and Translation

Genesis/Breishit 39:2, 7-8, 10:

HASHEM was with Joseph [va’yehi* YHVH et-yosef]….

After these things, his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph and she said, “Lie with me” [shichvah** imi]. But he adamantly refused [va-y’ma-ein***]….And so it was — just as she coaxed Joseph day after day, so he would not listen to her lie beside her [lishcav** etzlah], to be with her [lihyot* imah]. (Stone [bracketed material added])

And the LORD was with Joseph….
And it happened after these things that his master’s wife raised her eyes to Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” And he refused…And so she spoke to Joseph day after day, and he would not listen to her , to lie by her, to be with her. (Alter)

But YHVH was with Yosef…
Now after these events it was
that his lord’s wife fixed her eyes upon Yosef
and said:
Lie with me!
But he refused….
Now it was, as she would speak to Yosef day after day, that he
would not hearken to her, to lie beside her, to be with her — (Fox)

* forms of the verb heh-yod-heh/”to be”
**forms of the verb shin-kaf-bet/”to lie down down, to have intercourse”
***va-y’ma-ein bears the unusual trope mark, shalshelet [chain], indicating a particularly elongated enunciation.

10. to lie beside her, to be with her: A curious expression. Why does not the text say, as in v.7, “to lie with her”? There is an additional irony: “to be with” usually refers to God (see v.2, for example). — Fox.

7. Lie with me. The extraordinary bluntness of this sexual imperative — two words in the Hebrew — makes it one of the most striking instances of revelatory initial dialogue in the Bible….
10. to lie by her. The narrator, by altering the preposition, somewhat softens the bluntness of the mistress’s sexual proposition. This led Abraham ibn Ezra to imagine that she adopted the stratagem of inviting Joseph merely to lie down in the bed next to her. — Alter

8-9 But he adamantly refused. The adverb adamantly is suggested by the staccato and emphatic Masoretic cantillation of this word: the shalsheles, follow by a psik [disjunction], both of which set off the word and enhance the absoluteness of its implication. It indicates that Joseph’s refusal was constant, categorical, and definitive. — Stone

Please see Source Materials for full translation citations and additional information.

The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

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