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Critical Examination of Genesis III. 16.

Having Reference to the Employment of Anesthetics in Cases of Labour.

By the Rev. Abraham De Sola, Lecturer on Hebrew Language and Literature, University of M’Gill College.

Note.—Verbal criticisms are certainly of much use, as they tend to fix the sense and meaning of disputed and difficult passages; and as we have not devoted enough space to such papers, we cannot avoid giving currency to the following production of our valued correspondent, Mr. De Sola, which first appeared in the British American Journal of Medical and Physical Sciences. It argues greatly in favour of Mr. De Sola’s popular standing in the community when a work purely scientific ad­mits dissertations emanating from a non-professional man, because of the esteem which is felt for the author, and because at the same time his ideas tend to illustrate, collaterally, the subject which the editor has in view. We congratulate Mr. De Sola sincerely on the elevated position he occupies, and wish him many happy years to enjoy it.—Ed. Oc.

The employment of anaesthetic agents in midwifery has been opposed by many persons, on grounds both religious and professional. The professional objections we have neither the ability nor inclination to canvass here; but we do propose, agreeably to the editor’s invitation, to make some few observations, in a spirit, we trust of fairness and candour as to the so-called religious objections, founded, not on any received figurative interpretation, which would at once preclude our remarks, but upon the plain, grammatical sense of certain words of Holy <<99>>Writ.

This announcement, coming as it does from one who does not generally accept the principles of Christian interpretation, may perhaps be considered startling, certainly somewhat novel in its character; but to remove any nervous objections which may on this account prevail in the mind of the Christian reader, we shall proceed to give a brief outline of the manner in which we shall conduct our investigation of that Scriptural passage upon which, as all agree, the pro’s and contras in this discussion are almost entirely based.

From the perusal of various books and papers on this subject, and more especially from the perusal of Dr. Simpson’s excellent work,* at his third and fourth chapters, which may be regarded as a kind of cervatio argumentorum, we are led to conclude that all objections to the superinduction of anaesthesia in labour are founded on certain words occurring in the 16th verse of the 3d chapter of Genesis. Now, we believe that if it can be shown on scientific principles that the words have no such meaning as have been attributed to them by the translators of the Anglican version, and others, the objections founded on them must be considerably modified, if not entirely removed; hence one principal portion of our labours will be a grammatical analysis of these disputed words.

* “Anaesthesia, or the employment of Chloroform and Ether in Surgery and Midwifery.” By J. Y. Simpson, M. D., F. R. S. E. &c.

As it appears to us that in conducting such an inquiry no source of information should be neglected, however repugnant it may prove to our pre-conceived notions and prejudices, we shall not fail to seek light and assistance from Hebrew as well as Christian authorities. The advantage of consulting the former must be evident to every unbiassed mind, recollecting, as it needs must, that for whatever knowledge we may possess of the Hebrew language and its grammar, we are indebted to them;—that Christian compilers of Hebrew grammars and Lexicons have taught little or nothing more, and very much less, than they have taught; and that their commentaries and paraphrases have avowedly assisted Christian translators in their renderings of the sacred text.

But, before proceeding to our task, we think it necessary to make some observations on a passage in Dr. Simpson’s work, which, we think, ought not to pass unnoticed; since it may induce many, anxious to arrive at the truth, but unable to consult the original  text of Scripture, to form erroneous notions on the questions under consideration, to establish false hypotheses, and to imagine that they have unanswerable arguments against those who defend, on Scriptural grounds, the employ‑<<100>>ment of anaesthetics in labour. The passage referred to is as follows: “Those who, from the terms of the first curse, argue against the superinduction of anaesthesia in labour, aver that we are bound to take and act upon the words of the curse literally, ‘I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception,’ or as Gesenius and other Hebrew authorities state, that being a case of Hendiadys, it may be more correctly rendered, ‘I will greatly multiply the sorrow of thy conception, &c.’”*

* “Anaesthesia, &c.,” p. 112, Ed. Phil.

Now, we have to remark, that the rendering here spoken of, instead of being more correct, is most incorrect. It is plainly untenable, and if Gesenius has written after this fashion it is truly astonishing. Not having his Lexicon, in the original before us, we can only turn to an English translation (Gibb’s), and there we find that Gesenius says no such thing. We do, indeed, find that under the root עצב (ngatsab) he thus remarks, “עצבון (ngitsahbohn), verbal from עצב (ngatsab) means, 1. labour, toil, 2, pain, Gen. iii. 16. עצבונך וחרונך, (ngitsebonech veheronech) thy pain and thy conception, i. e. the pain of thy conception.”

Here it will be perceived that there is no case of Hendiadys affirmed, though there is one suggested. The learned Professor translates just as the Anglican authorized version translates. He says, plainly enough, the words mean thy pain (authorized version, thy sorrow), and thy conception, always supposing that his translator has not misunderstood nor misrepresented him, and we have no reason to believe that he has. It is true, as we before remarked, that he suggests such a case; but here he speaks theologically, and we may be permitted to differ from him.

Philologically he must needs reject the theory, and for these simple reasons: prefixed to the latter of the two nouns there is the letter ו (vav), which, when so occurring, must necessarily be translated by either of the words or, and, or but; in short, ו is either a conjunctive or disjunctive. Now, the occurrence of either of these would at once exclude from the mind of one at all acquainted with Hebrew philology any idea of Hendiadys. If we may be permitted to transfer here certain principles of Hebrew grammar, with which the merest tyro in that study is acquainted, but of which the holders of the opinion under notice appear to have been ignorant, or unmindful, we should remark that Hendiadys can only obtain, in Hebrew, where two nouns are in juxtaposition; or, to speak more technically, in construction with each other, and for this latter purpose the first noun must be in the genitive case, and have the word of added to it. Unless this rule be observed, the nouns will stand as absolute, or having no connexion with each other.

This will be more clearly seen by example. Let the two words, דבר (dahbar), a word, and אמת (emeth), truth, be placed together, and the former, being in the nominative case, and therefore having the vowel point (a) called Kamets, must be translated as in that case; and the two words will mean, a word truth. But the [kamets,] being changed into ְ (sheva), as is required for the genitive, the words will then express, a word of truth, which we could render in English, a true word.

It will be perceived, then, from this example, that, what in English requires to be an adjective, may be, and is, in Hebrew, a noun substantive, used as a definitive or predicate. And indeed, to the class of nouns substantive,* almost all adjectives in Hebrew are reduced. Hence, too, it will be perceived the figure of Hendiadys is more common in Hebrew than in other languages.

* The early Hebrew grammarians divide the parts of speech into three only, viz., the noun, Verb, and particle.

But let us now apply these rules to the examples with which we have more immediate business. We observe, in the first place, that the noun עצבון ngitsahbohn, is in the genitive case, and so far agrees with the rule laid down for constructive nouns; but we quickly perceive that it is so, not because it is in construction with the following noun, but with the personal pronoun ך (chaf) thee. Moreover, we observe that the second noun הריון (herayon), is also in the genitive case, having the conjunction ו (vav) prefixed and the personal pronoun ך (chaf) postfixed. We must then, of necessity, translate the two words thus:—עצבונך (ngitsebonech) the trouble, or labour of thee, i. e., thy troubleוחרונך (veheronech) and the conception of thee, i. e., thy conception.

The foregoing, we fear somewhat tedious, illustration, may perhaps be sufficient to show that there is no case of Hendiadys in the passage under consideration, and that those who insist upon such a figure, and the translation so resulting, can only do so in defiance of, and opposition to, the most simple and evident rules of Hebrew grammar.

We shall now proceed to our examination of Genesis iii. 16. The first word upon which we have to remark is עצבון ngitsahbohn, rendered by the authorized version, sorrow. To determine the primary signification of this word we shall, of course, refer to its root; but shall not, as Dr. Simpson has incorrectly done, discover this root in ngatsab or atsabi.e., third person, masculine gender, preterite tense, and indicative mood of the form or conjugation Kal, but in the noun עצב ngetseb.

† Anaesthesia, p. 113.

The first may be a very useful form, wherein to reduce all <<102>>roots for lexicographers and grammarians;* but we think we are justified in stating that the great majority of those who have at all regarded the philosophy of grammar have decided that in such cases the noun is prior to the verb. It is of course impossible to show this at any great length here; but to those who desire to see the subject briefly, but lucidly and ably, considered, we recommend the perusal of the introductory chapters of the late Professor Hurwitz’s excellent “Hebrew Etymology.”

* Since from it, or rather from the infinitive mood, from which it is derived, spring the other six forms of the verb, with their various moods, tenses, participles, &c.

Affirming, then, the root of עצבון ngitsahbohn to be the noun עצב ngetseb, we seek its signification, not from Gesenius, whom Dr. Simpson “believes to be the highest authority he could quote on such a point;”† but from an authority whom all Hebrew critics would decide to be incomparably higher than Gesenius, viz., R. David Kimchi.

† Anaesthesia, p. 113.

In his “Sepher Hashorashim,”‡ before giving the signification of this noun, he adduces the following passages of scripture: 1, Gen. iii. 16, “In עצב ngetseb (authorized version, in sorrow) shalt thou bring forth children.” 2, Prov. xiv. 23, “In all ngetseb עצב (a, v. labour) there is profit,” 3, Isa. lviii. 3, “and exact all עצביכם ngatsbechem” (a. v. your labours.) 4, Prov. v. 10, “And עצביך ngatsabecha (a. v. thy labours) be in the house of a stranger.” 5, 1 Chron.      iv. “Because I bare thee בעצב bengetseb” (a. v. in sorrow). 6, Isa. xi v. 3, “The Lord shall give thee rest מעצבך mengotsbecha” (a. v. from thy sorrow). 7, Gen. iii. 17, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake בעצבון bengitsabohn, (a. v. in sorrow) shalt thou eat of it.” 8, Gen. iii.16, “I will greatly multiply עצבונך ngitsebonech” (a. v. thy sorrow).

‡ Ed, Venet. 385th column.

After citing these eight passages, Kimchi then remarks, הכל העמל והיגיעה nginyan hakol hengamal vehayegingha, i. e., “The meaning of (ngetseb contained in) all these texts is labour and toil,” (hengamal vehayegingha.) The words of Kimchi are explicit enough; but to remove all doubts from the mind of the reader, and to show that we wish to consider this question in a fair spirit of inquiry, we shall examine now what are the significations of עמל ngamal and יגיעה yegingha, not seeking our information from any Hebrew author, but from Gesenius himself.

The  learned professor tells us that עמל ngamal means, 1, labour, fatigue, or toil; 2, fruits of labour; 3, trouble, adversity, like labour, χάματος, πόνος, Gen. xlii. 51, &c.; 4, iniquity, injustice.

But that the third signification he gives cannot be understood in the sense of pain or sorrow, is clear, first, from his expression, “like labour;” secondly, from <<103>>his Greek illustration; (we should here remark that Parkhurst renders ΚΑΜΝΩ, to labour even to fatigue, and πόνος, in one of its significations, also labour.) Thirdly, from the scriptural passages quoted by him.

Let us refer to his first (Gen. xlii. 51), where Joseph calls the name of his first-born Menasseh, “because God, said he, hath made me forget all עמלי ngamali (a. v. my toil), and all my father’s house.” That the authorized version, Buxtorf who translates, labor meus, and others who render it toil, have translated correctly will be admitted by those who observe that Joseph apparently alludes to the toil of providing, for the seven years’ famine, which toil the text has already particularized, and farther from his adding, “and all my father’s house,” alluding in this latter expression to the sufferings he had experienced through his brethren. Otherwise understood there would be a strange redundancy in the passage.

Gesenius’s next reference is, to Deut. xxvi. 7, where the Israelite says, “The Lord heard and looked on our affliction and עמלנו ngamalenu (a. v. our labour) and our oppression.” The same remarks which refer to the correctness of the received English version of the preceding passage in Genesis, to this passage also. Gesenius’s last references are to Job iii. 10, “nor hid עמל gnamal (a. v. sorrow, but may as well mean) trouble or fatigue from my eyes;” and to Job xvi. 2, “Ye are all מנחמי עמל menachamé ngnamal (a. v. miserable comforters), i. e., “Ye trouble or fatigue me with your long and profitless harangues.”

Thus much respecting עמל ngamal, the first of Kimchi’s significations of עצב ngetseb; that his second, viz., יגיעה yegingha, means labour, toil, or fatigue, is generally admitted.

Thus then we find that one of, if not the most eminent of Hebrew scholars, has pronounced that both ngetseb and ngitsahbohn, in Gen. iii. 16, do not mean sorrow, as the English version of the Bible renders them; but that they signify physical labour, toil, or effort, without any reference to pain or sorrow.

(To be continued.)