So I'm reading a book called "The Five Books of Moses" where the author presents a new English translation of the Torah, trying to retain the punchy brusque prose of the original ancient Hebrew. He believes that the most modern English translations get so picky about literal translation that they lose the appeal. I'm inclined to agree with him on that point, because books like the NRSV are incredibly dull reads compared to the King James version. There's no more "Thou Shalt Not" kind of rhetoric there, no more rhetorical flourish. So this Five Books Of Moses book is supposed to give a reader a sense of how ancient Hebrew did its rhetorical flourishes, even if it's not entirely literal. It's supposed to sound in English like it would to the ear of an ancient Hebrew priest.
I have noticed a certain...earthy familiarity, a certain down-to-earth attitude with Judaism that the King James version used to hint at, when it was written with a lot of "thous" and "Thees" and the like. "Thou" is the older English familiar form. It's a direct address among social equals, not an overbearing grandiosity like how we see it now. Someone reading the King James Bible in 1617 would see "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Wife" and get a sense that God was talking to Moses as a friend. Likewise when Jewish people celebrate Passover they talk about Elijah coming in the front door like he's an extra guest at the table. Imagine Christians talking about Saint John coming in the door! Doesn't work the same way. Christians get real high and mighty about their biblical business. (Saint Nicholas is a special case. Ho ho ho.)
So I like reading this Five Books of Moses translation, because it evokes the down-to-earth feeling of Hebrew, without losing the parts of the rhetoric that are supposed to be grandiose.
For example. I've got to The Binding of Isaac, where God wants Abraham to willingly slaughter Isaac like a holy sacrifice.
And God says to Abraham, "Take, I pray, your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac..."
Here the translation notes indicate that this construction is supposed to be a dramatic emphasis of the point, as if God is making it very clear that he knows Isaac means a lot to Abraham. Like, "Take your son that you love so much and we're going to have some fun with him."
But the translator has also said earlier that when a speaker has two consecutive sentences starting with "And X said" then it implies the listener was silent, forcing the speaker to continue. In the story of Abimelech, the poor man has to re-phrase his question at least twice before Abraham responds.
So God's speech sounds like it could just as easily have been a comic scene. It sounds like there could be ellipses there in place of commas, as if Abraham was so confused that God had to continually specify until Abe got the message. ("Well why didn't you say so?" "I said it four times!")
What I like to think is that it happened as a good old Argument with God. In the Jewish style.
G: Take, I pray, your son --
A: Which son?
G: Your only son.
A: I've got two.
G: The one whom you love.
A: I love both of them.
G: I'm talking about Isaac!
A: Ohhhhhhhhhh. What about him?
G: You must take Isaac and fire and wood, and go to Mount Moriah --
A: Jeez, you make it sound like a sacrifice.
G: That's precisely what it is.
A: Are you serious?
G: I'm always serious. Mostly because I have to repeat myself a dozen times before I can get through that thick head of yours. Let me be perfectly clear. Take your s -- take Isaac, bring him to Mount Moriah, truss him up like the usual sacrifice, cut his throat, and make him a burnt offering to me.
A: Wait, I thought I was getting sacrificed!
G: Why would I sacrifice you? You've been useful to me this far.
A: Because I'm the old one! I have two kids! You promised that both of them would be the progenitors of great nations! Ishmael AND Isaac! They're supposed to have descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens, right? How are they supposed to do that if I slaughter one? Is the kid's blood supposed to spill out on the ground and from it springs a great nation of warriors like what Baal did with the Sons of Eridu?
G: Do not even mention him again or I'll smite you like I did to Sodom.
A: I'm just saying, this doesn't make sense.
G: It doesn't have to make sense! Get up on that goddamn mountain and get to work!
A: Sure, sure. Whatever you say, boss. You know best, right? But I bet Baal --
G: You want to get smote?
A: I'm going, I'm going!
The only problem with calling it an argument is that Abraham was noted for being highly obedient to God, which is why he and Isaac came off lightly from this mess. More likely the part with the increasing specification was supposed to invoke Abimelech's trouble making himself clear to Abraham. The translator loves pointing out thematic parallels. Maybe Abraham was being as gormless here as he was with Abimelech. Or maybe Abraham was too busy to pay attention, like in the Elijah story with the competing sacrifices, where the priests of Baal --
I mentioned him one too many times, huh? Well maybe I'll keep doing it until I understand why Lot's wife had to turn into a pillar of salt.
Or maybe I ought to know when I'm pushing my luck.