“For a Human Being”, “for the Human Being” or “for Adam?” (Gen 2:20)
This article discusses the question of the interpretation and translation of the Hebrew ’adam in the Masoretic text of Genesis 2–3. Most often this word occurs with a definite article, but in Gen 2:20; 3:17, 21, where it is used with an inseparable preposition le, the article is absent. Does it indicate an inconsistency in the Masoretic vocalization system? Should we understand this word without the article as a “human being” or as the name “Adam”? Barthelemy compares it with similar cases that deal with terms ’élōhîm, tofet, ba’al and with the overall use of the article in Hebrew poetry. He comes to the conclusion that hâ’âdâm, which is a construction with the article, is the most ancient one. The article was used to emphasize the human being who was created by God. Le’âdâm, which is a construction without the article, was a kind of “innovation”, as it indicates that at a certain point before the LXX was created this word was already perceived as a proper name.
Barthelemy suggests that ’adam can be translated in several ways. If we want to preserve the most ancient understanding of the text, we need to translate it as “the human being” regardless of presence or absence of the article. However, if we want to point out the interpretation of this text, which had arisen probably since the time of the Exile, we have to translate it as “Adam” everywhere. Barthelemy stresses that, in any case, le’âdâm cannot be translated simply as “for a human being”.
Keywords: Masoretic text, Genesis, Jahwist, vocalization, article, inseparable preposition, God, Adam, human being, altar, Baal.