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The Eternal

December 11, 2013

I have found “The Eternal” used in Jewish English Bible translations but it seems to have disappeared again. In the early 1800’s, the very successful Jewish author of fiction and non-fiction, Grace Aguilar, used the expression, The Eternal, in her writings. I found this in Let Her Speak for Herself. But Aguilar died in 1847, before a Jewish English Bible was published. She was, however, known and read by Benisch and encouraged him to produce a translation of the Hebrew Bible. He did this, and published it in 1852, several years after her death in 1847. We Know that both Aguilar and Benisch called God, The Eternal. We also know that this was lost in the JPS 1917 translation. We don’t know who brought “The Eternal” into English, but Aguilar spoke French and translated a book from French and Benisch spoke German. It may be useless to try to narrow this down further.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 11, 2013 12:31 pm

    We also know that this was lost in the JPS 1917 translation.

    “The Eternal” is notably absent not only from Robert Alter’s “Five Books of Moses” but also from Everett Fox’s “Five Books of Moses.” The latter, of course, is working much from the Buber-Rosenzweig German notes and translation. Fox, in his intro, remarks, on page xxix, “Historically, Jewish and Christian translations of the Bible into English have tended to use ‘Lord,’ with some exceptions (notably, Moffatt’s ‘The Eternal’).” Suzanne, Don’t you think it’s a bit curious for Fox to make James Moffatt the notable exception? (And Alter seems not to acknowledge “The Eternal” anywhere in any of his writings?)

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    December 11, 2013 5:24 pm

    Well…. Fox didn’t have all these other Bible translations loaded up on the internet when he wrote that. It was harder to check. But I will blog more about the transition in B-R.

  3. Joel permalink
    March 12, 2022 2:44 pm

    Just to follow up on Robert Alter’s translation, while he does not render the Tetragrammaton as “the Eternal One” in his translation, and tries to stick to what I think he sees as a neutral or traditional rendering, he does seem to implicitly acknowledge it in his discussion of Exodus 3:14, pg. 222-223, footnote 14, and he actually seems to favor that interpretation himself against the Albright-Cross-Freedman hiphil interpretation. In that footnote, he acknowledges the hiphil interpretation as viable grammatically but goes on to say: “Since the tense system of Biblical Hebrew by no means corresponds to that of modern English, it is also perfectly possible to construe this [I Will Who I Will Be] as ‘I Am He Who Endures.’…Greek transcriptions reflect a pronunciation close to ‘Yahweh.’ In that form, the Name would be the causative, or hiphil, form of the verb ‘to be’ and thus would have the theologically attractive sense of ‘He Who Brings Things Into Being.’…It is worth registering at least a note of doubt about the form of the divine name. Here God instructs Moses to tell Israel Ehyeh ‘I-Will-Be,’ has sent him. The Deity, if the MT vocalization is to be trusted, refers to Himself not with a causative but with a qal conjugation…’He-Will-Be.’…The logic of Yihyeh as the essential divine name would be that whereas particular actions may be attributed to humans through the verbal names chosen for them, to God alone belongs unlimited, unconditional being.” It may be interesting to readers of this blog too that I’ve actually seen at least two present-day biblical scholars independently bring back the “Eternal One” as a meaning of the divine name. In his wonderful “Origin and Character of God” (2020), Theodore J. Lewis actually revived “Existing One” as his preferred meaning, pp. 213-218, speculating: “Perhaps there was enough instability in the Levant regarding the permanence of the Divine that it would have been appealing for the ancient Israelites to name their Deity ‘the (permanently) Existing One.’ Is it just a coincidence that Yhwh, a divine name written with a prefixal verbal form that can designate past durative as well as future durative, comes to bear the Olam epithet of El who exists ‘from everlasting to everlasting’ (Ps. 90:2).” Ellen Van Wolde in “Not the Name Alone: A Linguistic Study of Exodus 3:14-15,” VT (2021) also put forward: “The verb indicates continuity: beginning in the present time it stretches out into the future…Yhwh identified himself in terms of ‘Being’ in the cognitive domain of time and not in relation to human beings or other creatures, in v. 15a he presents himself as the God of a particular genealogical line…The first clause therefore highlights the timeless nature of Yhwh’s name…,” also “The name represents Yhwh, his presence and identity for limitless time, while the remembrance refers to past events that future generations must memorialize.” While not acknowledging it, Van Wolde is revisiting an earlier argument she made in “A Semiotic Analysis of Genesis 2-3” (1989), esp. pg. 204, wherein she corresponds the Name with the Tree of Life in the Garden, which emphasizes the disjuncture between the transcendent God and mortal creatures with regards to infinity and mortality: “So the name Yhwh expresses the same as the Tree of Life: life in perpetuity, eternal life, absolute continuity.” What’s fascinating is that neither Lewis nor van Wolde acknowledge the long precedents of interpretation or frequency of this interpretation in Late Antique apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, like the Apocalypse of Abraham, for example, or the re-proposal of this interpretation by Otto Eissfeldt (Ahyeh Asher Ahyeh Und El Olam, Kleine Schriften, Vol. 4, 1965: pp. 298-300). Personally, I think the Apocalypse of Abraham (1st-3rd century? See Andrei Orlov’s many discussions of this fascinating work), especially in the background of Revelations’ frequent “One Who Lives Forever and Ever,” in the 1st century, as McDonough (YHWH at Patmos) acknowledges, needs to much, much more attention when it comes to Late Antique understandings of the Tetragrammaton as the “Eternal One,” as neither Sean McDonough nor Theodore Lewis, when discussing the use of “Everlasting Being” in the Qumran Community Rule as an interpretation, mention this with regards to interpreting the divine name.

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