Thursday, March 15, 2007

"le-ruach ha-yom": "the cool of the day"?

The Lord God 'walking' in the garden
in the cool of the day?
(cf. Genesis 3.8 and 3.12)
(Image from Wikipedia)

One Milton List scholar (who prefers anonymity) has recently inquired about the precise time of day denoted in Paradise Lost 10.92-102 by several expressions (e.g., "cadence low," meaning "sinking low"):
Now was the Sun in Western cadence low
From Noon, and gentle Aires due at thir hour
To fan the Earth now wak'd, and usher in
The Eevning coole, when he from wrauth more coole [ 95 ]
Came the mild Judge and Intercessor both
To sentence Man: the voice of God they heard
Now walking in the Garden, by soft windes
Brought to thir Ears, while day declin'd, they heard,
And from his presence hid themselves among [ 100 ]
The thickest Trees, both Man and Wife, till God
Approaching, thus to Adam call'd aloud. (PL 10.92-102)
In this passage, Milton fills out the scene described in Genesis 3.8:
And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3.8, King James Version)
Milton draws upon an ancient interpretation from the early church that the Son of God came to judge Adam and Eve -- apparently interpreting "voice of the LORD God" to mean God's "Word," a hermeneutic that probably derives its theological justification from the opening verse of the John's Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1.1, King James Version)
Another Milton List scholar, Matthew Stallard -- of Ohio University's Department of English Language and Literature -- cited biblical souces that Milton might have drawn on:
Interestingly, the 1560 Geneva, 1558 Bishop's Bible, the 1540 Great Bible, and the 1611 Authorized Version all refer to this as "the cool of the day" at Genesis 3:8. The 1610 Duoay-Rheims, while stopping short of naming the exact hour, renders it as "the afternoon air." Literally, the Hebrew here (ru'ach) could be translated as "spirit" or "wind" or "breath" of the day. Sounds refreshing enough.
Surprised that "cool" translates "ruach," I checked this out and posted my own note to the Milton List:

I'd never noticed that Genesis 3.8 says "le-ruach ha-yom," literally, "the spirit/wind of the day." I presume that the expression "the cool of the day" is an idiomatic translation, for I didn't find "cool" for "ruach" in my Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament.

Here's an unscholarly-looking website that compares Genesis 3.8 with Genesis 18.1:


AFTERNOON - af-ter-noon' (neToth ha-yom, "the declining of the day"; Jdg 19:8 the King James Version): The expression kechom ha-yom, "in the heat of the day" (Gen 18:1) refers to the early afternoon when the sun is a little past its zenith, its rays still being very strong. The phrase le-ruach ha-yom, "in the cool of the day" (Gen 3:8) is in contrast to the last phrase and points to the late afternoon; in the Orient a cooling breeze arises at this period of the day, and it is then that much of the day's business is transacted.

No lexical sources are given, so take the above with a grain of salt, but the reasoning sounds reasonable.

Now, I know that some of my Gypsy Scholar readers have greater knowledge of Hebrew than I do and could probably fill us in on why "le-ruach ha-yom" -- "the spirit/wind of the day" -- gets translated as "the cool of the day." Can "ruach" also mean "cool," or is this expression (le-ruach ha-yom) translated in a purely idiomatic way?

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At 8:22 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

That picture! Adam throwing Eve under the bus?

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I hadn't noticed that. Must be an Airbus, though.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Prof, thanks, but my French is not so good.

Also, I'm not actually Jewish, and from looking at the site that you've linked to, I have the impression that it's intended for those of us who are Jewish rather than those of us who are not.

But feel free to clarify if I've misunderstood.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What follows is the first slaying of any creature by God. God supplies coats of skins for adam and eve thus foretelling that a life for a life was paid. God accepted a substitute rather than Kill Adam and Eve. This shadow, of Gods promise to come and finally atone for mankind himself, is again foreshadowed in the killing of a lamb by Israel at the Passover feast in the evening before they are freed from Egyptian bondage.
Thus the shadow cast through the ages again confirms that evening time. The fullfillment of the promise d seed , Jesus Christ, is also killed in the evening or late afternoon.

At 2:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks, but I still have my question about the translation of "ruach" as "cool of the day."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:28 PM, Blogger Noah D. said...

This phrase certainly has been problematic for a long time. The translation, "in the cool of the day" is based on the best guess made by the Septuagint translators. Jerome followed this in his Latin translation (Vulgate) which established the standard for future translations. "Ruach" can mean "wind" and "yom" can mean "day", but the phrase is awfully odd in Hebrew. You can see why they came up with the idea of it meaning the breezy or cool part of the day, but they definitely weren't certain of it. Interestingly, more recent studies of cognate languages have shed light on the issue giving us a very different rendering. There are quite a few cognate words and phrases in the Akkadian language, for example, that have been helpful in understanding difficult Hebrew expressions. The cognate Akkadian word for "yom" is "umu" which also means "day", but there is also a homynym of "umu" in Akkadian meaning "storm" rather than "day". Because of the similarities in the languages, Hebrew scholars began to wonder if there may also be a homynym of "yom" that also means "storm", and they found it. It is not commonly used in the Bible, but it is attested there. Holladay includes it in his lexicon, although he does not note it for Genesis 3:8. Based on this understanding, the Hebrew expression would be rendered more accurately as something to the effect of, "The man and his wife heard the voice of Yahweh God as he was moving in the garden in the wind of the storm, and they hid from Yahweh God among the trees of the garden." This seems to me to make more sense of why Adam and Eve went into hiding; why they tell Yahweh God that they heard him coming from a distance; and also makes more sense theologically since Yahweh most often approaches people in a storm, never in the breezy part of the day. Yahweh God comes in a storm theophany to judge his disobedient servants, just as he will come again, according to Jesus, on the day of Yahweh, riding on the clouds with great power and glory to judge a disobedient world. For more on this verse and this rendering, I recommend Jeffrey Niehaus' God at Sinai (Zondervan, 1995). Hope that helps, brother!

Noah D. Roberts

At 2:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thank you, Mr. Roberts, for a clear explanation of the issue and a plausible interpretation of the verse.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:02 PM, Blogger Philip DeVries said...

Interesting comments all, but don't we usually storms with rain or some kind of cosmic activity which does not seem consistent with the Garden of Eden at that time. Later, when the earth is flooded I could understand that insight, but before then there is no record of any rain or storm of any kind. Just commenting and asking at the same time.

At 8:53 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I see your point, but isn't the expulsion associated with some cosmic activity - angels with flaming swords, for example?

Jeffery Hodges

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