Was the firmament good after all?

Much of the 13th and final book of St Augustine’s Confessions is given over to a very meticulous — even tedious in places — analysis of the first chapter of Genesis, combing over every word and turn of phrase again and again, interpreting and reinterpreting it as if determined to winkle out every last molecule of meaning.

As I was reading this, I was naturally curious to see whether Augustine would pick up on the oddity in Genesis 1 which I had recently noticed and commented on —  namely, that God created the firmament on the second day but neglected to pronounce it good until the sixth. But instead I was startled to read this:

Of the several kinds of Thy works, when Thou hadst said “let them be,” and they were, Thou sawest each that it was good. Seven times have I counted it to be written, that Thou sawest that that which Thou madest was good: and this is the eighth, that Thou sawest every thing that Thou hadst made, and, behold, it was not only good, but also very good, as being now altogether.

Apparently the puzzle I had spent so much time pondering didn’t even exist in Augustine’s Bible! Where my King James clearly has only seven instances of God pronouncing his creation good, it appears that the version St Augustine was using had eight — with the additional “it was good” presumably being applied to the firmament.

I tried looking up Genesis 1 in the Vulgate, which is figured is what Augustine would have been reading, but it turns out to be the same as our English Bibles, with God saying “it was good” only seven times and neglecting the firmament. Then, figuring that Augustine may instead have been reading Vetus Latina versions translated from the Septuagint, I looked that up and, sure enough, the Septuagint Genesis 1 inserts an extra “and God saw that it was good,” applied to the firmament, into the eighth verse.

I don’t really know what to conclude from this. I suppose it’s possible that a line which was accidentally lost in the Masoretic text has been preserved in the LXX — but it seems equally probable that, the original text being so decidedly odd on this point, the LXX translators fudged it a bit and inserted a line which obviously seemed to belong.

At any rate, it’s too bad St Augustine didn’t have a Vulgate handy when he wrote his Confessions. I’m sure he would have noticed the firmament discrepancy and come up with an ingenious explanation for it.

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Filed under Old Testament, Translation

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