A New Translation of the Classic Biblical Stories

HarperCollins 1996

Stephen Mitchell has turned his attention to the book of Genesis, one of the most influential books in human history. In Genesis: A New Translation of the Classic Biblical Stories, he embodies in English the simplicity, dignity, and powerful earthiness of the original Hebrew. He also gives the text a stunning new clarity by separating into their sources stories that were combined by scribes centuries after they were written and omitting all the verses that are recognized as scribal additions. This immeasurably strengthens the original stories; it is like removing coat after coat of lacquer that has obscured the vibrant colors of a masterpiece. The scribal additions are fully translated in an appendix and extensive textual notes. In his introductory essay, Mr. Mitchell puts the historical Genesis in context and explains its importance as a central story of the human spirit.


Abraham and the Three Visitors (J)

And the Lord appeared to Abraham by the great oaks of Mamre as he sat before his tent in the heat of the day. And he looked up and saw three beings standing near him. And when he saw them, he ran from the tent to meet them, and he bowed to the ground and said, “Please, gentlemen, if I may ask you this favor, don’t go on past me. Let me bring a little water for you to wash your feet, and you can stretch out under the tree. And I will send for a bit of bread, so that you can refresh yourselves now that you are here with me. And then you can continue on your way.”
And they said, “All right, if it is no trouble.”
And Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry, take a bushel of our best flour, knead it, and bake pita.” And Abraham ran to the herd, took a fine, plump calf, and gave it to a herdboy, who hurried to prepare it. And he took yogurt and milk and the calf that was now ready, and set it all before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.
And they said to him, “Where is your wife, Sarah?”
And he said, “There, in the tent.”
And one of them said, “I will return to you in nine months, and Sarah will have a son.”
And Sarah had been listening at the entrance to the tent, behind him. (Abraham and Sarah were very old, and Sarah had long since stopped having periods.) And she laughed to herself and thought, “Withered as I am, can I be moist with pleasure, and my husband so old too?”
And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and think she is too old to bear a child? Is anything too marvelous for Yahweh? I will indeed return to you in nine months, and Sarah will have a son.”
And Sarah lied and said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was afraid.
And Yahweh said, “Yes, you did.”

The Binding of Isaac (E)

Sometime later, God tested Abraham. And he said to him, “Abraham.”
And he said, “Here I am.”
And he said, “Take your son, your darling, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and burn him there as a sacrifice on one of the hills that I will show you.”
And early in the morning Abraham saddled his donkey, and took two of his men with him, and his son Isaac, and the wood that he had chopped for the sacrifice, and set out for the place that God had spoken of.
On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. And he said to his men, “You stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go up there and worship and come back to you.”
And Abraham took the wood for the sacrifice and put it on his son Isaac. And he himself took the firestone and the knife. And the two of them walked on together.
And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father.”
And he said, “Here I am, my son.”
And he said, “Here are the firestone and the wood. But where is the sheep for the sacrifice?”
And Abraham said, “God will provide a sheep for the sacrifice, my son.”
And the two of them walked on together.
And they came to the place that God had shown him. And Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. And Abraham reached out and picked up the knife to slaughter his son.
And God called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!”
And he said, “Here I am.”
And he said, “Don’t lay your hand on the boy or do him any harm. Now I know how deeply you revere God, since you have not withheld your son, your darling, from me.”
And Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. And he went and took the ram and burned it as a sacrifice instead of his son. And he named that place Yahweh-yireh, Yahweh Provides.
And Abraham went back to his men, and they set out together for Beer-sheba. And Abraham stayed in Beer-sheba.


An authentically fresh, surprising, and winning translation… The translation throughout shows the hand of a master craftsman, who can make the American language do God’s work, as much as Hebrew does.
— Jacob Neusner, National Review

Breaks fresh ground… Mitchell’s translation tells the stories in a voice much like the ancient Hebrew, without adornment.
— Seattle Times

Mitchell’s admirable and enjoyable translation conveys, with remarkable clarity, these compelling, strange, and powerful stories.
— Elaine Pagels

A powerful reminder of how much Genesis has to teach us.
— The Boston Globe

Readers who know the best-known English translation, the King James version of the early seventeenth century, will find that … Mitchell’s renditions are like breaths of fresh air rustling through that version’s musty pages.
— Library Journal

Stephen Mitchell reenters the ancient Hebrew context, examines the stories’ original text and separates the layers of scribal additions from the original material. The result is a series of stories, each clearer and more precise, each truer to the original intent, than we might have previously experienced them.
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Mitchell’s sensitivity to the original Hebrew language and the history of biblical scholarship is evident in his carefully written work. But it is his overwhelming concern with contemporary relevance that marks this translation. Those interested in new means of situating the spiritual message of Genesis will likely welcome Mitchell’s phrasings and interpretations.

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