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I am currently reading the King James Version of the Bible and I have noticed some features that I would like to know more about.

  1. Almost every verse of the First Book of Moses starts with “and”. Does this style have a specific name? What was the reason that led to its usage? Is it acceptable to use it nowadays when trying to achieve an archaic impression or is this exclusive to the Bible?

    1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

  2. Beginning with 2:4, instead of using simply the word “God”, “LORD God” is used. What is the reason for capitalisation of every letter in the word “LORD”? Why is the latter form used rather that the previous?

    2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

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The second half of the question would be appropriate for the new StackExchange on Biblical Hermeneutics. You might be interested in this related question. –  Jon Ericson Oct 25 '11 at 0:33
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Considering the quality of answers you're getting here, I really wish this had been split into two different questions –  TehShrike Oct 25 '11 at 2:24
    
@JonEricson Thank you, I was not aware of it. I shall do searching there and potentially post it there as well. –  Harold Cavendish Oct 25 '11 at 9:49
    
@TehShrike Sadly, I did not foresee such attraction. From now on, no more 2 in 1 from myself. –  Harold Cavendish Oct 25 '11 at 9:51
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5 Answers 5

up vote 27 down vote accepted

The style of usage with repeated "and" is arguably polysyndeton, as someone else pointed out, however, it is really more to do with the general idiom of Hebrew. Hebrew is a very different language than English, and it would be a mistake to try to project English rules and idioms (such as never start a sentence with "and") onto that language. It is worth remembering, for example, that early Hebrew texts did not have any punctuation, so the idea of "sentence" is rather different in early Hebrew.

A case might be made that the translators should have rendered the Hebrew idiom better into English idiom, as is done in many modern translations, but that is a subtle question about what "translation" means, and is way out of scope for this discussion forum.

As to whether using this polysyndeton structure in English conveys an archaic meaning, personally I don't think so. There are many other features of the KJV that do this better, such as the use of "thee" and its friends, the more diverse verb conjugations, and the unusual sentence structures. The repeated use of "and" — not so much.

I can comment more extensively on "LORD". This is a translation of the Hebrew word commonly transliterated as either Jehovah or Yahweh. In fancy circles they call it the tetragrammaton — which simply means "four letters," but is long and intimidating enough to keep out the riff raff. It is a four letter word used, arguably, as the personal name of God throughout the Bible. In the traditional reading of the Hebrew Bible this word was always considered too holy and pure to actually pronounce, and so they used a technique called kitiv-qere. This means "written/read", and essentially means that the word is written one way but pronounced a completely different way. In this case, the word is pronounced not as Yahweh but as Adonai, which is the Hebrew word for "Lord."

This tradition is also projected into the Greek of the New Testament and a Greek version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint which is commonly quoted in the New Testament.

When the English translators translated the Bible into English they wanted to respect this tradition so they translated it as it would have been read as the word "Lord", but to indicate that it was Yahweh and not Adonai which is to say that it referred to as the name of God, they distinguished it by capitalizing it.

There are some places where the grammar doesn't allow this, usually where Yahweh is preceded by Adonai. Translating The Lord LORD God..." seemed a bit redundant. So in these cases the kitiv/qere was to pronounce it as "Elohim", the Hebrew word for God. In these cases, you will see it translated as GOD in capital letters, usually it is Lord GOD.

There is a lot more to this than would be appropriate to convey in this answer. If you are interested in this, you should read the translators introduction to any modern Bible which will tell you more than you wanted to know. Alternatively, check out Wikipedia on tetragrammaton for a great article on the subject.

The difference in the first chapter of Genesis reflects the underlying Hebrew fairly accurately. There is a theory as to why they are used differently. It is called the JEDP theory, or "The Documentary Hypothesis." Personally I think it is bunk, but Google and Wikipedia will tell you all you want to know about it.

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Reading this was simply fascinating, thank you very much for the insight. I shall study the articles that you refer to. Although the other answers are undoubtedly great, I am going to accept this one as it provides an overall explanation in an efficient form, which I consider to be crucial. –  Harold Cavendish Oct 25 '11 at 9:42
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This is a fantastic answer. –  Jason Orendorff Oct 25 '11 at 14:19
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This example of Hebrew narrative uses the וַ (translated and) conjunction more frequently than does English. Therefore a faithful translation will include more ands than we would usually use. This excess is called polysyndeton, especially when it occurs many times in a sentence:

Polysyndeton is the use of several conjunctions in close succession, especially where some might be omitted (as in "he ran and jumped and laughed for joy"). [...]

Polysyndeton is used extensively in the King James Version of the Bible. For example:

  • And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark. Genesis 7:22-24

The style of using short sentences is called parataxis:

Parataxis is a literary technique, in writing or speaking, that favors short, simple sentences, with the use of coordinating rather than subordinating conjunctions.

To address your second question: LORD in all caps is used to distinguish lord (as in master) from יהוה (Yhvh), the Hebrew name for God. The -יּ (Yah) by itself is translated God.

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Technically, shouldn't it be YHVH, as pronounciation is not certain? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Oct 24 '11 at 18:34
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+1 - The last bit is one of the reasons they figure this section was written by a different author. Large changes in vocabulary and style are a big red flag, if you know to look for it. –  T.E.D. Oct 24 '11 at 19:09
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"(Yhvh, usually pronounced Yahweh)". Not if you're Jewish as they do not say the name of God. –  Sam Oct 24 '11 at 19:52
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@Sam - Note that Semitic languages have fairly regular, predictable vowels (whereas Indo-European ones do not). For this reason the first Semitic (proto-)Alphabets had no symbols for vowels. Last I heard they hadn't figured out if Alphabets were developed later for languages without that feature, or first but they dropped unneeded vowel symbols for the early Semitic "alphabets". So there's may be more to the Jews' ancient name for God not having vowels than later folk entamology lets on. –  T.E.D. Oct 24 '11 at 20:18
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@drɱ65 YHVH isn't meant to be pronunced, it's a place holder for the name of God which you can't say, like XXXX. Instead you say Adonai. Semitic languages, as TED says, don't have vowels but later they added accents to remind readers of the vowel sounds. For YHVH they added the vowel sounds for Adonai leading to later confusion of trying to pronounce YHVH with the vowels from Adonai\ –  mgb Oct 24 '11 at 21:23
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  1. As Robert Alter explains in the preface to his translation of Genesis, this is an example of parataxis -- a syntax in which parallel clauses are linked by "and." Alter notes: "...parataxis is the essential literary vehicle of Biblical narrative."
  2. This reference notes that LORD is the English translation of the Tetragrammaton -- YHWH, the name of God.
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Tetragrammaton sounds like a giant alien computer come to earth to enforce strict grammatical rules on us. –  Sam Oct 24 '11 at 19:59
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Shhh! Michael Bay might hear you and make a (bad) movie out of it! –  Gnawme Oct 24 '11 at 20:04
    
@Gnawme - the old testament does have a certain Michael Bay-ness to it. God can't seem to manage a chapter without smiting something –  mgb Oct 24 '11 at 21:28
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The answer to your first question probably lies in the fact that the Old Testament is translated from Hebrew. Arabic frequently begins sentences with and. I wouldn’t be surprised if the other main Semitic language did the same.

We might need a biblical scholar to answer your second question. It is, I’d hazard, to do with the respect due to the Almighty, just as some people begin pronouns referring to God with a capital letter.

(If you're interested in other linguistic aspects of the King James Bible, I recommend David Crystal's 'Begat'.)

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thanks for that. Hadn't seen there was a new David Crystal book out –  mgb Oct 24 '11 at 21:30
    
The book appears to be very interesting, thank you both for the answer and for the recommendation. I shall most probably read it. –  Harold Cavendish Oct 25 '11 at 9:44
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One thing you have to realise is that the Bible was not originally written in English. It sounds silly when said, but you'd be surprised how many people miss this point. So what you have stumbled over isn't really issues with English, but with the underlying base language (Hebrew).

You might consider asking this over on the Hermeneutics SE site, but my understanding is that Genesis actually contains two separate creation stories. Scholars believe they were written at different times in Jewish history, the second being written during the Babylonian Exile. As such, they are apt to use the language a bit differently.

The King James translators were just rendering it all into English as best they could.

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Even better: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com –  Jon Ericson Oct 25 '11 at 0:35
    
@JonEricson - Had never heard of it, but after poking around, I agree. The answer has been changed. –  T.E.D. Oct 25 '11 at 13:12
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Off topic but I must say for the record that traditional Jewish commentators interpret the "2 creation stories" as a coherent description of a single event, with the first being a general description and the second being a detailed one, with clear reasons given for why it was written in 2 parts. For all other passages as well where "scholars" believe they find evidence of the text being written in separates eras, there is at least one traditional Jewish commentary, preceding these "scholars" by centuries, which provides an alternative interpretation. –  BlueWhale Oct 25 '11 at 16:01
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@BlueWhale: Feel free to come on over to the Hermeneutics site. Your comment is not only on-topic there but would be well received. –  Jon Ericson Oct 25 '11 at 16:11
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