Textual Issue (sample)

Gen 4:8, plus, ... said to Abel his brother 'let us go to the field' and when ...

A rendering similar to 'Then Cain said to Abel, his brother, "Let's go out to the field." And when….' is preferred to MT, from which the direct quotation, "Let's go out to the field," is missing. The quotation is attested in Hebrew in the Samaritan Pentateuch, נלכה השדה ('Let's go/walk to the field'), and is similarly reflected in the Septuagint, Peshitta, Vulgate, and (less directly) in two Targums. The quotation might have been lost due to scribal error, since both it and the following clause of the Hebrew text end with the same word.


After the first clause of the verse, MT וַיֹּ֥אמֶר קַ֖יִן אֶל־הֶ֣בֶל אָחִ֑יו (lit. 'and Cain said to Abel his brother'), the reader expects a direct quotation (cf. NJPS). The absence of one in the traditional Hebrew text, which follows immediately with וַֽיְהִי֙ בִּהְיוֹתָ֣ם בַּשָּׂדֶ֔ה 'And when they were in the field,' raises the question of whether the quotation has been omitted by accident. The Samaritan Pentateuch holds the quotation, נלכה השדה "Let us go to the field," and the Septuagint, Peshitta, and Vulgate appear to reflect just such a text base. Among the Targums, Onkelos lacks the quotation but Pseudo-Jonathan and Neofiti seem to reflect it, even though their analysis is complicated by lengthy additions in this context (cf. Hendel, The Text of Genesis 1-11, 128; NJPS margin). The fragmentary 4QGenb witnesses to a text like that of MT.

Often preferring to read MT, Keil and Delitzsch open with the suggestion of supplying 'it' in place of a quote and allowing that Cain told Abel about the Lord's pronouncements, which we read in the immediately preceding context; Keil and Delitzsch end, however, by favoring the quotation that is found in SP and reflected in several of the versions. The debate is an old one. Rashi was willing to allow that ויאמר connected with the previous context and implied that Cain began to argue with his brother (presumably in response to the negative pronouncement from the Lord), whereas Ramban, after quoting Rashi, stated that he preferred to connect ויאמר with the following context, positing that Cain must have first made the suggestion "נצא השדה" ('let us go out to the field') and then killed his brother (Torat Chaim, Vol. 1, 71). In general terms, Speiser (Genesis, 30-31), BHK, and BHS give the textual evidence for accepting the plus reflected in the versions though not without deliberations, and HPR expresses a preference for adjusting the verb according to the needs of context, thus eliminating the grammatical need for a quotation.

Several translations that do not adopt the attested quotation follow MT but remove the difficulty it entails by choosing verbs that do not require the quotation: KJV and NKJV 'talked with'; RV, ASV, and NASB 'told'; JPS and ESV 'spoke (un)to'; JM 'quarreled with.' Only NJPS, with 'said,' models MT precisely, using ellipsis dots to mark the place of the missing direct quotation. A significantly large number of translations do adopt the quotation 'Let us go to the filed' (or similar) as it is attested in SP and several ancient versions: AT, RSV, JB, NAB, NEB, TEV, NIV, NJB, NRSV, REB, CEV NLT, and NET.


The function of ויאמר in numerous similar contexts within biblical Hebrew narrative is to introduce direct speech. The basic pattern of 'and he said' plus quotation is so common in biblical Hebrew that the breaking of that pattern here becomes a strong signal of textual mishap, particularly when there is wide attestation of the missing quote in the versions and even in the Samaritan Pentateuch. The alternatives to adopting the plus, נלכה השדה 'let us go to the field,' are (1) adjusting the verb so as not to require a quote and (2) modeling the difficulty of MT in a literal way (cf. NJPS). The latter recognizes but does not solve the problem; the former covers the problem via amelioration, which amounts to a kind of semantic conjecture.

While it cannot be proven that נלכה השדה is original (it is theoretically possible that it was supplied at an early time to fill a gap that was left when a still earlier quote was lost), it is reasonable to think that it might be original, particularly since the repetition of שדה (at the end of נלכה השדה and at the end of the next clause in MT וַֽיְהִי֙ בִּהְיוֹתָ֣ם בַּשָּׂדֶ֔ה) sets up a complex kind of homoioteleuton, wherein the first element of two with similar endings would have been accidentally omitted (cf. NET margin). It is for good reason, then, that a high number of modern translations render the quotation, נלכה השדה 'Let's go out to the field,' as an integral part of the biblical text.

Common Text
נֵלְכָה הַשָּׂדֶה (vqi1cp{1}Ct הלך; Pa הַ ncsma שָׂדֶה) 'Let's go out to the field'