Should translations run with puns?
He wrote (Cunning punning in Genesis 3):
With this in mind, we might think about how a “Literary Equivalent” English translation might convey a sense of this linguistic relationship in the original Hebrew:I commented, however, his observation made me wonder whether paying better attention to puns would improve translations. Here's what I said in the comment; but, first my question is:
The serpent was the smoothest operator of all the creatures the Lord God had made. He asked the woman, ‘Is it true that God has forbidden you to eat from any tree in the garden?’ (3:1)
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that their naked skin was smooth; so they stitched fig-leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (3:7)
Your mentioning the pun made me think of an exegesis of this text I’d never considered before. Though the exegesis doesn’t change the main point, it arrives at it in a different way.
My thought stems from the fact that puns usually have an underlying semantic tie. That’s the beauty of the pun in that you can say something that really isn’t in the words of the text, and yet it makes the meaning of the text more precise. With many puns it’s this non-textual tie–determined and caused by the pun–that bursts into the mind and brings about laughter [though the pun here in Gen. 3 is far from funny].
I often wondered what the issue was with naked (not that I walk around the house nude or anything like that). However, if the core, but explicit, concept is smoothness, then that brings another thought to mind.
Let me take Gen 3:7, paraphrase it and elucidate it through expansion so as to quickly get to my point.
“Then they suddenly became aware of something they hadn’t seen before: the smoothness of their bodies showed they were exposed and unprotected.”
The point wasn’t the nakedness. The point was their exposure evidenced by the smoothness. So, to remedy the problem, they put on some kind of protection against the elements.
Now, does that help explain 3:10? Here, too, I’ve often wondered what the big deal of nakedness was. In fact, they had already covered themselves so they weren’t technically naked. I can come up with explanations; however, all of them feel like I’m reaching outside the text in order to explain the text. I’m uncomfortable with doing that. However, if I consider that Adam and Eve had now experienced sin and their whole being was changed (metaphorically and spiritually, they had died), then being exposed to a Holy God walking through the Paradise would have been a very fearful event. They would have felt totally unprotected. That’s not injecting anything into the text.
God then works to get to the bottom of this issue. That is, "Who on earth put my two wonderful creatures, the height of my creation, into a place where they are fearful of me and think that I would not protect them." The immediately questions from Him were, “Whose responsible?” and “Have you sinned?”
The pun between 3:1 and 3:7 sets the mind into the right frame to be able to more easily grasp this flow of thought. And, more importantly, the danger of being a sinner in the presence of God. That’s excellent and very basic theology, IMO. Ideal for this location of the development of the text.