The End of Desire: On the Meaning of תשׁוקה in Gen 3:16 and Beyond

While תשׁוקה in Gen 3:16 has been customarily translated “desire” in an affectionate sense (“your desire shall be for your husband”), evangelical scholarship in the last half century has frequently followed Susan Foh (“What Is the Woman’s Desire?,” WTJ 37 [1975], 376-383), and instead favors an adversarial desire (e.g., ESV: “your desire shall be contrary to your husband”; also NLT and NET). This adversarial view is to be judged most unlikely in view of the earliest interpretive and versional evidence, as well as the use of תשׁוקה in the DSS (Janson Condren, “Toward a Purge of the Battle of the Sexes and ‘Return’ for the Original Meaning of Genesis 3:16b,” JETS 60/2 [2017]: 227–45). However, determining the best meaning of the rare term remains unresolved. Recent proposals include “driving” (Dictionary of Classical Hebrew), “turning, return” (Joel N. Lohr, “Desire? Eve, Gen 3:16 and תשׁוקה,” JBL 130 [2011]: 227-246), and “preoccupation, devotion” (A.A. MacIntosh, “The Meaning of Hebrew תשׁוקה,” JSS 61 [2016]: 365-387).
This paper will focus on the use of תשׁוקה in the DSS (1QM 13:12; 15:10; 17:4; 1QS 11:22; 4QInstrb 2:4), along with related texts in Hodayot, to evaluate the plausibility of the major proposals. Both the traditional rendering of “desire” and the (strikingly odd) entry in DCH of “driving” will be judged unlikely. Especially difficult for the meaning “desire” is the expression לעפר תשׁוקתו in 1QS 11:22 which follows a description of mankind being shaped from dust (עפר). Here, the translation “for dust is his desire” is much less preferable to “to dust is his return.” Yet “return” is not well-suited to other occurrences of תשׁוקה (e.g., 1QM 13 and 15). In Gen 3:16, to speak of the woman’s “return” either requires additional explanation or is inaccurate altogether. It will be suggested that תשׁוקה conveys both a concrete meaning, along the lines of the English verb “home” as in “home in on,” or “a strong movement toward/back to,” in addition to a metaphorical meaning of “preoccupation, devotion.” A similar semantic range is seen in ἀποστροφή, the term used to translate תשׁוקה in Gen 3:16 LXX. The result is that תשׁוקה is used to mean something approximating “return” in 1QS 11, while elsewhere it is used to mean “preoccupation, devotion.” For Gen 3:16, this yields the translation: “her devotion will be to her husband, but he will rule over her.”

2 thoughts on “The End of Desire: On the Meaning of תשׁוקה in Gen 3:16 and Beyond”

  1. I agree with Miles that this
    I agree with Miles that this is worth continuing the conversation on this word. It seems like a solid Hebrew word study exercise, which to the best of my (novice) knowledge, fits well in this session.

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