to Being


went by in no time.

AVRM turned ninety-nine.

YHWH turned to him

and said to him:

            I to --

            I toward --

            I the --

then started again.


He said:

            Come over here and face me.

            Be, somewhat resembling me,

            a form of me undeformed by me,

            stark and seen-through

            in all your simplicity

            as time appears

                                          to me

                                                       to be.


He said:

            You who is or are

            perfect and/or incomplete

            will be to me as gap

            in me that rhymes with what

            immediately preceded me.

            Just be before me.

                         Don't be shy.

                         I'm EL-SHADDAI.


This name had not been said before.

It's unclear why.


He said:

            What I am is multiplicity

            with no known opening

            hidden or shown

            through which to disown

            one's own self.

            Potential is the ability

            to do so, stored.

            Between me and you

            I'll make you a whole lot more of you.


This was too clear to get hold of.

AVRM couldn't face it and fell down.                       



            Me am be.

            More than one one.

            More than this one me.

                        Listen: you'll see.

                        Me: my

            agreement with you is

            you're going to be a father

            and feel something. Your

            name already quietly contains

            the word for it, for father, AV,

            but the name of your name

            will change from AVRM to AVRHAM,

            lengthened with a little laugh

            to compensate you for the loss

            I have in mind. There's more.

            The name contains a subtle sound

            some can't pronounce and others

            can't not. Depends where you're from.

            Acoustical processing occurs out

            of its own way by taking place

            below the threshold of consciousness.

            It has to to do its job, which is

            to get something to you.


He told him what he had to say,

whisper of a sense of something

less than, greater than, or equal to:


            We'll need a way to talk about

            things there's no way to say.

            One of the words for me is

            ELOHIM, plural of power,

            even though it and I are

            treated singular, not unlike

            MAYIM and SHAMAYIM,

            waters or water and sky or skies,

            things which are not simply

            one or more than one but have

            a different sort of thingness than

            discrete things do

                                             or seem

                                                             to me to.

            Now get up and do what you're told to do.


            Your name is going to mean you

            felt something bubble in your gut.

            What I'm going to give you

            is to give birth to you.

            Repeatedly. Like fruit.

            Blastulas and individuals,

            bodies and nations and kings

            will come through me from you.

            Your name will mean you felt something move.


Clusters murmured somewhere where

there was no expansiveness yet.


He said:

            Between me and you

            and those who come from you 

            after you for generations to come,

            I'll stand by my agreement

            as an agreement in perpetuity

            to be be-all and multiplicity to you

            and to the ones who come from you after you.
            I'll give you the place you've

            been in place in in perpetuity, you

            and those who come from you

                                                                    after you

                                                                                     and I --

            I'll be one and more than one to them.

            Estrangement is a place to stay.

            Forever's not so far from disappear.



            You and those who

            follow from you

            will follow this

            agreement of mine

            between me and them

            and those who follow

            from you, as follows:


            At eight days old

            and for generations to come,

            every boy in the house

            as well as each one purchased

            from those who don't come from

            you, they'll all be cut,

            those you birth and those you buy.

            All prepuce will be pruned.

            My agreement in their meat

            means in perpetuity.

            This is a form of fruit and unfolding.

            You'll trim the flesh-fold from the front:

                        it's filthy --

                        it interferes --

                        makes you stupid --

                        makes you stutter --

            Eight days after the birth mess

            has been washed or washed you,

            the skin at the tip of the shaft

            along with subcutaneous membrane

            will be split along the dorsal longitude

            as far as the coronal ridge, where

            the crown would sit if it sat.

            A little bit more blood will drip

            until the stubborn heart come home.


            You stood in front of me before there           

            was a between and an us there.

            Not anymore. Now an uncut man

            who doesn't cut the flesh-flap off

            will be considered cut off

            from being with whom he'd been

            with before, agreement with me






This will be made to have been the case

repeatedly and as far as can be seen.

א וַיְהִי אַבְרָם, בֶּן-תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה וְתֵשַׁע שָׁנִים; וַיֵּרָא יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי-אֵל שַׁדַּי--הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי, וֶהְיֵה תָמִים.

ב וְאֶתְּנָה בְרִיתִי, בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ; וְאַרְבֶּה אוֹתְךָ, בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד.

ג וַיִּפֹּל אַבְרָם, עַל-פָּנָיו; וַיְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ אֱלֹהִים, לֵאמֹר.

ד אֲנִי, הִנֵּה בְרִיתִי אִתָּךְ; וְהָיִיתָ, לְאַב הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם.

ה וְלֹא-יִקָּרֵא עוֹד אֶת-שִׁמְךָ, אַבְרָם; וְהָיָה שִׁמְךָ אַבְרָהָם, כִּי אַב-הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם נְתַתִּיךָ.

ו וְהִפְרֵתִי אֹתְךָ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד, וּנְתַתִּיךָ לְגוֹיִם; וּמְלָכִים, מִמְּךָ יֵצֵאוּ.

ז וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת-בְּרִיתִי בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ, וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ לְדֹרֹתָם--לִבְרִית עוֹלָם: לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לֵאלֹהִים, וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ.

ח וְנָתַתִּי לְךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ אֵת אֶרֶץ מְגֻרֶיךָ, אֵת כָּל-אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, לַאֲחֻזַּת, עוֹלָם; וְהָיִיתִי לָהֶם, לֵאלֹהִים.

ט וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל-אַבְרָהָם, וְאַתָּה אֶת-בְּרִיתִי תִשְׁמֹר--אַתָּה וְזַרְעֲךָ אַחֲרֶיךָ, לְדֹרֹתָם.

י זֹאת בְּרִיתִי אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְרוּ, בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם, וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ, אַחֲרֶיךָ: הִמּוֹל לָכֶם, כָּל-זָכָר.

יא וּנְמַלְתֶּם, אֵת בְּשַׂר עָרְלַתְכֶם; וְהָיָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית, בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם.

יב וּבֶן-שְׁמֹנַת יָמִים, יִמּוֹל לָכֶם כָּל-זָכָר--לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם: יְלִיד בָּיִת--וּמִקְנַת-כֶּסֶף מִכֹּל בֶּן-נֵכָר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא מִזַּרְעֲךָ הוּא.

יג הִמּוֹל יִמּוֹל יְלִיד בֵּיתְךָ, וּמִקְנַת כַּסְפֶּךָ; וְהָיְתָה בְרִיתִי בִּבְשַׂרְכֶם, לִבְרִית עוֹלָם.

יד וְעָרֵל זָכָר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִמּוֹל אֶת-בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתוֹ--וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא, מֵעַמֶּיהָ: אֶת-בְּרִיתִי, הֵפַר. ס


וַיִּקְרָא יב

א וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר.

ב דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר, אִשָּׁה כִּי תַזְרִיעַ, וְיָלְדָה זָכָר--וְטָמְאָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, כִּימֵי נִדַּת דְּו‍ֹתָהּ תִּטְמָא.

ג וּבַיּוֹם, הַשְּׁמִינִי, יִמּוֹל, בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתוֹ.

ד וּשְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם וּשְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, תֵּשֵׁב בִּדְמֵי טָהֳרָה; בְּכָל-קֹדֶשׁ לֹא-תִגָּע, וְאֶל-הַמִּקְדָּשׁ לֹא תָבֹא, עַד-מְלֹאת, יְמֵי טָהֳרָהּ.

Translator's Note

This is a translation and variation on Genesis, Chapter 17. My title is meant to suggest, if obliquely, that my text is not itself Genesis 17, as standard citation would have it, but takes as its subject the subject Genesis Seventeen.


I'm really not qualified to translate Biblical (or modern) Hebrew, but there are so many versions available that this original can take it.  I do have enough basic Hebrew to realize that there's a texture of sound and etymology-play in these Hebrew passages which is often ignored in the English translations I've seen.  Portions of my English version are "literal" translation.  Many parts are "literal" but also attempt to capture the sound clusters or syntactic patterns of  the Hebrew. I think it will be apparent, even to someone who has never read the original, when I improvise or invent.


The account in Genesis 17 of the covenant and circumcision was presumably written by the "P" or Priestly author.  E.A. Speiser's introduction to his Anchor translation of Genesis seems to me slightly insulting to this "P" author (or multi-generational committee of authors), who is presented as a bureaucrat bent on recording lineage and legalities, in contrast to the more literary and human-oriented "J"-author.  On the other hand, Speiser does acknowledge, in his commentary on the opening verses of Genesis by P, that "the account has a grandeur and a dramatic impact all its own."  I have also interpolated relevant verses from Leviticus 12. (I am grateful to poet/translator David Rosenberg -- who in no way endorses my "translation" -- for having sent me to the Anchor edition, and for the inspiration from his own A Literary Bible.)  I hear music in P's bureaucratic fanaticism, especially as it shapes the absurdist noir conversations between God and Abraham. I wanted to reexamine these for myself because they include those elements of (what is now) Judaism which are most barbaric but which even the most un- and even anti-religious among us often – though not always -- remain compelled by, even after all this time.  I also wanted to see what I might glean from the Hebrew while working on a related prose piece called “Dick.”

Mark Dow


In the Classroom