Dr. Richard S. Hess

Old Testament Questions from the desk of Dr. Richard S. Hess

Genesis 3:8 – Is it the cool of the day or a big storm?

Some argue that “the cool of the day” in Genesis 3:8 actually means a powerful storm in the original language of the Bible. Does it?

As best I can see this came from a theory by Jeffrey Niehaus in the 1994 edition of the journal Vetus Testamentum.  He argues that the Hebrew word for “day,” yom, is identical in meaning to the similar Akkadian word umu, which can also mean “storm.”  I know of no usage of yom for “storm” elsewhere in the Old Testament.  He cites Zeph. 2:2 but the translations do not follow him.  I subscribe to the principle that one should accept a word’s common meaning in a text unless the context requires something else.  Further, just because the Hebrew and Akkadian overlap with the general (and universally recognized) sense of “day,” does not mean they overlap with a far less frequently attested sense of “storm.”

Further, the fairly authoritative Chicago Assyrian Dictionary vol. 20, U and W, pp. 153-55, indicates this sense only in the context of epithets or as designations of divine figures.  It does not translate umu as “storm,” but as “weather beast.”  Niehaus did not have access to this volume which only appeared in 2010 but depended upon the shorter and less comprehensive (though highly respected) dictionary of Wolfram von Soden.  I have not seen this accepted in commentaries and would have difficulty changing my own understanding.

It seems reasonable to recognize that the Genesis text describes the windy part of the day, that is, when the sun sets and the coolness and hot air in many parts of the Middle East create currents of wind.  I remember often walking with friends in Jerusalem after dinner.  It was more pleasant than in the heat of the day and there was often a cool breeze.

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