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Eden Is the Paradise of Truphē

Vanessa Gorman

In previous work, we established that τρυφή is mistranslated as “luxury, softness, delicacy, daintiness, effeminacy,” and even “wantonness” (LSJ).  The meaning is so contaminated that, come the Hellenistic Era, scholars require special pleading to explain what are thought to be its “new,” complimentary implications as an epithet of Ptolemy VIII (e.g., Heinen 1983) as well as its irrefutably positive presence in the Septuagint.  While the definition “luxury” may be appropriate in a vague sense, it is uninformative. The term actually contains the expectation that one’s wants and needs will be satisfied by others, a morally neutral idea in the Classical Era (Gorman-Gorman 2007, 2010).  The Septuagint, written principally in the 3rd and 2nd centuries, encapsulates the Jewish philosophical tradition as translated into Greek, presumably by scholars well learned in both.  Thus it contains one of the most extensive extant Greek-language texts from the Hellenistic period, and the occurrences of τρυφή in it offer insight on the genuine meaning of this term, while the revised definition adds nuance and meaning back to the Septuagint

In the Septuagint, τρυφή is regularly a good thing, and God is its usual source. The most striking instance comes from the Creation story, where Eden is described as “The paradise of truphē” (Gen. 3:23, 24).  The NETS renders this phrase “the orchard of delights,” but this is imprecise.  The defining characteristic of Eden is that Adam and Eve receive everything they need from God, presented to them without effort on their part. It is no surprise then that the word τρυφή under the definition we have established is prominent in this context.

Other examples offer equally strong confirmation. At Psalms 36:4, humans are commanded, κατατρύφησον τοῦ κυρίου, καὶ δώσει σοι τὰ αἰτήματα τῆς καρδίας σου.  The NETS translation, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the requests of your heart,” is a nebulous rendering for what should be: “Look to the Lord to take care of you, and he will give you the requests of your heart.”  Likewise, at Ezechiel 34, the Lord will feed his sheep and they shall rest in fine luxury (en truphē agathē), meaning they will be taken care of without effort on their part. 

In the Septuagint τρυφή is never the cause of misfortune or of a weakening or effeminacy.  Instead, just as people who are virtuous receive τρυφή from God, so people who are wicked have their τρυφή taken away from them (Deut. 28:54, 56; Jer. 27:2; 28:34; Lam. 4:5; Mic. 1:16, 2:9; Dan. 4:31-32; Is. 57).   An excellent example occurs at Isaiah 47, where God reproaches the virgin daughter of Babylon, who will lose her trupheros lifestyle and will be made to grind grain with shamefully bare legs for others.  God promises her widowhood, loss of children, and utter destruction for herself, all because she sought her τρυφή not in Him, but in magic (47:1-12).

Elsewhere τρυφή occurs separated from its close connection with God, but in a way entirely consistent with our definition. Esther (5:1a) can lean on her maid for support, ὡς τρυφερευομένη. This phrase is badly translated as “gently” (NETS), when the word implies that she is a woman of position who can expect to be attended by others: the second maid who accompanies her holds her dress up out of the dirt.  Thus “genteelly” would be a better rendering.  Likewise, the virtuous Susanna is τρυφερά (31) when she arrives to answer the false accusations made against her, and she comes accompanied not only by her father, mother, and four children, but also five hundred servants and maids (Sus. 30). 

Thus the unswerving evidence offered by the Septuagint is that τρυφή is a desirable trait, ensuring that one’s wants will be taken care of and life will be comfortable.  It comes most usually as a gift from God, and the act of seeking it elsewhere is punished with its loss.

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Reception, Transmission, and Translation in Later Antiquity

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