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November 12, 2009

Lit word of the day: Timshel

John Steinbeck used the word Timshel in East of Eden in order to illuminate the fact that man has free will.

This is the important passage:

…this was the gold from our mining: ‘Thou mayest.’ The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin (and you can call sin ignorance). The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word timshel—’Thou mayest’—that gives a choice. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ That makes a man great and that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.

Man has the gift of redemption.  And only he can claim it.

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