go down

Targumim (or: Targums) are translations of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic. They were translated and used when Jewish congregations increasingly could not understand the biblical Hebrew anymore. Targum Onqelos (also: Onkelos) is the name of the Aramaic translation of the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) probably composed in Israel/Palestine in the 1st or 2nd century CE and later edited in Babylon in the 4th or 5th century, making it reflect Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. It is the most famous Aramaic translation and was widely used throughout the Jewish communities.

In many, but not all, cases the translation of Targum Onqelos avoids anthropomorphisms (attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions) as they relate in the original Hebrew text to God.

The Hebrew of Genesis 18:21 that is translated in English as “go down” or similar is translated in Targum Onqelos as “will be revealed.” (Source: Klein 2011, p. 62)

Three Men visit Abraham (icon)

Following is a Russian Orthodox icon of the Three Men visiting Abraham which are depicted as the Trinity by Andrei Rublev (c. 1360 – c. 1430). The icon was likely painted between 1400 and 1410 (it is today located in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow).


Michael Stevens (in: The Word on Fire Bible, Vol 1, 2020, p. 118f.) comments on this icon:

“This depiction of the three persons of the Trinity is considered to be one of the finest works ever produced in the ancient tradition of Eastern iconography. Its creator, Andrei Rublev, is widely considered to be the greatest iconographer of all time, and this is one of the few panels of his that has been verified beyond doubt as his original work. Within this panel is contained a world of theological insight—a complex network of symbolism that is easily overlooked without careful study.

“Rublev’s representation of the Trinity is strikingly different from the typical Western Christians visualization of the Trinity, with God the Father as an elderly man, God the Son as a young man, and God the Holy Spirit as a dove. Here the artist uses the image of three conversing angelic figures to illustrate the relationship of the persons of the Trinity. The figures are drawn directly from Genesis 18, wherein three mysterious angelic figures visit the house of Abraham and receive his hospitality. While this biblical account from the Old Testament was written long before the Christian doctrine of the Trinity was understood, it has been interpreted as a Trinitarian foreshadowing by many of the Church Fathers. Flowing from this interpretation, Rublev gives us many clues that the three figures in his icon are not meant to represent mere angels, but are in fact the three persons of the Holy Trinity.

“The Father is shown on the left. His outer garment appears to shimmer elusively in the light, somewhere between gold and violet. This symbolizes his incorporeal (immaterial) nature, as well as his majesty over creation. Under this is a robe of blue, symbolizing his divinity. Across from him, the Son and the Holy Spirit bow their heads in acknowledgment that the Father is the unbegotten source of the Trinitarian processions.

“Christ sits in the middle and wears two contrasting garments — one an earthy red, and the other blue. The red represents Christ’s human nature and ministry on earth as well as his blood poured out for sinners. Like the Father’s inner robe, the blue portion of Christ’s clothing also signifies his divinity. The two garments’ colors are harmonious and pithily capture the two natures of Jesus. Finally, the gold stripe on Christ’s shoulder symbolizes his sharing in the kingship of God the Father.

“The Holy Spirit also wears the same divine blue as the others showing his nature as God- but outside he wears a robe of lush green, representing his role in the creation of the world. This harkens back to Genesis, where we are told that the Spirit ‘swept over the face of the waters’ (Gen. 1:2) before the creation of the universe and living things.

“The three persons are arranged inside a perfect circle, which symbolizes their Trinitarian oneness and perfection. The circle also helps to guide the viewer’s eye around the painting, creating a focal point in the space between the conversing figures.

“The Father and the Son’s wings overlap one another, signifying their familial relationship.

“The three primary background elements are borrowed from the biblical story of the angels’ visit to Abraham’s house, and each symbolizes a person of the Trinity. The house of Abraham behind God the Father represents his patriarchal authority by linking him to the character of Abraham, who was the father of the Hebrew people. The tree behind God the Son represents the cross of Jesus and new life offered by his Resurrection. The mountain behind the Holy Spirit (faintly seen) represents the soul’s journey to holiness, which is possible only through his divine power.”

Orthodox Icons are not drawings or creations of imagination. They are in fact writings of things not of this world. Icons can represent our Lord Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints. They can also represent the Holy Trinity, Angels, the Heavenly hosts, and even events. Orthodox icons, unlike Western pictures, change the perspective and form of the image so that it is not naturalistic. This is done so that we can look beyond appearances of the world, and instead look to the spiritual truth of the holy person or event. (Source )

See also let us make / become like one of us / let us go down.

complete verse (Genesis 18:21)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 18:21:

  • Kankanaey: “I will accordingly go see if what I have heard-reported about them is true so that I will thus know-it so-that I will then punish (them).'” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Newari: “So I am going down to see [whether] what they are doing is like [what] they are accused of doing or not.'” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “Therefore I will- now -go there so-that I will-know if (it is) true or not (about) these complaints.'” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “So I will go down now, and I will see if all the terrible things that I have heard are true or not true.'” (Source: Translation for Translators)

Translation commentary on Genesis 18:21

I will go down to see: from the high elevation in the Judean hills near Mamre, where the LORD is talking with Abraham, he will go down to Sodom near the Dead Sea. In some languages it will be necessary to say “… go down to those towns to see.”

Whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me: the purpose of going down is to investigate the situation, to determine if the accusations against the cities are true or not. We may say, for example, “I will go down to those towns to learn if what the people accuse others of is true or not” or “I am going … to find out if the people are as bad as I have heard they are.” The Hebrew says “whether according to her cry….” Another variant has “their cry.” Hebrew Old Testament Text Project understands “their cry” to mean the cry against them (the two cities) but recommends “her cry” (with an evaluation of {B}). The sense is the cry made against her (Sodom), since Gomorrah is not mentioned in verse 16 and is mentioned first in verse 20. Neither Revised Standard Version nor Good News Translation, as in the case of most translations, refer to “her” or to “them.” If some form of “outrage” was used in verse 20, outcry in the sense of accusation or denouncement may be used in verse 21. Good News Translation and others prefer “accusations” in both places. Although two different Hebrew words are used for outcry in verses 20-21, there is no significant difference in meaning.

If not, I will know: that is, the LORD will learn, establish, find out if the accusations are or are not true. Good News Translation “whether or not the accusations … are true” expresses this clearly. Other translations say something like “to find out if these things are true or not.” I will know may carry the sense of “I will know whether to destroy them or not,” and in some languages this information is needed.

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. and Fry, Euan McG. A Handbook on Genesis. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .