The Meaning of the Word Timshal in Genesis



I hope you are well. I have been searching for an answer to a literary question. It’s one that has various answers across the internet and I cannot find a consensus. It’s regarding Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

In the book, he threads the idea of a word he claims has been mistranslated in Christian bibles, Timshel. He says that some scholars translate it as, “thou shalt,” and others as, “do thou,” but the true translation is “thou mayest.” The word appears in Genesis 4:16 according to Steinbeck.

Here is a link to the passage in the book,

In my research, I’ve had scholars tell me that he’s correct, or that “thou shalt” is the correct translation, and even that the word Timshel is not a real word in Hebrew.

I love the passage and the sentiment in the book and would like to know if I should love it from a historical/faith perspective or only a literary perspective.

Thank you for your time



  1. My filter will not let me into the page that you linked, so I cannot see the original. However, the word Timshal appears twice in Genesis: the first time in chapter four, but in verse seven, not verse sixteen. The second occasion is in chapter thirty-seven, verse eight. The three-letter Hebrew root of the word Timshal is mem-shin-lamed. In the first verse the context of the word Timshal is “to conquer” or “to overcome”. The verse reads, “Surely, if you improve yourself, you will be forgiven; but if you do not improve yourself, sin rests at the door; its desire is toward you, yet you can conquer it.” In chapter thirty-seven the context is slightly different and the word Timshal means “to dominate”. The verse reads, “His brothers said to him, ‘Would you then reign over us? Would you then dominate us?”

    Best wishes from the Team