In the KJV, mainstay of popular English-speaking Bible readers for about three and a half centuries, the Bible begins as follows:
 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
From comparison with similar passages, it would seem that the Hebrew phrase here translated “without form, and void” at least sometimes carries negative connotations. And so the question naturally raised is whether the writer of Genesis 1:1-2 envisioned God as having created the world in a negative state. If so, why? And if not, how did it get into such a negative state? One proposed answer to those questions is the “Gap Theory.” (more…)
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
The phrase that [it was] good is ki-tob, and the KJV reading above is substantially the same as you’ll see in other translations. But James Kugel has a different suggestion:
“And God was very pleased with the light . . .”
For the rationale behind this alternate reading, which also affects a number of other verses containing the phrase ki-tob, see “The Adverbial Use of Kî Ṭôb,” by James L. Kugel. Journal of Biblical Literature, Volume 99, No. 3 (Sep 1980), pp. 433-435.
But there has been some pushback. J. Gerald Janzen responded that while he did find Kugel’s proposals possible and even “in several instances . . . quite plausible,” the linguistic evidence is not good enough to consider Kugel’s suggestion of an adverbial ki-tob “probable” or “superior” to the traditional reading. For which see “Kugel’s Adverbial kî ṭôb: An Assessment,” by J. Gerald Janzen in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Volume 102, No. 1 (March 1983), pp. 99-106.
In addition to debate over the phrase ruaḥ elohim in Genesis 1:2, there’s also debate over the verb immediately following it. We are told in Genesis 1:2 that the ruaḥ elohim meraḥepet, and did so ʿal (variously translated: upon, over, across) the surface of the water. Whatever the ruaḥ elohim was up to over the surface of the water, the verb meraḥepet describes it. But what does the verb mean? Unfortunately, in linguistics usage determines meaning, and in the Hebrew Bible we have a whole bunch of words that only get used once or a very small number of times. (more…)
In Genesis 1:1, the word translated “God” is elohim, a word which ends with -im, the usual way in Hebrew to indicate a plural word. On the other hand, the verb before it, bara (“create”), is clearly a singular verb. To some readers, this indicates that the writer of Genesis 1:1 was hinting at the doctrine of the Trinity. There are a few problems with this line of reasoning.
For one thing, the sorts of ideas which were eventually systematized into Trinitarianism don’t show up until the New Testament, though there may be traces of precursor ideas in Daniel or in the notion of a “divine counsel.” Regardless of the exact nature of these alleged precursors, there is a much simpler explanation for the plurality of the word. (more…)
Various attempts to explain the rationale behind the numbers in Genesis 5 are explored here. The link is an excerpt from Wenham’s Genesis 1-15 in the Word Biblical Commentary series.
“When God began to bara the sky and the land . . .”
Typically, just about everyone renders the word as something along the lines of “make,” “create,” “form,” “give shape to.” But there are some outliers, such as John Walton and Ellen van Wolde. For links that include John Hobbins (for the traditional view) and John Walton (with a proposed new view), along with other scholars having a discussion about bara in blog-comment form, start here.
The Society of Biblical Literature, the biggest society in its field, has a worthy online project called “Ancient Near East Monographs,” which includes some worthwhile reading by scholars such as Israel Finkelstein and Alan Lenzi. You can download the PDFs of these books here.
One in particular is entitled Deuteronomy-Kings as Emerging Authoritative Books: A Conversation, which attempts to reconstruct, to the extent that the scanty available evidence permits it, how Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings came to be seen as authoritative texts. If you’ve got the time, I recommend reading it, and if you’ve got the money, I recommend buying a print copy. But if you don’t, John Hobbins’s summary of the canonization process will have to do:
A canon or collection of authoritative religious texts may have begun to be defined early, in the 6th century BCE; among Judahite refugees in Babylon.. Be that as it may, by the 2nd century BCE, the development of a canon of authoritative texts was in full swing among those who saw themselves as heirs to the promises found in the Torah, the Prophets, and David.
In the first centuries of the current era, across the lands and languages of the countries in which first Jews and then Jews and Christians resided, the inner core but not the outer edges of a canonical standard to which all might appeal was widely acknowledged.
But back to the point I’m trying to get to. Inside the book, E. Axel Knauf’s contribution, entitled “Why ‘Joshua’?” addresses the questions “why is there a book of Joshua, and why is there a book of Joshua?” (73). You’ll have to read it to learn his answer, because for the moment I’m more interested in an absolutely fascinating side issue. On page 75, Knauf incorporates a translation of the very beginning verses of Genesis, the likes of which I’ve never seen before:
In the beginning, when God created heaven and earth — but earth had been for long a watery mess, darkness had covered the abyss, and the spirit-storm of God had stood in the air like an eagle opposite the waters — God said: “Be there light!” There was light . . .
So there you have it. While ruaḥ is generally translated as “wind” or “spirit,” there is at least one other way of going about it.