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W. F. Albright on Genesis 1:1’s Syntax

“As is well-known, there are two alternative explanations of the syntax of Gen. 1 1 f., both of which were recognized by the Masoretes as valid, and indicated by them implicitly in the vocalization of the first two words. They thus left it open either to their successors either to read [bereshit bero elohim], ‘in the beginning of God’s creating,’ or [bareshit bara elohim], ‘in the beginning God created.'”

That’s from page 364, “Contributions to Biblical Archaeology and Philology,” by W. F. Albright in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 43, No. 3/4 (1924), pp. 363-393.

In other words, Albright sees the Masoretic pointing of the standard Hebrew vocalization bereshit bara as a deliberately ungrammatical blend between the readings bareshit bara and bereshit bero. My impression, based on Holmstedt and others, is that Albright’s understanding is not to be taken seriously.

Note: I am not claiming that Holmstedt has addressed Albright’s understanding of Genesis 1:1’s vocalization. If he has, I am unaware of it. What I am claiming is that, based on my reading of Holmstedt on Genesis 1:1-3, it seems that Albright’s reading is not even considered, which to my mind is significant, and indicates that Albright’s “blend” theory on bereshit bara, like his “blend” theory of tohu, has fallen by the wayside. If it was ever given serious attention, I think it’s probably safe to say it has since been set aside.

W. F. Albright and Leroy Waterman on Tohu and Bohu

Genesis 1:2 depicts a disordered world. “And the earth was without form, and void” the KJV tells us. In Hebrew, we are told that the earth was tohu and bohu, two words which, charmingly, rhyme.

W. F. Albright renders the phrase “chaotic and empty” in “Contributions to Biblical Archaeology and Philology,” in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Volume 43, No. 3/4 (1924), p. 365. (more…)

Genesis 1:2, Tehom

. . . and the earth was waste and void, with darkness upon the surface of tehom and ruah elohim merahepet upon/across the surface of the waters . . .

“The creation account of the Priestly narrative is too closely articulated with the Babylonian cosmogony to permit any serious claim for a basic origin of Genesis 1 other than Babylonia. With almost equal unanimity, it is agreed that the Babylonian source materials now imbedded in Genesis 1 had traveled far and long before they reached the Priestly writer’s hands, and this too in spite of the fact that the possibility has to be reckoned with that the writer of the P document may have come into direct contact with the Babylonian myth in its native form and setting.”

So begins “Cosmogonic Affinities in Genesis 1:2,” by Leroy Waterman, of the University of Michigan, in The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Volume 43, No. 3 (April 1927), pp. 177-184. It’s worth a read, and walks through the state of scholarship on the words of Genesis 1:1-2 as of the 1920’s.

“The Epic of Creation as given by the Babylonian tablets describing the conflict between the god Marduk and Tiamat, the dragon of the ‘deep,’ begins with a dark, turbulent, watery abyss as already existing, and impersonated by this female monster. Marduk wages war against her, and after a terrible conflict succeeds in killing her. He then divides her body into two halves. Out of one he makes a dome-shaped covering for the heavens, with the evident idea that by this means the upper waters of the now divided ‘deep’ were to be kept from descending upon the lower waters. . . . The Hebrew record of the Creation similarly opens with an already existing dark, turbulent, watery abyss named tehom (Gen. 1:2), a Hebrew word, corresponding to the Babylonian Tiamat. After first creating light, Yahweh next proceeds to subdue, or bring under control, the surging waters of the turbulent abyss. He then divides it into two portions, making of the one the upper, and of the other the lower ocean. To keep the upper waters in their place, he creates a domelike support, rakia, correctly rendered in all our versions as “firmament,” since the original signifies something beaten out, hammered out of a hard substance.”

So begins A. E. Whatham’s “The Yahweh-Tehom Myth,” in The Biblical World, Vol. 36, No. 5 (Nov., 1910), pp. 290+329-333. If you’ve got a JPASS you can read it online here. You can also read it for free if you register.

TL;DR — The term tehom in Genesis 1:2 parallels the Tiamat of the Enuma Elish.

W. F. Albright and Michael Heiser on the “Gap Theory”

In the KJV, mainstay of popular English-speaking Bible readers for about three and a half centuries, the Bible begins as follows:

[1] In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. [2] 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…)

What Does Ki-Tob Mean in Genesis 1:4?

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.

What was the Ruaḥ Elohim up to in Genesis 1:2?

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…)

On the Third Word of Genesis: Is Elohim Plural?

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…)


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