Genesis 1:1: independent clause or subordinate phrase

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Tue Dec 7 17:29:45 EST 1999

I am indeed interested in any examples of this kind of structure. But 
the structure you have found in Hosea 1:2 is not completely similar to 
Genesis 1:1. What we have here is not a hanging prepositional phrase 
but a hanging noun phrase, for there is no B- prefixed to T:XIL.AT 
(although it is regularly so prefixed in other places). This noun 
phrase does indeed include a construct noun followed by a finite verb, 
and I have accepted that this structure does occur occasionally. Such 
hanging noun phrases are common, especially as superscriptions of 
prophetic books (and psalms). What I have not yet seen is any 
unambiguous example of a hanging prepositional phrase, i.e. any 
structure of the form B-<noun phrase> W-<sentence>, where the 
prepositional phrase cannot be part of a preceding sentence.

On the other hand this could well be a textual matter, in which a 
repeated letter has been dropped: TXLT DBR YHWH for TXLT DBRY YHWH.

In either case I would translate this as a heading: "The beginning of 
what YHWH spoke through Hosea. // YHWH said to Hosea:...", or perhaps 
"The first part of what YHWH...". Note the paragraph mark in the 
Hebrew text after the heading - which makes it clear that at an early 
time these words were not interpreted as part of the following 

The translation "When YHWH began to speak to Hosea, he said to him..." 
is in my opinion wrong for several good reasons:

1) It would be a unique example of T:XIL.AT without B- meaning "in the 
beginning" (Eccl. 10:13 should be understood as "The beginning of the 
words of his mouth...");

2) It would be a unique (or almost so) example of a temporal phrase 
coming before a WAYYIQTOL verb within a clause, in violation of the 
principle that the W- of WAYYIQTOL indicates the start of a new 
sentence or clause;

3) It ignores the Hebrew paragraph mark, which is quite ancient.

Meanwhile I had some further thoughts about B.:R")$IYT in Genesis 1:1. 
No doubt someone is thinking that there is an indicator of Prof. 
Niccacci's interpretation in that this word has no definite article. 
If the meaning was "in the beginning", one would expect B.FR")$IYT, 
with qamets as the first vowel because of compensatory lengthening. 
Compare the regular use of B.AT.:XIL.FH (with the article) in the 
absolute and B.IT:XIL.AT (without the article) in the construct, with 
the synonymous word found (not in this form) in Hosea 1:2. So one 
might expect B.:R")$IYT to be construct rather than absolute.

I was surprised to find that B- is elsewhere used with R")$IYT only in 
Jeremiah 26:1, 27:1, 28:1, 49:34, in the form B.:R")$IYT as in Genesis 
1:1. In each case it is clearly part of a construct chain (and the 
time phrase is either followed by a QATAL verb with no waw or comes 
after the verb). In Hosea 9:10 the form B.:R")$IYTFH. is found, but 
the meaning is only indirectly temporal. In Nehemiah 12:44 LFR")$IYT 
occurs, with a non-temporal meaning, showing the form to be expected 
with the definite article.

But is the form B.FR")$IYT actually to be expected in Genesis 1:1? It 
is actually a phonologically anomalous form as qamets is regularly 
shortened to shewa when, as here, it comes two syllables before the 
main stress. This shortening may not always apply in such cases of 
compensatory lengthening (it does not occur in Nehemiah 12:44), but I 
suspect that the form B.FR")$IYT would have been considered odd and 
unpleasant to a native speaker, and there would have been a strong 
tendency to shorten it in actual pronunciation to B.:R")$IYT, the form 
actually found. Thus the poet who composed Genesis 1 may well have 
preferred the phonologically normal but grammatically anomalous 
B.:R")$IYT to the phonologically anomalous, though grammatically 
correct, B.FR")$IYT - or later generations may have made the change. 
(Indeed, is the date of this shortening process known?) I would 
appreciate comments on this one from experts on the phonology.

Peter Kirk

PS to Jonathan: Prof. Niccacci is indeed worthy of your respect as a 
distinguished scholar, but not because he writes papers in Italian, 
which is presumably his mother tongue. Unfortunately we native English 
speakers do not have a monopoly of crazy ideas! This idea is not a 
crazy one but is very serious, but please don't be afraid to express 
your views, in careful language.

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re: Genesis 1:1: independent clause or subordinate phrase?
Author:  <jonathan.bailey at> at Internet 
Date:    06/12/1999 14:08

I noticed some of PK's criticisms of Prof. Niccacci's examples, but did not say 
anything because almost all of my posts concerning grammatical issues have turne
out to be blundering faux pas resulting of a lack of knowledge combined with a 
love of
entertaining English. Added to that, I just did not feel I had the stuff needed 
with somebody who can publish in Italian. But I would like to present the verse 
Hosea 1:2 which is almost exactly the type of phrase as Genesis 1:1 with the 
exception that there is a vayyiqtol instead of a ve-noun after the initial time 
phrase/qatal clause. Does this verse support Professor Niccacci's view that Gen 
is not ex-nihilo? What do you guys do with that verse? Apparently the versions 
the text.

Jonathan Bailey
MA Kandidat
Hochschule für Jüdische Studien

---------- Original Message ----------

>Dear Prof. Niccacci,


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