Genesis 1:1: independent clause or subordinate phrase

Lewis Reich lewreich at
Tue Dec 7 12:16:18 EST 1999

The traditional Jewish commentator Rashi remarks on B.:R")$IYT, commenting,
if I recall correctly, on the occurrence in Jeremiah, but noting, in effect,
that it means not "in the beginning", but "in the beginning of", and thus
that the verb BfRfH, which would be appropriate if it were "in the
beginning", should be read BRoH - in the beginning of God' creation of the
heaven and earth, the earth was void and without form..."  as a couple of
new translations have rendered it.

Lewis Reich

----- Original Message -----
From: <peter_kirk at>
To: Biblical Hebrew <b-hebrew at>
Sent: Tuesday, December 07, 1999 5:29 PM
Subject: Re[2]: Genesis 1:1: independent clause or subordinate phrase

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
anything because almost all of my posts concerning grammatical issues have
out to be blundering faux pas resulting of a lack of knowledge combined with
love of
entertaining English. Added to that, I just did not feel I had the stuff
with somebody who can publish in Italian. But I would like to present the
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
phrase/qatal clause. Does this verse support Professor Niccacci's view that
is not ex-nihilo? What do you guys do with that verse? Apparently the
the text.

Jonathan Bailey
MA Kandidat
Hochschule für Jüdische Studien

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

>Dear Prof. Niccacci,


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