Genesis 1:1: independ/subord...

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Sun Dec 12 22:44:22 EST 1999

Dear Ian,

Thank you for your well argued contribution. See some comments below.

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re[3]: Genesis 1:1: independ/subord...
Author:  <mc2499 at> at Internet 
Date:    12/12/1999 09:06

With regard to Gen1:1-2, peter_kirk at wrote:

>I see the following possibilities:
>A) God created, after that the earth was without form and void... 
>B) God created, before that the earth was without form and void... 
>C) God created over a period of time, during that time the earth was 
>without form and void...
>D) God created over a period of time, at the beginning of that time 
>the earth was without form and void...
>B) seems unlikely for two reasons, first because there is no 
>signalling of this in the text

Dear Peter,

We have at least two warning signs that we need care with the text.

1) we've already seen that x-qatal sequences are rare (if there are
  actually such beasts). If this is such a sequence then its use here 
  needs to be explained.

PK: Ah, but they do exist. I supplied two references (given by Prof. 
Niccacci). We don't know exactly what they mean here, but I believe I 
covered all of the sensible logical possibilities.

2) the clause starts with br'$yt

  in almost all occasions of the use of r'$yt we find a specification 
  added, eg "the beginning of his strength" (Gen49:3, see also Deu11:12, 
  21:17, Ps111:10, Pr1:7, etc), the two exceptions I've found are 
  Eccl7:8, where the implied object is clear, while Is46:10, is generic, 
  "the end [of things] I declare from the beginning [of them]"

  the related r'$wn is used without qualification, eg Ruth3:10 and 
  1Chr17:9 [br'$wnh]

PK: Your argument goes back to Rashi, it seems. In Isaiah 46:10 the 
context and the parallel with UWMIQ.EDEM "and from ancient times" 
suggest to me a reference to the beginning of time in an absolute 
sense - which is not the sense in your Ruth and 1 Chronicles passages. 
So Isaiah 46:10 is a parallel with Genesis 1:1 in which R")$IYT, even 
without the article, means the absolute beginning of time. Can 
RI)$OWNFH also have this meaning, as Rashi thought? I have looked 
through the references given in BDB, and from these it seems not. If 
you disagree, please give me some examples. Did Rashi give any 
examples, or was he relying on the Hebrew of his own day? I suspect 
that Rashi unwittingly introduced a red herring.

>and secondly because of the logical
>difficulty of the earth existing (though without form and void) before 
>it was created.

This seems to be a problem imported by you. The logical difficulty I see 
with what you propose is still the fact that God first creates chaos and 
then from that the world. This is a superfluous act for a god that can 
simply use his will to create something. God does not create chaos [l' br' 
thw] - Is45:18.

PK: Good point. But you have misquoted the verse, or have found a MS 
very different from BHS. L) BR) THW might mean "he did not create 
emptiness/chaos" which is what you want to say. But the BHS text says 
L) THW BRWH, i.e. LO)-TOHUW B:RF)FH. LF$EBET Y:CFRFH. "he created IT 
not as empty/chaotic but formed it to be inhabited". The point is that 
the goal was inhabitation, and not that there was no intermediate 
stage of chaos. Anyway, if chaos is the raw material of creation, your 
version of this verse would be tautologous - from chaos to chaos is 
not creation!

While your reading might be possible on logical grounds, it is not attested 
to in any other early creation account -- including that which it was 
indirectly derived from.

PK: Which creation accounts are early?

>There is the same logical problem in the "When God
>began to create" interpretation, if, as I do, one takes BR) to imply 
>forming something that previously did not exist

As the qal is only used of God, it's hard to say the exact significance of 
the verb, but with the pi`el we find people cutting down [br'] wood 
Josh17:15, so I wouldn't be too certain about your understanding of the word.

PK: A different stem means different semantics, so let's stick to the 
qal. Maybe sometimes used of transformation, but only in the contexts 
of God's eschatological work of recreation Ps 51:12, Is 41:20, 

>(not necessarily ex
>nihilo) rather than changing the state of something which already 

In the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth,...

Now it is important to note that we are given the picture of God creating 
the heavens and the earth in vv3-13, ie that which is alluded to in v1 is 
narrated in vv3-13 (the formation of the heavens and the earth). Verse 1 
doesn't add anything to the *narrative* other than a definite starting 
point, unless you would like to claim that God created the heavens and the 
earth and the result was thw wbhw, requiring the re-creation of the heavens 
and the earth in vv3-13. This would seem a consequence of your necessarily 
creatio-ex-nihilo reading. It seems highly improbable.

PK: No, not a re-creation, but a continuation of an unfinished work.

As I have pointed out from Wisdom 11:17, God created the world "out of 
formless matter", which is consistent with the earliest understandings of 
creation as evinced in the various ane creation accounts. What you propose 
is that Wisdom, going against your understanding of creation, did not 
reflect the Hebrew tradition of creatio ex nihilo, but went back to the 
oldest ideas of creation, yet you are unable to show something before 
Wisdom which clearly manifests creatio ex nihilo, ie you'd like Wisdom to 
swim against the current that you haven't demonstrated existed. You at 
least need to show that your understanding existed prior to Wisdom. It 
would also be nice for you to explain why Wisdom shouldn't follow what you 
consider to have been the initial idea.

PK: There is clear evidence of another current, which is probably 
demonstrated in nascent form in Isaiah 45:18 etc, and then in LXX and 
other ancient translations of Genesis 1:1, in Hebrews, and then rather 
later in the Church Fathers. I don't want to get back into arguments 
on dating, but I don't think you can prove that none of these are 
earlier than Wisdom, even if we exclude Isaiah. I would tend to assign 
the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1 into this other current - at least unless it 
can be demonstrated that the LXX and other translators misunderstood 

>C) is logically possible, but unlikely, for one would expect the state 
>to change during the process of creation.
>D) is almost equivalent to the "When God began to create" 
>interpretation (even without its underlying understanding of the 
>grammar), but (so avoiding the logical problem) could also include a 
>first step of God creating a void earth - God creating chaos, if you 
>like, as a raw material. Thus one might paraphrase as "In the 
>beginning God created... After the first stage, the earth was..." I 
>accept that this interpretation is possible.

Would you accept it if it didn't parallel your creatio ex nihilo scenario?

>In this case 1:1 could be a summary of the whole of 1:1-2:3. 
>But I still think that A), a simple sequence, is the most natural 
>interpretation, and so, in the absence of indicators of anything else, 
>most likely to be the author's intention.

Your interpretation seems no more natural than others. In fact it relies on 
making a structure that is either extremely rare or non-existent (the 
x-qatal sequence that yields a narrative). Given this I can't see how you 
can conclude what is or what is not most likely. It would actually seem 
less likely if you remember how r'$yt is used throughout the OT/HB. Taken 
with the literary analysis, the literary-historical context and the ancient 
understanding as seen in Wisdom, Gen1 is certainly another creation by 
giving order to chaos.

PK: The structure which is non-existent is not a sequence of X-QATALs, 
which occurs in several other places including some which I referenced 
(and for which I am not assuming narrative sequentiality), but rather 
the combination together which your interpretation requires of two 
individually very rare constructions, a construct chain with a finite 
verb and an adverbial phrase of time separated from its main clause by 
waw. Well, no-one has come up with any other examples so far. Please 
let me know if you find one. Until I see such an example your 
arguments are unlikely to convince me, so perhaps we ought to drop 
this thread.



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