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Bryan Rocine brocine at
Tue Nov 16 19:54:36 EST 1999

Welcome, Ted, to b-hebrew,

I hope you find the discussion instructive and enjoyable.

As for your question, the clause about which you ask is
followed by two clauses that clearly indicate the state of
things at the time Elohim said "Let there be light":
"darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit (or
wind) of God was hovering over the face of the waters."  The
clause haytah tohu vabohu, "The world had become wildness
and wasteland," belongs with these other two clauses and
also describes the state of things at the time of the
creation, IMO.  Such is a common discourse function of a
clause that is constructed with a qatal verb form (a.k.a.
perfect or suffixed form) in the second position in the
clause as in veha'arets haytah tohu vabohu.  Notice that I
translate "had become" rather than "became."  I am merely
tring to avoid a possible ambiguityin English by which "the
earth became..." may be misunderstood as an event in the
main plotline.  I would say that the use of the qatal form
in second position in the clause is a strong indication that
this clause is not on the mainline of events but gives
background information in the story.

Let me explain my decision to translate as "had become"
rather than "was."  Personally I do not consider the verbal
root hyh to be a copula, expressing mere existence.  Rather
I believe that it expresses a "coming about of something."
Even if we are reluctant to limit our understanding of the
root hyh as "a coming about," we must in Gen 1:2 come under
the influence of the rest of the creation account which
makes a rather conspicuous use of the root hyh.  "Let there
be light" uses hyh.  "And there was light" uses hyh.  The
passing of each evening and morning is expressed with hyh.
In all these cases, I would find an interpretation of hyh as
merely a copulative to rob the accout of its vitality.  At
the risk of writing some non-standard English I might
suggest some alternative translations that attempt to
express the vitality of hyh:  "Then God said, 'Let light
happen,' so light happened...Evening happened; morning
happended.  Day One."

> Hello:
> I'm a new subscriber, and am pleased to be part of
B-Hebrew.  I have
> participated in B-Greek for some time now, and I know
enough about that
> language to understand most of the grammatical aspects of
NT Greek.
> However, I know nothing at all about Hebrew, so I trust
you will be patient
> with me, as I attempt to learn from you.
> Probably I will spend most of my time lurking, but from
time to time a
> question will occur to me about the translation of some
passage or other in
> the OT. My questions will no doubt be simple ones, since I
don't know
> enough about the language to ask intelligent questions,
and I have no
> significant Hebrew resources at my disposal.
> If I violate any of the list rules, please inform me.  Any
violation on my
> part will be completely unintended.
> I do happen to have a question at this time:
> I have a translation that renders Gen. 1:2 as:  "But the
earth became waste
> and emptiness, and darkness was on the surface of the
> No doubt this is an issue that has been dealt with
extensively in the past.
>  If so, I would appreciate being directed to the
appropriate entries in
> your archives.
> My question is:  Is this a valid translation of the verse?
I notice that
> the English translations I have consulted use the term
"was," rather than
> "became," and most of them use "without form," rather than
> However, the NIV does include a footnote indicating that
"was" could be
> translated "became."
> Thanks for your help.
> Ted
> Dr. Theodore "Ted" H. Mann
> thmann at
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