tohu vabohu (was: Re: new subscriber)

Tony Prete tonyp at
Sun Nov 28 17:46:30 EST 1999

Dear Friends,

Michael Miles has unsubscribed himself from the list, so he will not see
the posts addressed to him or his concerns. Anyone who wants to communicate
with him can get his address from the above "cc" slot.

On the matter of "tohu vabohu," I passed the following along to Michael,
and thought I'd see what it generates on the list as well.

>Finally, when I studied Genesis. . . the professor pointed out that the
expression "tohu vabohu" appears in just one other place in the Bible
(Jeremiah, which you noted in your original post), but there it seems to be
simply quoting Genesis. He went on to point out that there are no such
words in modern Hebrew, or in any other sample of ancient Hebrew that we
have. This makes it a "hapax legomenon," which means we have no way of
knowing what it means, except from what we can derive from the context.  So
the translation is going to be tentative at best. Something like "all
jumbled up" might work; I like it better than "waste and void" because
those words have a degree of abstraction that seems inimical to the
concreteness of the account--for example, what does a "void" look like?

I might add here: Would there be any help in deciphering these words by
looking at etymology, or such cognate languages as Ugaritic and Akkadian?

Finally, perhaps the experience with Michael Miles can act as a reminder to
us of two points: 1) that posts directed to another person and containing
nothing of relevance to B-Hebrew as it is generally understood, should not
be posted to the list; and 2) the need to change the "subject" line when it
no longer reflects the topic. (After a while, I summarily transferred to
Eudora's "Trash" file any "Re: new subscriber" posts, only to discover that
some of them were no longer argumentative and were providing  information
appropriate to the list.)

I look forward to any elucidation on my perception and questions concerning
"tohu vabohu."

Anthony Prete
Haddonfield, NJ USA

Masters Candidate
La Salle University
Philadelphia, Pa.

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