tohu vabohu (was: Re: new subscriber)

somi somie at
Tue Nov 30 03:58:03 EST 1999

Thank you for this post, George.  It is exactly along the lines of what I am
observing as well.  I would like to comment but my plate is so ridiculously
full this week of things to do (and from recovering from illness).  May I
respond a little later on?  :)  I need to rustle back through my notes on
this word study.


-----Original Message-----
From: George Athas <gathas at>
To: Biblical Hebrew <b-hebrew at>
Cc: Michael Miles <michaelwm at>
Date: Tuesday, November 30, 1999 12:35 AM
Subject: Re: tohu vabohu (was: Re: new subscriber)

>> 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
>> 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.
>Actually, "hapax legomenon" means "a word mentioned only once". This
shouldn't be used
>with reference to the words _tohu_ and _bohu_. The word 'tohu' occurs in
the following
>biblical references:
>-Gen 1:2
>-1 Sam 12:21
>-Job 26:7
>-Isa 24:10
>-Isa 34:11
>-Isa 40:17
>-Isa 41:29
>-Isa 44:9
>-Isa 45:18, 19
>-Isa 45:19
>-Isa 59:4
>-Jer 4:23
>Of particular note are Isa 40:17 and 41:29, in which the word _tohu_ is
paralleled with
>the word _'ephes_, which means "nothing" or "nought" or "none". The idea of
_tohu_ is that
>it refers to something that has no substance, no essence, no worth, no
implicit existence
>of its own. The context of the references mentioned above help to elucidate
>The word _bohu_ occurs in:
>-Gen 1:2 (along with _tohu_)
>-Isa 34:11 (along with _tohu_)
>-Jer 4:23 (along with _tohu_)
>Since the Gen and Jer references are practically identical, the Isa
reference is most
>instructive. It comes in an oracle directed primarily against Edom in which
>threatens to make Edom a haunt of wierd and wild animals because of its
>Yahweh threatens to knock the building of Edom down to stretch over it a
"line of _tohu_
>and stones of _bohu_." The implication is that the cities of Edom will no
longer exist.
>The builder's line of "non-existence" will be brought to bear over the
towns and the
>building stones will be knocked down, disordered, disarrayed, made chaotic,
>void and vacant. That is the implication of _bohu_.
>I don't think there are single words in English that accurately portray all
the import of
>_tohu_ and _bohu_. The closest we can get, I think, are "without substance"
>"disarrayed" respectively.
>Best regards,
>George Athas
> Dept of Semitic Studies,
> University of Sydney
>Tel Dan Inscription Website
>< gathas@ >
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