Gen 1:1 "When God began to create"?

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at sil.org
Wed Aug 30 19:53:13 EDT 2000


Thank you, Liz, for your detailed explanation of what Rashi actually wrote,
which doesn't quite agree with previous claims of his support for different
interpretations. I will comment here only on the Hebrew grammar involved,
not on the interpretation drawn from it.

So Rashi's interpretation is different from any which we have looked at
before, including the one you proposed. In his interpretation, the first
main verb is not the HAYETAH of verse 2 but the WAYYO'MER of verse 3, and
the whole of verses 1 and 2 is a complex adverbial phrase of time. If I
remember rightly from what we discussed some time ago, it is not
unprecedented, though rare, for an adverbial phrase to precede a WAYYIQTOL
verb which it modifies, in which case the W- does not have copulative force.
(By contrast, your proposal is much less likely as it requires a constituent
order adverbial-phrase W-subject QATAL, which is otherwise unattested or
very nearly so.) But with Rashi's proposal there is a grammatical problem
with the HAYETAH, as this cannot be an infinitive or even a participle; but
I suppose the whole of verse 2 could be taken as parenthetical.

But I don't understand the part about "the syntatical rule that when, in a
narrative, an imperfect with vau conversive is followed by a perfect, it has
a pluperfect sense,t he action it describes having taken place previous to
the event mentioned immediately before it." This doesn't seem to be the
situation here. Do you mean "preceded by" rather than "followed by", and
that the "perfect" (QATAL) has pluperfect sense? That is the sort of rule I
would expect in Gesenius. But I don't see how Rashi can appeal to this rule;
for if verse 1 is an adverbial phrase modifying verse 3, verse 2 cannot be
an independent clause linked to verse 3 by regular syntactical rules, it
must be some kind of parenthesis. Also I think that we have realised in past
discussions on this list that any such rule is a gross over-simplification.

Peter Kirk

PS I'm glad to see (from Loren's posting) that I am in the excellent company
of James Barr (though I haven't seen his article) in how I still prefer to
interpret this verse, even after seeing Rashi's interpretation.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Liz Fried" <lizfried at umich.edu>
To: "Biblical Hebrew" <b-hebrew at franklin.oit.unc.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, August 30, 2000 6:40 PM
Subject: RE: Gen 1:1 "When God began to create"?


> According to Rashi and the Rabbis:
> "If you wish to explain it in its plain sense, explain it thus:
>
> "At the beginning of the creation of heaven and earth when the earth was
> without form and void and there was darkness, God said, "Let there be
> light."
>
> According to the rabbis and Rashi, bereshit is in the construct state, and
> the verb bara must be translated as if it were baro (creating). They give
> reasons by citing similar
> constructions from the rest of the bible.
> Rashi then says:
> "IF it is so (that you assert that this verse intends to point out that
> heaven and earth were created first) you should be astonished at yourself,
> because as a matter of fact the waters were created before heaven and
earth,
> for, lo, it is written (vs2) The Spirit of God was hovering on the face of
> the waters, and scripture had nt yet disclosed when the creation of the
> waters took place -- consequently you must learn from this that the
creation
> of the waters preceded that of the earth. ... Therefore you must needs
admit
> that the text teaches nothing about the earlier or later sequence of the
> acts of Creation."
> Rashi concludes that the water had already been created based on the
> syntatical rule that when, in a narrative, an imperfect with vau
conversive
> is followed by a perfect, it has a pluperfect sense,t he action it
describes
> having taken place previous to the event mentioned immediately before it.
> IF the water already existed, then too the earth which it covered.
>
> So Rashi. I learned that when the perfect is SVO, you should say
> "meanwhile," or "at that time."  This is also Gesenius.
> I didn't make this up, folks.
>
> The NT writers, including the author of Hebrews, read the OT in the LXX.
> According to the Greek, you have creatio ex nihilo. The Greek is
different.
>
> Best,
> Liz
>
>
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Ben Crick [mailto:ben.crick at argonet.co.uk]
> > Sent: Wednesday, August 30, 2000 1:02 PM
> > To: Biblical Hebrew
> > Subject: RE: Gen 1:1 "When God began to create"?
> >
> >
> > On Tue 29 Aug 2000 (22:30:55), lizfried at umich.edu wrote:
> > > The Hebrew Bible does not have creatio ex nihilo.
> >
> >  That's a very sweeping statement. Creation /ex nihilo/ is the
> > *implication* of
> >  Gen 1:1. BaRa' is used of creation /ex nihilo/; `a&aH and YaTSa'
> > are possibly
> >  used of new creatures made of newly existent raw material.
> > B:ReY$iYT implies
> >  that there was "nothing there" before the "beginning". Psalm 33:6 and 9
> >  clearly imply creation ex nihilo by the Word of the LORD, by his
> > breath, his
> >  statements, and his commandments. If we may include Hebrews 11:3 in the
> >  "Hebrew Bible" (leaving aside all the other relevant parts of the New
> >  Testament), "by faith we understand that the universe was formed at
God's
> >  command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible" MH
EK
> >  FAINOMENON (NIV).
> >
> >  The New Testament leaves us in no doubt; but this is not the
> > forum for that
> >  discussion.
> >
> >  Shalom
> >  Ben
> > --
> >  Revd Ben Crick, BA CF
> >  <ben.crick at argonet.co.uk>
> >  232 Canterbury Road, Birchington, Kent, CT7 9TD (UK)
> >  http://www.cnetwork.co.uk/crick.htm
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > ---
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