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

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at
Wed Aug 30 20:34:25 EDT 2000

Liz, my printed NRSV (published by Oxford UP) does not have these notes. I
think you will find that they are not part of the NRSV proper but have been
added to your particular edition. Judging by the name of the author of the
notes ("Tufts" means nothing to me), I would guess that they are notes from
a Judaistic perspective, and it is not surprising that they follow Rashi
even without being explicit. I could find and quote notes from various
Christian study Bibles which would probably give different perspectives. But
I don't think it helps any of us to rely on notes prepared from specific
religious viewpoints.

Also, you have no evidence for what either the committee or Rosenberg think
about either Rashi or Gesenius as they quote neither. The NRSV translation
of this verse is different from Rashi's interpretation (as you have
explained it), and it stretches Hebrew (and English) grammar in ways which
certainly would not have been accepted by Gesenius, or any other respected
grammarian of Hebrew at any time. See a separate posting for my analysis of
this translation.

Neither Rashi nor Gesenius have had the benefit of any 20th century
scholarship of Hebrew. They can have learned nothing from Ugarit or the DSS.
They have not had the benefit of studying modern linguistics. That in itself
is sufficient to render them outdated. But by "outdated" I do not mean
useless. I find Gesenius a very useful grammar, as long as I am aware of its
areas of potential deficiency. One deficiency which has been clearly shown
by modern linguistic analysis of Hebrew is in the area of the rule which
Rashi seems to have been relying on. Now noone can agree on alternative
rules, but that's another story.

Peter Kirk

----- Original Message -----
From: "Liz Fried" <lizfried at>
To: "Biblical Hebrew" <b-hebrew at>
Sent: Wednesday, August 30, 2000 10:49 PM
Subject: RE: Gen 1:1 "When God began to create"?

Dear Dave,
You say that Rashi and Gesenius are faulty and
outdated. Please tell me what you base that on?

The translation and notes in the NRSV (1993) are as follows:
"In the beginning when God created the heavens and th earth, the earth was a
formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from
God swept over the face of the waters."
This translation says that at the time when God created the earth was
already covered with water, hence existing.
The note says:
Literally: In the beginning of God's creating," following Rashi.
Tho, he doesn't cite Rashi, he cites Enuma elish.
The notes are by Joel Rosenberg, a committee did the translation.
Rosenberg is at Tufts.
Neither the committee nor Rosenberg thinks that
Rashi and Gesenius are outdated. This new translation is
copyrighted 1993.
What is your evidence they are?

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Dave Washburn [mailto:dwashbur at]
> Sent: Wednesday, August 30, 2000 5:09 PM
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: RE: Gen 1:1 "When God began to create"?
> Liz,
> > 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.
> Could you offer a few examples?  I'm not convinced that bereshit is
> in the construct.  According to the vowel pointing it doesn't have
> the definite article, but that does not by default make it construct.  I
> also have more than a sneaking suspicion that the pointing is
> wrong.
> > 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.
> Unfortunately, since the time of Rashi we have discovered that this
> syntactic rule of his was wrong.  He can be cited ad infinitum, but it
> still won't make his rule correct.  Our knowledge of Hebrew
> grammar has taken a few steps since then.
> > 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.
> I don't recall anyone saying you did, and speaking only for myself,
> if I even implied such a thing it was unintentional and I apologize.
> However, Gesenius is about as outdated as Rashi is, so it seems
> to me that you need some newer sources.  We now know that
> temporal indications between clauses are not in view in such
> cases.  As for the waters, it should be clear that creation of these
> waters was part of the creation of the earth.  It seems to me that,
> in this instance, Rashi has created a cure for which there is no
> known disease.  I can respect his deep scholarship and his
> devotion, but his grammar was faulty.  He can't be taken to task for
> that; he was doing the best he could with the information he had at
> the time.  However, we need to move on from there, and we have.
> > 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.
> Different from Rashi, yes.  Different from the Hebrew text, no.
> Dave Washburn
> "Éist le glór Dé."
> ---
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