Gen 1:1. Kermess

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at
Fri Sep 1 05:13:48 EDT 2000

See comments below.

Peter Kirk

----- Original Message -----
From: "Liz Fried" <lizfried at>
To: "Biblical Hebrew" <b-hebrew at>
Sent: Thursday, August 31, 2000 9:19 PM
Subject: RE: Gen 1:1. Kermess

> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Peter Kirk
>  > >
> > > > PK: Here you seem to be raising a textual issue. The unpointed text
> > > > ambiguous, it could be a QATAL form, an infinitive, or various other
> > parts
> > > > of the verb. But I note that the LXX and (I think) Vulgate
> > > > understood the Hebrew (and so translated) along the lines of "In the
> > > > beginning God created...". It is only in the modern period (which
> > > > would just
> > > > include Rashi), after the pointed Masoretic text was in general use,
> > that
> > > > anyone has suggested that this text means anything else. So you
> > > > attribute alternative interpretations to use of unpointed or
> > > > variant texts.
> > > If you refer here to the pointing under the bet in bereshit, the LXX
> > the
> > > NT,
> > > GJohn 1:1 have en arxh, so the pointing under the b is a
> > schwah. There is
> > no
> > > *the*. Therefore it seems it ought to be translated as "when" or "at
> > first".
> >
> > PK: Hold on, what are you arguing here? The LXX translators understood
> > Hebrew to mean something like "In a beginning". Or perhaps it is simply
> > regular Greek idiom to leave ARXH unpointed in this case - can anyone
> > comment on this? So you cannot use that as an argument for the Hebrew
> > meaning something different.
> According to my Greek teacher, it is highly unusual not to have the Greek
> article
> he there. It should be  EN H ARXH.
> They wouldn't have left the article out unless they were translating
> directly from
> the Hebrew, even though the Hebrew was unpointed at the time.

PK: I am happy to accept this, unless anyone who knows better Greek would
like to dispute it.
> There is also evidence in the Samaritan
> > tradition for an original qamets pointing, from how I understand
> > the note in
> > BHS.
> However, deficilior lectus, or however that goes, i.e., the more difficult
> case is to
> be preferred. There is witness from the LXX, the MT, and the NT for the
> absence of the
> article.

PK: The NT is not an independent witness for (if the lack of an article is
indeed an irregularity) this is simply a quotation from LXX, it is certainly
not an independent translation of the Hebrew. But otherwise I accept this
> >
> > > Quoting Rashi again, he argues that every case where you have
> > breshit, or
> > > betehillat, it is in the construct. Jer. 26:1; Gen 10:10; Deut. 18:4;
> > > Hos.1:2, but
> > > he states that bara must be read brw(.
> >
> > PK: But he doesn't give any evidence for this latter point. Is he
> > that brw( is correct on textual grounds or making a correction
> > based on his
> > grammatical arguments?
>  Rashi's emmendation from bara) to baro) is only a change in pointing.
> He makes this change because every other instance of reshit, or tehillat,
> followed by
> either a noun or a verb in the infinite absolute.

PK: There are surely plenty of cases of nouns in the Hebrew Bible which
occur only once in the absolute but several times in the construct etc etc.
This sort of argument is almost worthless given the small size of the
corpus. Also there is a clear difference of meaning (on my interpretation)
driving the difference in form: only in Gen 1:1 is the subject matter the
absolute beginning of all things rather than the beginning of some specific
> As I and others have argued, his grammatical
> > arguments are weak in the light of modern understandings. I am prepared
> > accept Rashi as a great scholar but not as an infallible authority.
> How then would you translate the four verses listed above, especially the
> last???

PK: Of course RE'SHIYT can be a construct as well as an absolute, I have no
problem with that ambiguity which is common with very many words. Hosea 1:2
is of very doubtful relevance because the word used is not RE'SHIYT, there
is no B-, and there is definitely a construct state. Also LXX LOGOU seems to
reflect a reading D:BAR rather than DIBBER for the following word, and BHS
quotes the Syriac as supporting this. What does Rashi do with this verse?
Does he emend DIBBER to an infinitive, or to DEBAR? Don't bother to look
that up, as the parallel with Gen 1:1 is so weak that I don't think it can
help us.

> Best,
> Liz
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