Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at
Wed Mar 13 03:42:14 EST 2002


Time only for a quick response here:

Gen 1:1 seems to be a unique construction with no exact parallels. So we
must allow something unusual to be happening. We can't be sure of the
construction, I realise. But here are some more points which seem to
lean towards bereshit as an absolute followed by a main clause:

1) BERESHIT as an absolute is syntactically quite normal, indeed very
common. It happens not to be attested elsewhere for this rare noun in a
limited corpus. But there is no syntactic abnormality. The possible
semantic abnormality is resolved if we realise that here, but nowhere
else, the meaning is the beginning in an absolue sense, the beginning of
all things, rather than the beginning of a sepcified period. Though I
realise that one could object to that resolution as based
anachronistically on later philosophy - which begs lots of questions
about dating and about how little we know about ancient Hebrew

2) KIY is a subordinating conjunction which normally governs one clause
and can (as you point out) govern a set of coordinated clauses. But this
is syntactically quite different from B- plus a noun in the construct
state, which normally governs a noun phrase i.e. an absolute noun or an
extended construct chain. I accept that there are a few apparent cases
of B- plus construct governing a single finite clause, and Numbers 7:1
and 1 Kings 2:42 may be cases of it governing a series of coordinated
clauses (with an infinitive in the first clause). But the evidence from
KIY is irrelevant.

Num 7:1 (JPS Tanakh 1985): On the day that Moses finished setting up the
Tabernacle, he anointed it and consecrated it and all its furnishings,
as well as the altar and its utensils. When he had anointed and
consecrated them...

Num 7:1 (NIV): When Moses finished setting up the tabernacle, he
anointed it and consecrated it and all its furnishings. He also anointed
and consecrated the altar and all its utensils.

Peter Kirk

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Ian Hutchesson [mailto:mc2499 at]
> Sent: 13 March 2002 00:59
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: Re: bereshit
> Peter,
> Thanks for your response.
> >Ian, the problem with the analysis of bereshit as a construct is that
> >seems either to leave verse 1 as a verbless fragment followed by a
> >sentence in verse 2,
> Although a number of texts (mainly prophets) start with an
> introductory fragment explaining what the text is about (and
> one could interpret 1:1 to be so), I think there is a word
> order problem with such a reading: v.2 is SV and needs to be
> attached in my understanding to something which has normal
> word order.
> >or to require all three clauses of verse 2 as well
> >as the remainder of verse 1 to be dependent on bereshit. You seem to
> >prefer the latter of these options. But Paul pointed out the problem,
> >that you require a unique (as far as he and I know) construction in
> >which four whole clauses fill the place in a construct chain where a
> >noun is expected. So Paul is right to ask you to find an unambiguous
> >similar construction. You mentioned Numbers 7:1, and I agree that
> >could be understood as a string of clauses dependent on B:YOM, as in
> >NRSV, but it can also be understood differently as in the JPS Tanakh
> >NIV and so this is not a strong argument.
> I haven't got an NIV but my copy of JPS (perhaps old) follows
> the structure followed by AV, ASV (1901!) and now you mention
> it the NRSV. You will note,
> however, that Num 7:1 was only a part of the whole argument,
> though I should note that what follows the bywm is slightly
> longer than what follows the br'$yt in Gen 1:1-2.
> I cited a number of time phrases such as br'$yt and b'ywm
> controlling clauses which are apparently VS. I also cited
> Gen 6:1 which uses ky as the conjunction which governs a VS
> clause followed by an SV clause. This is strictly analogous
> with Gen 1:1-2, with gen 1:1 having the VS and v.2 having two
> SVs (and a verbless phrase). I don't think two SVs change the
> situation, they both admit their secondary nature.
> Another example of bywm, 1Kgs 2:42, has two subordinate
> clauses, really two verbs as the subject of each is the
> same.
> bywm                c'tk   w   hlkt
> on the day that you go out and walk abroad
> [My JPS Tanakh reads (Num 7:1)
> "And it came to pass on the day that Moses had made an end of
> setting up the tabernacle, and had anointed it and sanctified
> it, and all the furniture thereof, and the altar and all the
> vessels thereof, and had anointed them and sanctified them;"]
> >Also Numbers 7:1 is
> >structurally different from Genesis 1:2: the former is a sequence of
> >WAYYIQTOL clauses, but the latter has X-QATAL and stative clauses.
> I cited Num 7:1 for bywm controlling a number of subordinate
> clauses, which you have questioned.  The verb forms were not
> a priority, as I gave other pointers which were more related
> to specific structural similarities to Gen 1:1-2.
> I think there is a strong case for reading br' 'lhym 't h$mym
> w't h'rc as subordinated to br'$yt. If you want to argue to
> the contrary, I think you'd have to supply at least one case
> in which r'$yt was not qualified, but of the 28 cases I can
> find, not one of them is unqualified. Unqualified uses tend
> to be left to r'$wn or simply r'$. -- A few unqualified r'$yt
> would be handy for a case to the contrary. If there are none
> then obviously there is no case at all against br'Syt
> subordinating the br' clause.
> If the br' clause is subordinated to br'$yt then as you point
> out there are two approaches to the analysis. An argument
> against the structure of Num 7:1 doesn't deal with the basic
> problem at hand and that is the relationship of br'$yt with
> what follows. I have shown a number of other time phrases
> requiring qualification which are parallel to Gen 1:1, so I
> think I have a reasonable case for attaching br'$yt to what
> follows. I think the argument against the length of the
> subordination is secondary, though Gen 6:1 shows that the
> structure as I have advocated for Gen 1:1-2, while shorter,
> is to be found. Gen 1:2 simply supplies circumstances to the
> beginning of the creation.
> ------------
> I should add that the creation itself starts when God says,
> "Let there be light", for without light there can be no day
> to begin, so that the first light began the first day of the
> creation. What comes before must be prelude.
> Ian
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