[b-hebrew] Genesis 1:2 - And the earth was without form, and void

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at ont.com
Thu Apr 13 12:58:07 EDT 2006

Dear Herman and Schmuel,

>A completely different viewpoint, but imho a very legitimate one
>(there's been a nice controversy about this on this forum before) is
>to reanalyse the syntax of Gen 1,1-3.
>I don't think we should go over the entire discussion, but I'll just
>give here a translation that represents the syntactic viewpoint of
>Rashi, Ibn Ezra, the Stone Chumash, quite a few scholars I know in
>Leiden, Alter's translation, etc.
>"In the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth - when
>the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of
>the deep, and the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the
>waters - God said,  "Let there be light," and there was light.
>As far as Hebrew syntax is concerned, this is, I think, the most
>plausible analysis.
>The result is that the first actual verb (as a predicate, not in a
>circumstantial clause) is "[God] said". As we know, in Jewish
>"theology" the simple act of God "speaking" is what creates, this is
>the nicest analysis of this passage. The words "[b-reshit] bara" can't
>really be the first predicate of the Tora, because it's a perfect (in
>smichut), not an "imperfect consecutive"- form. The idea that "light",
>rather than "heaven(s) and earth" was created first
>is of course very symbolic, and a great image. It is actually a
>scientific fact, too (for those who like to reconcile the biblical
>account with the science of astronomy).

HH: Schmuel doesn't know Hebrew well, so I will interject that it 
seems misleading to say, as you seem to say, that a perfect cannot be 
the first predicate of the Tora. There's no requirement that the 
first predicate be in the imperfect consecutive. Actually, that seems 
less likely to me. Am I missing part of your argument? If you claim 
that many narrative books begin with an imperfect consecutive, 
therefore Genesis must, that's inadequate reasoning. There can be a 
first book of first events, so that an imperfect consecutive (which 
marks continuation) could be inappropriate. While the objection to 
the traditional view is that b-reshit cannot stand by itself as "in 
the beginning," the objection to the newer view you present is that 
bara would normally be expected to be an infinitive in the idea you 
present. Also, the whole construction seems very complicated and 
drawn out in Hebrew.

Harold Holmyard

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