[b-hebrew] Question about Gen 1:1-2

James Read J.Read-2 at sms.ed.ac.uk
Thu Jul 23 18:23:01 EDT 2009


Rolf would probably explain this better but as he has explained on  
many occasion each word has a semantic domain. The problem with  
translation is that there is very rarely a 1:1 complete mapping  
between the semantic domain of a source word and the semantic domain  
of a target word. When there is a sufficiently great overlap in the  
semantic domain of a source word with a target word this becomes its  
default translation but by no means the only translation.

Of course, there are many passages where we see hyh best understood as  
'was' and many passages where best understood as 'become' and many  
passages where both would fit the context quite nicely. This is  
because, in English, there is quite a divide between the two concepts  
but not the case in Hebrew.

A modern day example of this phenomenon which people may be able to  
relate to are the English verbs 'make' and 'do' which we consider to  
have quite separate semantic domains such that the phrases 'to do  
dinner' and 'to make dinner' have quite different meanings. However,  
in most languages 'do' and 'make' are generally translated by one  
corresponding verb occupying the semantic domains of both 'do' and  
'make' such that it is not uncommon for learners of English to come  
out with phrases of the type 'The carpenter was did a table' or 'I  
have to make an exam tomorrow' on contexts where the other verb is  
clearly the sense they intended.

In this way Genesis 1:1-2 is a context which could be understood  
either way. Elohim make the land and the skies and the land came to be  
... or the land was ...

Translators of the Greek OT and the Latin vulgate both seem to prefer  
a 'was' translation:

? ?? ?? ?? ??????? ??? ?????????????? (?? = was)
terra autem erat inanis et vacua (erat = was)

In any case, it really doesn't make that much of a difference. The  
intention of the text is quite plain. It presents a simple series of  
events which show how the land changed and became filled with life.  
There is clearly no other agenda.

A discussion of the meaning of THW and BHW could be interesting but  
whatever they mean the agenda of the Genesis1:1,2 is quite clearly to  
show that when Elohim created the skies and the land the land was or  
came to be THW and BHW. Nothing more. And nothing less.

James Christian

The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
Scotland, with registration number SC005336.

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list