Archive for the ‘Genesis’ Category

God Sets up the Foundations of the Heavens on Day 2 for Habitable Life. Genesis 1.6-8

January 27, 2023

Today we are going to look at Genesis 1.6-8.  It is going to be in two sections. Section one is an easier to understand version whilst the second section goes into a lot more detail.  It is possible to read the first section without the need to read the second section. 

The Problem

In verses six through to 8 we have the word firmament (raqia).  Its interpretation is very important because it affects how we ought to read the rest of the Old Testament (Tanakh).

Section 1 What! A watery world…

How do we contemplate before anything existed except God because God is eternal and there is an unfathomable distinction between Creator and created things ‘yet there is a relationship’.  Before we move on to these things I think it is important to allow our imaginations to run a little wild for learning purposes.  Let us think about exoplanets and the watery type like earth:

I was thinking about Ceres.  This is a small dwarf planet in our solar system that is 1/13 the size of earth.  It is very small.  It has a lot more water than the earth but is very cold between -136 degrees and -28 degrees.  I remember going for a dip at -30 in a lake and I lived to tell the tale.  However I was told to wear tennis socks as ones feet could stick to the ground.  This is Ceres’ warmest temperature!  There is no atmosphere on Ceres.  It is a hostile place to life on the surface.

It doesn’t look like much on the surface but on a good day if the temperature went up by +30 degrees it would become liquid. Let us look in

side the planet:

In this dwarf planet then we can see water.  Even though Genesis was written by Moses with no way of knowing what the earth was like before anything existed, it gives an excellent description.  Even though early humans had no telescopes they had a very good idea of what went on in the heavens. 

So then my son created for me an imaginary watery world without an atmosphere:

My son also said that in reality the watery world would be in complete and utter darkness.  Obviously a black background would not help our imagination! 😊

The pyramids, Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, Stone Henge et al.  So, I suppose I get annoyed when scholars talk about cosmic eggs because ancient humans with their limited knowledge made astounding discoveries about the world and the heavens.

Our Bible text today is Genesis 1. 6-8:

6 Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 God made the expanse and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 8 God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. Genesis 1:6-8 NASB

Where you see the word expanse in the text other translations have various words for it:

  • vault
  • space
  • expanse
  • firmament
  • dome
  • canopy
  • sky
  • horizon

As we saw with the dwarf planet Ceres, it has no atmosphere.  According to Moses neither did the earth.  God had to make the heavens.  The heavens in Hebrew is masculine and plural.  This means that there are differences in the heavens.  There are:

  • God’s throne room
  • The stars and the planets
  • Our atmosphere ‘Dome’

For Judaism there was a physical structure up there in the sky. The Hebrew word can convey hitting  a piece of metal until it becomes very thin and expands over a wider area and hence the word ‘expanse’ tries to cover this.  Firmament comes from the Latin and is about a solid structure yet the solid structure perhaps needs to have a quality of translucency that one can see through it. How about the following verse:

9Then Moses went up [f]with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, gas clear as the sky itself. 11Yet He did not reach out with His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.

From https://biblehub.com/nasb_/exodus/24.htm

God steps out in the heavens (possibly) and the elders of Israel see God walking on what looked like a pavement of sapphire. The expanse, firmament, dome whatever you like to call it was therefore seen as a solid structure.  This idea is found also in the book of Revelations:

1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.

2 And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. 3 And they *sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Revelation 15:1-3

So then the firmament that God created has certain functions and hence the differences in the translations as one word cannot do justice.

Lets put these noun translations into families first

  • Vault, firmament, and dome
  • Space and expanse
  • Canopy, sky, and horizon

In the first set we have engineering words and this idea of beating metal into a thinner sheet to cover more space can be argued for.  Vault is the wrong word because that is where people keep their treasures.  Dome is very visual and solid.  It is possible for someone to walk on the roof of the dome outside so it kind of works.  Firmament and vault are very solid and gives the idea of some permanence.

Space I think is a bad choice because it could be an area inside your car boot.  Expanse however can only cover a large area, so expanse is a better choice because it can cover a vast area.  This is the word that the Late Rabbi Sacks preferred in his Tanakh for Genesis 1 6

Although the word canopy has been used somewhere else in the Old Testament (Tanakh), I think it is a bit flimsy and has the idea of impermanence.  The other two, sky and horizon are not appropriate here because Moses is trying to tell us more. We already know about sky and the text is saying more than that.

So then how would I translate it?  This is a good question and perhaps in this situation dynamic equivalence could possibly help. I would probably say ‘expansive firmament’.  The heavens are a large area but at the same time it has solid foundations:

6 Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 God made the expanse and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 8 God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. Genesis 1:6-8 NASB

Tweaked translation with my translation of Rakia (firmament):

6 Then God said, “Let there be an expansive firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 God made the expansive firmament and separated the waters which were below the expansive firmament’ from the waters which were above the expansive firmament; and it was so. 8 God called the expansive firmament heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. Genesis 1:6-8

With the tweaked version we have the expansivity without losing the solid foundations of the heavens.

Reflection

Our God is an amazing God.  Here in these verses we have an ancient version of God setting up the atmosphere, God’s relationship in distance to humans and the rest of the night sky.  I think that is really amazing.  In the description of the firmament there was yet no life and hence God did not say ‘good’ for the second day.  After the second day however the foundations are almost ready for a habitable planet.

Section 2: Getting to know the Hebrew of Rakia!

God as the Master builder / BakerBackground Reading for how modern humans see the world nature and space.Builders and bakers have something in common.  They use a recipe either for the perfect tasty meal or the perfect concrete for a building.  They need to understand temperatures and time and other factors.  When God created the heavens and the earth, the theatre in which humans would live out their existence everything had to be just right:1.       There had to be light so that we could see.2.       The right temperature or we would burn to death or frozen to death.3.       There had to be vegetation so we could have food and not go hungry.4.       There had to be water so we could clean ourselves and boil our food.5.       There had to be regular time  so that the crops could be renewed.6.       There had to be animals of various forms some we would eat and some for company.As the master builder God first got the building materials from nothing and then He flung stars and planets into space to be at their appointed places. Even as a baker flings the pastry onto the table for rolling so God flung materials into space for their preparation.  In the next stage of the enterprise, instead of an oven God used words and used the materials he created in the first place. When we read the Genesis creation story in the first chapter there is one actor and His Spirit. In that sense then it is a monologue.  Genesis should not be treated as a scientific text book.  It has a culture, a Writer and ideas that would shake the ancient world. So, then what do we know about the world today and its place in the universe?  The facts are actually amazing:·         Our galaxy sits inside a cosmic bubble a thousand light years across, and we are in the centre of it.   https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-solar-system-is-shrouded-by-a-local-bubble-that-birthed-all-the-nearest-stars-180979396/   (This is an external link)·         The earth’s rotation around the sun gives us almost perfect time.  It is consistent enough to make farming possible.·         The moon is just far enough to give us regular tides.·         Molten rock churns under our feet that give us a magnetic protective shield that protects the earth from lots of harmful things.·         The sea blooms and trees give us oxygen and deal with the carbon dioxide.Stone age man would also have had ideas about this earth and how the universe ticks.About 12000 years ago a catastrophe took place on the earth with a mini ice age that lasted a thousand years.  This ice age happened when a meteorite hit the earth: https://www.sciencealert.com/ancient-carvings-in-turkey-show-a-comet-hitting-earth-changing-civilisation-foreverThis evidence comes from Göbekli Tepe where they found carvings of animals in the position of the stars in the night sky.  A group ran simulations on computers and showed stuff. 

 Map

Description automatically generatedThis image was taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6bekli_Tepe I think this is enough background for us to start to look at a very important text:6 Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 8 God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. Genesis 1:6-8 New American StandardOr King James version 16116 And God said, let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7 And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. Genesis 1:6-8There is a key Hebrew word in these texts that is very important ‘raqia’.  Raqia which is a Hebrew noun has caused problems over the centuries for translators.  Have a look at the following translations in Genesis 1. 6-8:

 Theological Wordbook of the Old testament on firmament or expanse“(rāqîa  רָקִיַע ). Firmament. (NASB renders more correctly as “expanse”; cf. riqqūʿê paḥîm (Num 16:38 [H 17:3]), literally “an expansion of plates,” i.e., broad plates, beaten out (BDB, p. 956). rāqîaʿ may refer to a limited space, such as that of the canopy over the cherubim, under the throne in Ezekiel’s vision (1:22, 26). Or it may refer to the broad “expanse of heaven” (Dan 12:3, NASB), as it does in thirteen of its seventeen occurrences.rāqîa is the most important derivative of rāqiaʿ. It identifies God’s heavenly expanse. The Mosaic account of creation uses rāqîa interchangeably for the “open expanse of the heavens” in which birds fly (Gen 1:20 NASB), i.e. the atmosphere (H. C. Leopold, Exposition of Genesis, I, p. 59), and that farther expanse of sky in which God placed “the lights … for signs and for seasons” (vv. 14, 17, referring apparently to their becoming visible through the cloud cover; the stars, sun, and moon presumably having been created already in v. 3), i.e. empty space (ISBE, I, p. 315), over which, as Job said, “He stretches out the north” (Job 26:7). The former receives greater emphasis, particularly during that period before the second day, when the earth cooled sufficiently (?) to permit surface waters, separated from what must still have been a massive cloudbank above, by the atmospheric expanse (Gen 1:6–8). Such circumstances serve to explain the OT’s poetic references to “doors” or “windows” for the phenomenon of rainfall, e.g., “He commanded the clouds above, and opened the doors of heaven” (Ps 78:23). That the Hebrews knew rain came from clouds is clear from Isa 5:6, etc.J.B.P.(From J. Barton Payne, “2217 רָקַע,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 862.”)

Reasoning through the proofs:

Like a rainbow with all the various colours I’m sure that all the translations have something to contribute.  Yet, it is so easy to read into the text an alien meaning, a meaning that does not belong to the translation.  We need to be able to put our own assumptions aside and perhaps pretend that we do not live in the 21st century and imagine that we are living in the Jewish community that Moses was shepherding.  So then as a worshipper of the Lord what can we find from Scripture both the Old Testament (Tanakh) and the New Testament especially Revelations.  Lets have a look:Note the word raqa here means to ‘spread out’ “Can you, with Him, spread out the skies,Strong as a molten mirror? Job 37:18

Comment: the idea of a molten mirror is very interesting.  For something to be molten, it is either rocks or metals.  A mirror is a reflector of an image. The imagery here of the sky is quite beautiful. Then Moses went up [f]with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet [g]there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, [h]as clear as the sky itself. 11Yet He did not reach out with His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.  From https://biblehub.com/nasb_/exodus/24.htmComment: In the above verse God is standing on what appeared to be a pavement of sapphire.  Was heaven opened up?  Were they describing glass?and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the centre and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. Revelation 4:6Comment:  From Johns point of view perhaps the elders saw God from his dwelling place above the firmament, above the expanse.Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.2 And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. 3 And they *sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Revelation 15:1-3Comment: The Martyrs then were standing on the firmament from God’s side. h7549. רָקִיעַ raqia; from 7554; an extended surface, expanse: –expanse(16), expanse of heaven(1). h7554. רָקַע raqa; a prim. root; to beat, stamp, beat out, spread out:–beaten(1), hammered(2), plates(1), spread(3), spreading(1), stamp(1), stamped(2). It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,Who stretches out the heavens like a curtainAnd spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. Isaiah 40:22 stretches h5186. נָטָה natah; a prim. root; to stretch out, spread out, extend, incline, bend:– spreads out h4969. מָתַח mathach; a prim. root; to spread out:–spreads(1). Now over the heads of the living beings there was something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal, spread out over their heads. Ezekiel 1:22 h7549. רָקִיעַ raqia; from 7554; an extended surface, expanse:–expanse(16), expanse of heaven(1). h5186. נָטָה natah; a prim. root; to stretch out, spread out, extend, incline, bend:– Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:3 ReflectionWhen we look at all the evidences of early humans and the text of Scripture.  There world view can only be understood from their own vantage point and the lenses they were wearing.  Concretely, I mean to say their point of view and their experiences.  Whether we are religious or not we can learn a lot from these people. We are not any different to them as we share a common humanity.  We can love, hate, feel happy and sad etc.  What I learn from verses 6-8 is wonder.  I am filled with wonder how great God is and how great his love for us is.  Von Rad noticed in these verses that God works in two ways:·         Doing (In the beginning God created…)·         Speaking (Then God said…)The important point is “More important is the fact that the younger has not displaced the older, that rather both voices in the present text receive their due: the older, which tries to preserve the direct, effectively applied creative working of God in the world (the world came directly from God’s hands which fashioned it), and the younger, which, without removing this testimony, speaks of the absolute distance between Creator and creature. ” (From Von Rad’s commentary pages 53-54)In a nutshell what Von Rad is saying whether with the creating (Bara) or with the speaking (amar) there is always an absolute distance between the Creator and the creature.  He also points out that God doesn’t say it was good until the third day.                              

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1-5

January 8, 2023

Last time we began to look at the opening of Genesis chapter 1. We learned that the elements which I believe came from nothing (ex nihilo), were the building blocks for the Lords big project of creation. These building blocks of matter are mentioned in many myths and legends from Egypt to Babylon. However the Genesis account is a complete contrast to all of these other myths. Moses wrote in such a way that his account is completely different. A lot of scholars following Julius Wellhousen put the ideas from the Babylonia and near vicinites.

I completely disagree. Israel ended up in a captivity twice. Once as a family and then as a nation; Egypt and Babylon. Genesis was written in the first phase and looks back to when Abraham was even in Egypt. At this early juncture according to the text a lot of the events took place in Egypt. It does not make sense to have to look to Babylonia for evidence of the Genesis flood. In fact there are linguistic and archaeological evidence that the Genesis account of creation was written from a contrasting Egyptian background.

Have a look at the following details which I got from Steinmann, Andrew E.. Genesis . IVP. Kindle Edition:

In some ways the Genesis account lined up with the Egyptian account may look the same but in fact the interpretation is completely different. It is the One God, the creator of heaven and earth who made life on earth. In the Genesis account there are no extra gods. In the above list I think that Steinman is wrong to suggest that it was the ‘wind of God.’ No it was the Spirit of God who hovered over the formless and void waters of the deep. God did not touch this unformed mass of matter, He hovered over the surface of the deep. There was no light in the void was as it was completely dark and no day. the void was neither good nor evil, it was just there ready for the Potter to make something wonderful. It was the raw material by which God would create our world and the planets, stars and the world.

The above is just a basic idea of the thought processes of the Ancient Egyptians and how they saw the creation of the world. However there are scholars who have looked at the hieroglyphics contemporary of Moses and more evidence comes up. One thing I didn’t realize was that even the ancient Egyptian language has similarities to Hebrew. Hebrew follows a pattern; verb first, then the subject, then the object, and then everything else. Middle Egyptian also follows that type of pattern and there is even a shared word stock between the two languages. We must remember that the Israelite’s became prisoners and slaves for over 400 years before the Exodus. That is plenty of time for languages to begin to share words and ideas. Even with my background of Turkish Cypriot. Greece was under Ottoman Turkish rule for hundreds of years. Even with this later example there are many words that are shared between the two cultures yet the Greeks did not abandon their religion. In the same way even though Israel was in captivity for hundreds of years they kept their religion.

Concerning the linguistic side of things I found some information that to my mind shows the suppression of evidence that gives an Egyptian background to Genesis 1 rather than Mesopotamian. Tony L Shetter made me aware of A.S. Yahuda who wrote a book as early as 1933 showing clear lings between Genesis 1 and the creation myth stories. (From bible.org/article/genesis-1-2-light-ancient-egyptian-creation-myths) To follow the link one needs to write https at the front of the web address.

Asa taster to what Jahua was saying the following is an excerpt from his book:

(The text above was taken from ‘The Language of the Pentateuch in its relation to Egyptian’; by A S Yahuda; OUP 1933)

As I said this was just a taster to Jahuda’s scholarship as he delves into these backgrounds. Suffice to say it begs to ask the question, why scholars such as Walter Brueggemann take the Mesoptamian road for Genesis creation background. At least at a minimum one should consider the Egyptian evidences for a background to the Genesis account. Hmm maybe this status quo is now starting to break down

Tony L shetter said:

“The involvement of Amun in the creation tradition at Hermopolis appears to parallel the role of <yh!l)a$ j^Wr ‘mighty wind’ or ‘wind of God’65 in Genesis 1:2.66 At the beginning of creation, the j^Wr hovers over the waters. One could imagine a mighty wind blowing upon the primordial waters stirring them into motion. Thus, the parallels between the Ogdoad of Hermopolis and the conditions present at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1:2 reveal that the Hebrews and the Egyptians shared a similar concept of the primordial state. However, one stark contrast exists. While the Egyptians personified the elements of nature, the Hebrews saw their God as distinct from the creation. The elements of the primordial universe await the command of the Creator rather than acting with independent volition. Furthermore, Atum-Re (creator-god and sun-god respectively) evolved/created himself out of the pre-existent water. By Contrast, Yahweh is eternally pre-existent, is distinct from the primeval water, and did not create himself.”

There was therefore shared ideas between Genesis 1 and egyptian mythology but one big difference;

” However, one stark contrast exists. While the Egyptians personified the elements of nature, the Hebrews saw their God as distinct from the creation.”

This is the great break with the past and mythology. God is separate from his creation even from the primeval waters but there does exist a relation. How amazing that Moses wrote that the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the deep but God did not touch the primeval waters. It goes on in the text that God spoke and things happened.

In the ancient world the God of the Bible was revolutionary stuff and it is no surprise that Israel survived but one does not hear much of the other cultures that existed at that time. Herman Bavinck in his doctrine of creation gives us some wonderful descriptions of God and His creation:

“From the very first moment, true religion distinguishes itself from all other religions by the fact that it construes the relation between God and the world, including man, as that between the Creator and his creature. The idea of an existence apart from and independent of God occurs nowhere in Scripture.

God is the sole, unique, and absolute cause of all that exists.

 He has created all things by his word and Spirit (Gen. 1:2—3; Ps. 33:6; 104z29—30; 1485; Job 26:13; 33:4; Isa. 40:13; 48:13; Zech. 12:1;] john 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; etc.). There was no substance or principle of any kind to oppose him; no material to tie him down; no force to circumscribe his freedom.

He speaks and things spring into being (Gen. 1:3; Ps. 33:9; Rom. 4:17). He is the unrestricted owner of heaven and earth (Gen. 14:19, 22; Ps. 24: 1—2; 89:1 1; 95:4—5).

There are no limits to his power; he does all he sees fit to do (Isa. 14:24, 27; 46:10; 55:10—11; Ps. 115z3; 135z6). “From him and through him and to him are all things” (Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 11:3).

The world is the product of his will (PS. 33:6; Rev. 4:11); it is the revelation of his perfections (Prov. 8:22f.; Job 28:23f.; Ps. 104:1; 136:5f.; Jet. 10:12) and finds its goal in his glory (Isa. 43:16ff.; Prov. 16:4; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6).”

( From Reformed Dogmatics; God and Creation; Volume 2; chapter 8; page 407; Herman Bavinck; Translated by John Vriend; Edited by John Bolt; Baker Academic)

For Christian theology then, God created the univese from nothing even as a few pages later Bavinck actually goes into ex nihillo. As we have already said this goes into deep contrast with the Egyptian and Mesapotamian myths. God is infinite and the material universe is finite yet there is a realtionship. This relationship is not dualistic. The material universe is finite and its very existence depends on God. In Genesis chapter 1 verses1-5 all of the main verbs that relate to God’s actions are perfect in meaning.

  1. Verses 1&2; The one infinite God builds the building blocks of the universe from nothing
  2. Verse 3; Upto there there is no light but God speaks and light comes into being for the first time.
  3. Verse 4; In many mythologies the universe is seen as evil. God says the opposite that ‘it was good’
  4. Verse 5; God called the light day and the darkness night

Reflection

God is in control of the universe and not the other way around. First of all we need to remember that Genesis is about the basic foundational principles that the whole Bible is built upon. Bavinck shows us that the Genesis account of Creation runs through the whole of Scripture and even at the end in Revelations the Tree of Life is there. We are blessed and it is an encouragement for us to look upto heaven knowing that our Trintarian God planned evertything ahead, and one day at Jesus second coming, we will meet him. This wonderful story up to verse 5 is written with verbs that are perfect in meaning. A perfect verb for a perfect story, everything complete.

When God began creating heaven and earth…

December 31, 2022

When we look at our own life, our beginnings can influence what our end can also be. We all ask questions of where we have come from and where we are going.  Although these can be scientific questions, they can also be existential, moral, and spiritual questions. I found Rabbi Sacks really important on my understanding of Genesis one and two.  Some of the reflections I came to were heavily influenced by his thinking.  In Genesis one and two we can already see God’s love for his creation.  The way rabbi Sacks brought this out in his Covenant and conversation from my point of view is fantastic.  I really enjoyed reading it because it is not dry such as the higher criticism of J, E , and P… and taking the razor to the text that ought not to have ever have been done.

I am also aware of the ancients who also attempted to interpret Genesis allegorically, philosophically, scientifically. These ways I just mentioned are ways that Josephus talked about. All these ways fail if we miss the genre of Genesis.  The genre is Scripture and thus God wants to speak to us through his word. God is not so interested in what of knowledge rather he is more interested in who and this wrapped in Divine love.  The intention of the creation of the world was not out of selfish reasons but rather the opposite that people can have a meaningful relationship with God through His covenant as established through Abraham. For my own tradition this finds complete fruition in the life and work of Christ. These images were taken from the wikipedia. In a lot of the creation stories there can also be some type of monster.

The Translation of Genesis 1. 1-2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2

Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are not a scientific textbook.  Indeed, the above text in the English translation has a serious problem. At the end of verse 1 it should have a comma and not a full stop because it is one idea that holds the two parts together. Scholars including Rabbi Sacks and Walter Brueggemann show this in their translations:

“When God began creating heaven and earth, the earth was void and desolate, there was darkness on the face of the deep, and the spirit of God moved over the waters.”

(From the KOREN TANAKH, The Magerman Edition, Bereshit, chapter 1, verses 1-2, The Torah was translated by the Late Rabbi Sacks)

Some modern translations such as the NRSV, The Contemporary Torah, JPS, 2006 and so on prefer this way of translating.  This way of reading though however can make life a little more difficult for scholars who try to make connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  One case in point would be john chapter one and Genesis 1.  ‘In the beginning…’ The translation of the Greek LXX and John on the other hand is an almost perfect copy.

Sometimes I think scholars can over complicate things and talk about consensus’ in the academic world.  However, we have to be careful not to fall into this trap.  Some have said that Genesis 1.1 is exilic rather than pre-exilic and that there are many comparisons with the Babylonian creation myths.

There can be a lot to say but I also think we can talk more about the contrasts than the comparisons.  One big contrast that in the six-day creation story until the moment of making Adam everything was made by God speaking.  God ‘brooded over the waters’.  The Babylonian creation story says somewhere:

“17. “Marduk laid a rush mat upon the face of the waters,

18. “He mixed up earth and moulded it upon the rush mat,

19. “To enable the gods to dwell in the place where they fain would be.

20. “He fashioned man.

21. “The goddess Aruru [Cuneiform] with him created the seed of mankind.

22. “He created the beasts of the field and [all] the living things in the field.

23. “He created the river Idiglat (Tigris) and the river Purattu (Euphrates), and he set them in their places,”

(https://www.gutenberg.org/files/9914/9914-h/9914-h.htm)

In the creation of matter and the setting up of the theatre for human civilization God did not do a lot. God spoke and said things and things happened. 

It is only when God got involved with man that God did things:

“Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8 The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Genesis 2:7-8”

Then again later for the creation of the woman:

“But for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man and brought her to the man. Genesis 2:20-22”

On reflection it is really only in the second creation story of Adam and Eve that God got involved with his creation.

In the second story God

  • Became a potter
  • Became a gardener
  • Became a surgeon

God took a personal interest in his creation of humanity.  Later on, we also find big differences between the Babylonian creation stories and Genesis.  In the Babylonian creation stories the gods were involved directly in the creation of city states.  God in Genesis did not create city states only a garden.  In fact, if we think about Sodom and Gomorrah the human invention of city states had every type of evil and vice in them. 

Where they agree is that the fashioning of the theatre for humankind started from a dark watery world.

One very good reason for Genesis 1 having a pre-exilic date is the symbolism around Solomon’s brazen sea which could represent the watery abyss:

“—In Rabbinical Literature:

The layer contained water sufficient for 150 ritual baths (“miḳwaot”), if forty seahs be taken as the legal measure of such bath. The laver was not entirely round, as might be inferred from Scripture (I Kings vii. 23): the upper two-fifths were round; but the lower three were square (‘Er. 14a, b). The symbolism of the brazen sea is described in detail in the Midrash Tadshe. The sea represented the world; the ten ells of diameter corresponded to the ten Sefirot; and it was round at the top (according to the Talmud passage above cited) as the heavens are round. The depth of the sea was five ells, corresponding to the distance of five hundred years’ journey between heaven and earth (compare Ḥag. 13a). The band of thirty ells around it corresponded to the Ten Commandments, to the ten words of God at the creation of the world, and to the ten Sefirot: for the world can exist only when the Ten Commandments are observed; and the ten Sefirot as well as the ten words of God were the instruments of the Creation. The two rows of colocynths (knops) below the rim were symbolic of the sun and the moon, while the twelve oxen on which the sea rested represented the zodiac (“mazzalot”). It contained 2,000 baths (cubic measures), for the world will sustain him who keeps the Torah, which was created 2,000 years before the world (Midrash Tadshe ii., ed. Epstein, in “Mi-Ḳadmoniyot ha-Yehudim,” xvi., xvii.; Yalḳ., Kings, 185).”

See:  https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3659-brazen-sea

Obviously, Genesis 1 and 2 already existed in the Tanakh that Moses wrote!  If Moses was brought up in the household of Egypt, he certainly would have known about these competing creation stories and by the Holy Spirit we are given the correct version. Judaism was and is a purely Monotheistic religion and the disorderly chaos before the creation of man is shown for what it is.

The word ‘reshit’ ‘beginning’ is a noun that is in the feminine case. It has ‘b’ attached to the front and it reads ‘bereshit’ not bareshit.  There is one vowel difference between these two forms.  My argument is that no matter which form one takes whenever ‘reshit’ is used it is the ‘beginning or chief’ thus in the order of creation the chaos was created first.  No commentary is really necessary apart from the fact that this was a dark watery world which was completely in darkness.

Concerning the word created ‘bara’ it is a verb:

PARSING

Hebrew, verb, qal, perfect, 3rd person, masculine, singular

In other words it is active but completed action. This stage of chaotic creation ‘was completed and finished’. 

The description was tohu and bohu

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְהֹ֑ום וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃ Genesis 1:2

The second verse starts with an ‘and’ and a noun ‘earth’ this is enough according to Hebrew convention to not start understanding it as a new sentence.

So I would change the NASB translation at the beginning of verse 2 with a comma.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, 2 and the earth was a [a]formless and desolate emptiness, and darkness was over the [b]surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the [c]surface of the waters.

(From the NASB: I changed the end of vese 1 with a comma and I started verse 2 with a small and (wa-eretz).

Note to gap theorists on the creation story.

Some hold that at the end of verse one a new creation starts.  The evidence goes against this.

Note to those who hold a late date on Genesis 1. 1-2

The internal evidence goes against a late date because of ‘Solomon’s brass sea’.

The only two things that one can argue for is the creation of man and the sea of chaos.  In the Babylonian creation stories these were created by various gods.  The Genesis account rejects this completely.

Reflection and my view

The big mistake some scholars make is to see Genesis as a scientific interpretation of the universe, heaven and this earth.  No I think it is much deeper than this that God is interested in his relationship to mankind. Genesis chapter 1 is very impersonal, and the use of Elohim is favoured. In chapter one God only does things through the spoken word.  However, in the creation of Man and Woman God gets more personal and his name also changes from Elohim to the Tetragrammaton (Ha-Shem, the Lord).  In this creation God is more involved with his creation and he becomes:

A potter, a life-giving mouth blower, a gardener, a surgeon, and a clothes maker.  He is not only speaking but God the Lord is being creative and getting very involved with his creation.

Old Testament use of Genesis 1 & 2

  • He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Psalms 33:7
  • You divided the sea by Your strength; You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters. Psalms 74:13
  • The fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field, all the creeping things that creep on the earth, and all the men who are on the face of the earth will shake at My presence; the mountains also will be thrown down, the steep pathways will collapse, and every wall will fall to the ground. Ezekiel 38:20
  • He established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter forever and ever. 6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment; The waters were standing above the mountains. 7 At Your rebuke they fled, At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away. 8 The mountains rose; the valleys sank down to the place which You established for them. 9 You set a boundary that they may not pass over, so that they will not return to cover the earth. Psalms 104:5-9

New Testament use of Genesis 1 & 2

  • And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, Matthew 19:4
  • For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. Mark 13:19
  • and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; Ephesians 3:9
  • For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. Colossians 1:16
  • and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, WHO CREATED HEAVEN AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE EARTH AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE SEA AND THE THINGS IN IT, that there will be delay no longer, Revelation 10:6

Genesis is basic foundational truths for all Christians and Jews and also influences Islamic theology.  These texts for example would not make any sense without our foundational belief that God is Creator.  For the believer Genesis is important for the moral and spiritual truths God has for us.  Scholars have wanted to emphasise the Babylonian myth creation stories to Genesis as though somehow Judaism was reliant on Babylonian myths. Obviously prehistoric man was thinking about the elements of the Genesis story.  Creation has always played a huge role in how people saw this tiny world in the universe. 

INDEX

Notes

If basic ideas were borrowed from creation myths, my own subjective opinion is that it is more likely to be from Egypt.  After all Moses was a prince of Egypt and thus would have been taught by their education system and this is the country from which the Israelites escaped.

I also find similar ideas between Solomon’s bronze sea and one of the Egyptian creation stories.

“Summary of a photo Description        

The sun rises from the mound of creation at the beginning of time. The central circle represents the mound, and the three orange circles are the sun in different stages of its rising. At the top is the “horizon” hieroglyph with the sun appearing atop it. At either side are the goddesses of the north and south, pouring out the waters that surround the mound. The eight stick figures are the gods of the Ogdoad, hoeing the soil.

Date      Book published 2003; artwork made in Twenty-first Dynasty (c. 1075–945 BC)

Source Scanned from the book Ancient Egypt, edited by David P. Silverman, p. 121; photograph from the Book of the Dead of Khensumose

Author Original artist unknown”

from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sunrise_at_Creation.jpg