Friday, February 24, 2012

When Genesis 1:2 and Culture Collide (Part Two)

So yesterday I briefly mentioned that I had a bit more to say about Genesis 1:2. Today I have access to my computer (which supports Hebrew vowel points), so this time you’ll get to see the text according to the tradition which the Masoretes (a Jewish community living almost a thousand or so years after Jesus) preserved for us.

For those who don’t know Hebrew but are nevertheless curious: The Masoretes came up with the vowel-pointing system you see reproduced below. Yesterday, I showed you this text as it would have originally appeared—that is, written only with consonants (with the vowels “understood” between them). (In contemporary written Hebrew in modern-day Israel, the text would not have the vowel points either.) To get an idea of what I’m talking about, see if you can read the following English sentence, only with all its vowels removed (that is, supply the vowels as you read it aloud): “Sh kckd th bckt.” Even though the vowels are not there, you probably correctly read this aloud as “She kicked the bucket.” That’s similar to what it’s like to read the consonantal text of the Dead Sea Scrolls, for instance.  

But the text below does have “vowel points,” markings invented by the Masoretes in order to aid with reading the traditionally implied vowels between the consonants.

Anyway, enough of that—here’s the text of Genesis 1:2 again (this time with vowel points)!

Genesis 1:2: “Darkness on the Surface of the Watery Depths”

וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ  וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם׃

“Now the land was a wasteland and emptiness, and darkness was upon the surface of the watery depths, and the breath of God was fluttering over the surface of the waters.”

This time, I’ve color-coded different words: חֹשֶׁךְ (khōshekh), which means “darkness,” and תְהוֹם (te-hōm), which most translations render simply as “deep.” I’ve translated the term תְהוֹם as “watery depths” because I wanted to get across the fuller meaning of the word. When we think of “deep,” a watery deep doesn’t immediately come to mind.

The word תְהוֹם refers to subterranean waters. Later on in Genesis, we read that the great flood begins when not only the openings in the sky part (and let water out from above), but also when the fountains of the great תְהוֹם open up as well (and let water out from below—see Genesis 7:11). So the ancient Hebrews believed that water comes from below the earth (from the “watery depths”) as well as from above.

I highlighted חֹשֶׁךְ (“darkness”) for another reason. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow’s post to find out why…

Lend Me Your Insights

1.      What are your reactions to the information about תְהוֹם?

2.      Is there anything else about this passage you’re curious about (or want to tell me about)? Let me know!

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