Wednesday, February 14, 2007

And the earth was without form....

Genesis 1:2 is says,
"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."
However, this translation does not do this passage justice. The Hebrew version says:

"w'ha`aretz hay'tah tohu wabohu w'hoshek al-p'nay t'hom w'ruakh alohiym m'rakhefet al-p'nay hamayim"
Now, the first word "w'ha'aretz" is made from affixing the waw "w" and the hay "ha" (the) to the word "aretz" (land). In this form, the waw affixed to a noun, although always in such a connection grammatically disjunctive in some fashion, is here used specifically with emphatic force to introduce the clause. It should therefore be rendered as "now" or "yea," rather than "yet," or "but," or otherwise "and" (as would be the case if the waw was affixed to the verb. See Genesis 1:3 for this example.)
Also, the second word "hay'tah" should be rendered as perfect "became" or "appeared," rather than imperfect "was."
The next three words make up a figure of speech which substitutes a conjunction for a subordination. This is common in Hebrew, Greek, and English. The typical form substitutes the normal noun plus adjective form with a noun conjunction noun form. In Greek, this particular (three for one) form is called a "hendiatris." An English example is "wine, women, and song" to mean "party." If the units involved are not in any way synonyms but rather "circumnavigate" the one idea expressed, the figure may be more correctly, precisely, and expediently described as a triad.
In this case, the Hebrew words mean, "formlessness," "emptiness" and "darkness." All are similar, but are better understood to circumnavigate the idea of "void" or "chaos"-a formless and disordered state. So, in this case, the most likely intent of the form could be translated by either converting the triad back to a adjective plus noun form (i.e., a formless and empty darkness), or alternatively maintaining the hendiatris form (i.e., formlessness, emptiness and darkness). However, perhaps the best way to understand this hendiatris is as a figure of speech which is best translated by a descriptive version of the idea that it circumnavigates - "utter chaos."
The next work "al-p'nay" literally means "on the face," and can be translated as "over" or "surrounding."
The next word t'hom comes from the root hwm, meaning "roar," and it refers to the roiling primal waters (again a reference to chaos). It is a cognate of the Akkadian word "tamtu," which means "a primal ocean."
A better translation of Genesis 1:2 would be:

"Now, the earth came into being; an utter chaos surrounding a primal sea; yet, the spirit of God was soaring over the sea."

1 comment:

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