In the beginning (of?)

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Graham Criddle | Forum Activity | Posted: Sun, Sep 26 2010 10:22 AM

Hi

Many / most translations have the first words in Genesis as "In the beginning".

However, looking at AFAT it seems to present them as "in beginning of"

None of the commentaries I have seem to comment on this and the lexicons seem to just have ראשׁית as "beginning".

Can anyone comment on whether ראשׁית should be seen as "beginning" or "beginning of"?

Many thanks

Graham

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Sep 26 2010 11:17 AM

Graham Criddle:
Can anyone comment on whether ראשׁית should be seen as "beginning" or "beginning of"?

 No but I have seen discussions regarding the (JPS and others) translation of "when" vs. "in the beginning"

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Dave Hooton | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Sep 26 2010 5:39 PM

Graham Criddle:
Can anyone comment on whether ראשׁית should be seen as "beginning" or "beginning of"?

TWOT defines רֵאשִׁית(rēʾšît) as  "First, beginning, choicest, first/best of a group. A feminine noun derived from the root rōʾš, it appears fifty times in nearly all parts of the OT. The primary meaning is “first” or “beginning” of a series".

The (of) is implied or understood in the Hebrew as per the primary meaning given above, but it is modified in Gen 1:1 by the preposition "in". Thus most translations have "In the beginning God created". Young's Literal Translation has "In the beginning of God's preparing". The NET Bible notes state "tn The translation assumes that the form translated “beginning” is in the absolute state rather than the construct (“in the beginning of,” or “when God created”). In other words, the clause in v. 1 is a main clause, v. 2 has three clauses that are descriptive and supply background information, and v. 3 begins the narrative sequence proper. The referent of the word “beginning” has to be defined from the context since there is no beginning or ending with God."

In Gen 10:10 we have "the beginning of his kingdom". In Gen 49:3  "the beginning of my strength". So Gen 1:1 is a special case.

 

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Dave Hooton | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Sep 26 2010 5:42 PM

MJ. Smith:

Graham Criddle:
Can anyone comment on whether ראשׁית should be seen as "beginning" or "beginning of"?

 No but I have seen discussions regarding the (JPS and others) translation of "when" vs. "in the beginning"

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) states "The most important use of r??šît in the OT occurs in Gen 1:1 where it is combined with the proclitic preposition b (q.v.). There has been a great deal of debate over this use of r??šît. Many commentators both ancient and modern have tried to read the phrase as “when-” rather than “in the beginning” as do several modern versions. The chief modern justification for this interpretation of the root is to relate it to the phrase “en?ma eliš” which begins the Babylonian epic of creation. However there is no evidence to connect the two different terms, the one in Hebrew and the other in Babylonian (see White, W., “Enuma Elish,” in ZPEB, II, p. 314). The proper interpretation of r??šît can be deduced from the other occurrences and the witness of all ancient versions. The NT (Jn 1:1) translates the Hebrew and follows the LXX precisely in its reading of (Gen 1:1) the first phrase of the OT. The use of this root leaves no doubt that Gen 1:1 opens with the very first and initial act of the creation of the cosmos".

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Sep 26 2010 10:58 PM

Dave Hooton:
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) states

From The Living Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth." Footnote:"In the beginning ... Others translate this, 'In the beginning of God's creation of heaven and earth, the earth was without form and empty ...' (Rashi). Still others combine the first three verses ... (Bereshith Rabbah)".

From The Jewish Study Bible: "When God began to create heaven and earth -- the earth being unformed and void ..." Footnote: " A tradition over two millennia old sees 1:1 as a a complete sentence: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In the 11th century, the great Jewish commentator Rashi made a case that the verse functions as a temporal cause. This is, in fact, how some ancient Neat Eastern creation stories begin -- including the one that starts at 2:4b. Hence the translation, When God began to create heaven and earth."

From The Five Books of Moses by Robert Alter:When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God's breath hovering over the waters, God said ..."

Unfortunately, these resources or the Orthodox resources or the Catholic resources are not in Logos ... so any broad study takes (all that pre-Logos stuff - books, shelves ...) Big Smile But I am inclined toward the open question position....

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Graham Criddle | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Sep 27 2010 12:48 AM

 

Thanks Dave & MJ for the comments.

Dave Hooton:
The NET Bible notes state "tn The translation assumes that the form translated “beginning” is in the absolute state rather than the construct (“in the beginning of,” or “when God created”). In other words, the clause in v. 1 is a main clause, v. 2 has three clauses that are descriptive and supply background information, and v. 3 begins the narrative sequence proper. The referent of the word “beginning” has to be defined from the context since there is no beginning or ending with God."

This is particularly interesting (I forgot about the NET Bible notes when I was looking at this).

It makes the point that the translation assumes that "beginning" is in the absolute state rather than the construct but APMA seems to tag is as a construct.

Are APMA and Net Notes using "construct" in the same sense and - if so - is the assumption which is being made by the translation valid?

Dave Hooton:
In Gen 10:10 we have "the beginning of his kingdom". In Gen 49:3  "the beginning of my strength". So Gen 1:1 is a special case

As far as I can see:

  • (excluding Gen 1:1)  there are 12 occurences in the OT where the ESV translates ראשׁית as "beginning of" as opposed to "beginning". In all of these cases, APMA tags it as a construct
  • there are 4 occurrences where it translates it as beginning
    • Job 8:7 - tagged as suffixation
    • Job 42:12 - tagged as suffixation
    • Ecclesiastes 7:8 - tagged as suffixation
    • Isaiah 46:10 - tagged as preposition

So I'm still left wondering why Gen 1:1 (also tagged as a construct) is properly treated as a special case.

Graham

PS: I'm aware that there is lots of stuff in this area that I don't understand so apologies if what I have written is very misleading or wrong! 

 

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Robert Pavich | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Sep 27 2010 2:45 AM

Graham Criddle:
This is particularly interesting (I forgot about the NET Bible notes when I was looking at this).

The NET bible notes has some really good info doesn't it? Not HUGHLY in depth sometimes but just the right amount of info for getting a feel for a certain translation decision.

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Kevin Becker | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Sep 27 2010 4:06 AM

Let me add this http://michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/2010/08/genesis-1-and-creationism/ to the consideration pile from Mike Heiser's (academic editor) blog.

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David Knoll | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Sep 27 2010 4:07 AM

Graham Criddle:
(excluding Gen 1:1)  there are 12 occurences in the OT where the ESV translates ראשׁית as "beginning of" as opposed to "beginning". In all of these cases, APMA tags it as a construct

 

1) Westermann in pages 93-97 has a very thorough discussion of this. (I don't see a lot of discussion about this new offer of Hermeneia and Continental Wink)

2) WIVU and Westminster analyse בראשית as being in the absolute state. This fits the masoretic Tifkha. The Maoretes thought this word is separated from the rest of the sentence.

3) If it is in the construct state you can either read בְרֹא and assume a different vocalisation is original or assume that the modifier is the whole phrase being in the genitive case. (This is probably what AFAT had in mind because they analyse ברא as an inflected verb and not as an infinitive as the different vocalisation suggests)

4) A minor problem is that בראשית is not determined. So the translation should be "In a beginning" but there are other examples of this phenomenon in time phrases.

4) If a word is in the construct state you should always ask yourself what is the modifier.

 

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Graham Criddle | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Sep 27 2010 5:48 AM

 

Kevin Becker:
Let me add this http://michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/2010/08/genesis-1-and-creationism/ to the consideration pile from Mike Heiser's (academic editor) blog.

Hi Kevin

Thanks for that - very interesting.

Mike is also arguing for the "When God began" translation referenced by MJ above.

Graham

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Graham Criddle | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Sep 27 2010 6:02 AM

 

David Knoll:
1) Westermann in pages 93-97 has a very thorough discussion of this

David

Thanks for that - appreciated.

I don't have access to Westermann but will be able to get it in our college library next week so will look into this then.

Thanks for the pointer and the other insights.

Graham

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Ben | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Sep 27 2010 6:30 AM

I think the TWOT makes a faulty argument here. No one (to my knowledge) claims any kind of connection between the *words* of enuma elish and Gen. 1:1 The argument is that ANE creation texts, of which Genesis is one, typically begin with a circumstancial clause, as does Gen 2:4b.

Most recent Jewish scholarship (which has nothing at stake in Gen. 1:1) argues for reading reshit as construct with bara' to revocalize.

Early Hebrew students are taught that nouns must be in construct with nouns, but that's not strictly the case, either in Hebrew or other Semitic languages.

In Ugaritic, "A noun may be in the construct before a finite verb.... This is well recognized for [Akkadian], as in the construction awāt iqbû 'the word (that) he spoke.' Heb. has numerous, though not generally recognized, examples; e.g. the opening words of Genesis: in the beginning of he-created' (the sense is 'when god began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was chaotic--'). That we are not to emend to (inf. const.) is shown by Hosea 1:2 and Num 3:1. cf. Arabic يَوْمَ  followed by the finite verb in temporal clauses equivalent to a when-clause in English." Gordon, Cyrus Herzl. Ugaritic Textbook: Grammar, Texts in Transliteration, Cuneiform Selections, Glossary, Indices. (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1965): 56, ft 1.

Other examples would be Deuteronomy 4:15 and Exodus 6:28.

Two prominent Semiticists have explicitly made this point regarding Genesis 1:1 in classes I attended, Dennis Pardee (University of Chicago) and Mark Smith (NYU).

I don't think there's a strong *grammatical* argument that can be made for bereshit as absolute, but it's perhaps motivated by other things. Keil-Delitsch, for example, claim that "this construction [ of noun+ verb] is invented for the simple purpose of getting rid of the doctrine of a creatio ex nihilo, which is so repulsive to modern Pantheism."

Again, most recent Jewish scholarship argues for bereshit in construct. Are they motivated by Pantheism? Or is it possible that others argue for bereshit absolute out of a different and more traditional doctrinal motivation?

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David Knoll | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Sep 27 2010 6:47 AM

I watched Mr. Heiser's presentation:

1) A semitic clause does not have to consist of a verb and a noun it is perfectly legitimate to have  a verbless clause.

2) The pointing of qamatz is not a decisive proof for several reasons:

                  a) As I pointed out earlier there are other examples of time phrases that are not determined. Prov 8:23 and many more (see Westermann for                                          literature) 

                  b) The pointing is late.

                  c) Some Greek transliterations of the word  read Bareshith. 

                  d) The Samaritan Pentateuch reads Bareshith 

                  d) If Mr. Heiser has that high regard for the Masoretes then he should also address the question of the tifkha accent sign.

3) Grammar will not decide the issue. Both interpretations are legitimate grammatically. I don't have a view about which is right one can argue in both directions.

 

 

 

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David Knoll | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Sep 27 2010 7:24 AM

Ben:
Other examples would be Deuteronomy 4:15 and Exodus 6:28.

2Sa 22:1, Lev 7:35, Ps 90:15 among others.

Ben:
I don't think there's a strong *grammatical* argument that can be made for bereshit as absolute

There are many. For one the genetive clause construction is not that common. Most of the examples can be explained by an ellipsis of the subordination marker אשר. They can be analogous to the Arabic distinction between Sila and Sifa clauses (an undetermined antecedent). This does not hold to Gen 1:1.

The ancient versions understood it as absolute.

Ben:
Again, most recent Jewish scholarship argues for bereshit in construct. Are they motivated by Pantheism? Or is it possible that others argue for bereshit absolute out of a different and more traditional doctrinal motivation?

This is no novelty so did Rashi and ibn Ezra in the middle ages.

Thank you for your interesting post. That "yawma" precedent from Gordon sent me straight to Badawi Carter for a quick reminder. 

 

 

 

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