There aren’t many books older.
When I had the idea to start blogging, I was listening to “100 Years of Solitude” on Audible. I thought a book review of something like that might be fun. I have a personal goal of reading or listening to those books that are consensus Top 100 novels of all time, and also still unread by me, sometime over the next few years. Blogging seemed like a good way to put my thoughts about those books down on paper.
However… by the time this website was built, and by the time the great Corona Virus scare of 2020 was getting manageable, my reading interests had changed. My current personal reading obsession is also an oldie – the Book of Genesis. It’s not a small book. It is an old book. It’s a translated book. It’s a dense book. So this is no small project. And now I have this blog.
To the extent I have a plan for a Genesis blog (and I am not ruling out a separate blog for the band of the same name) it goes like this: one
chapter verse at a time. And when the book provides a clear time period transition, I will do a recap and review. But this is all subject to change. I will keep you, uh, posted.
From the English Standard Version:
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void…
“Bereshit” is the Hebrew word for “In the beginning.” It has its own wikipedia page! There are in depth studies on just this word alone. I’ll pull from that linked study here because it is pretty fascinating.
The Word Bereshit (בראשׁית) in Hebrew letters is: Tav, Yud, Shin, Alef, Resh, Beit (Hebrew is read right to left.)
The very first letter beit – ב is a picture of a house in the Hebrew picture language. Notice how in the Torah the first letter is enlarged, showing the foundation of the world is focused on God’s house… and first two letters spell “bar” בר meaning “son” shows the focus is on the kingdom of the Son!
We know that Messiah Yeshua is the “lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world” – Rev. 13:8 and we see this in the other words that make up the first foundational word in the Bible as shown below:
בר Bar means “son”
א The aleph, is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and represents God.
שׁית Sheet means “thorns”
ראשׁ Rosh means “head”
ברש Brosh means “tree
So here in one word, we see multiple words saying, “ The son of God, crowned with thorns upon His head, on a tree” …
שי Shy means “gift”
ת The letter “Tav” represents covenant and originally looked like a small “t” or a cross
So here in sequence we see in the first word “bereshit” that, “The son of God, crowned with thorns upon His head, on a tree, is the gift of the covenant”…
This is a very apt description of the “lamb that was slain from the foundation of the word” indeed!
I’m not going to explicitly endorse that interpretation. But I share that to make the point that this text is *dense.* Down to the letter.
God, in verse 1, is a translation of the Hebrew word, Elohim. Interestingly, Elohim is a plural of El or Eloah. (The Original House of El, for all of those Superman fans out there.)
“Created” is translated from the Hebrew word, “bara.” It means “to create out of nothing.” So it is stated here that from nothing… came something. The universe is not one with God. It is separate from God. God is something. The universe came… from nothing. So if the universe ceased to be, then God would continue to be.
But lest you think this is completely clear, and without challenge, there is an alternative translation of just this first verse. From AnsweringGenesis.org
It renders Genesis 1:1, along with 1:2 and 1:3a, in a manner similar to the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) version of 1985, “1 When God began to create heaven and earth—2 the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—3a God said, ‘Let there be light.’”1 With this dependent-clause translation, it is not possible to interpret the idea of an absolute beginning of the universe or a creation out of nothing since the rendering treats the earth in Genesis 1:2 as being in existence before God’s first act of creation, light. What then is the grammatical basis for this change in translation?
Proponents of the dependent-clause translation argue that according to the grammar of the Hebrew, Genesis 1:1 should be understood as a type of substantival clause.2 In both English and Hebrew, a substantival clause is an entire clause that functions like a noun. For instance, in the sentence, “I know you are watching me,” the clause “you are watching me” is functioning as a direct object of the main verb “know,” a function usually reserved for nouns and pronouns. These proponents contend that the clause “God created the heavens and the earth” in Genesis 1:1 can function like an object of a preposition if we take the first part of the verse to be “In the beginning of.” This treatment of the passage could in a sense be rendered as “In the beginning of God creating the heavens and the earth . . . ,” or “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth . . . .” Employing this same grammatical principle, the JPS renders the verse with a dependent clause, “When God began to create heaven and earth . . . .” What makes the dependent-clause translation more preferable to the traditional translation with its historical preponderance? Is this type of substantival clause a grammatical construction that was unfamiliar to the ancient translators?
The most recent editions of the respected Hebrew grammars by Gesenius and Joüon together list over 200 examples of these types of substantival clauses in Biblical Hebrew,3 which tells us that they are not a minor nuance of the language. Not surprisingly, the ancient translators of the Septuagint (Greek), the Vulgate (Latin), and the Targums (Aramaic), amongst others, recognized these types of grammatical constructions and frequently translated them as relative clauses. Yet, none of these translations recognized Genesis 1:1 as one of these constructions. Instead they rendered the verse in the traditional manner, as an independent clause.
The second verse is also not without disagreement. From the blueletterbible study guide:
a. The earth was without form, and void: Some translate the idea in this verse as the earth became without form and void. Their thinking is the earth was originally created not without form and void, but it became without form and void through the destructive work of Satan. However, this is not the plain grammatical sense of the ancient Hebrew.
i. Those who follow this idea look to Isaiah 45:18: For thus says the LORD, Who created the heavens, Who is God, Who formed the earth and made it, Who has established it, Who did not create it in vain, Who formed it to be inhabited: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.” The idea is God here says He did not create the world in vain (the Hebrew word is the same as the word for void in Genesis 1:1).
ii. Based on these ideas, some have advanced what has been called the “Gap Theory.” It is the idea that there was a long and indefinite chronological gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Most “Gap Theory” adherents use the theory to explain the fossil record, assigning old and extinct fossils to this indefinite gap.
iii. Whatever merit the gap theory may have, it cannot explain the extinction and fossilization of ancient animals. The Bible says plainly death came by Adam (Romans 5:12), and since fossils are the result of death, they could not have happened before Adam’s time.
These debates in translation become increasingly relevant to the text of Genesis when the plain substance of the text becomes less clear (i.e. Where do angels fit into this story? Dinosaurs? Where did the people outside of Eden come from?)
I’ll get back to figuring out what “darkness on the face of the deep” could possibly mean in the next post.
In case you are worried, I won’t break down Genesis in this much excruciating detail throughout. But I want to lay a baseline for answering questions as they come up later in the book. I have found that it is impossible to even attempt answering some of the questions that Genesis gives us later in the book without really scrutinizing the first few verses.