Sunday, October 11, 2009

In the beginning, Hashem *separated*?

This doesn't really deserve mention, but why not? It is notable (in terms of being an article, and being mentioned on Fark) only in terms of repercussions if it were true, but it isn't true:
Prof Van Wolde, 54, who will present a thesis on the subject at Radboud University in The Netherlands where she studies, said she had re-analysed the original Hebrew text and placed it in the context of the Bible as a whole, and in the context of other creation stories from ancient Mesopotamia.

She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb “bara”, which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean “to create” but to “spatially separate”.

The first sentence should now read “in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth”


She said technically “bara” does mean “create” but added: “Something was wrong with the verb.

“God was the subject (God created), followed by two or more objects. Why did God not create just one thing or animal, but always more?”

She concluded that God did not create, he separated: the Earth from the Heaven, the land from the sea, the sea monsters from the birds and the swarming at the ground.

Academics need to create novelties in order to publish. And people publish far-out theories all the time. But as she notes, bara does technically still mean create. I could point out many pesukim where it does mean create, and does not involve two items. For example,

לֹא-תֹהוּ בְרָאָהּ, לָשֶׁבֶת יְצָרָהּ

בְּיוֹם, בְּרֹא אֱלֹהִים אָדָם

לְמִן-הַיּוֹם אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אָדָם עַל-הָאָרֶץ

כִּי-בָרָא יְהוָה חֲדָשָׁה בָּאָרֶץ

לֵב טָהוֹר, בְּרָא-לִי אֱלֹהִים

She want to connect it to the vayavdels. But it seems a stretch. Yes, there are divisions, but there are also creations (vayivra) of the great taninim and other creatures, which wouldn't be cast as "separation" unless one was motivated for some reason to do so.

Meanwhile, if one wanted to reach the same conclusion, you could say like Rashi and some modern scholars, that the first pasuk is not "In the beginning Hashem created the heavens and the earth" but rather "In the beginning of Hashem's creation of heaven and earth, when the earth was formless and void..." If so, it is creation out of primordial matter. It is by no means such a chiddush (novelty) as she is trying to present it. (See the rest of the article.)

And indeed, you can even look to Ibn Ezra, who hints at a secret diyuk based on the meaning of the word bara, where it may well mean creation out of existing matter. And one has in Bereishit Rabba 1:9 an argument between a rabbi and a philosopher:

פילסופי אחד שאל את רבן גמליאל, אמר ליה:
צייר גדול הוא אלהיכם, אלא שמצא סממנים טובים שסייעו אותו,

אמר ליה: תיפח רוחיה דההוא גברא, כולהון כתיב: בהן בריאה:
תוהו ובוהו, שנאמר: (ישעיה מה) עושה שלום ובורא רע.
חושך, יוצר אור וגו'.
מים, (תהלים קמח) הללוהו שמי השמים והמים.

שצוה ונבראו.
רוח, (עמוס ד) כי הנה יוצר הרים ובורא רוח.
תהומות (משלי ח) באין תהומות חוללתי:

That is, the idea that it was not creation ex nihilo is not new, and even if it was, still other Biblical verses indicate God's creation of those other items, perhaps at an earlier state, or else forcing the account in Bereshit to be a creation ex nihilo. (I would prefer the former reading.)

So this is nothing new, and if she really thinks it is so new, then perhaps she needs to do her homework.


Anonymous said...

I am unsure if you saw this I think the end message is good

E-Man said...

It is funny that she thinks she can come along and tell us what hebrew words mean. Oh, she knows better than 3000 years of people. Whoops, we just don;t understand hebrew. Give me a break lady!

E-Man said...

Best part about all of this is that Ralbag, Ibn Kaspi, Ibn Tibbon and so on all talk about creation of something from something. They should revoke her PHD or whatever she has.


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