I was in a dissertation workshop today and what our module convener said there struck me. He said that thinking and writing should never be separated. And I heartily agree, perhaps my inability to think writing has been due to my lack of writing. So I am trying to pick this habit up again. 

Also, in one of my classes, we are translating Genesis 1-9 from Hebrew to English. Our lecturer guides us, and he makes comments about the Bible as we progress. So I thought it might be worthwhile to write out my translation and record some of his insights. 

I know this might be dry for most people, but learning Hebrew has been one of the most exciting things I have done. I am beginning to realise that I like languages and words because there is a peculiar kind of power there - this power is not visually displayed. It of course engages the mind, but I think its true strength lies in its visceral effect. So I would like to invite you on my journey of hearing God speak in Genesis 1-9.

Translation: (v1) In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (v2) And the earth was formless/empty and void, and darkness was upon/over the face of the deep [lots of water], while [paratactic] the spirit of God was hovering upon/over the face of the waters.

Notes: (v1) There is no definite article in בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית (bereshit), but there are times when words about time are used in a definite sense, but do not have the definite article. (cf. Isa. 46:10; 40:21). Also, the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament which the NT writers referred to) translates ‘In the beginning.’

Some would want to take v1 and 2 as the subordinate clause, making ‘God said’ in v3 the main clause. Their argument hinges on translating בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א (bereshit bara) as ‘When God began to create.’ This, however, is not supported by the text. People who translate thus seem to want to avoid saying creatio ex nihilo, because in this reading, there was not nothing (therefore something). I suspect they are going a bit too far in pushing their agenda. 

An interesting inter-textual reading (by earlier Jewish and Christian traditions) is to read this verse in light of Proverbs 8:22. There, wisdom is identified with ‘the beginning.’ Thus, God created with/by wisdom. I think the language is picked up in the NT, for example Col. 1:15-16.

(v2) תֹ֙הוּ֙  (tohu) - the sense is not chaos but emptiness/nothingness (cf. Deut. 32:10). Thus the picture we see is that there was nothing - only darkness and the waters. (I haven’t figured out why there is water - and what that might mean). Also, ‘empty and void’ is תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ (tohu vabohu), which has a nice ring to it.