In the beginning ...

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Jayhawker Soule
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In the beginning ...

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Post by Jayhawker Soule »

But "the beginning" of what?

I find it interesting that the opening lines of Genesis are typically rendered differently in Judaic and Christian scripture. The result, at the very least, is to leave creation ex nihilo as an open question so far as the Torah is concerned.

Any thoughts?

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Re: In the beginning ...

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Jayhawker Soule wrote:But "the beginning" of what?

I find it interesting that the opening lines of Genesis are typically rendered differently in Judaic and Christian scripture. The result, at the very least, is to leave creation ex nihilo as an open question so far as the Torah is concerned.

Any thoughts?
This is a fascinating question--and it's one of those translation issues that made me realize I'd have to buckle down and really learn Hebrew if I wanted to appreciate the richness of the Torah. (I'm working on that.)

Here's the issue: the first couple of verses of B'reishit (Genesis) can be translated one of two ways. Most Christian translations prefer:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters. . .

However, many Jewish translations prefer:

When God began to create heaven and earth--the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water . . .

As Jayhawker Soule points out, the first translation conveys the idea of creation ex nihilo: creation from nothing. The second implies that God brought order out of chaos. (The word for deep--t'hom--is related to the word for the mideastern chaos-goddess Tiamat.)

Here's a commentary from the Etz Chayim Torah and Commentary (the Torah translation and commentary favored by Conservative Judaism):
The Hebrew stem of the word translated as 'create' [bet-resh-aleph] is used in the Bible only for divine creativity. It signifies that the created object is unique, depends soley on God for it's coming into existence, and is beyond the ability of humans to reproduce. The verb never means to create out of nothing . . .

The Hebrew [for the phrase "unformed and void"], tohu va-vohu, means "desert waste." The point of the narrative is the idea of order that results from divine intent. There is no suggestion here that God made the world out of nothing, which is a much later conception . . .

The Hebrew word ruach means "wind, breath, spirit." "Wind" is the prevalent understanding of the word here in ancient and medieval Jewish souces. As a physical phenomenon, wind conforms to the picture of primal chaos evoked by this verse.
That said, some Jewish sages--including Maimonides--have endorsed the idea of creation ex-nihilo. This has been and remains a much-discussed topic in Judaism, with most of Jewish scholarship now leaning against creation-ex-nihilo and toward the notion of God bringing divine order out of a primal chaos.

With my limited Hebrew, I lean toward the meaning of 'divine order out of a primal chaos.' But either way, one important Jewish concept remains: Creation is unfinished. It waits for humans to become partners-in-creation with God--it waits for humans to help perfect the world.

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McCulloch
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Re: In the beginning ...

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Post by McCulloch »

I think that a lot of Christians project the ideas of John 1 into Genesis 1.
Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
First Epistle to the Church of the Thessalonians
The truth will make you free.
Gospel of John

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Jayhawker Soule
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Re: In the beginning ...

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Post by Jayhawker Soule »

McCulloch wrote:I think that a lot of Christians project the ideas of John 1 into Genesis 1.
I view creation ex niliho (along with heaven and hell) as Persian/Hellenistic distortions or modifications and therefore in a certain sense post-biblical. Much the same could be said about Christianity.

What I find even more interesting here is the extent to which current English renditions of the Torah differ from earlier ones, reflecting two interrelated facts:
  1. that there is much in the Torah that is enigmatic, and
  2. that our understanding of Biblical Hebrew is better than it was in the past.

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Post #5

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Jrosemary wrote:In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters. . .


When God began to create heaven and earth--the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water . . .
Even given that only one of these is correct, just what do you make of the use of the terms "surface," "water(s)," and perhaps "wind"? Unless used in some poetic sense, which I don't see here, these are words denoting real, physical constructions, constructions that contradict what I have always been told about the very beginning: god was the only thing around. But, if these are merely poetic renderings of the beginning may not the other descriptive words also be poetic constructions? And if so, then what ???????????????

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Lioba
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Post #6

Post by Lioba »

That´s interesting- I always thougt, Jews and Christians would agree on this point as I knew about Maimonides point of view and that the other concept was originlly heathen. But when the Lord created out of Chaos where did Chaos come from? There can surely nothing exist before the Creator and without him.
By the way, i´m very unsure about how to speak or write about the Creator in a way acceptable for you. In German you sometimes find G´tt so G´d would be okay for you?

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Jayhawker Soule
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Post by Jayhawker Soule »

Lioba wrote:That´s interesting- I always thougt, Jews and Christians would agree on this point as I knew about Maimonides point of view and that the other concept was originlly heathen. But when the Lord created out of Chaos where did Chaos come from? There can surely nothing exist before the Creator and without him.
Surely? At what point does theology drive one's interpretation of scripture because we do not like the consequences of allowing scripture to drive our theology? In fact, there are more than a few scholars that would tell you that creation ex nihilo was unknown in the early period.

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Post by Lioba »

I do not know about early Judaisme or in which ways the original hebrew text might be interpreted. I simply said that the statement of Maimonides is the only one of a Jewish scholar that I knew until now.
So I have no idea whom you mean with your answer. Maimonides? Me? Christians? Jews?

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Jayhawker Soule
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Post by Jayhawker Soule »

Lioba wrote:I do not know about early Judaisme or in which ways the original hebrew text might be interpreted. I simply said that the statement of Maimonides is the only one of a Jewish scholar that I knew until now.
So I have no idea whom you mean with your answer. Maimonides? Me? Christians? Jews?
Actually, what you said is that you "knew about Maimonides point of view and that the other concept was originlly heathen." I don't find 'heathen' to be a particularly helpful reference.

As for the rest, in Kenneth Seeskin's Maimonides on the Origin of the World, the author notes that Johnathan Goldstein ("The Origins of the Doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo," Journal of Jewish Studies 35, (1984): 127-35) argues that the doctrine first arose as a consequence of belief in bodily resurrection which, itself, is almost certainly a consequence of Persian/Hellenist influence, while David Winston ("The Book") maintains that there there was no clear reference to the doctrine until the 2nd Century CE, and then as a Christian response to Gnosticism.

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Lioba
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Post #10

Post by Lioba »

Okay, I think I begin to understand.
Bodily Resurrection is a common concept in Christianity.Regarding Hellenisme and with it ancient Rome I always got the impression that there existed different concepts side by side which were never clearly solved in favour of one concept.Same about the beginning of everything.

But I have to reread a little bit.

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