B’reishis (Genesis) Chapter 1:1-5 My translation and notes. Words in [ ] are not in the Hebrew.
- In [the] beginning, Elohim shaped the sky and the earth/land.
Elohim (plural). The Canaanite pantheon of gods was called Elohim. In the Baal cycle the goddess Asherah (which will come up later in the Biblical text) had seventy sons, each of which was assigned to a particular group of people. According to Bible scholar and archeologist Israel Finkelstein, the Israelites who later became known as the Jews emerged from within the Canaanite people who were already in the land of Israel.
Shape. The Hebrew ברא (bara) is a verb which is always connected with divine activity. It does not mean creating something from nothing. Rather, it is about shaping or fashioning something from the material which is already available, as we will soon see in the following verses.
The sky. Why not translate hashamayim the way it has traditionally be translated, as “the heaven”? Because it does not mean “heaven” in the way many of us think of it today. It does not mean an unseen, distance afterlife of eternal bliss. In fact, the verses that follow do not tell about the creation of an unseen afterlife called heaven. Rather, the verses describe things concerning the sky and the land.
The ancient people responded to their world in concrete terms (by what they could see with their physical eyes) not in Greco-Roman abstract terms (a paradise like “heaven” is abstract) which was developed much later. I cannot find a single verse in which shamayim is not referring to the physical sky in the Biblical narratives. Later, both Christians and Jews would interpret this differently.
It is also worth noting that the word is always plural (like Elohim) and contains another Hebrew word “mayim” which means “water” or “waters”.
The earth/land. Ha’aretz can mean either the entire earth or land. I doubt the ancient writers understood the entire earth as we know it today. Whether the term “earth” or “land” is used does not matter. It was the earth as they knew it at the time, which was confined to their local area and places they traveled.
- And the earth had been chaotic and empty, and darkness on the face of the deep, and wind of Elohim fluttered on the face of the waters.
Two things existed: darkness and water, which caused chaos. So Elohim begins by restoring order…once order is restored, shaping of life could begin. In fact, the Hebrew word tehom literally means the deep, an abyss and it associated with chaos. It is equated with the Sumerian goddess Tiamat, the primordial waters of creation.
Wind of Elohim. Hebrew: ruach Elohim. Ruach means wind, breath or spirit. The idea of ruach is that as long as something has breath or wind left in it, it has life. Ruach does not mean soul (nephesh). To the ancient people, something had ruach for as long as it had life. Later, we will see that Adam did not have life until God blow in his nostrils.
The Bible authors/editors portray Elohim in anthropomorphic (human like) terms. He walks, talks, makes clothes for people and is very personally involved with his creation. “Yahweh” Elohim on the other hand, as we will see, is more distant and aloof…and a god of war.
fluttered. Hebrew: m’rachefet means to flutter, move or shake. But also ‘’to brood’’ as in the incubation period of bird eggs by their parents. I try to imagine this fluttering more like a helicopter hovering over a large body of water. Two things happen: first, ripples are made on the surface of the water and second, small particles of water are sprayed out everywhere in the surrounding area. This type of movement…any movement is what is necessary for change.
3-5. Elohim speaks light into existence. Once he does this, he separated it (made a distinction) from darkness. Elohim will make this distinction over and over in the first chapter: light from darkness, sea from land, one species from another, Shabbat from the rest of the week, etc. This idea of distinction…don’t be like the nations, forbidden and permitted foods, those who are ritually pure and those who are not, etc. will be a recurring theme throughout the Tanach for the Jewish people.
Then something strange happens in Genesis 1.5. There is sunset and sunrise before the sun is created (which doesn’t happen until day four). The two Hebrew words used are erev and boker which literally means “sunset” and “break of dawn”. I cannot explain why these words are used more than once before the sun was actually set in the sky.
In Halacha (Jewish law) all days begin at night. All holidays begin at sunset, including the weekly Shabbat in which candles are lit 18 minutes before sunset every Friday and lasts until Saturday evening when three stars can clearly be seen…or 25 minutes after sunset.
Philosophically speaking, in our own lives, the metaphorical darkness always comes before the dawn (liberation).
Well that is it for this time. Stay tuned for more to come…