Genesis 1.6-27

The story continues…the harmony continues…

  1. Elohim said, “Let there be a space in the midst of the waters, and let it separate between water and water.”

The Hebrew word rakia has traditionally been translated as “firmament” or sometimes as “expanse”.  It is an extended surface.  According to Chumash Etz Chayim (meaning “tree of life”), it “is often used for hammering out metal or flattening out earth, which suggests a basic meaning of ‘extending’… [it is] viewed either as a vast sheet of metal or as a layer of solid ice.”  I prefer the term “space” because it is the space between the water of the land and the waters of the atmosphere.

Elohim continues to shape the earth and form things in a harmonious fashion.  Several times Elohim perceives that “it was good” except for on day two when he does not say this at all and on day three when he said it was good twice. Then in verse 21…

  1. And Elohim created the great taninim… What is a taninim?  In this verse it has been translated as sea monsters, sea creatures, and sea giants just to name a few.  This word is used no less than 27 times throughout the Tanach, either in the plural (taninim) or singular (tannin):  Exodus, Deuteronomy, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeramiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Micah.  It has been translated as different things at different times depending on the English translation: sea monsters, snakes, jackals, monsters, dragons and whales.  Today in Modern Hebrew, it is used for crocodile…but back to biblical Hebrew. I could not find commentary on this verse in either the Etz Chayim or Artscroll Chumash.  Strong’s (# H8577 intensive from the same as H8565) states that it is a land or marine monster like a jackal or sea-serpent.  Come on!  That means they do not know what it is since a “sea serpent” is very different from a “jackal”.  Langenscheidt’s Hebrew English dictionary has this information: “great water animal, whale, shark, crocodile, serpent, sea-monster”.  Still no way to know which of these the original authors meant but whatever it meant then, it was significant to be used as many times as it was.  By looking at the other places it is used, you can form your own ideas about what it might mean.  Taninim or tannin is mentioned in: Gn. 1.21; Ex. 7.9, 10, 12; Dt. 32.33; Jb. 7.12; 30.29; Ps. 44.19; 74.13; 91.13; 148.7; Is. 13.22; 27.1; 34.13; 35. 7; 43.20; 51.9; Jer. 9.11; 10.22; 14.6; 49.33; 51.34, 37; Lam. 4.3; Ez. 29.3; 32.2; Mic. 1.8
  1. …let us make man in our image… One midrash state that God is speaking to the ministering angels while Christians say it is proof text for the Trinity.  My understanding is this text is a much older adaption of an earlier Canaanite creation story.  In the ancient polytheistic Canaanite religion, Elohim referred to the gods.  El is the father of the gods (Elohim) and each of his 70 (This will come up later, although in the Bible it will refer to the 70 nations) children will have dominion over a specific area on earth.  In many, if not all ancient polytheistic religions, the people were in the image of their gods and their idols were often in human or animal-like forms.
  1. So both male and female are created at the same time in the image of the gods.  It makes sense to say “gods” because although the text does not state how many humans were created, at least two of them were created…and the gods that created them were at least male and female themselves…or rather, this is how the author of this section of the bible viewed the gods at the time.

In the next segment, I will be discussing a different creation story in which a different god is named.

Until then, l’shalom.

B’reishis (Genesis) Chapter 1:1-5

B’reishis (Genesis) Chapter 1:1-5  My translation and notes.  Words in [ ] are not in the Hebrew.

  1. 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.

  1. 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…