54 thoughts on “Genesis 1–2

  1. I do not think Hebrew used the word “and” without any reason whatsoever, and that it can be left out the translation without exactly introducing modern notions. And let me not comment on the word “wind”, hugely disappointing to see that.

  2. i wonder with the morning/evening formula – the way you’ve translated it makes it sound as if that follows the events associated with the day. This may be eisegeting but could you go with something like ‘from morning to evening, the n day’? Would that be getting closer to the sense of it? I think that’s what others are trying to preserve when they translate ‘there was morning and evening’.

    • I wouldn’t translate it that way you suggest, but I think the ‘evening and morning’ formula can be read in two ways: (1) it simply depicts the fullness of the day on which God works; (2) it has God working in the daytime, and then evening and morning happen, which completes the previous day and begins a new day. Note the new day’s work is never described as starting on a particular day. The day formula only occurs on completion of the day’s work.

  3. Thanks George. This is the first time that I’ve ever noticed that the rhythm of the days is interrupted by the article on the 6th day. What do you suppose is the reason for that?

    • I’m not sure, Nathan. The first day is actually ‘Day One’, using a cardinal number. Then Days 2–5 are indefinite ordinals, which is also the way Modern Hebrew labels Monday–Thursday. But then Days 6 and 7 are definite ordinals. I’m not sure if there’s in it anything beyond stylistic variation.

      • Hi, George. Thanks for this. I’ll add another comment on a separate question (below), but I hear in the back of my mind Robert E. Longacre saying that “there are no unmotivated choices” (motivation being of course discourse-level but not necessarily conscious), which suggests that the “style” is not the issue (or, at least, not the primary motivation), although our remoteness from the original linguistic environment of the text most likely obscures the motivation. Just an observation, I have no suggestion.

        • Hi Fred! Is your comment related to the author’s choices in producing the text, or my choices in translation? In either case, I agree the comment is valid, but I’m trying to locate where the comment belongs.

          If it happens to be about my translation, then yes, I’m aware that subconscious choices are there too, even though I might not be able to articulate them. But I acknowledge in the intro that objectivity is impossible, and state plainly that I’m trying to do something for modern readers that will push past some of the agendas I see in modern English translations. Whether I’ve succeeded or not is something I submit to your (and others’) scrutiny.

  4. I am a student of Biblical Hebrew. I think you’ve done beautiful work, but in some places have not quite managed to free yourself from the influence of classical translation.

    – Why do you use the Y’ name for God?
    – “Created by Making” does not make to much sense. In capturing the meaning, suggest ignoring the infinitive at the end of the verse.
    – I like your usage of “Then” at the beginning of the verses.
    – Maybe “put him in the Garden of Eden to TEND it”
    – Unhappy with “wriggles”

    I’d love to discuss this with you further.

    • Hi Ben! Thanks for the comments. Some brief responses:

      – Y’ is the name of God in the text, so I’ve tried to preserve that.
      – I realise ‘created by making’ is very awkward. But it’s awkward in Hebrew, and I believe deliberately so. In order to underline the completion of creation, the author stuffs all the creating/working words into the final sentence and says they’re done. All of them. It implies a final cessation to everything. I’ve tried to preserve this awkwardness in English because I believe it’s deliberately awkward in the Hebrew. The fact that you noticed it says it worked.
      – ‘Tend’ is a nice way of talking about working a garden, but I wanted to draw a wider parallel that I see in the text. God makes/works, and so does the man. The man is participating in God’s work, bringing out the potential of what God has created. ‘Tend’, therefore, while it works for the garden, obscures that connection to God’s work.
      – I’m unhappy with ‘wriggles’ too. But that’s the text! I originally picked ‘crawl’, but there are things that wriggle on the earth and in the water too. Wriggle seemed an appropriate word that could cover both kens. I don’t like the word, but I suspect it’s because I’m used to hearing other translations, rather than something wrong with the word itself.

      Cheers!

      • – Elohim is used exclusively until 2:1.
        – Your desire for a parallel between God’s work and man’s is lovely. The MT however chose different verbs for Adam/Man(kind)’s role in the garden than those of God’s creation/work.
        – Regarding the difficult infinitive at the end of Chapter 1. The translation “put him in the Garden of Eden to TEND it” perhaps captures, because of the extra “it” at the end. My guess is that it’s a similar kind of redundancy.
        – My dictionary associates R.M.S. with the Akkadian NAMASSU – crawls.

        • – Yes, Elohim through the first account, and then Y’ Elohim in the second.
          – Point taken. Yes, different verbs, but the idea of continuity is there. Am I losing too much by not putting ‘tend’?
          – About the difficult infinitive… yes?
          – Yes, our lexicons usually go for ‘crawl’ for רמש, but it’s difficult to make sense of that word for things in the sea. And I can’t use ‘swim’, because that doesn’t really apply for land creatures. I see ‘wriggle’ as a fitting compromise.

          Cheers!

  5. Hi George,

    may I suggest something that you don’t find in any translation (as far as I know)?
    Have you tried to let the Waws connect the text? The Waws connect the days with the text that follows the days. However between the morning(s) and the the days there is no connection. Have you tried to divide the text that way?
    I am not sure if I did explain that sufficiently, so let me give an example:
    “Evening came and morning came.

    A third day and then God said, ‘Let there be luminaries in the ceiling of the heavens to differentiate …”

    Genesis 2:2 would read:
    “God completed the work he had done on the SIXTH (LXX + Sam.Pent.) day.”

    • Hi Matthias! I don’t think the suggestion works. It means splicing two distinct clauses into a single clause, with the result that the clause-initial wayyiqtol is no longer clause-initial. In other words, it breaks some of the most basic Hebrew rules. Furthermore, there’s not preposition to say ‘ON the nth day’, which is what you would expect. It makes far more sense grammatically and contextually to keep it as is. I’m aware of the textual variant in LXX, but I think the semantics of the verb כלה allow for the MT to be correct.

      • The author does not begin his work with a wayyiqtol verb, instead he begins his work with a (might I add: very unusual?) time indicator: Bereshit. What makes you think the author starts his other major sections differently than the beginning of his work?
        Why do you expect “ON the nth day”? I certainly don’t. And the author probably had his reasons why he numbered and mentioned the days the way he did. I would suggest finding out his reasons.
        I don’t know what basic Hebrew rules are violated. Could you be more specific? How do you know under which Hebrew rules the author operated? Does Genesis 1:1 violate Hebrew rules?

        • I think you misunderstood me, Matthias. I didn’t mean that the text begins with a wayyiqtol. Rather, when you have a wayyiqtol verb, that is always the beginning of a clause. For that reason, you can’t have anything preceding a wayyiqtol verb within the clause that contains the wayyiqtol verb. This is a basic rule of Hebrew syntax. Therefore, the suggestion that the evening and morning formula precedes the wayyiqtol breaks basic syntactical rules. Gen 1.1 does not contain a wayyiqtol verb—it has a qatal verb. It’s irrelevant to the discussion. I hope that makes better sense.

          • Thank you for your kind response, George. I have only very little Hebrew knowledge and I appreciate it a lot that you respond to my amateurish comments. But I guess now it looks like you misunderstood me. I suggest that only the word for day and the number precedes the wayyiqtol. As far as I know that is also the case for example in Genesis 22:4 and in other places. Why can the author not do that here, too? And what could be his reasons for not writing “ON the nth day”? As far as I can see the phrase “On the nth day” is often used at the end of a phrase. So why would you say that you expect “On the nth day” here when the author wants to start out his next major section with the day and the number? In Genesis 2:2 he uses the phrase “ON the nth day” twice and both times the (wayyiqtol?) verb precedes the phrase “ON the nth day”. Would you really divide the text differently when it would read “ON the nth day”?

            • Ah, I see more clearly what you mean now. But no, I must still disagree with you. The suggestion breaks the patterning of the passage, by putting the creation of time (day and light) on a putative Day 0. A further difficulty is that nothing would be happening on either the sixth or seventh day. This is problematic for the sabbath-day focus of the passage. I’m still not convinced, Matthias, but I appreciate you clarifying your suggestion.

              • Well, I would say for the author your putative Day 0 was called “new moon day”. These new moon days were for the author NOT weekdays, in other words new moon days are not part of any week. So actually IMHO we see here the weekly cycle the author operated under. In the beginning of each month one or two new moon days, which are NOT weekdays and then follow exactly four weeks in every month. On the sixth day there does happen something, namely all the work that was started on the first five weekdays is finished/completed. You don’t start/make/create new things on the sixth day, but you only finish your work, just like the Creator did. I realize that these suggestions can be quite difficult to understand, but when you try them out a lot of other issues in the Scriptures also fall into place and a lot of discussions the later rabbis had just disappear with these suggestions.

                • I am even less convinced, I’m afraid, Matthias. I think the suggestion is importing ideas into the text. I see no evidence or reason for a so called ‘new moon day’, especially on a day in the narrative when there is no moon at all. While the new moon is not seen, as such, you still need a moon there in order to have it. Nor do I see such dayless new moons elsewhere. The suggestion that God works to complete his creation in the narrative also undoes the notion of order that is there beforehand. God separates things out, and populates them, places humanity in charge, and then sees everything as very good. To see further work beyond that undermines the ‘goodness’ in the narrative. Sorry, Matthias, but I think you’ll have a hard time convincing others of the suggestion. I remain unconvinced.

                  • Of course you are less convinced as long as you keep bringing ideas to the text you are not even aware of (e.g. modern weekly cycle). Why not let the Scriptures speak for themselves and tell us what a new moon day is, and what a weekly cycle is? The author had no problem whatsoever to have even more than one day BEFORE the sun was in place in the heavens, why should he have any problem with a new moon day without the moon? The other things you say are non-sequiturs. About convincing others I think Jeremiah had also a hard time when he said the temple would be destroyed and let’s not even talk about convincing the Jews of a crucified Messiah. Why should this be different today? And let’s not even talk about all the problems the “traditional” understanding has (e.g. when is evening and when is morning (in the Scriptures, of course)?). Anyway, thank you for responding to me, George, you did help me with your comments.

                    • Well, I don’t believe I’ve imported ideas into the text, like the ‘modern’ weekly cycle. That’s actually there in the text itself, so it’s not a modern notion. The notion of non-day new moon days is not there in the text. You haven’t convinced me that there was such a thing, let alone present in the text. I’m not one for ‘traditional’ approaches, Matthias. Everything should be tested and scrutinised. But in this case, I don’t see your position being evidentially based. Anyway, we remain unconvinced of each other’s position. Cheers!

                    • The fact remains, that you choose one particular weekly cycle and read it into the text, period. Denying it does not change the facts. And I never wrote anything of non-day new moon days. You build a straw man (non-day new moon day) and reject it. Great. Do whatever you like. We remain unconvinced of each other’s position. And this column is now barely readable.

                    • Matthias, are there seven days in the text? Does God not work on the seventh day? I’m not importing this into the text.

                      If I’ve misrepresented your view about the new moon days, I’m very sorry, Matthias. I don’t intend to do that. Perhaps you can explain it again so I can get greater clarity.

                    • There are 7 NUMBERED days in the text and very clearly before these there is an additional one. What you believe happened on the first weekday happened before the week started. Sadly it looks like I cannot explain that sufficiently in a few words. If you want to, you can send me an email and I will write and send you a complete explanation. Here is IMHO one of your false understandings of the text:
                      Gen 1:5 “God called the darkness and the light following the darkness ‘day’ [a 24-hour day], while the darkness he called ‘night’. Night and day are together: Day One. This is the end of the first weekday.”
                      That is neither what the author wrote, nor the proper meaning of the words he used.

                    • What is created on (what I see as) Day 1 is time. ‘Day’ refers essentially to the period of daylight. ‘Night’ refers to night time. This is then followed by the refrain of Day 1.

                      I think I’m understanding where you’re coming from a little better, Matthias. Is it because you figure the refrain, as I’m reading it, would refer to an entire day happening after the occurrence of day and night before that point? If that’s the case, my response would be that the refrain consistently through the passage summarises the passing of time (evening AND morning) during which God did his work.

                      Anyway, thanks for the interaction, Matthias. I appreciate being pushed to look more closely at the text.

                    • Sadly, George you don’t understand. In every beginning of a new month you can see Gen. 1:3-5 happening again. In the evening the light is called into existence on the new moon exactly at the time when light and darkness are separating into day and night. Evening and morning do NOT summarise time. Please understand the meaning of the words. Evening is the time of sundown until darkness and morning is the time of dawn to sunrise, each is at the most only a few hours long and both evening and morning belong to the night, when NO work is done and no sun is visible. God did NOT work in or between evening and morning. AFTER the morning the day starts.

  6. Dear George,

    Thanks for offering this–I appreciate the work and care that obviously underlie it.

    I wonder if it is possible to render (ytsr) in a way that makes its pottery-making aspect as explicit in English as it would have been for its early readers. Perhaps it is too much added information to say “molded the man out of the clay of the ground”. I suggest this especially because you so carefully render the woman’s being made as “he built” (bnh).

    Thanks for using “mud” in the same clause–I often read “‘phr” as “dirt” (which surprises and upsets students–they don’t mind thinking of themselves as “dust”, but “dirt”, …); I wonder if “‘phr” may refer to any fine-grained natural, non-organic material, including dirt, dust, sand (“chol” merely being more specific; “mots” referring to (organic) chaff).

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking post!

    Best wishes.

    fred

    • I appreciate the comments, Fred.

      Molded… yes, that would work. Although then the connection of the root to other substantive cognates might be lost. But that’s not a great loss. So yes, I see your idea. I’m certainly trying to capture the notion of God shaping like a potter.

      I used ‘mud’ for עפר, since the context indicates the ground is barren but soaked by the spray (אד). So it’s not just granular dirt or soil; it’s sludge—the kind of thing a potter would work with. Ziony Zevit’s recent book, ‘What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden’, has a good discussion of this point.

  7. Hi George,

    Thank you for a very interesting read.

    I just wanted to share with you my own translation of Genesis. It is still a rough draft and it is unfinished but I am working on it.

    Here is the link: http://mytorahcommentary.blogspot.com/p/genesis-bereshit.html

    Also, what do you think about variants from SP. There are plenty additions in the first chapters especially. Have you considered it in your translation?

    Sincerely,

    Aleksandr Sigalov.

    • Thanks Aleksandr. I haven’t considered the SP variants in great detail. My aim in this particular translation was not to produce an eclectic version, but rather translate the MT that is used for most English translations. In essence, I’m offering an alternative to some of the most popular English translations of the MT.

      Do you have any thoughts on the SP variants?

      • Thank you for your response.

        For example, in Genesis 1:14 in SP it says “to give light over the earth”, which I think might’ve been an original reading.

        Genesis 2:2, SP says “sixth day”. Which is probably the original reading also.

        Genesis 2:4 “heaven and earth” instead of “earth and heaven” in MT.

        E.t.c.

        • With 1.14: the extra phrase ‘to give light over the earth’ is there in 1.17. Did MT leave it out in 1.14? Or did LXX and SP add it, because 1.17 is there?

          Gen 2.2: I think the semantics of the verb allow for the text to say ‘seventh’ legitimately.

          • Thank you for your reply, George. And sorry for my delayed response…

            Then what about Number 4:14 in SP? (sorry for off-topic)? There was no reason to fake that…

            Also, which do you think is the original reading in Exodus 20:8? Is it Guard (SP) or Remember (MT)?

            • At Num 4.14 there seems to be something that has dropped from the MT. The additional material in SP and LXX seems incidental, as you imply.

              Exod 20.8 is harder to tell, since Deut 5.12 has שׁמור rather than זכור. My guess is that the SP has aligned the reading to Deut 5.12, rather than the MT departed from it. Given the status of the Ten Commandments, it seems more reasonable that there were two different versions that have been brought into uniformity in the SP, rather than one version that was diversified by the MT.

  8. Dear George,

    Pretty good translation of Genesis 1-2.

    A couple of questions.

    First, “At first…” is an interesting interpretation for “bereshith.” What is the reasoning?

    Second, “The earth was disorder and disarray.” Why is there no preposition between the verb “was” and “disorder and disarray?” One would expect to see the preposition, “in,” as in “The earth was “in” disorder and “in” disarray.” Otherwise, one would have to change the nouns to verbs, “disordered” and “disarrayed.”

    Third, as to a matter of consistency on the “days of the week.” You translated, “Day One.” The other days have “second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.” Why “Day One” versus “First Day?”

    Fourth, I liked the translation of Toledoth as “narrative;” although some would disagree because of the gloss usually associated is “generations.”

    Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

    • Hi Bryant! My replies:

      – The adjective in the first word is the ordinal ‘first’. The preposition prefixed to it turns it into an adverbial phrase. The MT pointing suggest they either see this first word as indefinite, and therefore ‘at first’, or else in construct with what follows. But that’s an impossibility, given you can’t put a verb into a construct chain. So I settled on the best option for turning the indefinite ordinal into an adverbial phrase.
      – The Hebrew doesn’t tell us what state the earth was ‘in’, but rather what it was. I’ve tried to hold onto that. It was an inhospitable nothing.
      – The day formula varies through the text. I’ve tried to show that in English. It starts with a cardinal (‘Day One’), then moves to indefinite ordinals, (‘a second day’), and finishes with definite ordinals (‘the sixth day’ and ‘the seventh day’).
      – I can’t find a word in English that really gets close to the word toledoth. I don’t think ‘generations’ does it either. I think the word is trying to capture something like ‘origin stories’, but I think ‘aetiology’ is too obscure a word in English to use fruitfully. I’m open to suggestions on this one.

  9. Hi,
    I’m working on a thesis about the climatic knowledge in the bible and would like to have the material of your seminar.
    In the translation of ch. 2 I like the word ‘spray’ for ‘ed’ in Hebrew.
    Thank you,
    Reuven Givati

    • Hi Reuven! I’m afraid the seminar material isn’t publicly available, and my contribution was only one of three for the event. However, I don’t think the material would have been relevant to your research on climatic knowledge.

      I’m glad you liked ‘spray’. The traditional ‘mist’ doesn’t capture the sense of something gushing and soaking.

  10. I like what you’re doing here. A few comments:
    * “Ceiling” caught me off-guard, but I think it works. “Canopy” might be closer to the concept of a capacious covering (and certainly more resonant with the image from Ps 19), but “ceiling” has traction with the “cosmos-as-temple” imagery that is current in scholarship.
    * “Wriggle” is unorthodox, yes, but it provides for some good diction in English: God makes all creatures: the walkers, the wrigglers, and the winged ones.

    Two conversation points: (1) the narrative of chap. 2 doesn’t stop at v 25, but runs into chap 3 (and even 4). Will stopping the translation at 2.25 skew the interpretation of the text?
    (2) Much of the literary power of chap 2 (and to chapter 4) is derived from Hebrew wordplay. If this isn’t developed in English (and I admit, it is hard to do), are we really hearing the text as “what an ancient person would have heard as the text was read in Hebrew”?

    I have attempted to provide this in a translation of Gen 2-4 which I have developed for use with students over the last decade or so of teaching Genesis at the Bible college level. Its style is uneven at times, and perhaps rather wooden; but it’s designed specifically to include out the linguistic textures that are normally lost in translation (and thereby provoke questions of interpretation). It’s not posted publicly (yet), but I will send it to you for your perusal, in case you’re interested.

    best wishes for your upcoming seminar!
    Randy Klassen

    • Thanks for the comments, Randy. Yes, I’m aware the narrative continues past the end of chapter 2, so my break is somewhat artificial. It was governed largely by the brief I was given for the seminar I gave, which was to concentrate on Gen 1–2.

      As for the wordplay in Hebrew, it’s really hard to bring that across into English. It’s one of the great limitations of translation. Any translation will in some sense be a move away from what the original audience heard. But I’ve tried to do my best, with an eye on a modern English reader.

      Thanks for your own translation. It’s in my inbox, so I’ll get around in the next little while to looking over it.

      Cheers!

  11. Thanks for the translation of Genesis 1 and 2, I guess the problem with a translation is that it is done by committee, and that is how traditions stick and take time to change in the text.

    In the first passage could the word “wind” (ruwach)be translated as “mind” as well, in a more thought for thought translation in context?

    • No, I don’t think so, Naama. That would be importing modern ideas of ‘spirit’ into this ancient text. In Hebrew thought, the heart would be the closest to what we call the mind. The רוח is being viewed as an animating force that causes things to move, happen, and change. The fact that it is God’s רוח implies that the acts of separation and creation that occur in the text are the result of God exerting his רוח upon the tangled cosmic mess, thus producing order and newness.

      • I agree it would be inserting modern thought into the text, and that is why I brought up the thought for thought translation instead of a word for word translation.
        It might make it easier for a modern person to read the passage and understand God’s creative prowess.
        If context gives the text meaning, the context is God creating and making in verse one, and this carries over to the next passages also.
        The word spirit also is used with mind together in another passage-I capitalized the two words:
        Then the SPIRIT (ruwach) of the Lord came on me, and he told me to say: “This is what the Lord says: That is what you are saying, you leaders in Israel, but I know what is going through your MIND (ruwach).
        This is from Ezekiel 11:5, and mind is used in other passages ie: Gen 26:35, Proverbs 29:11, Ezekiel 20:32 and Hab. 1:11 using the same word for Spirit.
        God is Spirit, and the ancient Hebrew would use a item they could relate to this like “wind” to convey what they could not see,smell,touch,taste or hear in everyday life.
        I also see the passage of Genesis 1 as a jab to the ribs of the cults that opposed God in the day it was written, God is the Creator not subject to creation, as creation is under His control, and is nothing like the gods of the ancients who were subject to the chaos of the deep and battled each other to quell the monster of the deep to minimize the chaotic seas.
        I love your website, and really like your translation-just bouncing the proverbial ball around.
        I have been lurking for a couple of years, and was really impressed of the topic of the 70 weeks in Daniel-I was taught a very similar approach and outcome. I had to read it again just to make sure it was real-I would love for you to bring this up for discussion in the future….the book of daniel seems to be the wellspring of many sensational imaginative outcomes and cults.
        God bless and keep up the good work

        • Thanks for the engagement, Naama. I see what you’re getting at. The difficulty I have with applying רוח = mind to Gen 1 is the physicality of the depiction: it’s hovering above the surface of the water. I think the author intends the reader to imagine a wind. It would require a purely metaphorical application of this image to derive ‘mind’. Not impossible, since the ‘wind of God’ was essentially animating his will. But I think at best this can only be a secondary understanding, rather than the primary intent of the author.

          Like you, I see Gen 1 functioning with some kind of polemic intent. There are chaos-creation myths within the biblical literature, so Gen 1 is certainly not the only creation account. Psalms, Job, and Isaiah all contain references and allusions to a creation account in which Yahweh slays a chaos monster. I’m not sure Gen 1 is necessarily critiquing those. Rather, I think it’s critiquing a Mesopotamian conception of creation in order to establish a distinctly Judean identity that can be defined in distinction to Babylonian culture.

          Thanks for the feedback on the 70 weeks of Daniel. It’s a difficult topic that, in the end, I think has a simple answer. It’s been right in front of us the whole time, but we just haven’t seen it because of preconceptions. Yes, Daniel gets used for much fancy and speculation. As publishers will tell you, anything on Daniel sells well. Unfortunately, that’s because of much fancy and speculation.

          I appreciate the kind words.

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