Friday, June 1, 2012

Creation of the Cosmos - Genesis 1

Image of Earth taken from heaven (ref)

בראשׁית ברא אלהים את השׁמים ואת הארץ
In the beginning God created the heaven(s) and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

Meaning of the words in Genesis 1:1

Bereshit "In the beginning".  The expression has in Hebrew also the meaning "in the First one" as, for example, Saint Augustine noticed talking about the creation of the cosmos in the Firstborn. This duality of meaning is finely expressed in the Latin translation in Vulgata "in principo".

Bara' Hebrew word is translated in King James Version "to create". This English word is highly loaded with various meanings.

The simpler "to make" might be a possible translation but less festive. (Thus for example the Greek LXX translation poieio). However, there is another verb in Hebrew עשׂה (asah) meaning "to make" and it is used in Genesis 1:26 "Let us make man in our image"

The word appears in the meaning "to create" three times in Genesis (1:1, 1:27, 5:1) and once in Deuteronomy (4:32).

[As often happens in Biblical Hebrew, there is a completely different meaning for the three letters root bara'. We find it in the rather cryptic Hezekiah 21:19 associated with a sword and "cutting down" (trees and other things). In Aramaic there is a word bara' for "field" (beasts of the field) Dan 2:38.]

Elohim is the generic word God in Hebrew. It is an "honorary" masculine plural from the common West Semitic word El.

Following verb forms demonstrate that the plural form does not mean many gods. Note, however, the plural in Genesis 1:26 "let us make" (neaseh) followed by singular "God created" (Elohim bara) in the next verse Gen 1:27.

The clay tablets discovered in Ugarit (Ras Shamra, Syria) tell stories about Canaanite gods. El is there a somewhat distant king of gods, sitting on his throne, while the more active mountain and storm god Baal and the rest of the Canaanite pantheon are involved in the basic things so important to humans for survival. Hebrew Elohim, Arabic Allah and also the pre-Islamic spouse Allat (Eilat) derive from the same root. For example, the ancient city of Beth El, House (temple) if El near Ram-Allah is called Bitil in Arabic form of the name.

et grammatical element in front of an object in Hebrew sentences.

Shamaim occurs only in "honorary" plural and could be translated either in singular heaven or in plural heavens. (Greek ouranos is in the name given to planet Uranus. Latin caelum as in celestial objects). Note that the Hebrew word shamaim may but does not necessarily include in this context the sense of a spiritual invisible heaven.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells that through faith we understand:
"Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." Heb 1:3 KJ

ve "and"
Note the combination that reflects our reality, heavens and earth. Modern cosmologists have a rather different fundamental view in which this fundamental dichotomy so natural in our perspectives disappears in the vastness of the universe.

Aretz (eretz) from a root that probably means "firm". The word is translated as earth already in King James Version at the times of William Shakespeare and others.

Greek Septuagint from the Alexandrian Jewish community in the 2nd century before the birth of Jesus Christ has Ge so familiar to us from the goddess Gaia and words like Geography etc. Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν.

Latin Vulgata uses the famliar word terra (common loan word in modern languages as in terrestial etc.)  in principio creavit Deus caelum et terram

Let us remember when considering Genesis 1:1 that in Biblical and Classical times the concept of earth was in many ways different from our modern understanding. Today's Israelis say "kadur haAretz"  - literally "the ball of earth" - when they talk about our planet Earth.

All inclusive

בראשׁית ברא אלהים את השׁמים ואת הארץ
In the beginning God created the heaven(s) and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

This statement is all inclusive and covers the entire cosmos, visible and invisible.

It tells us that he entire universe does not just exist by itself, was not made by some idols like "divine matter and energy", was not born like chicken are hatching from an egg but was in its entirety made by the God of Israel.

Let us join the morning star and the birds in praising Him for the wonders of His majestic works, His unfathomable wisdom and His grace towards us humans, He has made with such skill from the soil of planet earth.


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