Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Maimonides' Understanding of BARA

It is also necessary to understand and consider the words, "And Adam gave names" (ii. 20); here it is indicated that languages are conventional, and that they are not natural, as has been assumed by some. We must also consider the four different terms employed in expressing the relations of the heavens to God, bore (Creator), ‘oseh (Maker), koneh (Possessor), and el (God). Comp. “God created the heaven and the earth” (i. 1); “In the day that God made the earth and the heavens” (ii. 4); “Possessor of heaven and earth” (xiv. 19); “God of the Universe” (xxi. 31); “The God of heaven and the God of the earth” (xxiv. 3). As to the verbs, konen, “he established,” tafah, “he spanned,” and natah, “he stretched out,” occurring in the following passages, “Which thou hast established” (Ps. viii. 4), “My right hand hath spanned the heavens” (Isa. xviii. 13), “Who stretchest out the heavens” (Ps. civ. 2), they are included in the term ‘asah (“he made”); the verb yaẓar, “he formed,” does not occur in reference to the heavens. According to my opinion the verb yazar denotes to make a form, a shape, or any other accident (for form and shape are likewise accidents). It is therefore said, yoẓar or, “Who formeth the light” (Isa. xiv. 7), light being an accident; yoẓer harim, “That formeth the mountains” (Amos iv. 13), i.e., that gave them their shape. In the same sense the verb is used in the passage, “And the Lord God formed (va-yiẓer) all the beasts,” etc. (Gen. ii. 7). But in reference to the Universe, viz., the heavens and the earth, which comprises the totality of the Creation, Scripture employs the verb bara, which we explain as denoting he produced something from nothing; also ‘asah (“he made”) on account of the general forms or natural properties of the things which were given to them; kanah, “he possessed,” because God rules over them like a master over his servants. For this reason He is also called, “The Lord of the whole earth” (Jos. iii. 11-13); ha-adon,” the Lord” (Exod. xx., iii. 17). But although none can be a master unless there exists something that is in his possession, this attribute cannot be considered to imply the belief in the eternal existence of a materia prima, since the verbs bara, “he created,” and ‘asah, “he made,” are also employed in reference to the heavens. The Creator is called the God of the heavens and the God of the Universe, on account of the relations between Him and the heavens; He governs, and they are governed; the word elohim does not signify “master” in the sense of “owner”; it expresses the relation between His position in the totality of existing beings, and the position of the heavens or the Universe; He is God, not they, i.e., not the heavens. Note this.

From Guide for the Perplexed 2.XXX


Duncan said...


You seem to be disregarding the influence Christianity imposed on Judaism.

Edgar Foster said...


is that really a good objection? :)

Please demonstrate that Maimonides' understanding of BARA was influcned by Christianity. Secondly, it's not only Maimonides who understands the word this way, but he was working within the rabbinic tradition, and his views still hold sway today in Judaism.

Additionally, Philo was before Christianity, yet he too would understand BARA the same way. So would many other pre-Christian Jews. Just read the literture on Juydaism and the lexica: then you'll find out. There is even a new study on BARA that should be interesting found on the Brill website. But, with all due respect, I find the objection here less than probative.

Edgar Foster said...

Edgar Foster said...

Another discussion on bara and related issues:

Duncan said...

If you take a look at the book you will find that the title is misleading - It spends quite allot of effort in the exchange and differences between Jerusalem (Hebrew) & Babylonian (LXX) Judaism - post & during the emergence of Christianity. Then the interchange between all three. It attempts to take the next step on from Vermes.

The point is that Jewish belief was influence well before Maimonides & even before Christianity (which was initially just seen as a new faction).

This is pertinent to your Google link which sits squarely with the LXX.

Edgar Foster said...

I agree that Judaism's belief system has long been affected by one thing or another. That still does not seem to explain the long-term understanding of BARA as "to create" that we find in Philo (pre-Christian), Maimonides and other early Jewish thinkers. We even see the meaning in Isaiah.

Duncan said...

Psalms 51:10 fill me with clean thinking ?

Edgar Foster said...


I'll admit that I have not done any sustained research on the meaning of bara in this particular verse. My question would be whether the meaning "fill" would be in play here. It would take analysis/research to say for sure, or with any degree of certainty.

We also have to account for the synonymous parallelism in Ps 51:10. Will "fill" satisfy this requirement? Please see

Duncan said...

The second half of that verse I would translate as.

rebuild - a grounded (stable/firm)- character - intimately with me.

My point of referencing the above book is mentioned here:-

"Comparing the Two Texts
While the Bavli favors multi-part, complex arguments, Yerushalmi discussions rarely include lengthy debate. For instance, both the Bavli and the Yerushalmi discuss the following Mishnah:"

In this page you see the difference (as I see it) between Hebrew & Greek thinking. The Hebrew does not stretch beyond the necessary.

It is evident that Philo is in the style of the Babylonian tradition.

My question about sources of your original Philo quote was due to the fact that the first reference you made was to a section available complete in medieval manuscript but is missing from early evidence in Greek but may be part of early Armenian copy.

Edgar Foster said...

A few brief comments:

Judaism was affected by Hellenism too, and by experiences while in Babylonia. But I don't see how that affected (substantively) the denotation of BARA. I've certainly see no evidence that it was affected b/c of these factos.

Secondly, Hengel argues that the contrast between Hebrew and Greek thinking has been exaggerated. Feldman challenges him at every point, but the important thing for now is how the ancient Jews/Hebrews understood a word. What does the lexical evidence tell us? Granted all of the sociological factords/psychological factors you mention, does not seem to prove hat BARA did not mean "created" (etc) in Gen 1:1 or in many similar texts.

Philo was heavily influenced by the Greek allegorical method. He was classically trained in Greek language and thought, so while I get your drift, I think his Grecian training cannot be overlooked.

Why render 51:10 "rebuild" as opposed to "recreate" or "renew"? Maybe "rebuild" has lexical support?

Duncan said...

The word seems co carry the idea of making something like new through repair, restoration, or replacement.

I think rebuild covers all three.

Duncan said...

See the far more technical book :-

Pages 3-4 of introduction.

Have you read this:-

"Other worlds were created and destroyed ere this present one was decided on as a permanent one."

Not that I agree but there are those who might interpret this a multiverse.

Edgar Foster said...


Renew (imperative) (02318) (chadash/hadas) means to make new, to restore, to repair, to renovate or reconstruct ("renew the kingdom" ~ the altar = 1Sa 11:14, restored the altar = 2Chr 15:8, restore the house of Jehovah, the Temple = 2Chr 24:4, 12, surface of the ground = Ps 104:30). The idea is to make like new and implies a restoration to a former state of something which has become faded or disintegrated (in David's case in Ps 51:10, this would refer to the effects of unconfessed sin). To begin again.

The Septuagint (Lxx) translates chadash/hadas here in Ps 51:10 with the Greek verb egkainizo (most of the words used to translate the Hebrew uses are derivatives of the great word kainos) which means to give newness to something (in Ps 51:10 to David's innermost spirit). Egkainizo describes King Asa's restoration of the altar (a place for meeting with God) of the LORD in 2Chr 15:8. Egkainizo is also used in 1Ki 8:63 where it conveys the sense of to dedicate (Solomon and all the people dedicated the Temple to the LORD. Cp similar use 2Chr 7:5.) Hebrews 9:18 and Hebrews 10:20 use egkainizo with the sense of to inaugurate. Isaiah refers to an eschatological renewal in the last days (Isa 61:4).

Edgar Foster said...

Thanks for posting the link for Feldman's work, although I'm familiar with it, and referenced his perspective above. He and Hengel were sparring partners (as it were). And I concur with your remark that the work is more technical.

Notice that Feldman refers to Hengel's position concerning the distinction between Hellenism and Judaism was blurred. But Feldman challenges Hengel's every contention on this point: he does not agree with his basis thesis. See particularly, p. 2-3 of Feldman's work. He outlines his objection to Hengel's thesis there.

What Feldman says on those pages about Philo does not negate the ancient writer's understanding of Genesis. See Feldman, page 65ff. He recognizes that the influences on Philo were many, but I don't think any of Feldman's arguments water down how Philo or Maimonides apparently understood BARA.

Edgar Foster said...

I wrote: "Notice that Feldman refers to Hengel's position concerning the distinction between Hellenism and Judaism was blurred."

Should say: "Notice that Feldman refers to Hengel's position that the distinction between Hellenism and Judaism was blurred."

Edgar Foster said...

To answer your other question, Duncan, I have read Genesis Rabba (Midrash). It's a long way from positing a multiverse (the stuff of QM) although I could see why someone might want to see things that way. But historians would probably say, such (mis)construals are grossly anachronistic. :)

Have a good day--time for lunch here.

Duncan said...

The related Chadash (1 sa 20:5) can either be translated as new or renew. For example, a new moon is not really a new moon but rather a renewed moon.

Bon Appetit :)

Edgar Foster said...

Cheers, Duncan. Thank you. I most certainly needed that lunch today.

Isn't there a sense in which the moon is new, not renewed? Does it not mark the beginning of a new month in lunar systems?

The new moon does mark a new month (not renewed month) in scripture.

Duncan said...

I thought this would be obvious. Do you think that the ancients would perceive the new moon to be a completely different one to the month prior? It is a renewed moon which we and they would appreciate. Not the same as receiving a new camel or donkey.

What something marks & what it actually is do not have to coincide.

A Jewish understanding.

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

Obviously this is tied up with Jewish ideas but as this last links says the word used is all about renewal.

Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

I'm not arguing that they believed the moon was newly created (ex nihilo) each month or thereabouts. What I am saying is that the month was new, the moon marked a new month, and it was as though the moon was newly made. See

Page 399

Just like we speak of a new year after the sun has made its circuit. The year is new, since it has never existed before. Each moment of time has its own uniqueness.

Edgar Foster said...

Interesting work here too. There's a certain ambiguity in the terminology "new moon," which is both new and renewed (in different senses). This book also makes a distinction between appearances and the moon in se.

Edgar Foster said...

While we're on this subject, Numbers 16:30 (WEB):

"But if Yahweh make a new thing, and the ground open its mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain to them, and they go down alive into Sheol; then you shall understand that these men have despised Yahweh."

Notice the use of BARA with BERIAH.

Duncan said...

I still think you are putting to much emphasis on a notion of create.

(YLT) and if a strange thing Jehovah do

(ABP-G) αλλ΄ η εν φασματι δειξει κυριος

(Brenton) But if the Lord shall shew by a wonder,

(clvulgate)sin autem novam rem fecerit Dominus,

True this does use "make a new".

(Geneva) But if the Lord make a newe thing

I see this verse implying that "if Jehovah re-does something a little differently." Compare Gen 4:11.

Edgar Foster said...


Thanks for commenting on this verse. However--I'm almost certain it cannot mean Jehovah will re-do something "a little differently." It's either a strange thing he will do, or it's new, but the act is not something that's been wrought in the past.

From Lange's Commentary:

f all goes on as usual with these men, so that they die a common death and thus meet the universal fate of men, then the LORD hath not sent me, Num 16:29. Then the contrary condition is expressed in a manner that is quite significant: but if the LORD makes something altogether creative, new (בְּרִיאָה יִבְרָא), as it is further defined, then ye shall know that (with a happy turn of expression) these people have rejected Jehovah, i.e., not me, therefore, as this statement quite reminds us of Num 16:11: ye conspire against Jehovah—what is Aaron?

EGF: The act refers to opening up the ground in order that the rebels might be devoured.

Duncan said...

Exodus 15:11,12

Edgar Foster said...

Not quite the same thing. In exodus, it's really the sea that swallows the Egyptians, and there's no earthquake. What happens in numbers is a completely new miracle even if the swallow language is the same. See the Lange commentary I referenced above.

Duncan said...

You hit the nail on the head - "**not quite** the same thing".

Brenton certainly makes a connection - "wonderful".

עֹשֵׂה פֶלֶא θαυμαστος

Ex 15:12 The erets opened her mouth.

Num 16: The erets swallowed them.

The point is not the differences but the similarities. It is clear that both are seen as being swallowed into Sheol.

Yes in Gen 15:10 we have sea but that does not change the fact that they were both perceived as going down into erets.

Again it's about function not form.

Obviously it is a new and different miracle with it's own circumstance.

The translation YLT - "and if a **strange** thing Jehovah do" must also see something.

Edgar Foster said...

1) Interpret "not quite the same" as an understatement.

2) 15:12 uses metononymy (earth for the sea), whereas numbers 16 does not.

3) Within the biblical context, wonders are normally miracles, and the adjective "strange" indicates something hitherto undone.

Imho, you're trying to explain the text in a way that discounts the creative newness of the act in Numbers. I believe that is contrary to the semantics of 16:30 and that view ignores most scholarship on the issue.

Edgar Foster said...

The new act is God's shaking of the earth, and punishing the rebels. It's not just the event of being swallowed that signifies the new act.

Duncan said...

On what is this metonymy based?,7,12,13#v8

One is agreed for 15:7.

See footnotes. (not that I see it as a later addition).

A Rabbinical view.

Page 310.

All apart from the "creatio ex nihilo" which is not proven biblical.

"as >>continuing acts<< of creation".

Yes, it was a new event but this is all about Hebrew perceptions - not ours.