Saturday, October 14, 2017

Gerhard von Rad and Genesis 1:2

Genesis 1:2 (NASB): "The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters."

The Hebrew term that is rendered "the deep" is תְּהוֹם (tehom), which is also translated "the great deep" in Gen. 7:11 (KJV) since it's coupled with the adjective רָב. Theologians/Bible scholars often interpret Gen 1:1-2 as a polemical answer to the Babylonian myth of Tiamat and Marduk. Gerhard von Rad apparently buys into this idea too. However, the Babylonian narrative is set within a polytheistic context unlike Genesis. But even more devastating to the Tiamat theory is the linguistic evidence against it.

For instance, scholar Victor Hamilton interacts with the claims regarding tehom and Tiamat, and I believe he shows it's uncertain that these words are cognate. In fact, there are reasons to believe otherwise. From what I've read, Mitchell Dahood (a late and esteemed philologist) seriously questioned the supposed linguistic connection between tehom and Tiamat.

For Dahood's exact quote, see

It is page 96, footnote 34. Dahood spoke of the "unsustainable connection" between these words. So the objections I've found to associating tehom with Tiamat seem devastating.

Dahood writes that the linguistic correspondence between tehom and thm (Ugaritic) is "much more likely" than a connection between tehom/Tiamat. Yet the Akkadian term related to tehom is also evidently cognate. According to biblehub, there are 36 occurrences of tehom in the Hebrew Bible, I think.

For now, I reject the Tiamat connection (linguistic association) with tehom; there is too much evidence against it. The myth that Tiamat is cognate with tehom began spreading after Hermann Gunkel (a German OT scholar) began to perpetuate the idea. Linguistically, it is nigh impossible to prove: weigh the evidence and arguments carefully, then you decide.


Duncan said...

Sill think the arguments are splitting hairs, especially if the original understanding of the goddess was "a primordial goddess of the salt sea" but I am still trying to establish this. If it is the case then linguistically they probably are connected but not necessarily (diachronicaly) in specific meaning.

I think I have already stated that Lil meant wind (directed) & Ki meant land (ground), which must have taken on a greater significance. One cannot ignore any possible implications of the "US" in Genesis 1. Adam was constructed from dirt & wind.

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

See the comments here on Gen 1:2:

This book by David Tsumura likewise argues against the Tiamat/tehom connection:

Edgar Foster said...

Another piece from Tsumura:

Duncan said...

"both the Hebrew term and the Babylonian term are derived from a common Semitic word meaning the Hebrew term is not derived linguistically from the Babylonian term"

I have no problem with this hypothesis. Given that the Semitic work could just be the Hebrew.

I do however have a problem with someone today stating how an ancient words pronunciation may or may not have developed. One cannot speculate pronunciations when we do not know how the words were pronounced and the fact that there is evidence to indicate that Hebrew had more symbols than it does today. Just as I would also be very wary of attempting to delineate the writing styles of two ancient text into the modern categories of writing style.

Edgar Foster said...

I don't see how lacking full knowledge of the pronunciation subverts the apparent fact that tehom and Tiamat clearly don't share the same root. How would pronunciation make a difference in this case? Tiamat (tmt), but tehom (thm). We may not have knowledge of exact pronunciation schemes, but plenty of texts exist for the purpose of comparison, and lots of work has been done on Hebrew phonology/dialectology.

Edgar Foster said...

NET Bible Notes for Gen 1:2:

9 tn The Hebrew term תְּהוֹם (tÿhom, “deep”) refers to the watery deep, the salty ocean – especially the primeval ocean that surrounds and underlies the earth (see Gen 7:11).
sn The watery deep. In the Babylonian account of creation Marduk killed the goddess Tiamat (the salty sea) and used her carcass to create heaven and earth. The form of the Hebrew word for “deep” is distinct enough from the name “Tiamat” to deny direct borrowing; however, it is possible that there is a polemical stress here. Ancient Israel does not see the ocean as a powerful deity to be destroyed in creation, only a force of nature that can be controlled by God.

Duncan said...

Lil does not have the same apparent root as ruach & Ki does not have the same apparent root as Eretz. But they do mean the same things. It is with the addition of El (En) that we understand a different meaning.

Abyss (ocean) - TIAMATU
SABITU - Seven Wind-Gods of TIAMATU (Abyss/Ocean)
Land - MATUM or KUR (unfortunately the transliterations from Sumerian are not formalized).

Giving personalities is the Sumerian way, but the fundamentals hold.

Thinking about the discussion we have had on this I just want to clarify that I am in no way arguing that the Sumerian epic is the source text for the genesis account but they do posses the same elements with or without personalities.

I think I have posted this before but the "US" still has to be explained.

Duncan said...

Heavenly (the heavenly one) - ANU
Heavens (he who knows the heavens) - ANZU
Heavens (opening to the heavens) - KUAN

Also when it comes to borrowing in either direction look at examples from Hebrew to Greek or Latin & see what dramatic changes can occur.

Duncan said...


Eleazar becoming Lazarus.

Edgar Foster said...

Does ruach really mean the exact same thing as lil? Ruach denotes more than air or even breath: even without adding El to the mix, ruach can mean spirit. But the main point is that scholars have tried to assert a direct linguistic connection between Tiamat and tehom. The suggestion appears to be false and untenable. Additionally, we also must have a reason to make connections between words across different languages. In the case of Gen 1:2, nothing really justifies bringing Tiamat into the the conversation.


WE can talk about the US in a separate thread if you'd like. To summarize, there is no evidence for a linguistic connection between Tikamat and tehom. Does the Genesis account have elements that mirror the Sumerian epic? In the light of Tsumura's study and the work above, I don't find the suggestion to be probative.

Edgar Foster said...

Don't think I've posted this article. See page 4ff.

Edgar Foster said...

One source reports that Lazarus is an abbreviated form of Eleazar.

We usually have a good idea about which words are cognate with one another (father, pater, pathr, vater) and which words are calques (arrabwn, in nuce, via lactea). Two words in two different languages might have the same/similar meaning, but that doesn't mean the words linguistically relate to one another as cognates or calques.

Duncan said...

To argue that ruach denotes wind or breath is misleading as it always meant breath just as phnuma did. This is because the ground was thought to breathe and this was thought to be the action that precipitated seismos. There are other words that can be translated wind, as in a gust but this is a wind that follows a prescribed path - breath. A Person cannot act without breath. It drives action so was associated with drive & intent. In a concrete sense what one is, is what one does. One does nothing without breath. Interestingly, see the only other occurrence of "mouth to mouth" in the OT.

This is why I highlighted the seven winds of the sea. The most unpredictable of the ancient environments. The wind flutters over the deep.

The fact that ruach later came to mean something else is not my point or argument.

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

Aristotle, and the Greeks in general, considered winds as discrete entities--the North Wind, South Wind, etc. see Meteor. 2.6

Edgar Foster said...

I am arguing that ruach had a range of meaning: breath, wind, spirit, etc. Some think wind is the meaning is Gen. 1:2, but others prefer spirit. As for the idea that the ground was supposed to breathe, I've never come across the idea in the Tanakh. It sounds like superstition to me.

With all due respect, it's hard for me to see how you can restrict the meaning of ruach to breath. Scholar Alan J. Hauser writes concerning ruach and its use in Genesis:

"a number of early church fathers favored 'spirit'; Tertullian vacilated; Epharaem and Theodoret favored 'wind.' See W.H. McClellan, "The Meaning of Ruah 'Elohim in Gen. 1:2," Biblica 15 (1936) 519-20. H.M. Orlinsky, "The Plain Meaning of RUAH in Gen. 1:2," Jewish Quarterly Review 48, 174-80, cites numerous commentators . . . who argue for 'wind'" (129).

To respond to one of your statements above, one could argue that no action is possible without "spirit," understood as life force. See Ps. 146:4.

I am particularly concerned about the potential meaning of ruach in Gen. 1:2. Scholars have different views, but "wind," spirit or breath all constitute part of the word's semantic range.

Contemplating the views of Aristotle and others is interesting, but his meteorological theory did not influence the Bible writers.

Duncan said...

In the Greek mythology we have Prometheus creating man out of earth (mud), and the goddess Athena breathed life into the man. Again, a later interpretation of the "US".

Your references to Psalms or possible future references to psalms 51:11 do not affect my point as these come much later & we do have a diachronic division between the Torah and the Psalms.

"a number of early church fathers favored 'spirit'"?? What does that even mean? Were their writings in Latin?

To the ancients, how would they perceive a "life force"? - The breath. When the breath leaves or stops man goes back to the ground.

Rig Veda - Creation Hymn - "That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever."
"That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond."
"The moon was born from his mind; from his eye the sun was born; from his mouth both Indra and Agni [fire]; from his breath Vayu [wind] was born."

To the ancients EVERYTHYING that could move / had activity, breathed.

This was on a windy day & it is probably the tree roots, but how does it appear on a windy day? Is the earth breathing the wind?

You can call it superstition but the ancient could have interpreted it as cause and effect.

I am sure I have posted this before.

Duncan said...

On the "US":-


"The idea is actually contradicted in Gn 1:27 where God alone is the Creator of the
world." ?? In 1:27 god creates man from the ground, not the world.

Duncan said...

Jehovah created man after the animals so why should we translate from "the dust of the ground" as if it is something inanimate:-

"Dirt might be more alive than we are".

An interesting point about the sacred cow in India is also made here regarding its function in agriculture (it does extend the useful life of the soil - but not indefinitely).

Another interesting phase we find in the bible is "dust and ashes" see:-

Duncan said...

Λαζαρος - how is this an abbreviated form of אלעזר "Elazar - El helps"? its pronunciation is just as long.

Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

It's a minor point to me, but quite a number of sources say Lazarus is an abbreviated form of Eleazar. One explanation is given here:

I will address other points as time permits.

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, with all honesty, I am not sure what the main point now is. I thought we were discussing ruach in Gen 1:2 and the issue concerning Tiamat. So who says ruach did not have the meaning of wind/spirit when Genesis was written? A number of sources propose the possible meaning "wind" for 1:2. I don't have to rely on references from the Psalms to establish that point.

The church fathers normally wrote in Latin or Greek, although we have other source languages like Syriac. Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine wrote in Latin.

Life force could encompass much more than breath, although that could be part of the meaning. In some cases, the divine spirit explicitly is compared to breath, but other contexts show a different understanding and so do texts like Eccl 12:7.

For some ancients, everything possessed a body, including sounds, souls and God. While ancient wisdom got some things correct, much of the wisdom from the past had to be revised, corrected and sometimes eradicated. Yes, superstition and mythology reigned in antiquity, but I believe the Bible writers categorically rejected those myths. However, even they did not grasp the full significance of what they wrote.

The Rig-Veda is highly problematic for more than one reason, but ironically, how it conceives the One is one such problem. Inchoate monism at its finest.

Edgar Foster said...

Got to get ready for my next class, but I still don't see evidence in Scripture for the idea that the ground produced breath. We let dishes "breathe," but it's not quite the same as human/animal breathing. One must ask, in what sense does soil breathe?

Philip Fletcher said...

Interestingly Genesis 2:19 seems to indicate that Jehovah God continued to create animals after Adam was created, whether this is before Eve was created, I don't know. But it looks like a creation continuation of the animals occurred after Adam was formed. Some before his creation others after as well. As for dust of the ground, I've never taken that as literal dust, but more like what dust is, it is dirt, I just don't know exactly how Moses may have thought dust was.

Duncan said...

The soil certainly does breath. Living soil which is not to be confused with rock and sand.’s-co2-from-ploughing-–-soil-scientist

The ploughing of the soil release more co2 than any other source as the soil organism breath it in.

But this is not my point in the ancient sense which is not only Greek. See 1 kings 19:11. First wind precedes the earthquake. The same order as the Greek myths and they called the wind pnuma coming out of the earth. They thought the wind came first and then complete stillness before the quake.

Duncan said...

The rig Vedas obscurity is similar to the Sumerian handling of the Anu. Each hymn must be handled separately.

Duncan said...

For eccl 12:7 compare gen 2:7 & Luke 23:46.

Edgar Foster said...


1) You quoted the Rig-Veda as follows:

"That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever."

What is that One Thing? What is the Rig-Veda suggesting about the cosmos? The common understanding of the text is that monism is being espoused throughout the work. But the Hebrews did not espouse monism.

2) I agree that Eccl 12:7 relates to Gen 2:7 and Lk 23:46, but what does ruach mean in each case? Is it breath, wind, life force or other? I contend that ruach has a flexible range of meaning--even in the earliest strata of Hebrew.

3) Soil breathes in a metaphorical sense or not quite like humans/animals breathe. My shoe breathes when I take it off my foot, but that is not the same as human breathing. Anyway, the most important consideration for now is what the Bible writers thought about breath/spirit. I don't believe the Hebraic view of wind/ruach totally coincided with the Greek view of pneuma before the Hellenistic era, and even after that time, some distinction likely remained.

Edgar Foster said...

Philip, I need to review the term for "dust," and read Gen 2:7, 19 again, but I've often been under the impression that there's a reason we say Adam was created from the dust and not from the dirt. But admittedly, I need to study the issue before venturing out on a ledge.

Edgar Foster said...

Jains hold to a belief known as hylozoism, which teaches that all matter is living. I don't think the view is particularly Jewish or Christian and the western world now rejects the view.

Edgar Foster said...

I don't fully endorse all that's said in the last link.

Philip Fletcher said...

No problem Edgar, just being part of the discussion. The Insight book says "the most common Hebrew word for dust is 'A.Phar' the dot should be in the middle, just don't know how to put it there, which may denote dry earth or clay mortar." found in Genesis of course and also it seems to be found at Leviticus 14:41,42.Interesting

Duncan said...

Edgar, it may be worth looking at the work done by James lovelock prior to his Gaia theory as indicators for a living planet. I think it was work done for NASA or series. Our planet as a whole does have a breath cycle.

As for dirt the KJV uses this term in 4 places, none of which refer to my definition of dirt but rather excrement.

Adam was made from the dust of the ground (land). This means the living ground. The bacteria in the soil is us, as we have already discussed a few times.

Duncan said...

SETI nor series.

What I meant about the KJV is that to my knowledge if the term means inert dust then dirt is conspicuously missing.

Gen 3:19 (excluding cremation) means man gets composted by living organisms into a living dirt.

Duncan said...

Worth googling - bodies in peat bogs.

This is what happens devoid of atmosphere and bacterial action.

Edgar Foster said...

Philip and Duncan, thanks for the info on dirt/dust. I will offer a reply later.

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, IMHO, we have to think about what the ancient Hebrews meant by dust--not what a 20-21st century mind would say dust is. I am saying that we must take this approach to understand what the writer of Genesis was saying.

Philip, you are correct that ‘ā-p̄ār is the word used in Gen. 2:7 and it appears in Lev. 14:41-42. See also Gen. 3:14, 19; 13:16; 18:27;28:14; Exod 8:16-17 and more. BDB Lexicon gives the definitions, dry, loose earth, dust.

The following quote comes from


In the Anchor Bible's commentary on Genesis (New York: Doubleday, 1964, pages 14 and 16), E.A. Speiser maybe puts the issue most succinctly:

[Gen 2:7] God Yahweh formed man from clods in the soil and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. thus man became a living being.

[Gen 2:7] clods. The traditional "dust" is hard to part with, yet it is inappropriate. Heb. apar stands for "lumps of earth, soil, dirt" as well as the resulting particules of "dust." For the former, cf., for example xxvi 15 [Gen 26:15]; note also vs. 19 [Gen 2:19], where the animals are said to have been formed "out of the soil." On the other hand, "dust" is preferable in iii 19 [Gen 3:19].


Edgar Foster said...

Here is another article that refutes the tehom/Tiamat connection:

Duncan said...

"we have to think about what the ancient Hebrews meant by dust--not what a 20-21st century mind would say dust is" - I have to agree & disagree at the same time, as it is the context of Moses specifically that must be examined.

Especially with respect to the culture he had lived within & the practice of mummification. It is probable that this was seen as a defiance of death just as cryogenics might be seen today.

The quote you supplied makes sense. Also the technological levels achieved prior to the flood are completely unknown to us but we do speculate that some of the writings of Moses might have come from earlier writings so I do not discount science completely.

I think it is sheer arrogance on our part to exclude attributing the knowledge of the physical world to the ancients. It is highly possible that the knowledge of living systems and interactions were better known back then than it is today.

The fact that a commentator finds the term - "dust", preferable is no concern of mine unless he can qualify his reasons for such.

One must also look at the combination used in Gen 18:27. I submit that it is the term translated "ashes" that I would interpret as dust in the inanimate sense.

Job 13:12 also has relevance with the relationship to clay.

I am sure the ancients would have known the differences of clay to dirt.

Edgar Foster said...

I would never say that the ancients lacked complete knowledge of the physical world, but they certainly did not know many things we know today. For one thing, they did not have the advantage of microscopes, telescopes, particle accelerators, and other contemporary tools. The ancients did not know that water is h2o, nor did they know that light behaves as a wave and a particle. That doesn't mean they had no knowledge of the physical world.

E.A. Speier actually suggested "clods" as a rendering for Gen. 2:7, not dust. But dust is the most common translation although my concern is not so much translation either, but what the word meant to the writer and his audience--in that context.

Why understand אֵ֫פֶר ("ashes") as "dust in the inanimate sense"?

I'm pretty sure that the ancients distinguished clay from dirt too, and they possibly saw a distinction between dirt and dust as well.

I will let you have the last word on this subject as I feel we've covered the original question about Gen. 1:2.

Duncan said...

If someone can conceive of a lense then who knows what else.

"one thing, they did not have the advantage of microscopes, telescopes, particle accelerators, and other contemporary tools." - lack of evidence is not evidence to the contrary.

As for the LHC :-

"When the LHC is up and running the total average power for the whole CERN site will peak at about 200 MW (usually from May to mid-December), which is about a third of the amount of energy used to feed the nearby city of Geneva in Switzerland."

I see nothing to exclude a similar energy consumption pre-flood.

Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

Sample word study on ruach: