Monday, November 20, 2017

Revisiting Genesis 1:2 with a Touch of Von Rad, Et Al.

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְהֹ֑ום וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃ (LC)

"The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (ESV).

"And the Spirit of God" could be rendered "the spirit of God" or "a divine wind."

Von Rad believes ruach elohim here is best rendered "storm of God," with the construction being understood as a reference to a "terrible storm" (i.e., to be construed as a superlative).

In terms of translational possibilities, Kenneth A. Matthews says that ruach elohim could mean "the wind of God" in Gen. 1:2 although he is doubtful of this understanding.

NRSV: "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters."

Footnote from NRSV: "Or while the spirit of God or while a mighty wind"

Rotherham's Emphasized Bible states: "but, the Spirit of God, was brooding on the face of the waters"

Byington's Bible in Living English: "the earth was a blank chaos, and there was darkness over the surface of the deep; and God's Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters."

Rashi: "and the spirit of God was hovering: The Throne of Glory was suspended in the air and hovered over the face of the water with the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He and with His word, like a dove, which hovers over the nest, acoveter in Old French, to cover, hover over."

Targum of Jonathan: "And the earth was vacancy and desolation, solitary of the sons of men, and void of every animal; and darkness was upon the face of the abyss, and the Spirit of mercies from before the Lord breathed upon the face of the waters."


Catholic NABRE: "and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters"

Part of the Ftn for 1:2 in the NABRE: "A mighty wind: literally, 'spirit or breath [ruah] of God'; cf. Gn 8:1."

Compare Gen. 3:8; Ps. 104:30; Acts 2:1-4; Heb. 1:7; Ezek. 2:2; 3:12, 14, 24; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 43:5; John 3:8.


Duncan said...

I will need to check the Rashi quote in Hebrew as a translation using the term "spirit" could be an extra layer of interpretation in effect.

also "Throne of Glory"

"like a dove, which hovers over the nest" fits my understanding of the interpretation "flutter".

Targum of Jonathan - "Spirit of mercies" has the same difficulty.

Duncan said...

Note the German influence in Geist. This seems to carry the definitions of " spirit, mind, ghost, intellect, wit, psyche, wraith" - no breath, no wind.

Duncan said...

For future reference.

Duncan said...

The formatting of some of the pages are fascinating.

Edgar Foster said...

Spirit is a common word to use in this context despite the word's ambiguities, but the translation of Rashi uses breath too. Gerhard von Rad points out that the German treatment of the construct in genesis 1:2 is Geist Gottes.

I will check out the links. My main objective was to show the broad semantic range of ruach.

Edgar Foster said...

A few additional comments:

"and God's breath hovering over the waters" (Robert Alter)

But in the footnote comment on 1:2, when discussing the rendering "hovering," Alter offers these remarks:

"The verb attached to God's breath-wind-spirit (ruah) elsewhere describes an eagle fluttering over its young and so might have a connotation of parturition or nurture as well as rapid back-and-forth movement."

E.A. Speiser supplies these comments:

"An awesome wind. Heb. ruah means primarily 'wind, breeze,' secondarily 'breath,' and thus ultimately 'spirit.' But the last connotation is more concrete than abstract; in the present context, moreover, it appears to be out of place--see H.M. Orlinsky, JQR 47 (1957), 174-82. The appended elohim can be either possessive ('of/from God), or adjectival ('divine, supernatural, awesome'; but not simply 'mighty'); cf. XXX 8."


Duncan said...

Just pointing how the modern understandings or in interpretation of the word may be colored by the KJV1611 & the German. As it puts John 14:26 - "holy ghost". To me the term "spirit" has a much broader semantic range than ruach or pneuma. I am also not overly convinces that the Aristotelian ideas have much to do with NT usage.

Edgar Foster said...

I agree with you about the KJV influence and what you say regarding Aristotle. Spirit is ambiguous because of multiple influences on English that include German, Latin and French.