Monday, April 30, 2018

Leave My "Bara" Alone (Genesis 1:1)

I'm not an Hebrew-Aramaic scholar, but I've followed the most recent discussions on the Hebrew term, bara, and noticed that certain scholars want to militate against traditional views of the verb's denotation.

Bara admittedly has different senses, depending on the context. "Create" even has different meanings in English: creating a song versus creating mayhem as opposed to creating progeny. We also have to look at the whole of scripture and contextualize Genesis 1:1 from which the whole issue arises. I think bereshith indicates creation is the meaning of bara in Gen. 1:1. It appears that bara and asah could be interchangeable at times, but bara likely communicates an idea that asah does not.

Considering the ancient evidence, one finds that the LXX understands bara to mean "create" and the Latin Vulgate follows suit. Is there any ancient evidence to the contrary?

I must admit it's odd to me that so many scholars and members of Judaism (including Rashi, Maimonides and Nachmanides) could be wrong about the meaning of bara. I also find it strange that the Bible at the very outset would not provide information about our ultimate origins, including the origin of matter. As I study Jewish history and what lexicographers have concluded, and most Hebrew scholars today, it is difficult for me to reject the "create" meaning for Gen. 1:1.


Duncan said...

Neh 9:6 - what is this ancient evidence of?

Perhaps it is only context that may help but I do have to wonder about the fact that Hebrew has only imperfect & perfect tenses. These later commentators may have spoken Hebrew but from the same thinking perspective?

Edgar Foster said...

You'll have to unpack your question about Neh 9:6. It discusses various things that God has created. What's the focus of your question?

Hebrew has tenses? Context is always going to affect how we understand texts: not only the literary context, but historical context as well. But Judaism has been fairly consistent historically with its explication and affirmation of God as Creator. Maimonides enunciated principles in his Mishneh Torah that still influence Judaism today. One of which is God's creation of the world.

Duncan said...āw_Consecutive

Tense is one way to describe aspects of the grammar.

Duncan said...

Neh 9:6 exchanges bara for the same actions in genesis.

Edgar Foster said...

I don't want to have a duel over the tense issue, but I've noticed that some Semiticists believe that Hebrew is tenseless and that the perfect/imperfect distinction in Hebrew refers to states and not tenses per se. Gesenius is still a good resource but it's dated (I notice) 1909. I don't know if the work will allow you to see pages 566-7 where it says the issue of tense in the Hebrew verbal system "is ongoing." See

Edgar Foster said...

On Neh 9:6, I actually talked about bara and asah, which Nehemiah uses. See above, but I wrote that bara and asah are sometimes used interchangeably. See Gen. 1:26-27.

Duncan said...

Seems there is nothing settled about the tense/aspect debate but I was only using it to describe this very point - we do not know.

Edgar Foster said...

I agree. It's just that I've had certain Semiticists tell me that Hebrew is tenseless and that scholars are moving in that direction. But nothing is settled as you say.