Tohu wa bohu (תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ) is a Biblical Hebrew term found in the Book of Genesis 1:2. Numerous interpretations of this phrase were made by various theological sources, though it is usually translated as "waste and void," "formless and empty," or "chaos and desolation." It describes the condition of the earth before God said, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3). Precise translation of the phrase is difficult, as only the first word, "tohu," appears to have any independent meaning.
There is evidence that the sentence “And the earth was without form and void” (tohu v’bohu) indicates destruction, not simply primitive creation. This phrase is rendered more strongly elsewhere (i.e., in other ancient versions). For example, the Chaldee Version has “But the earth had become desert and empty,” the Septuagint has “But the earth had become unfurnished and empty,” and the Aramaic has “And the earth had become ruined and uninhabited.”
"Tohu" is used 20 times in the Hebrew Bible and is used to mean "vain" or "waste." "Bohu" appears only three times in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 1:2; Isa. 34:11; Jer. 4:23) -- always together with "tohu" and always quoting Genesis 1:2. Rabbi Judah taught Akiva's theories of Tohu and Bohu, describing Tohu as a green line encompassing the world from which darkness emanates, and Bohu as the slimy mass of stones sunk in the primordial abyss from which all water springs forth. Tohu and Bohu were also regarded as two of the 10 fundamental elements which God drew upon in fashioning the basic structure of the known universe.
וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְהֹ֑ום וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
In modern French, "tohu-bohu" is used as an idiom for "confusion" or "commotion". Also in colloquial German, "Tohuwabohu" means "great confusion"; "tohuvabohu" has the same meaning in Estonian and Hungarian.
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