Tohu wa-bohu

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Miniature of the first two Days of Creation (separation of light and darkness; separation of the primordial waters by the firmament), William de Brailes Ms. W.106 (c. 1250).

Tohu wa-bohu (תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ), is a Biblical Hebrew phrase found in the Genesis creation narrative (Genesis 1:2) that describes the condition of the earth (eretz) immediately before the creation of light in Genesis 1:3.

Numerous interpretations of this phrase are made by various theological sources. The KJV translation of the phrase is "without form, and void", corresponding to LXX ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος, "unseen and unformed".

Text[edit]

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְהֹ֑ום וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם

Genesis 1:2, (Westminster Leningrad Codex)[1]

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.

Genesis 1:2, English translation (New International Version)[2]

The words tohu and bohu also occur in parallel in Isaiah 34:11, where King James Version translates with the words "confusion" and "emptiness".

The two Hebrew words are properly segolates, spelled tohuw and bohuw.[3] Hebrew tohuw translates to "wasteness, that which is laid waste, desert; emptiness, vanity; nothing".[4] tohuw is frequently used in Isaiah in the sense of "vanity", but bohuw occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible (outside of Genesis 1:2, the passage in Isaiah 34:11 mentioned above,[5] and in Jeremiah 4:23, which is a reference to Genesis 1:2), its use alongide tohu being mere paronomasia, and is given the equivalent translation of "emptiness, voidness".[3]

Interpretation[edit]

In the early rabbinical period, the verse was a point of contention regarding the question of creatio ex nihilo. In Genesis Rabbah 1:14, Rabbi Akiva refutes gnostic and other heretical views that matter existed primordially and that God alone did not create the world.[6] In Genesis Rabbah 2:2, rabbis Abbahu and Judah b. Simon give analogies in which tohu wa-bohu means "bewildered and astonished" (mentally formless and void), referring to the Earth's confusion after, having been created simultaneously with the Heavens in Genesis 1:1, it now immediately plays an inferior role.[7]

Abraham bar Hiyya (12th century) was the first to interpret the tohu and bohu of Gen. 1:2 as meaning "matter" and "form", and the same idea appears in Bahir 2.9–10.[8]

Possibly related[clarification needed] is the Yesod hapashut ("simple element") in the Kabbalah, in which "everything is united as one, without differentiation".[9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Genesis 1:2 בראשית", Tanach: Unicode/XML Westminster Leningrad Codex, transcribed by Christopher V. Kimball.
  2. ^ "BibleGateway.com: A searchable online Bible in over 150 versions and 50 languages". www.biblegateway.com. 
  3. ^ a b Wilhelm Gesenius, A Hebrew and English Lexicon (1906).
  4. ^ Strong's Concordance H8414
  5. ^ Strong's Concordance H922
  6. ^ Louis Isaac Rabinowitz; Seymour Feldman; Yehoyada Amir (2007), "CREATION AND COSMOGONY IN THE BIBLE", Encyclopaedia Judaica, 5 (2nd ed.), Gale, pp. 273–280 
  7. ^ Midrash Rabbah: Genesis, Volume One, translated by Rabbi Dr. H. Freedman; London: Soncino Press, 1983; ISBN 0-900689-38-2; p. 15.
  8. ^ K. Schubert (2003), "CABALA", New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2 (2nd ed.), Gale, pp. 831–836 
  9. ^ Chaim Kramer, Anatomy of the soul, Breslov Research Institute, Jerusalem/New York City 1998 ISBN 0-930213-51-3

External links[edit]