Tohu wa-bohu

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For other uses, see Tohuwabohu (disambiguation).

Tohu wa bohu (תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ) is a Biblical Hebrew phrase found in the Book of Genesis 1:2 that describes the condition of the earth before God said, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3). Precise translation of the phrase is difficult, since it is a Hebrew wordplay, like ve-ha-oniyyah hishevah le-hishaver in Jonah 1:4.[1] 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."

The Septuagint renders it as ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατα-σκεύαστος, "shapeless and formless".

The interpretation of the first verse of Genesis is the subject of a discussion between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Ishmael (Gen. R. 1:14), in which Rabbi Akiva is refuting gnostic and other heretical views that matter existed primordially and that God alone did not create the world.[2] Abraham bar Hiya 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.[3]

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

Genesis 1:2, original Hebrew (Westminster Leningrad Codex)[4]

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)[5]

In French (tohu-bohu), German (Tohuwabohu), Estonian and Hungarian (tohuvabohu), the expression means "confusion" or "commotion".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Everett Fox; et al. (2007), "BIBLE", Encyclopaedia Judaica 3 (2nd ed.), Gale, pp. 572–640 
  2. ^ Louis Isaac Rabinowitz; Seymour Feldman; Yehoyada Amir (2007), "CREATION AND COSMOGONY IN THE BIBLE", Encyclopaedia Judaica 5 (2nd ed.), Gale, pp. 273–280 
  3. ^ K. Schubert (2003), "CABALA", New Catholic Encyclopedia 2 (2nd ed.), Gale, pp. 831–836 
  4. ^ Westminster Leningrad Codex online
  5. ^