Andrews University Seminary Studies 37.1 (Spring, 1999)39-53 .

              Copyright © 1999 by Andrews University Press.  Cited with permission.



                THE EARTH OF GENESIS 1:2

                     ABIOTIC OR CHAOTIC?

                                  PART II


                                              ROBERTO OURO

                                               Pontevedra, Spain


                        1. Hosek and ‘al ~ pene in Gen 1:2


Etymology of *hsk

            Before specifically considering the Hebrew term tehom in the OT and

in the literature of the ANE, we analyze the Hebrew words hosek and

al-pene in Gen 1:2. Hosek is a masculine singular noun that means

"darkness, obscurity,"1 "darkness,"2 "darkness, obscurity,"3 "Finsternis

kosmich,"4 "oscuridad, tinieblas, lobreguez, sombra."5

            Words similar to the Heb root hsk exist in Phoenician, Punic, biblical

and extrabiblical Aramaic, as well as in later Semitic languages. This root

does not appear in Ugaritic and Akkadian texts. In the MT the verb only

appears in the Qal form "to be/come to be dark" and Hiphil "make dark,

darken." The noun hosek means "darkness, obscurity." The derived nouns

include haseka "darkness," mahsak "dark, secret place," and the adjective

hasok "dark."

            The root appears 112 times in the OT, once in Aramaic (Dan 2:22).

The verb appears 17 times (11 x in Qal and 6x in Hiphil). The noun hosek

appears 79 times, haseka 8 times, mahsak 7 times, and the adjective only

once (Prov 22:29).6

            In Egyptian, the term for darkness is kkw, in Sumerian it is kukku,


   1 BDB, 365.

   2 W. L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 119.

  3 E. Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers

of English (New York: Macmillan, 1987), 236.

   4 L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, eds., Hebraisches and Aramdisches

Lexikon zum Alien Testament (KBS) (Leiden: Brill, 1967-1994), 1:347.

   5 L. A. Schokel, Diccionario Biblico Hebreo-Espanol (Madrid: Trotta, 1994), 286.

   6 TDOT, 5:245.


40                    SEMINARY STUDIES 37 (SPRING 1999)


which is represented by the double writing of the sign GI6, which means

"black" and "night."7  In the Targums and in Talmudic and Midrashic

literature hosek is interpreted as "darkness."8

            In Gen 1:2 hosek is used to refer to the primeval "darkness" that

covered the world. In Gen 1:3ff, God created light and "separated the light

from the darkness." The separation is conceived both in spatial and

temporal terms. In Gen 1:5 God "called the darkness night."9 This name

is more than an act of identification; by naming darkness God

characterized it and expressed its nature and even indicated his control

over it.10 God, who created light and darkness as separate entities, on the

fourth day of creation put them under the "laws" of the heavenly lights

which separated "light from darkness" (Gen 1:18).11

            The function of darkness in the cosmos is later explained in texts such

as Ps 104:20, where the function of the light and the darkness is to indicate

the amount of time for the everyday life routine of animals and human

beings.12  In many texts, hosek is equivalent or parallel to "night" (Josh 2:5;

Job 17:12; 24:16; Ps 104:20). The word appears more times in Job, Psalms,

and Isaiah than in all of the other biblical books together.13

            The OT emphasizes that darkness is under God's control (2 Sam 22:2;

Ps 18:2 [28]; Job 1:8; Isa 42:16; Jer 13:16). The ninth plague of Egypt

(Exod 10:21-23) illustrates: "So Moses stretched out his hand toward the

sky, and total darkness [hosek-‘apela] covered all Egypt for three days.""

This event was extraordinary since Pharaoh, the son and the

representative of the sun-god, was considered the source of light for his

country. The darkness directly attacked the great sun-god of Egypt.

Another example of God's power over darkness occurs in the desert when

the Lord used darkness to protect his people (Exod 14:20; Josh 24:7).15


   7 Ibid., 246-247.

   8 M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumin, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalami, and the

Midrashic Literature (New York: Title, 1943), 511.

   9 TWOT, 1:331.

   10 N. H. Ridderbos, "Genesis i.1 and 2," in Studies on the Book of Genesis, ed. Berend

Gemser, Oudtestamentische Studien, v. 12 (Leiden: Brill, 1958), 239. This author notes that

God gave a name to darkness and discusses the importance of giving a name in the OT.

   11 TWOT, 1:331.

   12 TDOT, 5:249.

   13 TWOT, 1:331.

   14 A11 scriptural texts are taken from the New International Version (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, 1978).

   15 TDOT, 5:249-250.

            THE EARTH OF GENESIS 1:2: ABIOTIC OR CHAOTIC?                      41


            Past studies tended to see in Genesis 1 an antagonism between light

and darkness, the scheme of Marduk's fight against the monster of chaos

that is described in the Babylonian creation myth.16  It must be emphasized

that nowhere in the OT is mention made of a battle or dualism between

light and darkness. Neither is the primeval ocean or darkness considered

a chaotic power or mythical enemy of God. God is the creator of both

light and darkness (Isa 45:7); his kindness transcends the antithesis of light

and darkness (Ps 139:12).17

            E. J. Young indicates that darkness in Gen 1:2 was merely one

characteristic of the unformed earth. Man could not live in darkness, and the

first step in making the earth habitable was the removal of darkness.18

Moreover, Young presents the theological meaning of darkness by stating that

God named the darkness, just as he did light. Both are therefore good and

well-pleasing to him; both are created, and both serve his purpose, making up

the day. Thus, darkness is recognized in Genesis 1 as a positive good for man.19

            In a recent study about darkness in Gen 1:2, based on the text rather

than on past exegesis, Nicolas Wyatt proposes some interesting points: (1)

The literary structure of the verse is important to the interpretation and

the meaning of hosek; therefore, "darkness" corresponds in some way to

ruah 'elohim "God's spirit."20 (2) If ruah  elohim denotes some divine

quality, hosek must denote some similar quality; an example is Ps 18:1,

where darkness appears as the place of invisibility and possibly the place

of the Deity (see Deut 4:11, 23, where darkness seems to be the

appropriate environment for the divine voice); darkness is a figure of

invisibility.21 (3) The logical structure of the verse implies the initial stages

of the Deity's self-revelation: it is an unusual account of a theophany. Gen

1:2 refers to God's invisibility in the context of a primeval cosmogony.22

            In short, the term hosek "darkness" refers to an uninhabited Earth,

where human beings could not live until God created light. Furthermore,

the logical structure of the verse implies the Deity's self-revelation, an

unusual account of a theophany.


   16 H. Gunkel, Schopfung and Chaos in Urzeit and Endzeit (1895), 3-120; cf. also C.

Westermann, Genesis 1-11:A Commentary, trans. J. J. Scullion (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984),104.

   17 TDOT, 1:157.

   18 E. J. Young, Studies in Genesis One (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed,

1979), 35 n. 33.

   19 Ibid, 21, 35 n. 33.

   20 Nicolas Wyatt, "The Darkness of Genesis 1:2," VT 43 (1993): 546.

   21 Ibid, 547-548. Cf. also I. Blythin, "A note on Genesis 1.2," VT 12 (1962): 121.

   22 Ibid, 550-552.

42                    SEMINARY STUDIES 37 (SPRING 1999)


al ~ pene

            al~pene is a preposition + masculine plural noun construct which means

"face ... surface, upon the face of the deep,"23 "face = visible side: surface, pene

tehom, pene hammayim,24 "face, surface,"' "superficie del ocean = superficie

de las aguas."26

            In Hebrew, as in other Semitic languages, the noun appears only in plural.

Panim is one of the most frequent words in the OT, appearing more than 2100

times. However, in the vast majority of the texts panim is joined to a preposition

(which may be le, min or ‘al) thus making a new prepositional expression. In

many such texts the nominal meaning ("face") has been lost.27

            Panim, especially when related to concepts such as country, land, sea,

and sky, means "surface," mainly in the construction al~pene. The

preposition al~pene related to concepts such as adama "land, ground";

eres "land, country"; mayim "water" (Gen 1:2); tehom "primeval abyss"

(Gen 1:2) means "on (the surface of)" or "towards (the surface)."28 This

construction is important in determining the etymology and the meaning

of the Hebrew word tehom.


                                    2. Etymology of *thm


            The Hebrew word tehom in Gen 1:2 is translated into English as

"deep." In the Greek LXX it is translated a]bussoj "abyss.28

            Tehom is a feminine singular noun that means "primeval ocean,

deep,29 "deep sea, primeval ocean,"30 "’Urmeer, Urflut,’ als ein der

Schopfung voransgehendes Element,"31 "oceano, abismo, sima, manantial.

Especialmente el oceano primordial, abisal, en parse subterraneo, que


   23 BDB, 816, 819.

   24 Holladay, 293.

   25 Klein, 513-514. It is related to the Phoenician Mnp (= face), see Z. S. Harris, A

Grammar of the Phoenician Language (New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society, 1936),

137; Ugaritic pnm (= into); Akkadian panu (= face, surface); Syriac xtynp (= side).

   26 Schockel, 793. Translation: "surface of the ocean - surface of the waters."

   27 E. Jenni and C. Westermann, Diccionario Teologico Manual del Antiguo Testamento,

trans. R. Godoy (Madrid: Cristiandad, 1985), 2:548-549.

   28 Ibid., 2:561, 563.

   28 A. Rahlfs, Septuaginta (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1979).

   29 BDB, 1063; Holladay, 386.

   30 Klein, 693.

   31 KBS, 1558.

            THE EARTH OF GENESIS 1:2: ABIOTIC OR CHAOTIC?                      43


aflora en lagos, pozos, manantiales, y esta presente en mares y rios (de ahi

su use en plural), . . . superficie del oceano."32

            Tehom is the Hebrew form of the Semitic word *tiham-(at) "sea,"

which in Akkadian appears as the usual term for "sea" ti’amtum (later

tamtu).33 In the Targums, as well as the Talmudic and the Midrashic

literature, tehom is interpreted as "deep, depth, interior of the earth."34

The construct relation between al~pene and tehom (as well as e’al~pene

and hammayim) contributes to the determination of the meaning of tehom.35

Arguing against taking tehom as a personified being, A. Heidel points out:

            If tehom were here treated as a mythological entity, the expression "face"

            would have to be taken literally; but this would obviously lead to absurdity.

            For why should there be darkness only on the face of tehom and not over

            the entire body? "On the face of the deep" is here used interchangeably with

            "On the face of the waters," which we meet at the end of the same verse.

            The one expression is as free from mythological connotation as is the


Thus the expression ‘al-pene tehom, "on the surface of the tehom,"

            indicates that it does not refer to a mythical being but to the mass of



Supposed Babylonian Origin of tehom

            B. W. Anderson, among others, assumes that there is some kind of

relationship or linguistic dependence between the Babylonian Tiamat and the

Hebrew tehom.38 Scholars who followed Gunkel have maintained that the


    32 Schockel, 792. Translation: "ocean, abyss, chasm, spring. Especially the primeval,

abyssal ocean which is partly underground, and outcroppings in lakes, wells, springs, and is

present in seas and rivers (hence its use in plural) ... surface of the ocean."

   33 Jenni and Westermann, 2:1286.

   34 Jastrow, 1648.

   35 See B. K. Waltke and M. O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona

Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns,1990), 240-241. See R. Ouro, "The Earth of Genesis 1:2: Abiotic or Chaotic,  

Part 1," AUSS 36 (1998): 259-276. Paul Jouon and T. Muraoka indicate: "A noun can be

used in close conjunction with another noun to express a notion of possession, of belonging,

etc.... The genitival relationship is expressed by the close phonetic union of the two nouns, the

first of which is said to be constructed on the second.... The two nouns put in a genitival

relationship form a compact unit, and theoretically nothing must separate them" (A Grammar of

Biblical Hebrew, Subsidia Biblica 14/1,11 [Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico,

1991],1:275; 2:463). Finally, C. L. Seow points out: "The words in such a construct chain are

thought to be so closely related that they are read as if they constituted one long word" (A Grammar

for Biblical Hebrew, rev. ed. [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995], 116).

   36 A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

1951), 99.

   37 Jenni and Westermann, 2:2190.

   38 B. W. Anderson, Creation versus Chaos: The Reinterpretation of Mythical Symbolism

44                    SEMINARY STUDIES 37 (SPRING 1999)


author of Genesis borrowed the Babylonian name Tiamat and demythologized

it. But, as Tsumura points out, if the Hebrew tehom were an Akkadian loan-

word, it should have a phonetic similarity to ti’amat.38 In fact, there is no

example of Northwestern Semitic borrowing Akkadian /'/ as /h/.39 Moreover,

it is phonologically impossible for the Hebrew tehom to be borrowed from the

Akkadian Tiamat with an intervocalic /h/, which tends to disappear in Hebrew

(e.g., /h/ of the definite article /ha-/ in the intervocalic position).40

            Therefore, tehom cannot linguistically derive from Tiamat since the second

consonant of Ti’amat, which is the laryngeal alef, disappears in Akkadian in the

intervocalic position and would not be manufactured as a borrowed word. This

occurs, for instance, in the Akkadian Ba'al which becomes Bel.41

            All this suggests that Tiamat and tehom must come from a common

Semitic root *thm.42 The same root is the base for the Babylonian tamtu

and also appears as the Arabic tihamatu or tihama, a name applied to the

coastline of Western Arabia,43 and the Ugaritic t-h-m which means "ocean"

or "abyss."" The root simply refers to deep waters and this meaning was


in the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 15-40; see H. Gunkel, "Influence of Babylonian

Mythology upon the Biblical Creation Story," in Creation in the Old Testament, ed. B. W.

Anderson, Issues in Religion and Theology 6 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 42, 45.

   38 D. T. Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2, JSOT Supplement Series 83

(Sheffield: JSOT,1989), 46. Tsumura maintains that the Hebrew form that we should expect

would be similar to *ti’amat < ti’omat > te’omat which would later change into *te’oma(h) with a

loss of the final /t/, but never tehom with a loss of the whole feminine morpheme /-at/.

   39 Ibid.

   40 Heidel affirms: "But to derive tehom from Tiamat is grammatically impossible,

because the former has a masculine, the latter a feminine, ending. As a loan-word from

Ti’amat, tehom would need a feminine ending, in accordance with the laws of derivation

from Babylonian in Hebrew. Moreover, it would have no h.... Had Ti’amat been taken

over into Hebrew, it would either have been left as it was or it would have been changed to

ti’ama or te’ama, with the feminine ending a, but it would not have become tehom. As far

as the system of Semitic grammar is concerned, tehom represents an older and more original

formation than does Ti'amat, since the feminine is formed from the masculine, by the

addition of the feminine ending, which in Babylonian and Assyrian appears, in its full form,

as -at" (Babylonian Genesis, 100, n. 58). Cf. also Westermann, 105. This author, agreeing with

Heidel, adds that there is general consensus on the opinion that tehom and Ti'amat come

from a common Semitic root, and that the appearance of tehom in Gen 1:2 is not an

argument to demonstrate the direct dependence of the Genesis story on the Enuma elish.

   41 TWOT, 2:966.

   42 Heidel, 100.

   43 U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: From Adam to Noah (Jerusalem:

Magnes, 1989), 23-24.

   44 Heidel, 101; see also Westermann, 105.

            THE EARTH OF GENESIS 1:2: ABIOTIC OR CHAOTIC?                      45


maintained in Hebrew as a name for water in the deep ocean.45  Thus, the

popular position that the Hebrew tehom was borrowed from the

Babylonian divine name Tiamat, to which it is mythologically related,

lacks any basis.46

            Well-known Assyriologists such as W. G. Lambert, T. Jacobsen, and

A. W. Sjoberg have discussed the supposed connection between Genesis

1 and the Enuma elish. These scholars doubt the influence of

Mesopotamia on the mythological and religious concepts of peoples

living along the Mediterranean coast; instead, they see a strong influence

of that region on Mesopotamia.47 W. G. Lambert pointed out that the

watery beginning of Genesis is not an evidence of some Mesopotamian

influence.48 Moreover, he saw no clear evidence of conflict or battle as

a prelude to God's division of the cosmic waters.49 T. Jacobsen also

maintains that the story of the battle between the thunderstorm god and

the sea originated on the Mediterranean coast, and from there moved

eastward toward Babylon.50

            Furthermore, in some ancient Mesopotamian creation accounts, the

sea is not personified and has nothing to do with conflict. In those

traditions, the creation of the cosmos is not connected to the death of a

dragon as it is in the Enuma elish.51 Tsumura concludes that since some

accounts never associated the creation of the cosmos to the theme of the

conflict, there is no reason to accept that the earlier stage, without the

conflict-creation connection, evolved into a later stage with this

connection.52 Frankly, the evolutionary process should be reversed: from

an earlier stage with the mythological conflict-creation connection to a


   45 TWOT, 2:966.

   46 See also Tsumura, 47.

   47 A. W. Sjoberg, "Eve and the Chameleon," in In the Shelter of Elyon: Essays on Ancient

Palestinian Life and Literature in Honor of G. W Ahlstrom (Sheffield: JSOT, 1984), 218.

   48 W. G. Lambert, "A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis," in I

Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood.- Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic

Approaches to Genesis 1-11, ed. R. S. Hess and D. T. Tsumura, Sources for Biblical and

Theological Study 4 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994), 96-113, especially 103.

   49 Lambert, 96-109.

   50 T. Jacobsen, "The Battle between Marduk and Tiamat," JAOS 88 (1968):107.

   51 Tsumura quotes as an example a bilingual version of the "Creation of the World by

Marduk," which belongs to the Neo-Babylonian period and describes the creation of the

cosmos without mentioning any theme of conflict or battle. In this myth, the initial

circumstances of the world are described simply as "all the earth was sea" (49).

   52 Ibid.

46                    SEMINARY STUDIES 37 (SPRING 1999)


more recent stage without the mythological conflict-creation connection.

In conclusion, the Hebrew term tehom is simply a variant of the

common Semitic root *thm "ocean," and there is no relation between the

account of Genesis and the mythology of Chaoskampf.


Supposed Canaanite Origin of  tehom

            Since the discovery of the Ugaritic myths, a Canaanite origin for the

conflict between Yahweh and the sea dragons has been widely

propounded. This motif is thought to be related to creation and is

proposed as a basis of a supposed Chaoskampf in Gen 1:2.

            Recently, J. Day stated that Gen 1:2 was a demythologization of an

original myth of Chaoskampf coming from the ancient Canaan.53 He

suggested that the term tehom can be traced back to the early Canaanite

dragon myth.54 Therefore, he understands the Hebrew term tehom as a

depersonification of the Canaanite mythological divine name.55

            However, scholars have pointed out that the myth of the Baal-Yam

conflict in the existing Ugaritic texts is not related to the creation of the

cosmos;56 the storm god Baal is not a creator-god as is Marduk in the

Enuma elish.57 In the Baal cycle there is no evidence that he creates the

cosmos from the bodies of defeated monsters as does Marduk.58  In Ugaritic

mythology, El is the creator-god; as the creator of humanity he is called

"Father of humanity.”59  No other god fulfills any role in the creation of

the cosmos.60

            Finally, if the account of the creation in Genesis were a

demythologization of a Canaanite dragon myth, the term yam "sea"

should appear at the beginning of the account, but this term does not


   53 J. Day, God's Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea: Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the

Old Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 53.

   54 Ibid., 50.

   55 Ibid.

   56 M. S. Smith, "Interpreting the Baal Cycle," UF 18 (1986): 319f; J. H. Gronbaek, "Baal's

Battle with Yam-A Caananite Creation Fight," JSOT 33 (1985): 27-44; Tsumura, 64-65.

   57 Tsumura, 64.

   58 J C.L. Gibson, "The Theology of the Ugaritic Baal Cycle," Or 53 (1984): 212, n. 16.

   59 C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1965), 19.483;

J. C. De Moor, "El, The Creator," in The Bible World: Essays in Honor of Cyrus H. Gordon,

ed. G. Rendsburg et al. (New York: KTAV, 1980), 171-187; Tsumura, 144-148.

   60 See also P. D. Miller, Jr., "El, the Creator of Earth," BASOR 239 (1980): 43-46.

            THE EARTH OF GENESIS 1:2: ABIOTIC OR CHAOTIC?                      47


appear until Gen 1:10, in the plural form yammim.61 As Tsumura points

out, if the Hebrew term tehom came from a Canaanite divine name and

was later depersonified, the term would be something like *tahom. There

is no evidence that the term tehom in Gen 1:2 is a depersonification of a

Canaanite mythological deity.


                                    3. *Thm in the Old Testament


            The term tehom appears 36 times in the OT, 22 in singular and 14 in

plural.62  This Hebrew term appears without an article in all texts but Isa

63:13 (singular) and Ps 106:9 (plural).63  Tehom always means a flood of

water or ocean (abyss); there is no type of personification. The word

appears in a context of creation" with no mythical reference.65 The word

is used to designate a phenomenon of nature.66 Many times tehom is

parallel to mayim "water"67 or yam "sea.68

            Tehom also means "deep waters, depth" as in Ps 107:26: "They

mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths." Translated as

"depth" it acquires in some contexts the meaning of "abyss or depth" that

threatens human existence.69

            The depth of the ocean is also presented as bottomless. Thus, tehom

is conceived in some texts as a source of blessing.70 The texts that consider

tehom a source of blessing make it impossible to believe that the basic


   61Tsumura, 62, 65.

   62 See A. Even-Shoshan, A New Concordance of the Old Testament (Jerusalem: Kiryat

Sefer,1990),1219-1220. The 22 texts in singular are: Gen 1:2; 7:11; 8:2; 49:25; Deut 33:13; Job

28:14; 38:16, 30; 41:24; Pss 36:7; 42:8 (2x); 104:6; Prov 8:27, 28; Isa 51:10; Ezek 26:19; 31:4,

15; Amos 7:4; Jonah 2:6; Hab 3:10.

  63 Ibid, 1220. The 14 texts in plural are: Exod 15:5, 8; Deut 8:7; Pss 33:7; 71:20; 77:17;

78:15; 106:9; 107:26; 135:6; 148:7; Prov 3:20; 8:24; Isa 63:13.

   64 Job 38:16; Pss 33:7; 104:6; Prov 3:30; 8:24, 27-28.

   65 Westermann, 105.

   66 Job 38:30: "when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is

frozen?"; tehom is, in this instance, the mass of water that freezes due to intense cold.

   67 Exod 15:8; Ps 77:17; Ezek 26:19; 31:4; Jonah 2:6; Hab 3:10.

   68 Job 28:14; 38:16; Pss 106:9; 135:6; Isa 51:10.

   69 Exod 15:5; Neh 9:11; Job 41:23; Pss 68:23; 69:3, 16; 88:7; 107:24; Jonah 2:4; Mic 7:19; Zech

1:8; 10:11; "marine depth" Isa 44:27; "depths" Pss 69:3, 15; 130:1; Isa 51:10; Ezek 27:34. Tehom

has this meaning in the song of the Sea in Exod 15:5, where the destruction of the Egyptians is

described: "the deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone."

   70 Gen 49:25: "blessings of the deep that lies below"; Deut 8:7; 33:13; Ps 78:15; Ezek 31:4.

48                    SEMINARY STUDIES 37 (SPRING 1999)


meaning of the Hebrew term is a "hostile mythical power.,71

            In some texts, tehom refers to "subterranean water," as in Deut 8:7: "a land

with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills."

This is a description of the land of Canaan being watered by fountains and

springs fed by subterranean waters. We find a similar picture of tehom in Ezek

31:4: "The waters nourished it, deep springs made it grow tall; their streams

flowed all around its base and sent their channels to all the trees of the field."

            The texts generally used to explain the term tehom are Gen 1:2 and

the verses related to the flood (Gen 7:11; 8:2). Before considering the word

in the flood story, it must be noted that H. Gunkel had a powerful

influence on the exegesis of these verses through his Schopfung and Chaos

in Urzeit and Endzeit (1895). In that work he derived the term directly

from the Babylonian Tiamat, the mythical being and the feminine

principle of chaos, thus maintaining a basically mythical meaning. Hasel

has rightly pointed out that this direct derivation is unsustainable, for in

the OT tehom never refers to a mythical figure.72

            Gen 7:11 notes that nibqe’u kkol~ma’yenot tehom rabbah

wa'a rubbot hassamayim niptahu, "all the springs of the great deep burst

forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened." The verb baqa

appears here in the Niphal perfect 3 plural common; it means "burst

open,"73 "be split, break out,"74 "to split, to break forth,"75 "was cleft, was

split, was broken into,"76 "sich spalten, hervorbrechen."77 This verb

frequently appears in the biblical literature in connection with the

outflowing or expulsion of water.78 In Gen 7:11the phrase refers to the

breaking open of the crust of the earth to let subterranean waters flow in

unusual quantity.79 The parallelism in Gen 7:11b is marked by a precise


   71 Jenni and Westermann, 2:1290.

   72 G. F. Hasel, "The Fountains of the Great Deep," Origins 1 (1974): 69; Jenni and

Westermann, 2:1290.

   73 BDB, 132.

   74 D.J.A. Clines, ed., The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic

Press, 1995), 2:249.

   75 Holladay, 46.

   76 Klein, 81. Ugar. bq (= to cleave, to split), Arab. facqa’a (= he knocked out, it burst,

exploded), ba’aja (= it cleft, split).

   77 KBS, 143.

   78 Exod 14:16, 21; Judg 15:19; Neh 9:11; Job 28:10; Pss 74:15; 78:13, 15; Prov 3:20; Isa

35:6; 43:12; 48:21.

   79 Hasel, 70.

            THE EARTH OF GENESIS 1:2: ABIOTIC OR CHAOTIC?                      49


chiastic structure.80  In short, when considering the Hebrew terminology

and the literary structure of Gen 7:11b, it is evident that the bursting

forth of the waters from the springs of the "great deep" refers to the

splitting open of springs of subterranean waters.81

            The Hebrew of Gen 8:2 is similar to that of Gen 7:11b in

terminology, structure, and meaning.82 The two Niphal verbs in 8:2

(wayyissakeru "had been closed" and wayyikkale’ "had been kept back")

indicate the end of the impact of the waters on the earth; in the chiasm

they correspond to each other both grammatically, with the two Niphal

verbs of Gen 7:11b (nibqe’u "burst forth" and niptahu “were opened”),

and semantically, with the inversion of the phenomenon that begins with

the flood in Gen 7:11b (nibe’u, a "burst forth" and niptahu "were opened")

and ends in Gen 8:2 (wayyissakeru "had been closed" and wayyikkale "had

been kept back").83 The quadruple use of the verb in passive voice


   80 A nibqe’u burst forth

B kkol~mayenot tehom rabbah all the springs of the great deep

B' wa’arubbot hassamayim and the floodgates of the heavens

         A' niptahu were opened

The chiastic structure A:B:B':A' indicates that the waters below the surface of the earth

flowed (were expelled) in the same way that the waters on the earth fell (were thrown). In

B: B' there is a pair of words which are common parallels in biblical literature, tehom //

hassamayim (Gen 49:25; Deut 33:13; Ps 107:26; Prov 8:27). But above all there is

phonological, grammatical, and semantic equivalence between nibgqe’u // niptahu (Job

32:19; Num 16:31b-32a; Isa 41:18), rabbah // rubbot (see J. S. Kselman, "A Note on Gen

7:11," CBQ 35 (1973): 491-493); and between, nibqeukkol ~ma’yenat tehom rabbah \\

wa’a rubbot hassamayim niptahu, verb +subject \\subject +verb(\\ antithetical parallelism).

See also A. Berlin, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism (Bloomington: Indiana University

Press, 1985), 107].

    81 Hasel, 71.

    82 "Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and

the rain had stopped falling from the sky."

     A wayyissakeru now had been closed

B ma’ yenot tehom the springs of the deep

B' wa’a rubbot hassamayim and the floodgates of the heavens

      A' wayyikkale’ had been kept back

The verb "had been closed" corresponds to "had been kept back" (A:A'); "the springs of the

deep" correspond to "the floodgates of the heavens" (B:B'). The chiastic parallelism indicates

that the waters below the surface of the earth stopped flowing (being expelled) just as the

waters on the earth stopped falling (being thrown). The same pair of parallel words appears

as in Gen 7:l lb tehom // hassamayim. Above all there is a phonological, grammatical, and

semantic equivalence between wayyissakeru // wayyikkale and between ma’ yenot tehom

\\ wa’arubbot hassamayim wayyikkale, verb+subject \\ subject+verb (\\ antithetical


   83 Hamilton, 300.

50                    SEMINARY STUDIES 37 (SPRING 1999)


indicates clearly that the flood was not a caprice of nature, but that both

its beginning and end were divinely ordered and controlled.84 The Hebrew

terminology and literary structure of Gen 8:2 give it a meaning similar to

that of Gen 7:11b: the splitting. open of springs of subterranean waters is


Thus, not even here is tehom used in a mythical sense. The word

designates subterranean water that breaks the surface of the earth, thus

producing the catastrophe.86 In a similar way, modern scholarship

understands the use of the term in Gen 1:2 is widely understood as "ocean,

abyss, deep waters," therefore, as purely physical. Tehom is matter; it has no

personality or autonomy; it is not an opposing or turbulent power. There is

no evidence of demythologization of a mythical concept of tehom.87  Jenni and

Westermann conclude their discussion of tehom by pointing out that "if one

wishes to establish the theological meaning of tehom, one must conclude that

tehom in the OT does not refer to a power hostile to God as was formerly

believed, is not personified, and has no mythical function.88


4. *Thm in Ancient Near Eastern Literature


The Ugaritic term equivalent to the Hebrew term tehom is thm which

appears in Ugaritic literature in parallel with ym. It also appears in the

dual form thmtm, "the two abysses," and in the plural form thmt.89 The

basic meaning is the same as in Hebrew, "ocean, abyss.90


    84 Ibid

    85 Hasel, 71.

    86 See also Jenni and Westermann, 2:129 1.

    87 See M. Alexandre, Le Commencement du Livre Genese I-V (Paris: Beauchesne, 1988),

81; P. Beauchamp, Creation et Separation (Paris: Desclee de Brouwer, 1969),164,- Cassuto, 24;

Hamilton, 110-11, n. 25; D. Kidner, Genesis (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1967), 45; K. A.

Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26 (Broadman and Holman, 1996), 133-134; S. Niditch, Chaos to

Cosmos (Atlanta: Scholars, 1985),18-,A. P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker,

1988), 107; N. M. Sarna, Genesis, JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication

Society, 1989), 6; idem, Understanding Genesis (New York: Schoken, 1970),22; Stadelmann,

14; G. von Rad, El Libro del Genesis (Salamanca: Sigueme, 1988), 58-59; G. J. Wenham,

Genesis 1-15, WBC (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 16; Westermann, 105-106; Young, 34-35.

    88 Jenni and Westermann, 2:129 1.

    89 See Gordon, where the word appears in Ugaritic texts: singular, 174; dual, 245, 248-

249; plural, 3. See M. Dietrich, O. Loretz, and J. Sanmartin, Die keilalphabetischen Texte aus

Ugarit, ALASP 8 (Munster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2d ed., 1995): singular, 68; plural, 11; dual, 113.

    90 Gordon, 497. See also S. Segert, A Basic Grammar of the Ugaritic Language (Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1984), 203. Segert points out that the meaning of the dual

thmtm is "(primeval) Ocean, Deep."

THE EARTH OF GENESIS 1:2: ABIOTIC OR CHAOTIC?                      51


Thm appears in the cycle of "Shachar and Shalim and the Gracious

Gods"(Ugaritic text 23:30). The parallel use of ym and thm is evident.

[30] [il . ys] i . gp ym [El went out] to the shore of the sea

wysgd. gp. thm          and advanced to the shore of the ocean.91

Del Olmo Lete points out that the Ugaritic thm is a cognate of the

Hebrew tehom and translates the word as "oceano.”92

The plural thmt appears twice. Line 3 c 22 of "The Palace of Baal"


[22] thmt. ‘mn. kbkbm of the oceans to the stars.93

The other example appears in the cycle of Aqhat (17 VI 12)-

[12] [ ] mh g’t. thmt. brq      [ ] the ocean(s) the lightning.94

The dual thmtm is found in the cycle of "The Palace of Baal" (4 IV


[22] qrb. apq. thmtm            amid the springs of the two oceans.95

It also appears in the cycle of Aqhat (Ugaritic text 19 45):

[45] bl. sr’. thmtm without watering by the two deeps.96


Other ANE languages use forms of the thm root to describe a large

body of water. The Akkadian ti’amtum or tamtum also means "sea" or

"ocean" in the earliest texts, dated before the Enuma elish.97 In the

Babylonian account of the flood, the Atra-Hasis epic, the expression "the

barrier of the sea" (nahbala tiamtim) appears 6 times. In turn, tiamta "sea"

is used in parallel to naram "river," with a common meaning for both.98


    91 J.C.L. Gibson, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 2d ed. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1978),


   92 G. Del Olmo Lete, Mitos y Leyendas de Canaan (Madrid: Cristiandad, 1981), 443. In

this he agrees with Gibson, 159; cf. Del Olmo Lete, 635. In his study, this author notes also

the occurrences of the plural thmt and the dual thmtm.

    93 Gibson, 49.

    94 Ibid, 108.

    95 Ibid., 59.

    96 Ibid, 115.

    97 D. T. Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2, JSOT Supplement Series

83 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989), 55. Tsumura quotes the example from an ancient Akkadian

text in which the term tiamtim is used in its common meaning "sea, ocean":

Lagaski atima tiamtim in’ar (SAG.GIS.RA)        he vanquished Lagas as far as the sea

kakki (gis TUKUL-gi)-su in tiamtim imassi        He washed his weapons in the sea.

   98 Ibid.

52                    SEMINARY STUDIES 37 (SPRING 1999)


In Eblaite ti-‘a-ma-tum commonly means "sea" or "ocean."99

The evidence indicates that the Ugaritic term thm is a cognate of Hebrew

term tehom and both mean "ocean." In addition, cognate words from other

ANE languages have the same meaning and come from a common root, *thm.100




In conclusion, both the OT and the Ancient Near Eastern Literature

indicate that the term tehom in Gen 1:2 must be interpreted as a lifeless

part of the cosmos, a part of the created world, a purely physical concept.

Tehom is matter; it has no personality or autonomy and it is not an

antagonistic and turbulent power. The "ocean/ abyss" opposes no

resistance to God's creating activity.101 Certainly there is no evidence that

the term tehom, as used in Gen 1:2, refers at all to a conflict between a

monster of the chaos and a creator-god.102

There is no evidence of a mythical concept in tehom. Therefore, it is

impossible to speak about a demythification of a mythical being in Gen

1:2. The author of Genesis 1 applies this term in a nonmythical and

depersonified way.

The Hebrew term tehom in Gen 1:2 has an antimythical function, to

oppose the mythical cosmologies of the peoples of the ANE. This

antimythical function is confirmed by the clause in Gen 1:2c, "the Spirit

of God was hovering over the waters." Here there is no fighting, battle,

or conflict. The presence of the Deity moves quietly and controls the

"waters," the "ocean, abyss" to show his power over the recently created

elements of nature. This interpretation is further confirmed in the

following verses, particularly in Gen 1:6-10 where God "separates water

from water" (v. 6); then says, "let the water under the sky be gathered" (v.

9); and calls the "gathered waters" by the name "seas"(v. 10). The whole

process concludes in v.10: "and God saw that it was good." All that God

does on the surface of the waters and the ocean is good. These two

elements are lifeless; they do not offer resistance or conflict to his creative


    99 Ibid., 56.

    100 Huehnergard points out that the form or root thm would be /tahamatu/ "the deep."

J. Huehnergard, Ugaritic Vocabulary in Syllabic Transcription, HSS 32 (Atlanta: Scholars,

1987). Huehnergard shows the relation of thm and the Sumerian: [AN-tu4] = Hurrian: [a]s-

[t]e-a-ni-wi = Ugaritic: ta-a-ma-tu, (184-185).

     101 See G. F. Hasel, "The Significance of the Cosmology in Genesis 1 in Relation to

Ancient Near Eastern Parallels," AUSS 10 (1972): 6, n. 10.

    102 For a detailed discussion of the relation between tehom and the Sumerian, Babylonian,

and Egyptian cosmogonies, see G. F. Hasel, "The Polemic Nature of the Genesis

Cosmogony," EQ 46 (1974): 81-102.

THE EARTH OF GENESIS 1:2: ABIOTIC OR CHAOTIC?                      53


fiat; they respond to his words, orders, acts, and organization with

absolute submission. All this is contrary to what happens in the

mythologies of the ANE, where creation is characterized by conflict or

battle between powers (or gods) of nature.

In short, the description of tehom in Gen 1:2 does not derive from the

influence of any Ancient Near Eastern mythology but it is based on the

Hebrew conception of the world which explicitly rejects the mythological

notions of surrounding nations.103


     103 Stadelmann agrees: "The subsequent acts of creating the heavenly bodies manifest the same

antimythical view as we have noted in the cosmological presuppositions of the Priestly writer"

(17). On the distinction between the Hebrew conception of the world and that of other peoples of

the ANE, see ibid., 178ff.



This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Andrews University Seminary Studies

SDA Theological Seminary
Berrien Springs
, MI 49104-1500

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: