Andrews University Seminary Studies 35.2 (Autumn 1998) 259-276.

                            Copyright © 1998 by Andrews University Press.




             THE EARTH OF GENESIS 1:2

                 ABIOTIC OR CHAOTIC?

                                  PART I



                                         ROBERTO OURO

                                      Spanish Adventist Union

                                            Portevedra, Spain




            The famous German scholar Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932), well-known

advocate of Formgeschichte, tried to demonstrate that the battle in which

Yahweh defeated the sea monster of the chaos was related to the Hebrew

account of creation in Genesis 1. He assumed that the Babylonian creation

account, with its Chaoskampf or battle between the creator-god and the powers

of the chaos, was the basis for the mythical imagery that appears in the Bible.1

           Since the discovery of the Ugaritic myths, the existence of a conflict

between Yahweh and the sea dragons (Leviathan and Rahab in poetical texts

of the OT) has been widely accepted.2 This Canaanite conflict motif has

been related to the biblical creation story as "a missing link" which supports

the apparent Chaoskampf in Gen 1:2. Frequently, the Chaoskampf that appears

in the Babylonian Enuma elish and the Ugaritic Baal myth is considered the

main foundation of any cosmogony in the Ancient Near East (ANE).3 For

instance, J. Day assumed that Gen 1:2 is a demythologization of the original

Chaoskampf myth of ancient Canaan.4  R. J. Clifford and J. J. Collins have

proposed that Genesis 1 begins with a mythical combat between the dragon


     1 H. Gunkel, Genesis ubersetzt and erklart, HKAT 3/1 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck &

Ruprecht, 1901); reprinted with introduction by W. F. Albright in The Legends of Genesis:

The Biblical Saga and History (New York: Schocken, 1974).

    2 A. Cooper, "Divine Names and Epithets in the Ugaritic Texts," in Ras Shamra

Parallels, ed. Loren Fisher (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1981), 3:369-383.

    3 See C. Kloos, Yhwh's Combat with the Sea: A Canaanite Tradition in the Religion of

Ancient Israel (Leiden: Brill, 1986), 70-86; J. Day, God's Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea:

Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,


    4 Day, 53.


260                 SEMINARY STUDIES 35 (AUTUMN 1998)


of chaos and the divine sovereign.5

Gunkel stated that the Hebrew term tehom in Gen 1:2 had a Babylonian

background.6  He suggested that tehom derived directly from Tiamat, the Babylonian

 goddess of the primordial ocean in the Enuma elish. Since Gunkel's statement,

 many scholars have assumed some kind of direct or indirect connection between

the Babylonian Tiamat and the Hebrew tehom.7  Many have accepted that

the Hebrew tehom in Gen 1:2 has a mythological foundation in Tiamat, the

goddess of the Enuma elish, in which Marduk the storm god fights and defeats

Tiamat the sea dragon, thus establishing the cosmos.8

The expression tohu wabohu, "emptiness and waste," in Gen 1:2 is of-

ten considered a reference to this primordial "chaos," in strict opposition

to "creation." The phrase is taken to refer to the earth in an abiotic or lifeless

state, with no vegetation, animals, or human beings.9

Gunkel also posited the theory, later supported by other scholars, that

the ruah elohim in Gen 1:2c corresponds to the winds that Marduk sends

against Tiamat, thus assuming that it is an expression that describes the pri-

mordial chaos.

The object of this three-part article is to discover whether in Gen 1:2

there is any evidence for the mythological battle between the creator-god

and the powers of the chaos, Chaoskampf, such as Gunkel and many other

scholars maintain.10 If we found such evidence, we would need to take heed


     5 R. J. Clifford and J. J. Collins, eds., Creation in the Biblical Traditions, CBQ

Monograph Series 24 (Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1992), 32-

33. See also R. J. Clifford, Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible, CBQ

Monograph Series 26 (Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1994).

     6 H. Gunkel, "Influence of Babylonian Mythology upon the Biblical Creation Stories,"

in Creation in the Old Testament, ed. B. W. Anderson, Issues in Religion and Theology 6

(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 25-52; first published in Schopfung und Chaos in Urzeit und

Endzeit (1895).

     7 B. S. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament (London: SCM, 1960), 36; B. W.

Anderson, Creation versus Chaos: The Reinterpretation of Mythical Symbolism in the Bible

(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 15-40; K. Wakeman, "The Biblical Earth Monster in the

Cosmogonic Combat Myth," JBL 88 (1969): 313-320; idem, God's Battle with the Monster: A

Study in Biblical Imagery (Leiden: Brill, 1973), 86ff.

     8 For a translation and discussion of this text, see A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, 2d

ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951); see also the translation by E. A. Speiser in

"The Creation Epic," ANET, 60-72. The most recent translation can be seen in S. Dalley,

Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 1991), 233-274.

     9 See D. T. Tsumura, "The Earth in Genesis 1," in I Studied Inscriptions from Before the

Flood, ed. R. S. Hess and D. T. Tsumura (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994), 326-328.

     10 See for example, B. K. Waltke, Creation and Chaos (Portland, OR: Western

Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1974). This author points out that there are three main



to Gunkel's affirmation: "If it is the case, however, that a fragment of a

cosmogonic myth is preserved in Genesis 1, then it is also no longer allowable

to reject the possibility that the whole chapter might be a myth that has

been transformed into narrative."11  But if, on the contrary, there is no linguistic

or biblical foundation for that assumption, the creation account would no

longer be a myth or compilation of myths similar to those of ANE literature.

The creation story would then be a true, reliable, literal, and objective account

of the origin of life on this planet.

To achieve this goal, these articles about the earth described in Gen 1:2

will analyze the Hebrew terms tohu wabohu, tehom, and ruah elohim in the

OT and their equivalents in the ANE literature.


The Hebrew Text of Gen 1:2


Weaares hayeta tohu wabohu wehosek al--pene tehom

weruah elohim merahepet ‘al--pene hammayim

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 (NIV).


Gen 1:2 is formed by three circumstantial clauses:

(1) We ha’ares hayeta tohu wabohu: "Now the earth was formless and empty"

(2) wehosek al---pene tehom: "darkness was over the surface of the deep"

(3) weruah elohim merahepet ‘al- pene hammayim: "and the Spirit of God

was hovering over the waters."

In Semitic languages a circumstantial clause describes a particular con-

dition.12 Verse 2 presents three clauses that describe three circumstances

or conditions that existed at a particular time, which is defined by the verb


interpretations of Gen 1:1-3 within Protestant thinking. These he calls the theory of the

postcreation chaos (or theory of the restitution), in which chaos occurred after the original

creation; the theory of the initial chaos, according to which chaos occurred in connection

with creation; and the theory of the precreation chaos which he himself defends, according

to which chaos occurred before the original creation (18, 19); and other authors such as: A.

P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 106-107, 723; V. P. Hamilton,

The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-11, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 117. As can

be seen, the explanation and interpretation of Gen 1:2 are founded on chaos, whether

before, during, or after creation.

    11 Gunkel, "Influence of Babylonian Mythology," 26-27.

     12 For a discussion of the function of the circumstantial phrase in Hebrew, see W.

Gesenius-E. Kautzch, Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, trans. A. E. Cowley (Oxford: Clarendon

Press, 1910), 451, 489; Paul Jouon and T. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, Subsidia

Biblica 14 (Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1991, 2:581.

262                 SEMINARY STUDIES 35 (AUTUMN 1998)


form of the three clauses.13  In this verse the three coordinated clauses begin

with a waw followed by a noun that functions as the subject of the clause.

The theme of the verse 2 is the earth; this is the great central theme,

not only in the rest of Genesis 1, but also of the whole Bible.14 The earth

is the center and object of biblical thought.15

The exegesis of Gen 1:2 has been considered by scholars such as M.

Alexandre,16  P. Beauchamp,17 V. P. Hamilton,18 D. Kidner,19 S. Niditch,20

A. P. Ross,21 N. M. Sarna,22 L. I. J. Stadelmann,23 G. von Rad,24 G. J. Wenham,25

Westermann,26 and E. J. Young.27


     15 "Clauses describing concomitant circumstances are introduced by the conjunction v of

accompaniment.... When the circumstances described are past or future, a finite form

of a verb is employed. For the past a perfect aspect is used, e.g. Uhbv Uht htyh Crxhv  ‘the

earth having been a formless void' (Gen 1:2)" (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax: An Outline,

2d ed. [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976, 1992]), 83. In this case the verb haya is

in Qal perfect 3 feminine singular hayeta. As C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch point out: "The

three statements in our verse are parallel; the substantive and participial construction of the

second and third clauses rests upon the htyhv of the first. All three describe the condition

of the earth immediately after the creation of the universe" (Commentary on the Old

Testament, trans. J. Martin ([Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986], 1:49).

     14 For further bibliographical references on Gen 1:1-3 from 1885/86 to 1966, see C.

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

1984), 75-76.

     15 So Keil and Delitzsch, 1:48.

     16 M. Alexandre, Le Commencement du Livre: Genese I- V (Paris: Beauchesne, 1988), 76-87.

     17 P. Beauchamp, Creation et Separation (Paris: Desclee de Brouwer, 1969), 149-174.

    18 Hamilton, 108-117.

    19 D. Kidner, Genesis (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1967), 44-45.

    20 S. Niditch, Chaos to Cosmos (Atlanta: Scholars, 1985), 18.

     21 Ross, 106-107.

     22 N. M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (New York: Schoken, 1970), 22, 34 n. 23; idem.,

Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 6-7.

    23 L. I. J. Stadelmann, The Hebrew Conception of the World, Analecta Biblica 39 (Rome:

Biblical Institute, 1970), 12-17.

     24 G. von Rad, El Libro del Genesis (Salamanca: Sigueme, 1988), 58-60.

     25 G. J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, WBC (Waco: Word Books, 1987), 15-17.

     26 Westermann, 102-111.

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

1979), 15-42.



The Semichiastic Structure of Gen 1:2


The Hebrew text of Gen 1:2 presents an incomplete antithetical chiastic

structure (i.e., a quasi- or semichiastic antithetical structure, because it

lacks the section A' which is antithetical to A) marked by the following

linguistic and semantic parallelism:

A Weha’ares hayeta tohu wabohu: "Now the earth was formless and empty"

   B wehosek ‘al--pene tehom: "darkness was over the surface of the deep"

   B' weruah elohim merahepet ‘al--pene hammayim: "and the Spirit of God

was hovering over the waters."

The grammatical, semantic, and syntactic chiastic parallelism is clearly

defined by the microstructures B \\ B'(\\ stands for antithetic parallelism)

in which the expression "over the surface" ‘al - pene is repeated. Grammatically

speaking, this expression is a preposition + plural masculine noun construct

(prep. + p.m.n. cstr.).28

The grammatical and semantic parallel ‘al --pene tehom // ‘al - pene

hammayim represents a second example of paired words, tehom // ham-

mayim that appears in Ezek 26:19 and Ps 104:6; and mayim // tehom that

appear in Ezek 31:4; Hab 3:10; Jonah 2:6; Ps 33:7; 77:17; Job 38:30. Notice

also the parallelism between mayim // tehomot and ruah in Exod 15:8.29  The

antithetic concept is clearly indicated by the opposite or contrasting pair

of words hosek "darkness" \\ ruah elohim "Spirit of God." The noun hosek

is grammatically a masculine singular (m.s.n.), and ruah elohim is a feminine

singular noun construct (f.s.n.cstr.) plus a masculine plural noun (m.p.n.).

However, they present an exact syntactic correspondence and parallelism.

Both have the same syntactic function, that of a subject.30

Another syntactic aspect is important in this antithetic chiasm: the construct

relation in ‘al - pene tehom and ‘al pene hammayim.31 This aspect of the Hebrew

syntax is of great importance to the significance and the semantic and etymological

origin of tehom, as will be seen in the second part of this article.

A particular type of parallelism used in prose is the gender-matched

parallelism. Gen 1:2 is an example of this type of parallelism, since it represent


     28 Williams, 10-11.

     29 J. S. Kselman, "The Recovery of Poetic Fragments from the Pentateuchal Priestly

Source," JBL 97 (1978): 163.

    30 For a study of the biblical grammatical, semantic, and syntactic parallelism, see A.

Berlin, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985).

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

(Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 240-241.

264                 SEMINARY STUDIES 35 (AUTUMN 1998)


the gender-matched pattern: Feminine + masculine // masculine + feminine

// feminine+masculine.32


Tohu wabohu in the Old Testament and

the Literature of the Ancient Near East


Before specifically considering this point, we must briefly analyze the

Hebrew terms ha’ares and hayeta in Gen 1:2. The most used Egyptian term

for "earth" is t3. The antithesis for this term is the formula pt-t3, "heaven"

and "earth," by which it makes reference to the whole cosmos. The usual

hieroglyphic symbol t3 represents a flood plain with grains of sand all around.

In Sumerian and Akkadian there is a distinction between "earth" (ki or ersetu)

and "country" (kur, kalam, or matu). In Akkadian ersetu means "earth," in

opposition to "heaven." "Heaven and earth" (samu u ersetu) means the universe.

In Ugariticrs means "earth, ground, inferior world." The earth is also opposed

to "heaven" and the clouds.33  Ugaritic literature also gives an extraordinary

example of a pair of words, ars // thmt, chiastically related as in Gen 1:2:

tant s'mm ‘m ars // thmtmn kbkbm.34

The pair of words ‘eres // tehom also reveals an example of inclusive

structure in the six days of the creation, where ‘al -- pene tehom before the

first day (Gen 1:2) matches ‘al -pene ha’ares after the sixth (Gen 1:29).35

The Hebrew ‘eres occupies the fourth place among the most frequent

nouns in the OT. The term appears 2,504 times in Hebrew and another 22


    32 See W.G.E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry, JSOT Supplement Series 26 (Sheffield:

JSOT, 1986), 53.

   33 TDOT, 1:388-392.

   34 R. E. Whitaker, A Concordance of the Ugaritic Literature (Cambridge: Harvard

University Press, 1972), 613.

    35 Kselman, 164. For this type of inclusion or construction see D. N. Freedman's

"Prolegomenon" to G. B. Gray, The Forms of Hebrew Poetry (New York: KTAV, 1972),

xxxvi-xxxvii. However, according to D.T. Tsumura the nature of the relationship between

ha’ares "earth" and tehom "abyss, ocean" in Gen 1:2 is a hyponym. According to Tsumura, in

modern linguistics, the relationship of meaning is called hyponym which sometimes is

explained as inclusion. (i.e., what is referred to in the term A includes what is referred to in

the term B). The former is preferred over the latter because a relationship of sense exists

among lexical items rather than a relationship of reference. Thus the hyponym can be used

also in a relationship between terms that have no reference. In Tsumura's own words: "Our

term ‘hyponym' therefore means that the sense [A] of the more general term ‘A’ (e.g. ‘fruit')

completely includes the ‘sense’ [B] of more specific term ‘B’ (e.g. ‘apple'), and hence what

‘A' refers to includes what ‘B’ refers to. In other words, when the referent [B] of the term

‘B’ is a part of/belongs to the referent [A] of the term ‘A’, we can say that ‘B’ is hyponymous

to ‘A,’ ("A 'Hyponymous' Word Pair: 'rs and thm (t) in Hebrew and Ugaritic" [Bib 69

(1988): 258-269, esp. 259-260]). Therefore, in Gen 1:2 there is a hyponym in which tehom

"ocean" is a part of the ha’ares "earth."



times in the Aramaic sections. The word tires designates: (1) cosmologically,

the earth (in opposition to heaven) and solid ground (in opposition to water);

(2) physically, the soil on which humans live; (3) geographically, certain regions

and territories; (4) politically, certain sovereign regions and countries. In

the most general sense, ‘eres designates the earth that together with the "heaven,"

samayim, comprises the totality of the universe. "Heaven and Earth" is an

expression designating the whole world (Gen 1:1; 2:1, 4; 14:19, 22; etc.).

In addition to a bipolar view of the world, there is also a tripolar view:

for instance, heaven-earth-sea (Exod 20:11; Gen 1:10, 20 and others); heaven-

earth-water beneath the earth (Exod 20:4; Deut 5:8). But what is important

to the OT is not the earth as part of the cosmos but what lives on it (Deut

33:16; Isa 34:1; Jer 8:16; etc.): its inhabitants (Isa 24:1, 5-6, 17; Jer 25:29-30;

Ps 33:14; etc.), nations (Gen 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; Deut 28:10; etc.), and kingdoms

(Deut 28:25; 2 Kgs 19:15; etc.). Thus the term "earth" may designate at the

same time--as it does in other languages--the earth and its inhabitants (Gen

6:11; etc.). In its physical use, ‘eres designates the ground on which human

beings, things, dust (Exod 8:12), and reptiles (Gen 1:26; 7:14; 8:19; etc.) are.36

The verb haya (to be) that appears in Gen 1:2 as hayeta in Qal perfect

3 f.s. is translated by the majority of the versions as "was" but may also be

translated "became," as it appears in some versions. However, the syntactic

order and the structure of the clause do not allow this translation here. The

syntactic order in Gen 1:2 (first the subject and then the verb) is used to indicate

the addition of circumstantial information and the absence of chronological

or sequential occurrence. For that reason the translators of the LXX translated

hayeta as "was" and not as "became."37 Besides, the Hebrew letter waw that

appears at the beginning of Gen 1:2 is a "circumstantial waw" because it is

joined to the subject "the earth" and not to the verb. Therefore it is better

translated as "now." The translators of the LXX, who were very careful in

the translation of the Pentateuch, translated it in that way.

The initial state of the earth in Gen 1:2 is described as tohu wabohu.

This expression is translated into English as "formless and empty" (NIV).

In the Greek versions it is translated as  aoratoj kai akatskeuastoj,

"invisible and unformed" (LXX); kenwma kai ouqen, "empty and nothing"

(Aquila); qen kai ouqen "nothing and nothing" (Theodotion); and argon


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

trans. J. A. Mugica; Madrid: Cristiandad, 1978), 1:344-54. See also TWOT, 1:167-68; D.J.A.

Clines, ed., The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993),

1:384-397, esp. 392, which gives specific references to Qumran literature and related

extrabiblical texts.

    37 F. Delitzsch comments that the perfect preceded by the subject is the most usual way

of describing the circumstances in which the subsequent account takes place (A New

Commentary on Genesis [Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1978],1:77).

266                 SEMINARY STUDIES 35 (AUTUMN 1998)


kai adiakriton, "unproductive and indistinguishable" (Symmachus).38


Etymology and Usage of Tohu in the OT


Tohu is a masculine singular noun (m.s.n.) that means "formlessness,

confusion, unreality, emptiness,... formlessness of primaeval earth in Gen

1:2";39 "wasteland, solitude or emptiness";40 "emptiness, waste, desert, chaos,

confusion";41 "Wuste, Ode, Leere,... Gen 1:2 esbedeutet die ode Wuste,

and ist als Grundbegriff zur Schopfung gebraucht";42 "caos, lo que no tiene

forma ni medida, informe, inmensidad. Lo desmesurado; formulacion clara

y directa de la negacion: nada, la nada, vacio, el vacio, nulidad,... caos informe

en Gen 1:2."43

The term tohu appears 20 times in the OT, 11 of them in Isaiah.44 The

different uses of the term can be classified, according to Westermann, in three

groups that go from the concrete meaning of "desert" to the abstract "emptiness":

(1) "Desert," the terrible and barren desert that leads to de-

struction: Deut 32:10; Job 6:18; 12:24 = Ps 107:40; (2) "Desert or devastation

that threatens": Isa 24: 10; 34:11; 40:23; Jer 4:23; "the state that is opposed

to the creation and precedes it": Gen 1:2; Isa 45:18; Job 26:7. 3; (3) "Nothing":

1 Sam 12:21 (2x); Isa 29:21; 40:17; 41:29; 44:29; 45:19; 49:4; 59:4.45

The first and third groups are simple enough to define and describe. In

the first, tohu is "earth, desert ground" (Deut 32:10), the "untilled land" where

caravans die Gob 6:18), a "barren ground without roads" where people wander

(Job 12:24; Ps 107:40). Therefore, the term refers to the desert as a "barren ground


    38 J. W. Wevers, Septuaginta: Genesis (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1974), 75;

cf. A. Rahlfs, Septuaginta (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgessellschaft, 1979).

    39 F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old

Testament (BDB) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), 1062.

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

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 386.

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

Readers of English (Jerusalem: University of Haifa, 1987), 692.

    42 L. Koehler, W. Baurngartner, and J. J. Stamm, eds., Hebraisches and Aramaisches

Lexikon zum Alten Testament (Leiden: Brill, 1967-1994), 1557.

    43 L. A. Schokel, Diccionario Biblico Hebreo-Espanol (Madrid: Trotta, 1994), 792.

Translation: "Chaos; what has no shape or measure: shapeless, immensity, the excessive; a

clear and direct formulation of the negation: nothing, the nothingness, empty, the

emptyness, nullity, . . . shapeless chaos in Gen 1:2."

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

Sefer, 1990), 1219. The 20 texts are: Gen 1:2; Deut 32:10; 1 Sam 12:21 (2x); Job 6:18; 12:24;

26:7; Ps 107:40; Isa 24:10; 29:21; 34:11; 40:17, 23; 41:29; 44:9; 45:18-19; 49:4; 59:4; Jer 4:23.

    45 Westermann, 102-10:3.



or land." In the third group tohu refers to a situation in which something that

ought to be there is lacking. It is used in an abstract sense in which it

appears in parallel with other nouns such as ‘epes, "nothing"(Isa 41:29), riq,

"empty" (Isa 49:4), and "empty arguments" (Isa 59:4, NIV).46  In these passages

tohu is better understood as "lack or emptiness" rather than "nothing."

Of special interest to this study are the uses of tohu in Westermann's

second group, where the word describes the situation or condition of places

such as the planet earth, land (region), or city. In Isa 24:10 we have qiryat-

tohu, referring to the "desolate or deserted" state of a city, almost equivalent

to the term samma in v. 12, which refers to the desolation of a city: "The

ruined city lies desolate; the entrance to every house is barred" (NIV).

In job 26:7, Westermann thinks 'al -- tohu is directly opposed to the

creation, though he does not translate it as chaos.47 But the expression

al -- tohu is parallel to the expression ‘al - beli -- ma "a place where there

is nothing." Therefore, in this context a possible translation of tohu would

be "a desert-like or empty place."48

Westermann points out that in Isa 45:18 lo- tohu is in direct opposition

to the creation.49 However, here tohu is in parallelism with lasebet, Qal infinitive

construct (Qal inf. cstr.), "to be inhabited" (NIV), from the verb yasab "to dwell.50

The text does not indicate anything about a chaotic state in the earth: "he did

not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited" (NIV). Instead, tohu

in this text also means "a desert, an uninhabited place." Thus this verse may

be better translated as "[earth] not to be a desert or uninhabited place he created

it, to be inhabited he formed it."51 In other words, this verse explains that God


     46 E. J. Young translates tohu in Isa 44:9 as "unreality" and explains that the word

"suggests an absence of all life and power" (The Book of Isaiah, NICOT [Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1972], 3:172).

    47 Westermann, 103.

    48 Job 26:7a: noteh sapon a1-tohu //Job 26:7b: toleheres al-beli-ma.

    49 Westermann, 103.

    50 BDB, 442; Holladay, 146.

    51 Isa 45:18f: to -tohu be ra’ah // Isa 45:18g: lasebet yesarah. We can verify that it is a

structure in parallel panels which is marked by the following microstructure:

A lo--tohu [Earth] not to be a desert or uninhabited place

B bera’ah he created it

A' lasebet to be inhabited

B' yesarah he formed it

We observe a clear antithetical parallelism between A \\ A', lo'- tohu "[Earth] not to

be a desert or uninhabited place" //lasebet "[Earth] to be inhabited." As Watson points

out when referring to the parallel types of words: "antonymic word pairs are made up of

words opposite in meaning and are normally used in antithetic parallelism" (131). At the

same time, there is a synonymous parallelism between B // B', bera’ah "he created it" //

268                 SEMINARY STUDIES 35 (AUTUMN 1998)


did not create the earth to be uninhabited or desert but to be inhabited. Gen

1:2 can be understood in the same sense, that God created the earth to be

inhabited, but "it was still desert or uninhabited" during the initial stage of the

creation though it was in no sense in a chaotic state.

In Isa 45:19 the term tohu has been interpreted in two ways: concrete

(locative) and abstract. The syntax is always understood in the same way:

tohu as an adverb that modifies the verbal clause bagqesuni, as part of the

direct speech.52  The Tg. Isa. analyzes tohu in the same way: "!Buscad en vano

(lryqnw) mi temor!"53 However, its meaning and grammatical function must

be analyzed by considering the parallel structure of the complete verse.54

Therefore, from the literary structure in parallel panels, B' tohu is parallel

with B bimeqomeres hosek "in a land of darkness" (NIV). In Tsumura's words:

"Tohu without a preposition directly corresponds either to ‘eres hosek or

to hosek.... In this case, the term tohu, corresponding directly to hosek ‘darkness,'

probably means ‘desolation.’”57  To conclude, we must point out that in the

Targums, the Talmudic and the Midrashic literature tohu is interpreted as

"waste, desolation; vanity, idleness."57


*Thw in Ugaritic Literature

Once we have analyzed the etymology and the usage of tohu in the OT,

we consider its etymology and usage in the Ugaritic literature. Until recently,


yesarah "he formed it." In Watson's words: "synonymous word pairs comprise a large class

with a broad spectrum.... Its components are synonyms or near-synonyms and therefore

almost interchangeable in character" (ibid.).

    52 D. T. Tsumura, tohu in Isaiah XLV 19," VT 38 (1988): 361-364, esp. 361.

    53 J. Ribera Florit, El Targum de Isaias (Valencia: Institucion San Jeronimo, 1988), 192.

    54 Isa 45:19a: lo'basseter dibbarti // Isa 45:19c: lo' amareti lezera 'ya aqob. Isa 45:19b:

bimeqom 'eres hosek // Isa 45:19d: tohu baqqesuni. We can observe that it is a structure in

parallel panels that is marked by the following microstructures:

A lo'basseter dibbarti I have not spoken in secret

B bimeqom 'eres hosek from somewhere in a land of darkness

A' lo' amareti lezera 'ya’aqob I have not said to Jacob's descendants

B' tohu baqqesuni Seek me in vain' (NIV)

The syntactical and morphological parallelism is evident between A \\ A' in the nega-

tive sentence, and the tense and the person of the verb, lo' dibbarti negative+Pi'el perfect

1 common singular // lo' amareti negative+Qal perfect 1 common singular. Meanwhile,

there is a semantical parallelism between B // B', eres hosek // tohu, with the same

nouns as in Gen 1:2 (for a linguistic study of the different types of biblical parallelisms, see

Berlin, 32-58).

    57 Tsumura, 362-363.

    57 M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the

Midrashic Literature (New York: Title, 1943), 1651.



recently, the etymology of tohu was explained in the light of the Arabic

tih, waterless desert, trackless wilderness.58  However, as Tsumura points

out, the Arabic term, with a second weak consonant h, does not explain

the final long u of the Hebrew tohu.59

The Ugaritic term equivalent to the Hebrew tohu is the thw nominal

form that appears only once in the Ugaritic literature,60 in the cycle of Baal

and Mot as follows:

pnp.s.nps.lbim [15] thw

"'But my appetite is an appetite of lions (in) the waste,

hm.brlt.anhr[16] bym

"’just as the longing of dolphin(s) is in the sea.61


Del Olmo Lete presents the following translation of the same text: "Tengo,

si, el apetito del leon de la estepa, o la gana del tiburon (que mora) en el mar."62

In the context of the two lines of Ugaritic text, lbim.thw "of a lion in the

steppe [desert]" corresponds to anhr.bym, "of a shark in the sea," since nps

and brlt are a well known idiomatic pair.63 Del Olmo Lete maintains that

the Ugaritic term thw is a cognate of the Heb tohu.64

Considering the evidence presented, we can affirm that the Ugaritic

term thw is a cognate of the Heb tohu and both have a common meaning:

"desert." They are probably nouns with a common Semitic root, *thw. In

relation to this, Huehnergard points out that the text or alphabetical form

thw is probably /tuhwu/ "wasteland."65


    58 Klein, 692.

    59 D. T. Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A Linguistic Investigation,

JSOT Supplement Series 83 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989), 17.

    60 See C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook, Analecta Orientalia 38 (Roma: Pontificium

Institutum Biblicum, 1965), 178. It is the transliteration of the text 67.1.15:

thw.ham; brlt.anhr; also M. Dietrich, O. Loretz and J. Sanmartin, Die keilalphabetischen Texte

aus Ugarit, 2d ed., ALASP 8 (Munster: Ugarit, 1995), 22. It is the transliteration of the text

1.5 115:

    61 Ugaritic text 5 115, in J.C.L. Gibson, Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh: T.

& T. Clark, 2d ed., 1978), 68.

     62 G. Del Olmo Lete, Mitos y Leyendas de Canaan (Madrid: Cristiandad, 1981), 214.

Translation: "I have, yes I do, the appetite of a lion on the steppe, the longing of a shark

(who lives) in the sea."

    63 On p. 635 Del Olmo Lete says: "thw: n.m., ‘estepa, desierto' (cf. heb. tohu; cf. Gibson,


     64 Dietrich, Loretz and Sanmartin, 1.18 IV 25, 36-37, 55, 58. Del Olmo Lete notes that

thw "steppe, desert" is antonymous to ym, "sea."

    65 J. Huehnergard, Ugaritic Vocabulary in Syllabic Transcription, Harvard Semitic Series

32 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1987), 84, 287.

270                 SEMINARY STUDIES 35 (AUTUMN 1998)


Etymology of *bhw

Bohu is similar to tohu because it is a m.s.n. which means "’emptiness’

of primeval earth";66 "emptiness (// formlessness, + earth) ... formlessness

and emptiness";67 "Heb. bohuvacuite, vide'; Arab. ‘bahw-espace degage,

trouee, etc.', bahiyaetre vide, desert', bahi ‘vide, desert'";68 "void, waste";69

"emptiness, chaos";70 "Leere, Ode";71 "vacio, caos, caos informe."72

The term bohu appears only 3 times in the OT, always with tohu: Gen

1:2; Isa 34:11; Jer 4:23. Its meaning will be considered in the section on the

usage of phrase tohu wabohu. In the Targums, as well as the Talmudic and

the Midrashic literature, Jastrow finds that bohu is interpreted as "chaotic

condition; always with vht."73


*Bhw in the Ancient Near Eastern Literature


The etymology of bohu has been explained through the Arabic bahiya,

"to be hollow, empty."74 This Arabic term is used to describe the "empty"

state of a store or house that has little or nothing in it.75 Therefore, its meaning

is more concrete than abstract, "nothing, empty."

Albright suggested that the Akkadian term bubutu, "emptiness, hunger,"

comes from *buhbuhtu and is possibly a cognate of the Heb bohu.76 However,

the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary does not list "emptiness" as a meaning of

bubutuA. It translates the term as: "famine, starvation, want, hunger, sustenance"77


    66 BDB, 96.

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

Press, 1995), 2:97; in the Qumran materials we find the variant 1QM 174.

    68 D. Cohen, Dictionnaire des Racines Semitiques (Louvain: Peeters, 1994), 2:47.

    69 Holladay, 34.

    70 Klein, 65.

    71 Koehler and Baumgartner,107.

    72 Schockel, 102. Translation: "empty, chaos, shapeless chaos."

    73 Jastrow, 142.

    74 According to Klein, bohu comes from the root of hhb , Arabic bahw, "hollow,

empty" (65).

    75 E. W. Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1863; reprinted

1968), 269f.

    76 W.F. Albright, "Contributions to Biblical Archaeology and Philogy," JBL 43 (1924):


    77 CAD, B:301-302.



and Von Soden suggests "hunger" as a possible meaning of bubutu. Neither

of these Akkadian terms is a cognate of Heb bohu.78

It has been also suggested that the term bohu is related to Phoenician

divine name baau, the goddess of "night."79 Tsumura. indicates that it is

phonologically possible to propose an original "Canaanite" form /bahwu/ for

both Heb bohu and Phoenician /bah(a)wu/, which was apparently re-

presented in Greek script as ba-a-u.80 But he adds that there is no evidence

that the Hebrew term had any connection with the Phoenician divine name,

except for its possible origin. in a common root, *bhw.81 Likewise, Cassuto,

after indicating that the word is found in the earlier Canaanite poems, adds:

"but there is no connection apparently with the Mesopotamian goddess Ba-u.”82

Recently Gorg suggested that tohu and bohu must be explained by the

Egyptian terms th3 and bh3.83 This proposal is highly speculative since no

hendiadys of these terms in is known."

In conclusion, taking into account available evidence, although there

is no final etymological explanation, the Heb bohu seems to be a Semitic

term based on the root *bhw and is probably a cognate of Arabic bahiya,

"to be empty."


*Thw and *bhw in the OT


Albright's affirmation that the clause tohu wabohu means "chaos" and


    78 W. von Soden, Akkadisches Handworterbach (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrossowitz, 1965-


     79 Albright, 366, n. 7.

     80 Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters, 22. This author proposes the following evolution

of the original form for the Heb bohu: */bdhwu/ > /buhwu/ > /buhuu/ > /buhu/ >

/bohu/. But he immediately adds the possible origin of bohu in an original form */bihwu/

from a Ugaritic example written syllabically (ibid., n. 26).

     81 Ibid.

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

Magnes, 1961; reprinted 1989), 22.

    83 M. Gorg, "Tohu wabohu: ein Deutungsvorschlag," ZAW 92 (1980): 431-434; see also

"Zur Struktur von Gen 1.2" Biblische Notizen 62 (1992): 11-15.

     84 Hendiadys is defined as: "The use of two substantives, joined by a conjunction, to

express a single but complex idea. The two words may be collocated, be joined by a copula

or be in apposition. Hendiadys is used very often in Hebrew.... The important aspect of

hendiadys is that its components are no longer considered separately but as a single unit in

combination" (Watson, 324-325). Such is the case of tohu wabohu in Gen 1:2. E. A. Speiser

explains: "The Heb. pair tohu wa--bohu is an excellent example of hendiadys, that is, two

terms connected by ‘and’ and forming a unit in which one member is used to qualify the

other" (Genesis, AB [New York: Doubleday, 1962], 5, n. 2a).

272                 SEMINARY STUDIES 35 (AUTUMN 1998)


that tohu refers to a watery chaos is shared by many modern scholars, includ-

ing Cassuto.85 According to most modern scholars, the expression tohu

wabohu in Gen 1:2 is understood as the primeval "chaos, confusion,

disorganization" and is, therefore, in direct opposition to creation.86 On the other

hand, Burner--Klein points out that tohu wabohu describes the state of the earth

immediately after God had created the world. From the LXX and the ancient

Greek versions, as well as the Qumran materials, he concludes that the phrase

refers to a created, yet shapeless earth.87

To complete the study we must consider Isa 34:11 and Jer 4:23, where

tohu and bohu appear. In Isa 34:11 tohu and bohu appear in parallel expressions 88:

qaw - tohu "the measuring line of thw" (NIV) II 'abne --- bohu "the plumb

line of bhw" (NM." This passage clearly refers to an uninhabited place. Basic


     85 Cassuto, 23. See also B. K. Waltke, "The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, Part 3,

The Initial Chaos Theory and the Precreation Chaos Theory," Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (1975):

225-228. Waltke interprets tohu wabohu as the chaotic state before creation. For a recent

answer to Waltke's arguments, see M. F. Rooker, "Genesis 1:1-3: Creation o Re-Creation?

Part 1," Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (1992): 316-323; and "Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation?

Part 2," Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (1992): 411-427. Wenham speaks of "total chaos" (15-16).

    86 See Alexandre, 77; Beauchamp, 162-163; Hamilton, 108; Kidner, 44; Niditch, 18; Ross,

106; Sarna, 6; Stadelmann, 12; Wenham, 15; Westermann, 103; Young, 33-34.

     87 D. Burner-Klein, "Tohu u and bohu: Zur Auslegungsgeschichte von Gen 1,2a," Henoch

15 (1993): 3-41. Burner-Klein analyzes the LXX, Origen, Aquila, Symmachus, and

Theodotion, which use a variety of images to translate the clause: "the earth was invisible,"

"uncultivated," "a desert," "an empty space," "nothing." His study of Qumran materials

renders the following interpretations: "a desolate country," "vanity" and "empty." Rabbinic

literature interprets the clause as a negative principle, primeval matter that God already

found at creation, i.e., a substratum of the creatio ex nihilo, created matter but shapeless yet.

In a Karaite commentary on Genesis he found the idea of an empty earth, without buildings.

His study included Christian Bible commentaries that develop similar concepts in

opposition to Aristotle's doctrine of the eternity of the world.

      88 See W. G. E. Watson, Traditional Techniques in Classical Hebrew Verse, JSOT

Supplement Series 170 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 148, 153, 161, 165.

    89 Isa 34:11a: wiresuha qaat weqippod //Isa 34:11b: weyansop weoreb yiskenu-bah; Isa

34:11c: wenata aleyha qaw-tohu // Isa 34:11d: we’abne--bohu. The structure in parallel

panels is marked by the following microstructures:

A wiresuha qaat weqippod The desert owl and screech owl will possess it

A' weyansop weoreb yiskenu --- bah the great owl and the raven will nest there

B wenatd a1eyha qaw-tohu ... the measuring line of chaos

B' weabne - bohu and the plumb line of desolation (NIV)

There is a semantic and syntactic synonymous parallelism between A // A', wiresuha

qaat weqippod "The desert owl and screech owl will possess it" // weyansop weoreb

yiskenu - bah "the great owl and the raven will nest there." In both cases, at a semantic level,

the lines refer to birds. On the syntactic level, there is also a subject+verb (+suffix) //

subject+verb (+suffix) parallelism, but with the components of the clauses inverted.

Likewise, there is semantic and syntactic synonymous parallelism between B // B', wenata



to the understanding of Isa 34:11 as a land uninhabited by human beings

is the grammatical and semantic parallelism of the verbs wry, "take possession

of,"90 Qal perfect 3 common plural wire-suha "will possess it"; and Nkw "live

in, settle,"91 Qal imperfect 3 masculine plural yiskenu, "will dwell," in Isa

34:11a and Isa 34:11b. Besides, an exegesis of the immediately preceding verse,

Isa 34:10cd, clearly shows the meaning of Isa 34:11: an un-

inhabited land." In Young's words: "the land will become a desolation and

waste so that it can no more receive inhabitants."93 Therefore, in Isa 34:11

we do not find linguistic or exegetic evidence for any chaotic situation.

Jer 4:23 contains the following parallel structure:94

A raiti etha’ares I looked at the earth,

B wehinneh---tohu wabohu and it was formless and empty;

A' we ‘el -hassamayim and at the heavens,

B' we’ en ‘oram and their light was gone (NIV).

It has often been stated that Jer 4:23-26 describes a return to the primitive

chaos.95  But this point of view is highly influenced by the traditional exegesis

of the expression tohu wabohu as "chaos" in Gen 1:2 and not on the analysis

of the context of Jer 4:23. In vv. 23-26, each of the verses begins with raiti,


aleyha qaw- tohu: "the measuring line of chaos"// we‘abne- bohu "and the plumb line of

desolation." In both lines we find the same nouns that appear in Gen 1:2, tobu and bohu.

Finally, both nouns are in a construct relation (on grammatical, semantic, and syntactic

parallelism, see Berlin, 31-102).

    90 BDB, 439; Holladay, 145.

    91 BDB, 1014-1015; Holladay, 371.

    92 Isa 34:10cd: middor lador teherab lenesah nesahim eyn ober bah "From generation

to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again" (NIV). Thus Isa

34:10d interprets Isa 34:10c and 34:11 in a definite semantic parallelism to: middor laddor

teherab, "From generation to generation it will lie desolate."

   93 Young indicates that the prophet Isaiah uses the language of Gen 1:2 (Book of 1saiah,


    94 There is an antithetical semantic parallelism between A // A', raiti ‘et- ha’ares "I

looked at the earth" // weel-hassamayim "and at the heavens." These are the basic

components of the Hebrew conception of the bipartite structure of the universe, earth and

heavens. There is also a grammatical and semantic parallelism between B // B', wehinneh-

tohu wabohu "and it was formless and empty" // we ‘en ‘oram "and their light was gone."

This parallelism can be observed at a grammatical level between the nouns tobu and bohu

in 4:23b, and or in 4:23d, both are m.s.n.; at a semantic level, both concepts imply the lack

of something, both on the earth ("formless and empty") and the heavens ("light").

    95 For example, Holladay affirms that Jeremiah "envisages a ‘de-creation’ of the cosmos,

the world again become the chaos before creation began" (W. L. Holladay, Jeremiah

[Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986], 1:164; see also W. McKane, A Critical and Exegetical

Commentary on Jeremiah [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1986], 1:106-107).

274                 SEMINARY STUDIES 35 (AUTUMN 1998)


"I saw," and the word wehinneh, "and behold," is repeated in each verse.

The exegesis of verse 23 is completed and confirmed by the interpretation

of verses 25-26, which are translated: "I looked, and there were no people;

every bird in the sky had flown away. I looked, and the fruitful land was

a desert; all its towns lay in ruins before the Lord" (NIV).

There is a precise positive-negative syntactic parallelism96 between the

vv. 23 and 25-26, "I looked at the earth" (4:23 a) // "I looked and there were

no people (4:25a); "I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert" (4:26a) and

"and at the heavens" (4:23c) // "every bird in the sky had flown away" (4:25b).

Therefore, v. 23a, "I looked at the earth," is interpreted in vv. 25a-26a, "I

looked, and there were no people"; "I looked, and the fruitful land was a

desert." Likewise, v. 23c, "and at the heavens" is also interpreted by v. 25b,

"every bird in the sky had flown away." Therefore, the earth or land of Jer

4:23 was uninhabited, with no human beings on it; "there were no people."

It was also arid and unproductive: "the fruitful land was a desert." On the

other hand, the heavens of Jer 4:23 are empty, without light ("their light

was gone") and without birds ("every bird in the sky had flown away").97

The interpretation of tohu wabohu in the Targums also helps solve

the difficulties inherent in the interpretation of Gen 1:2. On Gen 1:2 the

Tg. Neof reads as follows, according to two translators: Diez Macho and

G. Anderson.


Y la tierra estaba tehi’ y behi' deshabitada de hombres y bestias y vacia

de todo cultivo de plantas y arboles.98

Now the earth was tehi' and behi' [meaning it was] desolate (sdy) with

respect to people and animals and empty (rygn)in respect to all manner of

agricultural work and trees."


On his translation of Tg. Neof. Anderson says:

This text first reproduces the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew pair tohu

wabohu and then interprets them. The first term, tohu, is interpreted

to mean an absence of faunal life; the second term, bohu, the absence of


     96 See Berlin, 53-57.

     97 Jer 4:23a: raiti 'et---ha’ares //Jer 4:25a-26a: raiti wehinneh 'en ha’adam ... raiti

wehinneh hakkarmel hammidbar; Jer 4:23c: we 'el-hassamayim // Jer 4:25b: of kol- op

hassamayim nadadu. The following microstructures are evident.

A raiti et -haares I looked at the earth

   B we ‘el--hassamayim and at the heavens

A'ra itI wehinneh en ha’adam ... raiti wehinneh hakkarmel hammidbar I looked, and

there were no people ... I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert

B'wekol- op hassamayim nadadu every bird in the sky had flown away (NIV).

     98 A. Diez Macho, Neophyti: Targum Palestiniense (Madrid: CSIC, 1968), 1:2.

     99 G. Anderson, "The Interpretation of Genesis 1:1 in the Targums," CBQ 52 (1990): 23.



floral life. No longer do tohu wabohu connote a primeval substrate "chaos."

Rather they simply describe the earth in an unfinished state. The earth

was not created as a state of chaos; rather it is simply devoid of the living

matter which will be created in days 3, 5 and 6. Exegesis has brought order

to the unordered. All other targums follow this general exegetical



In brief, the expression tohu wabohu refers to a "desert-uninhabited"

(Isa 34:11; Jer 4:23) and "arid or unproductive" (Jer 4:23) state.101 Neither

text gives any linguistic or exegetical evidence to support the existence of

a situation of mythic chaos in the earth.


*Thw and *bhw in the Ugaritic Literature


Several studies have pointed to the similarity between the Heb tohu

wabohu and the Ugaritic tu-a-bi[u(?)].102 Tsumura proposes a possible explanation

of the morphological correspondence between the Hebrew expression

tohu wabohu and the Ugaritic tu-a-bi[u(?)].103 It is, therefore, possible that

the Ugaritic tu-a-bi [u(?)] and the Hebrew tohu wabohu are two versions of

the same idiomatic expression in the Northwestern Semitic.104

However, scholars such as J. Huehnergard have proposed a different

morphological relation, considering the Hebrew expression tohu wabohu

as an equivalent of the Ugaritic tu-a pi [ku(?)],105 since the verb form *hpk,

"to upset or overthrow," is identified in the Ugaritic alphabetical texts.106

In this way, both interpretations to-a-bi (u(?)land to-a pi [ku(?)] are possible

from a phonological and morphological point of view.




To conclude, considering OT and ANE literature, the expression tohu


    100 Ibid.

    101 See also Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters, 41.

"'See, for example, 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), 183, and n.

58; Tsumura, Earth and the Waters, 24.

     102 According to Tsumura, the first half of the syllabic orthography, tu-a, probably

represents /tuha/ since in the Ugaritic syllabic ortography the grapheme < a > can be used

as a syllable /ha/. In the second half of the syllabic orthography, bi [u], if the second sign is

correctly restored, it can represent /bihu/ since the grapheme < u > of the syllabic

orthography is used in syllables /hu/ (ibid.)

    104 Ibid.

    105 UVST, 84, 121, 315, 322.

    106 Ibid; Gordon, 392a n° 788; Dietrich et al., 1.103:52. Sumerian: BAL = Akkadian: na-

bal-ku-tu, = Hurrian: tap-su-hu-um-me = Ugaritic- tu-a pi [ku(?)].

276                 SEMINARY STUDIES 35 (AUTUMN 1998)


wabohu in Gen 1:2 must be interpreted as the description of a "desert, uninhabited,

arid and unproductive" place. 107 The earth of Gen 1:2, which "was" hayeta

tohu wabohu, refers to the earth in an "empty" state with no vegetation,

animals, or people. Hence the title of this series of articles: "The Earth of

Genesis 1:2: Abiotic or Chaotic." The concept that appears in Gen 1:2 is

an abiotic concept of the earth; i.e., Gen 1:2 describes an earth in which

there is no life; it presents the absence of life-vegetable, animal, and human.

That life appears in the following verses of Genesis 1 by the fiat of God.

The Hebrew idiomatic expression tohu wabohu refers to an earth that is

"uninhabited and unproductive," owing to the absence of life, of fauna, and

of flora at this stage of the creation. At a later stage the earth will be "inhabited

and productive." In no case does the phrase describe a chaotic state of the

earth as the result of mythical combats between the gods of the myths and

legends of Israel's neighbors.

The main reason why the author describes the earth as tohu wabohu

is to inform the audience that the earth "is not yet" the earth such as they

know it. Westermann puts it this way: "Creation and the world are to

be understood always from the viewpoint of or in the context of human

existence."108 In other words, it is necessary to use literary language and

figures common to the audience to communicate to human beings the theme

of creation. Therefore, the author uses in this verse language originating

in his life experience (desert, empty, uninhabited, unproductive places) to

explain the initial situation or condition of the earth.

The words of Westermann summarize well the findings on Gen 1:2:


There is no sign of either personification or mythological allusion in

the biblical use of Uht.... The course of the debate about the mythical

explanation of  vhbv vht indicates clearly that the arguments for a mythical

background are becoming weaker and weaker. The discussion can now be

considered closed.109


     107 See also N. H. Tur-Sinai, The Book of Job: A New Commentary (Jerusalem: Kiryath

Sepher, 1967), 381: "in Gen 1:2 ... [tohu] describes the barrenness of the earth before

anything grew on it."

    108 Westermann, 104.

    109 Westermann, 103.



This material is cited with gracious permission from:

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, MI 49104-1500

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