Biblical Beginnings 6a: Gen 1:1–2:4a, Translation

If you’re up for it, and you really want to see Genesis 1–11 with fresh eyes, I’m providing you with that opportunity. I plan to go through these chapters with two posts per section. The first post will, for each section, be my own translation. I will include only notes explaining why I chose to translate the text as I did, including any transliterations.[1] The second post will be a discussion of what we can learn about the Israelites worldview and their understanding of who their God is and how their God works in the world.  

I will not include verse numbers in my translation. The bracketed numbers point the reader to specific explanatory notes at the end of each translation. I also will not include any editorial headings as is common in almost all modern English translations. These translations are not intended to be particularly “smooth” readings of the text. Rather it is my hope that the reader will be reminded of just how ancient and other-cultured these writings are. In fact, the stories in these eleven chapters have their origins in other ancient Near Eastern cultures’ oral and written tales that originated more than a thousand years before Genesis was written.

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When Elohim[2] began to create the skies and the land,[3] and the earth[4] was empty and void[5] and darkness was on the face of the abyss and the breath of Elohim[6] was hovering on the face of the waters, Elohim said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. And Elohim saw the light, that it was good. And Elohim divided between the light and the darkness. And Elohim called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And it was evening, and it was morning, day one.[7]

And Elohim said, “Let there be an expanse[8] in the middle of the waters.” And there was a separation between waters and waters. And Elohim made the expanse and it divided between the waters that were underneath the expanse and the waters that were above the expanse.[9] And it was so. And God called the expanse, “Skies,” and it was evening, and it was morning, a second day.[10]

And Elohim said, “Let the waters beneath the skies be assembled to one place and let the dry ground appear.” And it was so. And Elohim called the dry ground “land,” and the gathering place of the waters he called “seas.” And Elohim saw that it was good. And Elohim said, “Let the land sprout grass, herbs yielding seed, fruit trees making fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in it, on the land.” And it was so. And the land gave out green grass yielding seed according to its kind and trees making fruit whose seed is in it according to its kind. And Elohim saw that it was good. And it was evening, and it was morning, a third day.[11]

And Elohim said, “Let there be light sources in the expanse of the skies to separate between the day and the night. And they were for signs and for seasons and for days and for years. And they will be for light sources in the expanse of the skies for the light on the land.” And it was so. And Elohim made two of the great light sources––the greater light source to rule the day and the smaller light source to rule the night––and the stars. And Elohim set them in the expanse of the skies for light on the land to rule in the day and in the night and to divide between the light and the darkness. And Elohim saw that it was good. And it was evening, and it was morning, a fourth day.

And Elohim said, “Let the waters swarm with a swarm of living creatures and let birds fly over the land across the face of the expanse of the skies.” And Elohim created the great sea monsters[12] and every living creeping creature that swarms the waters according to their kind and every winged bird according to its kind. And Elohim saw that it was good. And Elohim blessed them saying, “Be fruitful and increase and fill the waters in the seas and let the birds increase on the land.” And it was evening, and it was morning, a fifth day.

And Elohim said, “Let the land bring forth living creatures according to their kind, cattle, and creeping things and wild beasts according to its kind.” And it was so. And Elohim made the wild beasts of the land according to its kind and the cattle according to its kind and every creeping thing of the soil according to its kind. And Elohim saw that it was good.

And Elohim said, “Let us make a human[13] in our image, according to our likeness and let them rule[14] over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the skies and over the beasts and over all the land and over every creeping thing that creeps on the land. And Elohim created the human in his image. In the image of Elohim he created him. Male and female, he created them.[15] And Elohim blessed them and Elohim said to them, “Be fruitful and increase and fill the land and subdue[16] it, and rule over fish of the sea and birds of the skies and every animal that creeps on the land.” And Elohim said, “See, I have given to you every seed-bearing plant that is on the face the land and all the trees that are on it, fruit trees bearing seed will be for you as food. And for every animal of the land and for every bird of the skies and for every creeping thing of the land that has in it a living breath, is every green plant for food.” And it was so.

And Elohim saw all that he made and behold, it was very good. And it was evening, and it was morning, a sixth day.

And the skies and the land and all their hosts were finished. And Elohim stopped on the seventh day from his work that he made, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he made. And Elohim blessed the seventh day and he set it apart because on it he rested from all his work that Elohim created to make.

These are the accounts of the skies and the land when they were created.[17]


[1] Translation, put in simple terms, gives you the meaning of a word that’s written in another language. … A transliteration doesn’t tell you the meaning of the word, but it gives you an idea of how the word is pronounced in a foreign language. I have done this most often with names of people and places.

[2] Elohim is the Hebrew word which is translated either “God” or “gods.” This form with the “im” ending is a plural. No one really knows why the plural form of this word is used often in the Hebrew Bible to the singular “God;” but it does.

[3] Most English translations begin Genesis 1 with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” First, most Hebrew scholars understand the opening phrase to be a temporal phrase, thus, “When Elohim began to create…”. Also, I’ve chosen to translate the Hebrew word hashamayim as “the skies” because of the eternal and spiritual connotations most Christian readers read into the idea of “the heavens.” For the creation account, it is the skies that Elohim was creating.

[4] The Hebrew word ha’arets can be translated as either “earth” or “land” depending on context. Since the earth existed when Elohim began creating, but the land did not exist, I’ve translated it “land” in the first sentence and “earth” in the second sentence.

[5] The phrase “empty and void” translates the Hebrew phrase, tohu vavohu, which is variously translated by Hebrew scholars. For example, Alter’s “welter and waste” is an attempt to reproduce something of the word play that is in the Hebrew, but is quite meaningless to most English readers. Friedman’s “shapeless and formless” is much more descriptive as is Good’s “shapeless and empty.” The bottom line is that “When Elohim began to create the skies and the land,” other physical matter was already in existence. Elohim’s efforts were not creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing).

[6] The word I translated as “breath” is ruach and it can be translated as “wind, breath, spirit.” Most Christian translations interpret rather than just translate by inserting “the Spirit of God was hovering…”. The reality is, there is no evidence of a trinitarian doctrine in the Hebrew Bible, thus in this context, the better translation is either “wind” or “breath” (as per Good and Alter) or at the very outside “spirit” with a small “s” (as per Friedman).

[7] Notice that each day began with evening, as the Jewish day still does. I find this is one of the hardest things to keep in mind, especially when trying to relate the Jewish day of the week to our day of the week. For example, the Sabbath is not Saturday, but it is the period of time from Friday night at sunset until Saturday at sunset.

[8] The Hebrew word I translated as “expanse” is raki‘a. While Good’s translation “bowlshape” is descriptive, I find it awkward. “Firmament,” which is the usual translation is too dated. Thus, I chose “expanse” with the following note from Good, “In the abstract, “bowlshape” seems to signify a hemispherical shape, here placed upside down. It is solid, separating one body of water from another.”

[9] This is the way the ancients described cosmology, that there was a transparent dome with a solid (but transparent boundary) that separated the waters above (i.e., the skies) from the waters below. It is this transparent dome with a solid (but transparent boundary) that is called “skies.”

[10] On the second day there is no pronouncement that what Elohim created was “good”––tov in Hebrew. Instead, note that on the third day, Elohim pronounces twice that what he created was “good.”

[11] The third day saw the creation of seas, dry ground called “land,” and all sorts of plants and trees.

[12] The Hebrew word I, and others, have translated here as “sea monsters” appears numerous times throughout the Hebrew Bible and is also translated as “dragon” or “serpent” but is not the same word that is translated “snake” in Genesis 3:1ff.

[13] ’adam means “man, person, human, humanity.” It is not justifiable to translate it as the name Adam until at least chapter four.

[14] The Hebrew word, “to rule” here has a very strong and specific meaning, “to have dominion, to dominate, to tread down, to subjugate.” This is not a word that speaks of ecologically sound practices.

[15] Note the shift from “he created him in the image of Elohim” to “in the image of Elohim he created him; male and female he created them.” According to this section, Elohim created humans, both male and female, in his image.

[16] Once again, the Hebrew word I have translated “subdue” has a strong and specific meaning, “to subject, keep under, bring into bondage, make subservient, force, tread down.”

[17] Thus ends the first story of creation. Elohim is mentioned 34 times. Yahweh is not mentioned at all.  

One thought on “Biblical Beginnings 6a: Gen 1:1–2:4a, Translation

  1. ‘Genesis for Normal People’ by Peter Enns & Jared Byas also made the point that 1:14 was probably a slap at the Babylonians, who believed the stars could tell their future. As you probably remember, they felt that Genesis 1 was a later addition, and the original book started at Chapter 2.

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