Originally posted by RJHinds
Besides God, what existed before the physical creation written about in the Book of Genesis?
V’ha’aretz hayetah tohu v’bohu v’choshek al-p’ney t’hom v’ruach elohim m’rachpet al-p’ney ha’mayim
“the earth had been confusion and chaos, and darkness obscured the face of the deep; and a wind of elohim
hovered above the waters.”
—My translation (as is the transliteration from the Hebrew). Here is Richard Elliot Friedman’s: “when the earth had been shapeless and formless, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and God’s spirit was hovering on the water” (Commentary on the Torah: With a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text
). Of course, there are many available translations.
(“had been” ) is in the perfect form, indicating something already done or completed—hence there was something there: the earth, the deep, the waters and the wind/spirit of/from god/gods (elohim
). Friedman notes: “This verse rather means that “the earth had been
shapeless and formless”—that is, it had already existed in this shapeless condition prior
to the creation. Creation of matter in the Torah is not out of nothing (creation ex nihilo
), as many have claimed.” (Ibid; italics in original)
Commentary from The Jewish Publication Society translation: “This clause describes things just before the process of creation began. To modern people, the opposite of created order is ‘nothing,’ that is, a vacuum. To the ancients, the opposite of the created order was much worse than ‘nothing.’ It was an active, malevolent force we can best term ‘chaos.’” (The Jewish Study Bible
Thus, the creation of Genesis 1 is not
the creation of something out of nothing, but of cosmos out of chaos.
Further, a passage in the Zohar
brings in the concept of a “singularity”
, based on the unknowability of how things were before b’reisheet
(“in/at/by the beginning” ): “Beyond that point, nothing is known, so it is called Reisheet
, Beginning . . .” (The Zohar
, Pritzker Edition, translation and commentary by Daniel Matt) This is my preferred understanding—that tohu
refer to conditions prior to the singularity, where the known laws of the cosmos break down; but not that any scientific understanding is somehow embedded in the Torah or the Zohar.