Monday, July 26, 2010

He Gave His Cheek to Him that Smiteth Him

My friend Walker posted on his blog something I had written for an online debate with a notorious evangelical anti-Mormon over the context of certain portions of the Sermon on the Mount.

There are five occurences of smiting the cheek in the Old Testament. Six, if you count a duplicate in Chronicles.

The implications of smiting on the cheek are made clear in the following two scriptures.

"They have gaped upon me with their mouth; they have smitten me upon the cheek reproachfully; they have gathered themselves together against me." - Job 16:10.

"He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach." -Lam 3:30.

In these verses, smiting on the cheek is linked to insults. This holds true as well for the following three scriptures:

"And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so. Then the king of Israel called an officer, and said, Hasten hither Micaiah the son of Imlah. And the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah sat each on his throne, having put on their robes, in a void place in the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets prophesied before them. And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made him horns of iron: and he said, Thus saith the LORD, With these shalt thou push the Syrians, until thou have consumed them. And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, Go up to Ramothgilead, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the king's hand. And the messenger that was gone to call Micaiah spake unto him, saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good. And Micaiah said, As the LORD liveth, what the LORD saith unto me, that will I speak. So he came to the king. And the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And the king said unto him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the LORD? And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace.
And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil? And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee. But Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah went near, and smote Micaiah on the cheek, and said, Which way went the Spirit of the LORD from me to speak unto thee? And Micaiah said, Behold, thou shalt see in that day, when thou shalt go into an inner chamber to hide thyself. And the king of Israel said, Take Micaiah, and carry him back unto Amon the governor of the city, and to Joash the king's son; And say, Thus saith the king, Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace. And Micaiah said, If thou return at all in peace, the LORD hath not spoken by me. And he said, Hearken, O people, every one of you." - 1 Kgs 22:8-28.

At the city gates (centre of public life), in front of the leaders of the people, Zedekiah slaps Micaiah on the cheek, humiliating him, this for attempting to deceive the kings.

"Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek." - Micah 5:1 (4:14).

The besieging enemy will smite the ruler with a rod (symbol of authority) upon the cheek, an humiliating gesture of subjugation.

"I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly." - Psalm 3:6-7 (7-8)

The Psalmist calls upon the Lord to inflict a humiliating and crushing defeat on his enemies.

Now on to material from the rest of the ancient Near East:

In the "Descent of Ishtar into the Netherworld," Ereshkigal of the abode of the dead curses a eunuch (or government official) with a great curse and says:

"The food of the gutters of the city shall be your food;
The sewers of the city shall be your drink;
The shadow of the wall shall be your station;
The threshold shall be your habitation;
the besotted and the thirsty shall smite your cheeks."

The eunuch will live in the gutter, and be humiliated by the lowest of the low- the drunks and bums.

An Akkadian maqlu text preserves the following imprecation:

"I strike your cheek, I tear out your tongue." - G. Meier, "Die assyrische Beschworung Maqlu", 50, 8:101.

As part of the Akitu, or Babylonian New Year ritual, the urgallu, or priest, would do the following on day five:

"After reciting this, he shall remove the table; he shall summon the craftsmen together, he shall deliver the table with all that is on it to the craftsmen, and shall cause them to carry it to Nabu; the craftsmen shall take it, they shall go in the…to the bank of the canal; when Nabu arrives at ….they shall set it up for Nabu; when they have placed the table before Nabu, while Nabu is getting out of the ship Id-da-he-du, they shall offer the loaves of the table; then they shall place on the table water to wash the hands of the king. Then they shall conduct the king into Esagila; the craftsmen shall go out of the gate. When the king has come in before Bel, the urigallu shall come out of the chapel; then he shall receive from the hands of the king, the scepter, the ring, and the harpe, or ceremonial weapon; he shall take his royal crown; he shall bring these things in before Bel, and shall place them on a seat before Bel. He shall come out of the chapel; he shall strike the king's cheek; he shall place…behind him; he shall bring him before Bel; he shall pull his ears; he shall make him kneel on the ground; the king shall repeat the following once:

I have not sinned, lord of the countries; I have not despised thy divinity;
I have not destroyed Babel; I have not caused it to be scattered;
I have not shaken Esagila; I have not forgotten its rituals;
I have not smitten suppliants on the cheek;
I have not humiliated them;
I care for Babel; I have not broken down its walls."

- James Pritchard, "Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament", pg. 334.

Around 750 BC, the Aramaeans Mattiel, king of Arpad, and Bargayah, king of KTK entered into a parity treaty. On stela I from Sefire the following curses are recorded, to be heaped upon the violator of said treaty:

40. [Just as] this calf is cut in two, so may Mattiel be cut in two, and may his nobles be cut in two!
[And just as]
41. a [har]lot is stripped naked], so may the wives of Mattiel be stripped naked, and the wives of his offspring, and the wives of [his] no[bles!
42. And just as this wax woman is taken] and one strikes her on the face, so may the [wives of Mattiel] be taken [and…

The laws of eshnunna and the laws of Hammurabi both treat knocking out eyes, teeth, and slaps on the face as severe offences, for which large fines are levied.

A little after Christ’s time, we read in the Mishnah, t. Baba Kama 8:6 that, “If one boxes another man's ear, he has to pay him a sela. Rabbi Yehudah in the name of Rabbi Yosei HaGalili says, [He has to pay him] a maneh [i.e., one hundred dinar;]. If he slapped him he has to pay him two hundred zuz; [if he did it] with the back of his hand, he has to pay him four hundred zuz. If he pulled his ear, plucked his hair, spat so that the spittle reached him, removed his garment from upon him, uncovered the head of a woman in the marketplace, he must pay four hundred zuz.”

The Tosefta Baba Kama 9:31 expands the ruling:

"If one struck someone with the back of his hand… he must pay four hundred zuz, not because it is a painful blow but because it is a humiliating blow."

Smiting the cheek was part of the humliations Christ was subjected to after his arrest.

“And the men that held Jesus mocked him, and smote him. And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee? And many other things blasphemously spake they against him.” - Luke 22:63-65.

Nahum Sarna, in his article "Legal Terminology in Psalm 3:8," relates an account from the life of Abraham Shapira:

“In modern times, Abraham Shapira (1870-1965), head watchman of Petah Tikvah and a keen student of the ways and customs of the Bedouin, once observed the trial of two members of a tribe. One had been accused of stabbing someone with a sword, the other of having smacked someone on the face. The presiding sheikh dealt leniently with the stabber but severely with the other one. In explaining his verdict, he stated: ‘The striking of the cheek is a graver offence than stabbing with a sword, for the latter enhances the dignity of a man, while striking him on the cheek humiliates him.’"

Earlier in the same study, Sarna comments that “the various contexts make it absolutely clear , beyond the peradventure of a doubt, that to be struck on the cheek was an intolerable insult, a deep humiliation, not a mere slight to be soon forgotten.”

From personal experience growing up in Israel, I remember that fights, both among Jewish kids and Arab ones, did not get truly nasty until someone spat on another, or slapped him on the face. If that happened, knifings or severe beatings would immediately follow. Things could be patched up at any moment BEFORE such insults. After them, impossible without third-party intervention and serious peace-making efforts.

Back to the Sermon on the Mount, we saw that eye, tooth and smote cheek are mentioned together. The context could not be any clearer: Christ talked of not returning the ultimate personal insults. Nowhere does he say that man must not defend himself, family and friends. Nowhere does he say that if one does not follow that one is not a Christian.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Limitations of Archaeology

A picture is worth a thousand words...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Perceptions of Deity

Most of the information contained in the Hebrew Bible on idols and their worshippers is polemic. Isaiah 44:10-21, where the idol worshipper uses the same block of wood for fire and for bowing down to, is a classic example. It is worth noting that polemic rarely takes into account the meaning of the thing targeted to its devotees or adherents. In other words, the attitude of an idol worshipper to his idol might differ substantially from the portrait painted by Isaiah.

The Babylonian might have pointed out that for several centuries Yahweh, after emerging from the obscurity of a remote desert, had lived inside, or at the least in close association with, a decorated chest made of acacia wood. He was of rather uncertain temper, but in the main could be kept good-humoured by regular offerings of the smoke of burnt beef fat, of which he was inordinately fond. In contrast, Marduk was a spiritual being, creator of heaven and earth, and so transcendent that it was impossible to see or to comprehend him
H.W.F. Saggs, The Encounter with the Divine in Mesopotamia and Israel (London: Athlone Press, 1978), p. 15.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Philo on Reviling Gods, or: Are Gods Really Magistrates

Common wisdom has it that in the Bible that elohim, the Hebrew word for gods, can refer to human judges or magistrates.

As noted in a previous post (Ye are Gods), this notion stems from Targum Onkelos, was developed by medieval exeggetes, and reigned uncontested until the 1920s. It has been thoroughly debunked in academic circles, yet persists among fundamental evangelicals and orthodox Jews.

It is worth looking beyond ibn Ezra, beyond Onkelos, examining different sources and different voices. I found an intersting Philo quote referenced in an essay by Eliezer Segal. "Aristeas or Aggadah: Talmudic Legend and the Greek Bible in Palestinian Judaism," in: W. O. McCready and A. Reinhartz, eds., Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 159-172, 286-292. The chapter is available by Segal in a free PDF.

Philo of Alexandria was a prolific Jewish writer contemporary with Christ. Philo came from an important family, his brother Alexander even serving as one of Alexandria's top officials. The Septuagint, the Bible that he used, rendered Exodus 22:28 (thou shalt not revile elohim) as theous ou kakologeseis. Philo himself when interpreting this passage does not allude at all to magistrates.

"But, as it seems, he is not now speaking of that God who was the first being who had any existence and the Father of the universe, but of those who are accounted gods in the different cities; and they are falsely called gods, being only made by the arts of painters and sculptors, for the whole inhabited world is full of statues and images, and erections of that kind, of whom it is necessary however to abstain from speaking ill, in order that no one of the disciples of Moses may ever become accustomed at all to treat the appellation of God with disrespect; for that name is always most deserving to obtain the victory, and is especially worthy of love."
-Philo of Alexandria, The Life of Moses 2.205, trans. C. D. Yonge.

Philo reads the word gods as (surprise, surprise) refering to gods, divine beings. That he does not believe in their existence does not change the definition of the word for him. Theous means divine beings, which is also a title of God, hence respect should be shown it even if applied to beings that exist only as a figment of gentile imagination.

Monotheistic Declarations

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
-Deutoronomy 6:4.

Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and shew us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth.
Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.

-Isaiah 43:9-10.

The above are two oft-used prooftexts for monotheism.
Before concluding that they are absolutes, it is worth taking a look at similar statements from the ancient world. As these come from avowed polytheistic sourcs they make for most interesting reading indeed.

From the Sumerian world.
From the mountain of sunrise to the mountain of sunset,
There is no (other) lord in the land, you alone are king,
Enlil, in all the lands there is no queen, your wife alone is queen.
-Hymn to Enlil as the Ruling Deity of the Universe. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET), 3rd ed. with supplement, pg. 576.

Heaven - he [Enlil] alone is its prince, earth - he alone is its great one,
The Anunna - he is their exalted god,
When in his awesomeness he decrees the fates, no god dares look at him...
-Hymn to Enlil, the All-Beneficent. ANET, pg. 575.

From the Ugaritic corpus.
I alone am the one who can be king over the gods,
Who can fatten gods and men,
Who can satisfy the multitudes of the earth!
-Baal IV. vii 50-53.

From the Egyptian Magical Papyrii.
This is the Consecration for All Purposes: Spell to Helios

"I invoke You, the Greatest God, Eternal Lord, World Ruler, who are over the World and under the World, Mighty Ruler of the Sea, rising at Dawn, shining from the East for the Whole World, setting in the West. Come to me, Thou who risest from the Four Winds, benevolent and lucky Agathos Daimon, for whom Heaven has become the Processional Way. I call upon Your Holy and Great and Hidden Names which You rejoice to hear. The Earth flourished when You shone forth, and the Plants became fruitful when you laughed; the Animals begat their Young when You permitted. Give Glory and Honor and Favor and Fortune and Power to this, NN, Stone which I consecrate today (or to the Phylactery [charm] being consecrated) for [or in relation to] NN. I invoke You, the greatest in Heaven, E'I LANCHYCH AKARE'N BAL MISTHRE'N MARTA MATHATH LAILAM MOUSOUTHI SIETHO' BATHABATHI IATMO'N ALEI IABATH ABAO'TH SABAO'TH ADO'NAI, the Great God, ORSENOPHRE' ORGEATE'S TOTHORNATE'SA KRITHI BIO'THI IADMO' IATMO'MI METHIE'I LONCHOO' AKARE' BAL MINTHRE' BANE BAI(N)CHCHYCHCH OUPHRI NOTHEOUSI THRAI ARSIOUTH ERO'NERTHER, the Shining Helios, giving Light throughout the Whole World. You are the Great Serpent, Leader of all the Gods, who control the Beginning of Egypt and the End of the Whole Inhabited World, who mate in the Ocean, PSOI PHNOUTHI NINTHE'R. You are He who becomes Visible each Day and Sets in the Northwest of Heaven, and Rises in the Southeast.

In the 1st Hour You have the Form of a Cat; Your Name is PHARAKOUNE'TH. Give Glory and Favor to this Phylactery.

In the 2nd Hour You have the Form of a Dog; Your Name is SOUPHI. Give Strength and Honor to this Phylactery, or to this Stone, and to NN.

In the 3rd Hour You have the Form of a Serpent; Your Name is AMEKRANEBECHEO THO'YTH. Give Honor to the God NN.

In the 4th Hour You have the Form of a Scarab; Your Name is SENTHENIPS. Mightily strengthen this Phylactery in this Night, for the Work for which it is consecrated.

In the 5th Hour You have the Form of a Donkey; Your Name is ENPHANCHOUPH. Give Strength and Courage and Power to the God, NN.

In the 6th Hour You have the Form of a Lion; Your Name is BAI SOLBAI, the Ruler of Time. Give Success to this Phylactery and Glorious Victory.

In the 7th Hour You have the Form of a Goat; Your Name is OUMESTHO'TH. Give Sexual Charm to this Ring (or to this Phylactery, or to this Engraving).

In the 8th Hour You have the Form of a Bull; Your Name is DIATIPHE', who becomes visible everywhere. Let all Things done by the use of this Stone be accomplished.

In the 9th Hour You have the Form of a Falcon; Your Name is PHE'OUS PHO'OUTH, the Lotus Emerged From the Abyss. Give Success and Good Luck to this Phylactery.

In the 10th Hour You have the Form of a Baboon; Your Name is BESBYKI. [Prayer for gift omitted?]

In the 11th Hour You have the Form of an Ibis; Your Name is MOU RO'PH. Protect this great Phylactery for Lucky Use by NN, from this Present Day for All Time.

In the 12th Hour You have the Form of a Crocodile; Your Name is AERTHOE'. [Prayer for gift omitted?]

You who have set at Evening as an Old Man, who are over the World and under the World, Mighty Ruler of the Sea, hear my Voice in this Present Day, in this Night, in these Holy Hours, and let all done by this Stone, or for this Phylactery, be brought to fulfillment, and especially NN matter for which I consecrate It. Please, Lord KME'PH LOUTHEOUTH ORPHOICHE ORTILIBECHOUCH IERCHE ROUM IPERITAO' YAI! I conjure Earth and Heaven and Light and Darkness and the Great God who created All, SAROUSIN, You, Agathon Daimonion the Helper, to accomplish for me everything done by the Use of this Ring or Stone!"

When you complete the Consecration, say, "The one Zeus is Serapis!"

-PGM IV.1596-1715

Moshe Weinfeld, in his book The Decalogue and the Recitation of "Shema": The Development of the Confessions, points out (pg. 128) that all these texts are hymnodal-liturgical, and that the Shema is confessional-liturgical.
On page 130 Weinfeld states that "there appears to be a deep connection between the definition of God as 'one'and the obligation to love him." He provides two passages from the Hebrew Bible which make the connection obvious.

And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest...
-Genesis 22:2.

My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her...
-Song of Solomon 6:9.

If people know of other, similar statements, please share!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Who Hath Stood in the Counsel of the Lord?

For who hath stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it?
כִּי מִי עָמַד בְּסוֹד יְהוָה וְיֵרֶא וְיִשְׁמַע אֶת דְּבָרוֹ מִי הִקְשִׁיב דברי [דְּבָרוֹ] וַיִּשְׁמָע.

-Jeremiah 23:18

Walker, this one is for you.

Medieval Jewish commentaries on the scriptures are fascinating. They often are very perceptive, as the following example shows.

The word rendered as counsel in the translation of Jeremiah 23:18 is sod. Not sod as in certain hostile instructions of the English language, but, as the Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testaments puts it, a circle of confidants. From this developed an abstract, secondary meaning of something confidential, a secret if you will. It corresponds fairly closely to the word mysteries. Indeed, Jewish mysticism such as kabbalah is termed in Hebrew torat ha-sod, or the doctrine of the mystery.

One might be tempted to conclude that medieval commentators were oblivious to the history of word development because they frequently projected backwards onto the text a current theological understanding, but it simply is not true that they always twisted the text to match their preconceptions. They were just as likely to examine the text with sound philological methods.

Metsudot (fortresses) is a commentary in two parts by Rabbi David Altschuler of Prague, completed after his death by his son Yehiel during the early part of the 18th century. There are to parts each named metsudah. Metsudat David deals with difficult phrases, Metsudat Zion with difficult words. None of the commentary is original, but is a distillation of prior works in lucid, popular form. This garaunteed its popularity, even a place in all editions of Mikraot Gedolot (the Rabbinic Bible) since the 18th century.

Metsudat David.

"Who has marked
" - indeed he who has marked his word like Jeremiah who hearkened unto the Lord's voice and carried out his commandments is the one who hears the prophecy unlike the wicked.

"For who hath stood" - He [the prophet] gave a reason for why they [the wicked] would not hearken unto them when he said for who of these stood in the counsel (sod) to recieve prophecy and who saw the visions of prophecy and who among them heard his word for being wicked they aren't worthy of prophecy.

מצודת דוד
"מי הקשיב" - אמנם מי שהקשיב דברו כירמיהו שהקשיב בקול ה' ועשה מצותיו הוא השומע הנבואה ולא הרשעים האלה

"כי מי עמד" - נתן טעם למה לא ישמעו אליהם באמרו כי מי מאלה עמד בסוד ה' לקבל נבואה ומי ראה מראות הנבואה ומי מהם שמע את דברו כי בהיותם רשעים אינם ראויים לנבואה

Metsudat Zion.

"In the sod" - it should be said in the place wherein prophecy is effected.

"Marked (hikshiv)" - a matter of listening and recieving.

מצודת ציון
"בסוד" - ר"ל במקום השפעת הנבואה

"הקשיב" - ענין האזנה וקבלה

Sunday, July 4, 2010

To Begin at the Beginning... of What?

With apologies to Dylan Thomas.

In a recent online discussion with an evangelical fundamentalist over John 1:1, the claim was made that "in the beginning" means the ultimate beginning of everything.

"There is not a Greek word for prior to archE. This is in the original.

There you have it.

If in the Greek something was archE it was original. Grab your lexicon and look up archE. It means nothing like it prior to it (whatever the object is your speaking of)."

He continued in the same vein.

"Research archE and argue that there should be a word or phrase that mandates prior to archE in the Greek.

There is nothing in the Greek language that represents prior to or before archE.

This is the point of origin (originAL). This fact [sic] and not spin.

If you discover the word or term or phrase then I will stand down. Until then we are dancing and not singing. Just let me know what you discover. At this point the archE is the original and NOTHING before the original unless you discover a Greek arguement for what was mentioned."

When I asked the beginning of what, I recieved a reply which must stand as a masterpiece of reason and logic.

"The Beginning not a Beginning not your Beginnig BUT THE BEGINNING.

The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your eginning [sic]. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning. The Beginning not a Beginning not your beginning."

Several days have since passed, like so much water under the bridge, I chanced to be reading Rashi and came across this insightful exposition of the first verse of Genesis. The medival commentators contain some real gems. Sometimes, as is the case here, the methods used feel strikingly modern.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki), a French rabbi of the 11th century, is to this day considered the premier Jewish commentator on the Bible and the Babylonian Talmud. His commentaries are frequently printed in the margins of said works. His were the first comprehensive commentaries. Much of them are drawn from aggadic and midrashic materials, but such are not used indiscriminately, but in order to shed light on difficult passages, or to explain the biblical roots of Jewish teachings and traditions. However, in the following extract from his commentary on Genesis, Rashi looks at the text of Genesis 1:1 and provides other biblical occurences of the wrod reishit (what in english is translated as the beginning) to support his perceptive interpretation of the phrase.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Bereshith bara. In the beginning God created. This verse says expound me only in the manner that our Rabbis explained it: God created the world for the sake of the Torah, which is called (Proverbs 8:22) "the beginning (reshith) of His way," and for the sake of Israel, who are called (Jeremiah 2:3) "the beginning (reshith) of His increase." If, however, you wish to explain it in its plain sense, explain it thus: At the beginning of the creation of heaven and earth when the earth was without form and void and there was darkness, God said, Let there be light. The text does not intend to point out the order of the acts of Creation -- to state that these (heaven and earth) were created first; for if it intended to point this out, it should have been written Barishona bara, "At first God created..." Because wherever the word reshith occurs in Scripture, it is in the construct state. For example, Jeremiah 26:1, "In the beginning of (reshith) the reign of Jehoiakim," Genesis 10:10, "The beginning of (reshith) his kingdom," Deuteronomy 18:4, "The firstfruit of (reshith) thy corn." Similarly here you must translate bereshith bara Elohim as though it read bereshith bero, at the beginning of God's creating. A similar grammatical construction is in Hosea 1:2, "tehillat dibber [yahweh] beHosheah", which is as much to say, "At the beginning of God's speaking through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea." Should you, however, insist that it does actually intend to point out that these (heaven and earth) were created first, and that the meaning is, "At the beginning of everything He created these", admitting therefore that the word reshith is in the construct state and explaining the omission of a word signifying 'everything' by saying that you have texts which are elliptical, omitting a word, as for example Job 3:10, "Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb" where it does not explicitly explain who it was that closed the womb; and Isaiah 8:4 "He shall take away the spoil of Samaria" without explaining who shall take it away; and Amos 6:12 "Doth he plough with oxen," and it does not explicitly state, "Doth a man plough with oxen"; Isaiah 46:10 "Declaring from the beginning the end," and it does not explicitly state, "Declaring from the beginning of a thing the end of a thing" -- and if it is so, you should be astonished at yourself, because as a matter of fact the waters were created before heaven and earth, for lo, it is written, "The Spirit of God was hovering on the face of the waters," and Scripture had not yet disclosed when the creation of the waters took place -- consequently you must learn from this that the creation of the waters preceded that of the earth. And a further proof that the heavens and the earth were not the first thing created is that the heavens were created from fire (esh) and water (mayim), from which it follows that fire and water were in existence before the heavens. Therefore you must needs admit that the text teaches nothing about the earlier or later sequence of the acts of creation.

"בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא" – אין המקרא הזה אומר אלא דרשני, כמו שדרשוהו רבותינו ז"ל: בשביל התורה שנקראת (משלי ח כב) "רֵאשִׁית דַּרְכּוֹ", ובשביל ישראל שנקראו (ירמיהו ב ג) "רֵאשִׁית תבואתו".

ואם באת לפרשו כפשוטו, כך פרשהו: "בראשית בריאת שמים וארץ, וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ, וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר". ולא בא המקרא להורות סדר הבריאה, לומר שֶאֵלו קדמו; שאם בא להורות כך, היה לו לכתוב: "בראשונה ברא את השמים" וגו', שאין לך "ראשית" במקרא שאינו דבוק לתיבה של אחריו, כמו: (ירמיהו כו א) "בְּרֵאשִׁית מַמְלְכוּת יְהוֹיָקִים", (בראשית י י) "רֵאשִׁית מַמְלַכְתּוֹ", (דברים יח ד) "רֵאשִׁית דְּגָנְךָ". אף כאן אתה אומר: "בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים" וגו', כמו "בְּרֵאשִׁית ברוא". ודומה לו (הושע א ב) "תְּחִלַּת דִּבֶּר ה' בְּהוֹשֵׁעַ", כלומר: תחילת דיבורו של הקב"ה בהושע, "ויאמר ה' אל הושע" וגו'.

ואם תאמר: להורות בא שאלו תחילה נבראו, ופירושו: בראשית הכל ברא אלו, ויש לך מקראות שמקצרים לשונם וממעטים תיבה אחת, כמו: (איוב ג י) "כִּי לֹא סָגַר דַּלְתֵי בִטְנִי", ולא פירש מי הסוגר, וכמו (ישעיהו ח ד) "יִשָּׂא אֶת חֵיל דַּמֶּשֶׂק", ולא פירש מי ישאנו, וכמו (עמוס ו יב) "אִם יַחֲרוֹשׁ בַּבְּקָרִים", ולא פירש "אם יחרוש אדם בבקרים", וכמו (ישעיהו מו י) "מַגִּיד מֵרֵאשִׁית אַחֲרִית", ולא פירש "מַגִּיד מֵרֵאשִׁית דבר אַחֲרִית דבר". אם כן תמה על עצמך, שהרי המים קדמו, שהרי כתיב: "וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם", ועדיין לא גילה המקרא בריית המים מתי היתה. הא למדת שקדמו המים לארץ. ועוד, שהשמים מאש ומים נבראו. על כרחך לא לימד המקרא בסדר המוקדמים והמאוחרים כלום.