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Genesis 1:1 Alpha and Omega

I was thrilled today to receive Dr. Skip Moen’s daily word about the Hebrew letters Aleph and Tav in Genesis 1:1. It so ties in with a post I wrote last year and about this time of year. I wrote him for permission to reproduce it and received it. For a review, please reread “What’s It All About, Alfie“.

Peek Behind the Curtain
by Skip Moen, D. Phil.

In the beginning God created [et]  . . . .  Genesis 1:1  NASB

Et – If you read this text in Hebrew you would read the following:  beresheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve-et ha-aretz.  Let me try to display this in Hebrew letters:

Gen1_1

Why is it important to see the Hebrew text?  Because there is an untranslated (and perhaps untranslatable) word in this text, a word that appears all over Scripture.  It is, of course, the et, the Aleph-Tav (or Taw) combination that acts as a linguistic marker telling you that the next word is the direct object of the verb.  You will see it as the fourth word in the text (reading from right to left) and the sixth word in the text (in combination with the letter Vav).  In this case, the et precedes the word hashamayim and the word ha-aretz.  The direct object of the verb “created” is “the heavens” and “the earth.”  So far, pretty standard stuff.

But what happens if I read the verse according to its face value.  Then I get, “In the beginning God created et.”  Some rabbis read the verse like this and they conclude that in the beginning God created the et, i.e., the aleph-tav, the Hebrew alphabet.  The first things God created were the Hebrew letters, aleph through tav.  Everything else was the result of the creation of the Hebrew alphabet.  In other words, the sacred letters of the Hebrew alphabet were the vehicles by which God created all the rest of the cosmos.  First came the letters.  Then came the formation of those letters into words and the words manifested themselves in physical reality.  Isn’t that what we see in the verse, “And God said, ‘Light,’ and light became”?  Can the word be spoken without a prior alphabet?

This ingenious piece of exegesis points out more essential and crucial differences between Hebrew and the rest of human languages.  First, Hebrew communicates through its structure as well as its phonetics.  I have to see the words before I can truly understand them.  The shape of the letters communicates something God wants me to know.

Secondly, the position of the letters is also vitally important.  I must learn to read the text as it appears, not as I alter it to fit my mother tongue.  In English I not only never see the place of the et, I also never see that the verse can be read as the primacy of the creation of the Hebrew alphabet.  What does this imply about our assumed arrogance that God can communicate everythingwe need to know in our language?

The combination aleph-taw is used thousands of times in the Hebrew text.  None of those are visible to the reader of a translation.  How many of those do you suppose might communicate something deeper if we only saw them where they really are?

Topical Index:  etaleph-taw, Hebrew alphabet, Genesis 1:1, translation
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