earth with starry background and hands sheltering over and under

New Medium Blog Post: Created God the Heaven(s) and the Earth

I finished my translation of Genesis 1:1. Follow the link to see.

Created God the Heaven(s) and the Earth.

Or here is the conclusion.


Now for the moment of truth. How would I translate this verse if I were on some committee of translators? Here it is.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Incidentally, this is the same as the English Standard Version (ESV). You might be thinking, “Well, that was much ado about nothing.”

I know it might look that way. I ended up translating it almost the same as the King James, which has been around for over 400 years. The only change I made was to make heaven plural. Maybe you think Bible translation is like making sausage. Don’t show me the process. Just give me the end result. The thing is, we still need some people who know how to make sausage.

At an early age, I learned that there are some things in our English Bibles that were lost in translation, and I wanted to investigate them. In just this one verse, I found some things that could not be translated into English or even the ancient Septuagint.

  1. Created comes before God to show something God did for us before revealing God’s name.
  2. An untranslated word et reinforces important ideas: that the heavens and the earth are not deities but created by God, and that God created not only the heavens and the earth but everything in between and everything that exists in them.
  3. The heavens is preferable to heaven or the heaven, because it includes every possible meaning of the Hebrew word ha-shamayim.

And even though I ultimately did not agree with the Masoretic Text (Hebrew) which said, “When God began to create heaven and earth,” that reading needed to be considered, and the reasons for changing it needed to be compelling. When the scribes and Rabbis who copied, preserved, and taught these scriptures in their original language for thousands of years tell you what they think it means, you need to at least listen, even if you disagree.

Also, the idea behind that reading is that creation did not happen all at once. It was a process of bringing order to chaos. That idea is important not only for the Bible but for life. God ordered everything about this world—light, darkness, water, land, sky, plants, and animals—just by commanding their patterns of organization, and I can’t even bring order to my office. But if God is so good at ordering chaos, maybe somehow God can impart just a little of that to me.

In the end, though, I think what is most important about this verse is it declares boldly that God not only created the heavens and the earth, but everything in between and everything that exists in them. The entire universe and all that is in it. That is why—with all due respect to Rashi and the Masoretes—I have to part ways with them here. But they took me on a fascinating journey, and I hope to have many more opportunities to explore with them on this wild, wild world of Hebrew scriptures.

Map of earth painted on two hands with blue sky and white clouds in background

Two New Posts on Medium: How to Translate the First Word of the Bible

This may sound weird, but one of my favorite hobbies is Bible translation. If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to translate Hebrew to English, you can check out these posts on my Medium blog. I just did the first word, bereishit, and it took two posts. All that just for the first word? Yep. If you have a modern study Bible, you might see the verse read, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” But there might be a footnote saying, “Hebrew reads, ‘When God began to create the heaven and the earth'”.

In the Beginning … Or Not? This post will be enough for you to understand why this controversy exists.

In the Beginning, Part 2, and Justice for the Aleph. I get into some of the more technical aspects of translating bereishit. Then you can get some insight into the Rabbis who preserved and taught these scriptures over the millennia through a story of why they say creation begins with the second letter of the alphabet and not the first.

If you are following my blog on Medium, let me know in the comments if you like having a blog dedicated to religious topics. I will start posting some of my ideas on writing soon. After all, this is supposed to be an author’s blog.

Thanks for reading. Until next time, remember these words from Matthew 7:12. “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (NRSV).

And Evening and Morning Were the First Day… Or Was It the Fourth?

The Foothills Writers Guild has started something called the First Draft Society (FDS). It is strictly in-house. Members can submit short pieces to be distributed to everyone in the guild through email for a first reading and feedback. Most of these submissions come in response to challenges from the president. Of course, last month there was an Eclipse Challenge. There were at least half a dozen submissions before the eclipse. I started mine on the day and just submitted it. Since it took this long, you probably already guessed it’s not really a first draft. So sue me.

Still, I understand it’s pretty late for this topic. So if you can take one more commentary on Eclipse 8-21-17, I really appreciate you stopping by and reading this, my first FDS submission.

*****

I bet when Bonnie Tyler recorded “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” she had no idea it would be the biggest hit of 1983. Even more so, I bet she had no idea that 34 years later, it would become number 1 again, and everyone would be talking about it. Or that a cruise ship would hire her to sing it as they sailed into the path of a Solar Eclipse. I didn’t make it to that cruise, but I was one of the lucky ones who only had to step into my back yard to see it. I didn’t really want to get caught up in Eclipse-mania, but when a wonder of the heavens is observable right where you live, you know you will never forgive yourself if you miss it.

imperfect image of solar eclipse of 2017
I tried to photograph the eclipse. But without the protective lenses, you don’t actually see the moon starting to block the sun. But you can see one star.

The sun is the very model of consistency and dependability. The earth keeps spinning on its axis, and the sun holds its position, so every part of the globe experiences daytime and nighttime. Sunrise and sunset happen at totally predictable times each and every day. You can literally set your calendar and watch by it. It shines on everyone on the face of the earth… except during a total eclipse.

The newspapers said Greenville (South Carolina) got 2 minutes, 10 seconds of totality, while Anderson got 2 minutes, 34 seconds. I couldn’t watch the event and start a timer, so I wasn’t able to track the timing. Thanks to the website www.eclipse2017.org, I found out the eclipse I watched started at 1:09:15 PM. I saw totality for 2 minutes, 35 seconds, starting at 2:37:57 PM. And “total” is important. The difference between 99% and 100% is never more striking than when you are watching an eclipse.

It amazes me how today, scientists can calculate exactly where the path of totality will travel, and based on your location, tell you exactly when the eclipse will begin, exactly when and for how long you will see totality, and exactly when it will end, down to the second. But what if you were living at a time before that kind of mathematical precision? What if you were a caveman, and you saw a total eclipse for the first time? You know it’s supposed to be day, and then all of a sudden it’s night. You look up, and it looks like the sun has been swallowed by the moon, which now has this fiery halo all around it. Day has turned to night. Nocturnal birds are waking up. Crickets and cicadas are chirping. What’s happening??? But after about two and a half minutes, the sun returns, and you’ve learned an important lesson. The sun can be hidden, but it is always where it should be in the sky.

The sun, moon, and stars, were created on the fourth day of Creation. I thought about this, because the only time you can see the sun, moon, and stars all together is during a total eclipse. Unfortunately, when it turned dark, the automatic streetlights in my neighborhood turned on. The ambient light hid all but a handful of stars. Still, it was enough to make me marvel that for the first time in my life, I could see all the heavenly bodies represented at once. It made me appreciate that fourth day of creation in a new way.

Fourth Day vs. First Day

Did you notice that in Genesis, light was created before the sun, moon, and stars? Light was created on the first day, but then God waited three more days to create the sun, moon and stars. I’m not arguing for a literal 6-day creation here, but I do believe the author of that particular passage did this deliberately. Whether the author was Moses (as tradition says) or the unknown author known as the Elohist (as scholars say), by separating the creation of light from the familiar lights in the sky, he wanted to tell us something much more profound than how old the heavens and earth are, or how many days did it all come together, and were they actually the 24-hour days we know, or were they 1000 years as the Psalmist said, “A thousand years are but a day in Thy sight”? Or were they billions of years, as evidence now indicates the universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old? I find all this fascinating to study. But at the end of the day, I don’t know, and I don’t care.

What the author was trying to tell us is this. It is not the sun, moon, and stars that are the source of light. It is God, who made all of them. Most people at that time worshiped the sun, moon, and stars as gods. The account of creation says those bodies we see in the sky give light for only one reason. God said it, and it was so. And so they are not gods. They are natural phenomena that operate under the sovereignty of God. God is light and the source of all light. God’s light pre-existed and is independent of the light we see with our eyes.

But sometimes even that light may be blocked from our vision. Many saints of old said they experienced a few dark nights of the soul. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that hide God’s light like the moon hides the sun during an eclipse. I’ve experienced a few times in life when God’s clear light of day suddenly turned to night, and they lasted a lot longer than the roughly two and a half minutes I experienced under a total eclipse. If Bonnie Tyler’s song was called “Total Eclipse of the Soul,” would you have known what she meant? I would.

Maybe you have experienced some of your own dark nights. Maybe you are going through one now. If so, one bit of good news I can offer is you are not alone. Name any Biblical hero (and in some cases, I use that term loosely), and I guarantee you the Bible includes accounts of their dark nights of the soul. God’s light was hidden, and it was as strange for them as that caveman I mentioned seeing day turn to night. All the caveman had to do was wait, and the sun would reappear again. God, however, does not move as predictably as the sun, moon, and stars. No one can give you a timetable for when your dark night will end, but it will end.

The moon appears to swallow and devour the sun, but really the sun is still there all along. In the same way, no matter how long God’s light remains hidden from you, it is always there. Neither life nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come can destroy it. They can only hide it for a time.

When the moon moves, as it always will, the light you see will most likely look different than before. Don’t worry. That is a good thing. Our dark nights of the soul remove our illusions and delusions we once held so dear, so that we can see the true light more clearly.

References

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/SC/Anderson_1401.htm

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/SC/Greenville_1483.htm

http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/communities/states/SC/West%20Pelzer_1654.htm