Preface Introduction Chapters Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Appendices Appendix I Appendix II Appendix III Appendix IV Appendix V Appendix VI Appendix VII Appendix VIII Appendix IX Appendix X Appendix XI Appendix XII Appendix XIII Appendix XIV Appendix XV Appendix XVI Appendix XVII Appendix XVIII Appendix XIX Appendix XX Appendix XXI Indexes References Names Biblical References General Bibliography
The Classical Concept of Chaos.
According to the Greek poet Hesiod, in his Theogony (Bk. 116,
chap. 123) written somewhere around 775 BC., there was at the very
beginning only a yawning unfathomable abyss, an infinitude of empty
space which was the womb out of which the Universe came into
existence. This empty space was referred to as "The Chaos".
Chaos existed before all else, before the gods came into being, before
the material Universe was created, and therefore before the earth
itself was formed.
The conception of Chaos as the confused mass out of which in
the very beginning the separate forms of material things arose, is
not in view. This concept belongs to a much later period.
In his Metamorphoses (I: 7), the Roman poet and historian Ovid
equates Chaos with the crude, shapeless mass into which the Archi-
tect of the World introduced order and harmony, thereby creating
the Cosmos. But the original Greek concept had placed Chaos before
even the gods themselves, and it had at that time no material sub-
stance in it to be organized. Ovid completed his Metamorphoses
somewhere around 10 AD., or nearly eight centuries later. If it is
remembered that the Septuagint Version of the Book of Genesis was
written about 120 BC., it will be seen that the concept of Chaos was
probably being re-interpreted, meaning either the first empty space
which preceded all things OR the first state of unorganized matter.
As far as I know, there is no way of being certain which it was.
However, the Septuagint was undoubtedly written with Greek read-
ers in mind, and probably to most Greeks the concept of Chaos was
still the traditional one, a vast emptiness with matter not merely yet
unformed but not even in existence as a material substance at all. To
the Hebrew scholars in Alexandria who prepared the Septuagint
Version, such could hardly be taken as the meaning of Gen. 1.2 since
the heaven and the earth were already in existence created by God,
as Gen. 1.1 clearly states. Moreover, the very idea involved in
the Hebrew word bara makes it very unlikely that they had in mind
"an infinitude of empty space" such as the Greek concept of Chaos
signifies, because this Hebrew word basically means "to smooth off"
Young, in his Analytical Concordance, suggests the meaning of the
word on the basis of biblical usage as being "to cut" or "carve", both
of which terms can only be applied to something which already exists
in substantial form. "Creation", to the Hebrew mind, implies
something more substantial than an empty space.
It is popularly said that the word means "to create out of nothing".
This concept is not actually inherent in the Hebrew word bara, or
perhaps one should say rather, that it is not necessarily inherent.
The proof of this is found first in the fact that Adam was created out
of the dust of the ground, and not out of nothing: and the word itself
is employed elsewhere in Scripture of human activity. See, for
example: Josh. 17.15 and 18 where it is used of "cutting down" trees,
in Ezek.23.47, of "dispatching" people, ie., by slaughtering them;
in Ezek.21.19, of "cutting out" in the sense of choosing, much as the
ranch hand "cuts out" from the herd certain cattle for a special
purpose. In I Sam. 2.29 it is used in the sense of "carving out" for
oneself the choicest cuts of meat from the sacrifices being offered
to God, a nice illustration of how the true sense of the word illustrates
a text which even the Jerusalem Bible feels is obscure. It is only
obscure so long as one attributes to the Hebrew word bara the meaning
of creating as its fundamental meaning. But clearly this is not its
And while we are on this subject, it may be worth observing that,
contrary to a statement which has been mis-applied to the biblical
use of this word times without number to the effect that the word is
only used of divine activity, it is quite evident that this is not the case.
It is , however, only found applied to divine activity in the light or
qal form, a form which signifies the most effortless kind of activity.
That Creation was of such a nature to God is nicely brought out in
three Psalms, where we are told that creation was the work of God's
fingers (Psa. 8.3), punishment the work of His hands.(Psa. 39.10), and
salvation the work of His arm (Psa. 77.15) - each involving, as it
were, a larger part of His total energies.
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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved