Re: Something from Nothing

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Feb 11 1996 - 07:14:22 EST

On 2/10/96, Will Wagers wrote:

> David M. Schaps wrote about Gn 1 in "Re: Accuracy in Translation":
> "It misses the fact that the three first letters of the first word are
> themselves the second word. It misses the distinction between the
> verb actually used, "bara" ("created") and the more common verb
> "asa" ("made") -- the difference usually being explained as being
> one between making something out of nothing (bara) and something
> out of something else (asa)."
> It is my impression that the ancients, and particularly the Greeks,
> didn't think anything came from nothing, i.e. no creation ex nihilo.
> In Genesis for example, the wind and the waters, at least, seem to
> pre-exist the creation. Many ancient creation myths seem to create
> the cosmos from the body of a god, as Marduk from Tiamat.
> Is this supposed use of bara to mean creation from nothing limited
> to divine contexts ?
> Does anyone have textual references supporting or contradicting the
> notion of creation from nothing in ancient Hebrew (or other Middle
> Eastern) sources ?
> Is it Christian thought that Jesus created the world from nothing ?
> (Jn 1:1) If so, what would be the textual evidence for this position?

With regard to Genesis 1, an alternative understanding I've seen in at
least one serious discussion (E.A. Speiser's Anchor Bible Commentary on
Genesis) takes the initial B'RESHITH BARA ... verse to mean something like,
"At the beginning of God's creating the heaven and the earth, ..." and then
understanding TOHU W/BOHU as a primeval chaos that is the raw material
transformed by the creative action into a cosmos. Of course, the second
creation narrative beginning at Genesis 2:4b makes no assumption whatsoever
of a creatio ex nihilo; it is a nomadic herdsman's myth of the planting of
an oasis in the desert, whereas the Genesis 1 myth is rather apparently an
agricultural myth of the emergence of dry land from water.

Of course, that has nothing to do with b-greek, but the second part of your
question does. I would think that the clearest suggestion of a creatio ex
nihilo in the NT might be Romans 4:17: KATENANTI hOU QEOU EPISTEUSEN TOU
understood this to mean that Abraham put his trust in the God who is both
redeemer and creator, who makes the dead alive and calls into being things
that do not have being.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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