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General My Research on the Bible and Biblical Hebrew

“And There was Evening and There was Morning” (Gen. 1) — A Different Interpretation

(Related podcast: “And There was Evening and There was Morning” (Genesis 1) — A Different Interpretation (Podcast) .)

The known verse from the first chapter of Genesis appears therein, not surprisingly, six times.

The two central words of the verse, which confer on it its meaning, are Boker (morning in biblical Hebrew) and Erev (evening). However, their order of appearance in the verse is bizarre:

“…and there was evening and there was morning one day” (Genesis 1:5).

This is logically flawed (and same applies to all other five variations of the verse). The correct articulation should be:

“…and there was morning and there was evening one day”.

Perhaps the verse is misconstrued by us? Is there an alternative interpretation that may remove the logical flaw, inherent to current interpretation?

In this post (and the allied podcast), we offer a new interpretation. The latter integrates well with the creation narrative, as unfolding in Genesis 1, and, astoundingly, it also comports well with current scientific knowledge of the Big-Bang and its aftermath.

Ultimately, the new interpretation also explains why the same two words, Erev and Boker, stand for “evening” and “morning”, respectively, in traditional interpretations of the verse.

We base the new interpretation on a basic root analysis of the two words, and support it by numerous other verses in the Jewish Bible, where same roots appear in a context utterly divorced from the traditional meaning as “evening” and “morning”; yet, in context that is consistent with the new interpretation.

Therefore, both Erev and Boker, and their respective roots, are hence forth discussed with no relationship whatsoever to their acceptable meanings as evening and morning, respectively.

We start with Erev.

This word, and other words of same root, appear over 150 times in the Bible. The Hebrew root of Erev corresponds to E.R.B, in English. Most times, the root is associated with “evening”, but not uniquely so. Another common usage relates to mixing, or mixture. Thus, Erev-Rav (literally, “much mixture”) stands for a mixture of tribes, Arov stands for a mixture of animals (one of the Ten Plights of Egypt), and Le-itarev means to mix together.

In other words, Erev, in biblical Hebrew, simply means mixture.

Not surprisingly, the time of day when darkness starts crawling over earth, is also called Erev in Hebrew.

Let us next consider Boker.

Traditionally, the word means morning. We might be astonished to learn that its root is tightly linked to Erev, when the latter is interpreted as mixture. Furthermore, as we shall soon realize, the root of Boker diametrically represents the opposite of Erev, when the latter is interpreted as mixture.

Let us analyze usage of the root of Boker (B.K.R) in various biblical Hebrew words.

The grammatical structure of Boker is the same as Chodesh (month, in Hebrew). The verb associated with Chodesh is Le-Chadesh, meaning to renew. One may understand why month in Hebrew implies renewal, since the Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar (moon-based) month, with some periodical adjustments to keep it in tune with the solar calendar (sun-based calendar).

Similarly, the respective verb, associated with Boker, is Le-Vaker. Among other related meanings, Le-Vaker in biblical Hebrew means to seek out, namely, to make something that is mixed distinct and separate. For example (from Collins Concise Dictionary): “She sought out her friend from among the crowd”.

A typical example for the use of Le-Vaker, sharing same root with Boker, is found in Leviticus. The verse describes donation of an animal to be sacrificed to Jehovah. The verse addresses the donor and relates to his animal donation (Leviticus 27:33):

“He must not seek out (Lo Ye-Vaker) the good from the bad or make any substitution. If he does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed.”

In other words, if the donated animal is defective, impaired in some way, the donor must not distinguish the good from the bad, or make substitution, so that the sacrifice includes only good parts of the animal. The latter must be sacrificed in its totality.  

Similarly, refer to Leviticus 13:36, or Ezekiel 34:11-12.

We realize that, according to the new interpretation based on root analysis, Erev and Boker are inherently connected, diametrically representing two opposite states. Erev describes a state of mixture; Boker describes a state that is the outcome of sorting out the mixture into its individual constituents, rendering them distinct, “separate from the crowd” (the mixture). In short, Boker describes a new state, where constituents of the mixture stand each on its own, materializing to full fruition as a result of the act of bakarah (seeking out the ingredients of the mixture).

With this new insight, based on root analysis of the two words Erev and Boker, the well-known verse, “and there was evening and there was morning”, acquires a completely new meaning. It may more precisely be re-articulated as follows:

”There was mixture (Erev), and then there was non-mixture (Boker)”, a new state where the mixture is dissolved, sorted out into its individual constituents.

We again note that the traditional interpretation, “And there was evening and there was morning one day” (and other versions of same verse) are logically flawed. The morning appears before the evening (to define a day), not the other way around. With the new interpretation, this logical flaw disappears since time is appropriately preserved.

Is the new interpretation consistent with the general description of creation, as unfolding in Genesis creation narrative?

Indeed, very much so.

In Genesis creation narrative, as unfolding in the first chapter of Genesis, the word “create” (Bara), appears not six times, as might be expected, but only twice. It first appears in Genesis 1:1 as an overall statement of all that have been created:

“In the beginning Elohim created the Heavens and the Earth” (Genesis 1:1).

The second time creation is mentioned in Genesis creation narrative relates to the human species (Genesis 1:27):

“So Elohim created Mankind, in His own image, in the image of Elohim created He him, male and female He created them”.

One may wonder:

If creation had happened “In the Beginning” (Genesis 1:1), and then on the sixth day (Genesis 1:27), what has the Divine being engaged in the rest of the six days, where creation is not at all mentioned?

The surprising answer is embedded in the two words, Erev and Boker, based on their new interpretation, based on their root analysis.

In the other days, when no creation is specified, Genesis creation narrative describes, individually for each day, how Elohim, by Divine utterance, has turned Erev (a state of mixture) into Boker (a state of non-mixture, individual parts sorted out from the mixture).

In other words, in most of the creation narrative of Genesis 1, the Divine separates the mixture, created “in the beginning”, into its distinct individual elements, materializing them from the uniform mixture, into which they were initially embedded.

How does this interpretation comport with modern science?

Indeed, surprisingly well.

The two words, Erev and Boker, as newly interpreted, are extremely consistent with how the Big-Bang and its aftermath, in the first few seconds of existence, are currently described by science.

A central element in this description is the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR). This radiation is a relic of the Big-Bang and its immediate aftermath. The uniformity of the radiation across the universe testifies that in the “Beginning” the universe was extremely uniform.

This uniformity is echoed in the Bible, describing the just created physical world (“The Earth”; Genesis 1:2):

“And The Earth was without form and void (Tohu Va-Vohu)..”.

Using root analysis of the two Hebrew words, Tohu and Vohu, let us make sense of this verse and find out what it really conveys.

Science describes the first few seconds after the Big-Bang as extremely uniform. Nothing is yet distinct, there is no information to observe. This scientific description is reflected in Tohu and Bohu. The Bible describes the just created world as being in a state that whatever an observer at the time would observe, he or she will be bewildered (Li-Tehot, to wonder; Hebrew verb linked to Tohu). Also, the imaginary observer would look around purposelessly (Li-vehot; Hebrew verb linked to Bohu). Both descriptions allude to an observer, bewildered and looking around purposelessly. Why? because there is no information, nothing to observe that might help making sense of the observed (just as in a desert).

We have come to the end of our exploration journey regarding creation of The Earth, as alluded to in Genesis 1. We realized that in most days of creation, the Divine sorted out, by uttering a Divine command, that which was created “In the beginning”.

We address the second creation, that of humankind (on the sixth day of creation; Genesis 1:27).

Humankind was not created when God created “The Heavens and the Earth” (Genesis 1:1), or the word “created” would not be repeated describing creation of Mankind (Genesis 1:27).

Since creation first alludes to “The Heavens and the Earth”, and only later to Humankind, we, human beings, are doomed to repeat, in our own life, the same process, as described regarding The Earth in the first five days of Genesis creation (and some also on the sixth day) .

According to the creation narrative, the physical world (The Earth) has moved, from one day to the next, from a vague mixture (Erev, Tohu Va-Vohu) into its visible distinct constituents (Boker), turning the potential into observable reality.

We, human beings, who were separately created, are doomed to repeat the same process as The Earth.

Exercising free will, we are doomed to sort out the hidden faceless mixture, residing within us from infancy, into observable, distinct and separate personality and character.

Once we do that, transforming the potential, lurking within us in a mixture form, into the “I”, or “Me”, which we have grown up to become;

Once we do that, then, and only then, may we offer our own creation, our own non-mixed unique self, to the world, to be of benefit to the rest of humanity, and to all other creatures living on the surface of Planet Earth.

Categories
General My Research on the Bible and Biblical Hebrew

Present-Day Double Message of the Forbidden Fruit

The forbidden fruit, in Adam and Eve Genesis narrative, carries a double message for our time.

As humans we experience two worlds: The “World of Law-of-Nature” and the “World of Randomness”. Violating law in the former incurs immediate penalty. In the latter world, we are uncertain of the consequence of our decisions and therefore it is in this world solely that we may exercise free will. I have addressed this distinction at some length previously (for example, here and here) and therefore will not elaborate on it further here.

The relevance to our days and time of the sin of eating of the forbidden fruit, as described in Genesis (3: 1-19), had been discussed by me in a separate post. Here I expand on that and address the double message conveyed by the story of Adam and Eve eating from the forbidden “Tree of Knowledge, Good and Bad” (Etz ha-Daat, Tov ve-Ra), or “Good and Evil” (as commonly translated, erroneously in my opinion).

Studying present-day relevance of the forbidden fruit, particularly with regard to the two worlds, as just described, reveals stunning new insights. Let us start by elaborating on the true meaning of the Hebrew Daat (knowledge).

There are two modes of learning (obtaining knowledge), which in biblical Hebrew are denoted by two separate terms: One may learn by absorbing new information, utterly dis-associated from the source of knowledge; or one may learn (and know) by experiencing, by connecting to the source of knowledge. An example for the first mode is conducting research on the Internet. No personal experiencing of the subject of learning is involved. An example for the latter mode is touring a mountainous area, as a result of which one is acquainted, connected, knowing by personal experience, the visited area.

The Bible is permeated aplenty with the distinction between “Acquiring knowledge” (Haskalah) and “Knowing by Experiencing”, or “Knowing by Connecting” (Daat). For example, prophet Jeremiah calls, in the name of the Divine: “Thus says Jehovah: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glories glory in this – Haskel (“Acquiring knowledge”) and Yadoa Oti (“Knowing Me”) that I am Jehovah exercising grace, justice and righteousness in the land, for in these I delight”, so says Jehovah” (Jeremiah 9:22-23). And elsewhere in the Bible: “He who keeps the commandment shall experience no evil thing (Lo yeda davar ra); and a wise man’s heart would discern (“Yeda”) both time and method” (Ecclesiastes 5:5). And similarly: “And Adam once more knew (Va-yeda Adam od) his wife and she bore a child and she called his name Shet” (Genesis 4:25). Likewise, in modern day Hebrew we wish a bereaved family Lo tedeo od machov (“You shall know pain no more”). Knowing here is devoid of any of the common sense reserved for knowledge, but everything to do with personal experiencing.

Given these sources and others, it is essential that we take note that the forbidden tree is not a tree of wisdom, neither a tree of understanding or of advice. No. This is a tree of “Knowing by Experiencing”, Etz ha-Daat, which spells a two-stage learning process: First we experience and then we internalize that experience so that we are capable of telling apart the “bad” from the “good”. The first stage of the learning process is prone to pain and suffering because only after experiencing the “good” and the “bad” may one tell them apart. Not a moment earlier. Adam and Eve, not privy to the agony associated with experiencing the “bad”, are eager to eat of the forbidden fruit noticing only the end result— that they will be like Elohim (God as creator). In modern day parlance, such a fake imaginary process of learning is called “Instant Learning”

But what is “Good” and “Bad”?

Given the two worlds that we constantly experience in our lives, the “World of Law-of-Nature” and the “World of Randomness”, it is obvious that one needs to specify “Good and Bad” in terms of both worlds. Not coincidentally, the narrator of the story of the sin of Adam and Eve already relates to the Divine only by the double name, Elohim-Jehovah, imparting the two aspects of leadership that the Divine exercise in His world: Leadership by Law-of-Nature (scientifically exposed, “public” leadership by the creator, Elohim); and the hidden, concealed leadership by Jehovah in the world of free-will, in the seemingly “World of Randomness”. There is perhaps no better demonstration for the latter than the famous dialogue between Abraham and Jehovah:

“And Abraham drew near and said:” Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?  .. Shall not the Judge of all the Earth do justice?”; And Jehovah said: “If I find in Sodom fifty just men within the city then I will spare the whole place for their sakes” (Genesis 18:23, 25-26).

But fifty righteous men were not found, neither ten. And the people of Sodom were puzzled, probably to their last moments, why the world is so random and unexplainable. As were probably the residents of the corrupt “Sodom-like” ancient Pompeii, destroyed by random by mother-nature at 79 AD.

“Good and Bad” in the story of eating of the forbidden fruit therefore carries double meanings: “Good” and “Bad” in the physical world, which is governed by “Law of Nature” (imprinted on nature by Elohim, the creator); and “Good” and “Bad” in the “World of Randomness”, governed by “Law of Justice and Grace” (emanating from Jehovah, ultimate source of morality):

“For thus says Jehovah, creator of the Heavens, he is the Elohim that has formed the Earth and has made it”; Isaiah 45:18).

The double message of the “Tree of Knowledge” sounds loud and clear for our times:

Message 1: Not all that can be experienced in the physical world, in the “World of Law-of-Nature”, is allowed.

There is a spiritual dimension to our existence as human beings that imposes limitations on our behavior in the physical world and on what we may experience. Eating of the “Tree of Knowledge”, supposedly the most natural and beneficial thing to do, is not without boundaries. And once these are crossed, seemingly without inflicting physical harm, the spiritual dimension may adversely be affected, ultimately causing harm also in the physical world (due to loss of ability to exercise free will in the “World of Randomness”). This realization may at times be extremely excruciating and agonizing. Ask any ex-alcoholic, or ex-narcotics-addict, who had gone through rehabilitation, and you may get a faint idea what the process of “knowing by experiencing” may look like once the spiritual dimension of our existence is ignored.

(Again we note that Adam and Eve’s idea is limited, nearly contrary to reality: According to their perception, eating of the forbidden fruit would educate them how to distinguish “the bad” from “the good” in the physical world so that they would instantly be Elohim-like; all the while being unaware of the pain and suffering that this prolonged learning process, ignoring the spiritual dimension, may entail.)

Message 2: To live life fully, it is not sufficient to distinguish “Good” from “Bad” within Law-of-Nature only.

The “World of Randomness”, where free-will is exercised, has its own “Good” and “Bad”, decided by the “Law” that prevails in this world (law of morality, grace and righteousness; or law of Karma, as preached in some religions). And that law, relating to our spiritual dimension, should be heeded, learned and internalized no less than the “visible”, scientifically validated, Law-of-Nature, that we are so intent and careful on pursuing every single moment of our lives on this planet.