260 SEMINARY STUDIES 35 (AUTUMN 1998)
of chaos and the divine sovereign.5
Gunkel stated that the Hebrew term tehom in Gen 1:2 had a Babylonian
background.6 He suggested that tehom derived directly from Tiamat, the Babylonian goddess of the primordial ocean in the Enuma elish. Since Gunkel's statement, many scholars have assumed some kind of direct or indirect connection between the Babylonian Tiamat and the Hebrew tehom.7 Many have accepted that
the Hebrew tehom in Gen 1:2 has a mythological foundation in Tiamat, the
goddess of the Enuma elish, in which Marduk the storm god fights and defeats
Tiamat the sea dragon, thus establishing the cosmos.8
The expression tohu wabohu, "emptiness and waste," in Gen 1:2 is of-
ten considered a reference to this primordial "chaos," in strict opposition
to "creation." The phrase is taken to refer to the earth in an abiotic or lifeless
state, with no vegetation, animals, or human beings.9
Gunkel also posited the theory, later supported by other scholars, that
the ruah elohim in Gen 1:2c corresponds to the winds that Marduk sends
against Tiamat, thus assuming that it is an expression that describes the pri-
The object of this three-part article is to discover whether in Gen 1:2
there is any evidence for the mythological battle between the creator-god
and the powers of the chaos, Chaoskampf, such as Gunkel and many other
scholars maintain.10 If we found such evidence, we would need to take heed
262 SEMINARY STUDIES 35 (AUTUMN 1998)
form of the three clauses.13 In this verse the three coordinated clauses begin
with a waw followed by a noun that functions as the subject of the clause.
The theme of the verse 2 is the earth; this is the great central theme,
not only in the rest of Genesis 1, but also of the whole Bible.14 The earth
is the center and object of biblical thought.15
The exegesis of Gen 1:2 has been considered by scholars such as M. Alexandre,16 P. Beauchamp,17 V. P. Hamilton,18 D. Kidner,19 S. Niditch,20 A. P. Ross,21 N. M. Sarna,22 L. I. J. Stadelmann,23 G. von Rad,24 G. J. Wenham,25Westermann,26 and E. J. Young.27
15 "Clauses describing concomitant circumstances are introduced by the conjunction v of accompaniment.... When the circumstances described are past or future, a finite form
of a verb is employed. For the past a perfect aspect is used, e.g. Uhbv Uht htyh Crxhv ‘the
earth having been a formless void' (Gen 1:2)" (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax: An Outline,
2d ed. [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976, 1992]), 83. In this case the verb haya is
in Qal perfect 3 feminine singular hayeta. As C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch point out: "The
three statements in our verse are parallel; the substantive and participial construction of the
second and third clauses rests upon the htyhv of the first. All three describe the condition
of the earth immediately after the creation of the universe" (Commentary on the Old
Testament, trans. J. Martin ([Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986], 1:49).
14 For further bibliographical references on Gen 1:1-3 from 1885/86 to 1966, see C.
Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, trans. J. J. Scullion (Minneapolis: Augsburg,
15 So Keil and Delitzsch, 1:48.
16 M. Alexandre, Le Commencement du Livre: Genese I- V (Paris: Beauchesne, 1988), 76-87.
17 P. Beauchamp, Creation et Separation (Paris: Desclee de Brouwer, 1969), 149-174.
18 Hamilton, 108-117.
19 D. Kidner, Genesis (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1967), 44-45.
20 S. Niditch, Chaos to Cosmos (Atlanta: Scholars, 1985), 18.
21 Ross, 106-107.
22 N. M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (New York: Schoken, 1970), 22, 34 n. 23; idem.,
the Literature of the Ancient Near East Before specifically considering this point, we must briefly analyze the
Hebrew terms ha’ares and hayeta in Gen 1:2. The most used Egyptian term
for "earth" is t3. The antithesis for this term is the formula pt-t3, "heaven"
and "earth," by which it makes reference to the whole cosmos. The usual
hieroglyphic symbol t3 represents a flood plain with grains of sand all around.
In Sumerian and Akkadian there is a distinction between "earth" (ki or ersetu)
and "country" (kur, kalam, or matu). In Akkadian ersetu means "earth," in
opposition to "heaven." "Heaven and earth" (samu u ersetu) means the universe.
In Ugaritic ‘rs means "earth, ground, inferior world." The earth is also opposed
to "heaven" and the clouds.33 Ugaritic literature also gives an extraordinary
example of a pair of words, ars // thmt, chiastically related as in Gen 1:2:
tant s'mm ‘m ars // thmt ‘mn kbkbm.34
The pair of words ‘eres // tehom also reveals an example of inclusive structure in the six days of the creation, where ‘al -- pene tehom before the first day (Gen 1:2) matches ‘al -pene ha’ares after the sixth (Gen 1:29).35
The Hebrew ‘eres occupies the fourth place among the most frequent
nouns in the OT. The term appears 2,504 times in Hebrew and another 22
32 See W.G.E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry, JSOT Supplement Series 26 (Sheffield:
JSOT, 1986), 53.
33 TDOT, 1:388-392.
34 R. E. Whitaker, A Concordance of the Ugaritic Literature (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1972), 613.
35 Kselman, 164. For this type of inclusion or construction see D. N. Freedman's
"Prolegomenon" to G. B. Gray, The Forms of Hebrew Poetry (New York: KTAV, 1972),
xxxvi-xxxvii. However, according to D.T. Tsumura the nature of the relationship between
ha’ares "earth" and tehom "abyss, ocean" in Gen 1:2 is a hyponym. According to Tsumura, in
modern linguistics, the relationship of meaning is called hyponym which sometimes is
explained as inclusion. (i.e., what is referred to in the term A includes what is referred to in
the term B). The former is preferred over the latter because a relationship of sense exists
among lexical items rather than a relationship of reference. Thus the hyponym can be used
also in a relationship between terms that have no reference. In Tsumura's own words: "Our
term ‘hyponym' therefore means that the sense [A] of the more general term ‘A’ (e.g. ‘fruit')
completely includes the ‘sense’ [B] of more specific term ‘B’ (e.g. ‘apple'), and hence what
‘A' refers to includes what ‘B’ refers to. In other words, when the referent [B] of the term
‘B’ is a part of/belongs to the referent [A] of the term ‘A’, we can say that ‘B’ is hyponymous
to ‘A,’ ("A 'Hyponymous' Word Pair: 'rs and thm (t) in Hebrew and Ugaritic" [Bib 69
(1988): 258-269, esp. 259-260]). Therefore, in Gen 1:2 there is a hyponym in which tehom
"ocean" is a part of the ha’ares "earth."
THE EARTH OF GENESIS 1:2: ABIOTIC OR CHAOTIC? 265
times in the Aramaic sections. The word tires designates: (1) cosmologically,
the earth (in opposition to heaven) and solid ground (in opposition to water);
(2) physically, the soil on which humans live; (3) geographically, certain regions
and territories; (4) politically, certain sovereign regions and countries. In
the most general sense, ‘eres designates the earth that together with the "heaven,"
samayim, comprises the totality of the universe. "Heaven and Earth" is an
expression designating the whole world (Gen 1:1; 2:1, 4; 14:19, 22; etc.).
In addition to a bipolar view of the world, there is also a tripolar view:
for instance, heaven-earth-sea (Exod 20:11; Gen 1:10, 20 and others); heaven-
earth-water beneath the earth (Exod 20:4; Deut 5:8). But what is important
to the OT is not the earth as part of the cosmos but what lives on it (Deut
33:16; Isa 34:1; Jer 8:16; etc.): its inhabitants (Isa 24:1, 5-6, 17; Jer 25:29-30;