Bible Review 21:3, Summer 2005

Of Time and Immortality

By Jack M. Sasson

The first chapter of the first book of the Bible can be read as a treatise for measuring (or calibrating) time; the next two chapters as offering insight into the birth of death.

But let’s begin at the beginning: “In the beginning ...” For centuries, that is how English readers were taught that the Bible begins, for those are the opening words of the King James Version of 1611. They are indeed a fair translation of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate of the fourth century and of the Greek version of the Bible we call the Septuagint (often abbreviated LXX) produced half a millennium earlier. But this famous opening line does not quite match what we find in the received Hebrew text, as given vowels and punctuations by rabbis around 1,500 years ago, and since labeled the Masoretic Text (or MT).

The King James Version’s “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” implies a creatio ex nihilo, God creating everything from nothing. In this locution, the verse is telling of the first act of creation. But that is not what the Hebrew text says.

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