Bad translation upon worse translations manipulated for political ends. Here’s another example that makes the God-was-an-alien-experimental-biogenetisist seem more plausible. Assuming you ignore the staggering amount of physical evidence for evolution, that is.

Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis “in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth” is not a true translation of the Hebrew.

She claims she has carried out fresh textual analysis that suggests the writers of the great book never intended to suggest that God created the world — and in fact the Earth was already there when he created humans and animals.
She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb “bara”, which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean “to create” but to “spatially separate”. The first sentence should now read “in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth.”
She writes in her thesis that the new translation fits in with ancient texts.

[…]”There was already water,” she said.

“There were sea monsters. God did create some things, but not the Heaven and Earth. The usual idea of creating-out-of-nothing, creatio ex nihilo, is a big misunderstanding.”

  1. smartalix says:

    How many times did Christ quote the old testament? Why should any Christian?

  2. Wretched Gnu says:

    qb, bobbo et al. — You’ve actually made this thread informative and entertaining. I thought about applying an Alfred filter ™ to the thread — but, honestly, his sincere effort is both admirable and entertaining.


    I wonder why it is that religious types are so eager to cite “translation problems” in the bible, or misunderstood “cultural context” — *except* when it comes to their own interpretations?

    The text of the bible commands slaves to be happy with their lot and faithful to their masters. — “Translation! Cultural context!”

    The book also frowns upon homosexuality — “Hey, it’s in the Bible!”

  3. jbellies says:

    Theda Bara separated the men from the boys.

    Seriously, though, folks. What happened in the beginning? Can we apply Occam’s Razor? What if there was nothing? No energy and no matter occupying no space. Then a quantum fluctuation in the energy level (still no space, mind you) caused the mess we’ve got now. In that sense, god, heavens and earth are all whatevered at once.

    #7 To write that all religions are not based on a literal interpretation of a scripture could get you stoned (and I don’t mean in a good way) in some places.

    If the Bible is the immutable word of God that must not be changed, why aren’t fundamentalists required to read it in its original languages? Would that not elevate the level of discourse?

  4. qb says:

    Gnu, I find the whole topic fascinating actually. The whole idea of how religions come into being and how they shape culture and politics (and vice versa) is always a good lesson to learn. Look at the US and the Middle East today and you see two societies where religion has taken the upper hand.

    One word of warning to my American friends, especially the Christians. Watch out for the guys from the Dallas Theological Seminary, they’ll ruin your faith and your country.

    jbellies, I used to read old Greek and Aramaic when I was a Christian. It’s very, very hard work and made my head hurt. I’ve completely lost my chops since I read computer languages now. I think people don’t do it because they’re lazy and it would make them face uncomfortable problems where a static, fundamentalist answer is easier.

  5. bobbo, the devout evangelical anti-theist says:

    Another fairly new interesting tack on religion is its DARWINIAN base: why do homo sapiens believe??

    Right now, one initial theory is that the “God Gene” has been located and is a cluster of 5-6 genes and it comes down to the human baby looking at and copying what it sees and believing and doing what it is told to do by its parents===pure Darwinian survival instinct. Monkeys have one type of it not as good as humans===DOGS another pack creature excells at certain aspects of it.

    Makes me feel all noodlely all over.

  6. Thinker says:

    This kind of thing just makes me giggle all over.

    Thousands of years, and thousands of Scholars have looked at these texts, and this one thinks they’re all wrong. 🙂 Thanks for a good laugh…

  7. bobbo, the devout evangelical anti-theist says:

    Scholar Defined: one who studies and repeats what earlier scholars have determined.

  8. Thinker says:

    But is this scholarship? Reading the article it looks like a strawman argument. But its a good attempt to undermine the bible. If you can attack and discredit the first sentance then you could discredit the whole book.

    I also like how patronizing she is towards the end of the article.

  9. qb says:

    #124 Thinker

    I agree. She doesn’t really persuade me.

  10. bobbo, the devout evangelical anti-theist says:

    124–thinker==why don’t you?==think that is??

    Any change to the status quo is “undermining” religion. The same idea in science “advances” it.

    You sound like the Catholic Church in 16th Century==criticizing the selling of indulgences undermined the authority of the church. Its a corruption to translate the bibble from Latin/French into English. Nevermind the status quo bibble was translated previously from other languages. Hah, hah.

    Did you google Ellen van Wolde at all? No?—Just a knee jerk spastic reaction to anything you disagree with??? Actually, you only CONFIRM my definition. What is undermining except disagreeing with prior scholorship? Good boy.

    Even just reading this thread you get the idea that this issue is “old news” and that even some sects are BASED ON this reading of the word “bara?”

    I thought just the opposite from you when I read the article. She egotistically “corrects” the interpretation of bara but maintains the most central error that there is a god to begin with.

    How anyone can study the bibble and note all the errors/bad morality it contains and still use it as one means to validate the notion of god is beyond me, but being presented with the stupidity you represent, I can see how god is perpetuated.

    Keep on thinking.

  11. bobbo, the devout evangelical anti-theist says:

    #125–qb==I’m curious:

    1 On what basis do you critique her analysis?
    2 On what issue/basis do you remain unpersuaded?
    3 What is your position on the meaning of bara.
    4 What do you base your position on?

  12. Jägermeister says:

    #116 – smartalix – How many times did Christ quote the old testament? Why should any Christian?

    More importantly… Why has Jesus’ followers been denied the entire collection of books?

  13. ECA says:

    Can I suggest something.
    That the OT was taken originally from the Jewish faith.
    The stories FROM the bible are from the jewish faith.
    The problem we have is translations from the OLD original translations. Even the Jewish people debate their OWN religion and interpretation.
    The original text has been Carried around for Over 2000 years.
    Go find a full 36+ volume concordance of the bible.. THEN discuss this.

    After the transcription of the Jewish books on religion, WE the European White man, has EDITED the piss out of this book. There are very few that go back to the Original for understanding. The the KJ version was made to placate the protestant and Catholics in Britain.

  14. amodedoma says:

    For those of us who live in the perfect universe, god is an irrelevant symbol.

  15. Ralph, the Bus Driver says:

    #110, Sister,


    I hate insulting assholes with this comparison, by Dr. Dudd has the homosexual self abuse in denial thing monopolized and <pedro has the retard thing all to himself.

    Damn, there should be a special category for Alphie. Where is Bubba Ray and his Dip Dork Award?

  16. Ralph, the Bus Driver says:

    #115, Don Quixote

    It was on top of the mountain until someone climbed it.

    Actually, it was on top of the mountain until Mr. Peabody’s coal train carried away the top of the mountain.

  17. Thinker says:

    #126 Bobbo,

    Well I seem to have struck a nerve… I’m not commenting on this persons other works. Looking at the story I’m utterly unconvinced.

    She reminds me of myself years ago in college before I became a Christian. I also would have said I ‘held God in a special place, and He should be respected’. She may not have evil in her intentions, but I do wonder what her motives were. The Bible has stood the test of time, it is not going anywhere.

    If I Google Ellen van Wolde , will I find she was a part of the Jesus Seminar? or part of the Book of J? Must I know all or any of her works to see that in this case, as it is presented she’s barking up the wrong tree??

    Perhaps she may be misquoted in the article by some journalistic hack, its possible.

    I don’t need to be able to translate the Bible to evaluate it on its merrits, and just because this lady is an Academic doesn’t mean she has anything near a point.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t discuss what the Bible says, or debate interperetations. I am saying that I think her thesis has the merit of stating ‘The moon is made of Green Cheese’ and wishing to be taken seriously.

  18. bobbo, the devout evangelical anti-theist says:

    #133–Thinker==keep thinking.

  19. Thinker says:

    Funny, I was thinking the same thing…guess this is an article of faith for both of us. 🙂

  20. qb says:

    #127 bobbo

    For me her views of separation == bara seemed a little clinical and missed the essence of the word. From what I remember (old neurons firing) bara had it’s roots in Assyrian and/or Babylonian where the word meant more than just the act of separating something out (like a lump of clay from a large pile) but also involves making or shaping (like making a bowl from the clay). It also is sometimes used to mean “give birth” in older languages.

    I kind of get where she’s going with the idea of spatial separation, but I think there is more to the word than just that. It’s a good insight, but too narrow and confining. There is a idea of creation or making in there but it doesn’t imply the Christian mean of “creation out of a void”.

    That’s just my personal view and probably isn’t “scholarly” enough.

  21. Colin says:

    It appears (though not surprised, as it is the interwebs) that many here are posting remarks that appear quite misinformed on the subject, those who are curious to learn more should check out a well informed sermon on how we got the Bible.

  22. bobbo, the devout evangelical anti-theist says:

    #135–Thinker==not an article of faith being demonstrated. Rather I think the root of conservative vs liberal thinking.

    Conservative–against change.
    Libeal–lets make things better.

    It does bara us.

    #136-qb==well you emphasize what I took from the article: bara does not mean “creates from nothing” but rather has several different meaning other than that. You are saying the same thing. So, you weren’t persuaded by her analysis because you already had the same position? Being excessively/misleadingly unchristian in your assessment of her work aren’t you?

  23. Thinker says:

    Well not against change, just change for change’s sake.

    I’m not going to hold on to something just cause its always been that way. That said I have a high bar for change and rarely do it quickly. 🙂

  24. qb says:

    bobbo, maybe I’m being overly critical. You’re right. I’m not concerned about being unchristian. I am concerned about being uncharitable though.

    Thank you for the reminder – it’s always appreciated. 😉

  25. bobbo, libertarianism fails when it becomes dogma says:

    #139–Thinker==that sentiment is a shopworn barrier to what you actually think which was posted at #133. Simply stated: “YOU LIE!” and I think it is in the later post rather than the earlier one. Change yourself over entirely and prove me wrong? ((No one would do that–hah, hah!)) Just recognize for your own benefit who you really are and decide for youself if that is what you want. If you are a normal person, you will see you can always be a better person. Just look at qb and myself!!!!

  26. Thinker says:

    Nice tagline, I agree…

    But not ‘You lie’, or ‘I lie’, we fundamentally disagree. (ok #133 was a bit patronizing, sorry)

    But change over to what?? Where is this research of van Wolde going to take us?

  27. bobbo, libertarianism fails when it becomes dogma says:

    #142–Thinker===WELL!!!! That is an excellent question. Depends on who you are in all cases. Would affect different people differently. Me different than you. The guy at Post #133 differently than the guy at Post #139.

    I don’t think her article should lead one anywhere. Instead, I would take it at as an invitation to think for yourself. What difference would any of the various different meanings of the word have to you===trace them out. Should it make a difference? If so, why?

    I think in the end, questioning what any authority “really” means actually is undermining to that authority===even when that authority morphs into your very self. Always question authority, but be aware of the mob, be aware of your own bias. Or NOT. Its all as you choose.

    For myself, as in so many things, a real thinker when asked “What does x mean?” the answer of a non-thinker is “X means Y.” Thinkers will conclude: “X means a,b,c,d,e according to what you think h,i,j,k mean.” Then the wise will say: “but the real question is ???” and thats where the real fun is.

    What do YOU think the REAL question is?

  28. Thinker says:

    The real question?? The question I really wonder is why she asked the question in the first place…what led her down this path and created this thesis?

    Admittedly the article in the Telegraph was far too vague and superficial (an inadequate forumn to contain such a topic.) One of the captions said God created the animals and such after the earth was here. Well a Creationist would tell you thats what Genesis says in the text.

    But I would be interested to read her paper, at least the abstract, to see what she has to say. The real question is why is she asking this and after this quesiton whats then next one? Whats the question behind her question? Where is she trying to take us/herself?

    Yes, this is just the thing that grabs headlines, but looking past that my first question is, ‘Whats going on here?’, and I’m also wondering why she is traveling that way as well.

    Just a few questions that come to mind… If anyone does see the paper i’d love to see the link.

  29. bobbo, no omphaloskepsis here says:

    #144–Thinker==so even with heavy handed prodding on my part, you will continue to place the “real” questions outside of yourself?

    To each his own.

  30. Thinker says:

    umm not sure of your meaning. If God is relavent, then He is relavent to me, or you in a personal walk along on the sidewalk and talk sense. (as well as being Holy, and Mighty and all that.)

    If not, then the Bible doesn’t mean much more than a Cisco Router Admin Manual. So yes from the perspective of omphaloskepsis I do look at it from a personal sense. When Christ died on the Cross He had to die for me, for my sins, not in a catholic sense, but as real as my credit card debt.

    I’m looking at it from me. Isn’t that where our journey stops at the end of the day, with ourselves? What is the ramifications of van Wolde’s argument and how does it apply to my relationship with God?

    Do you see where I’m coming from/what I’m saying? I love getting into theology and looking at the how, what, why, etc. Then there’s the aspect of how it relates to us on a personal level as well.


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