The Meaning of ברא in Genesis 1:1-2:3

In: Vetus Testamentum
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In her 2009 monograph on cognitive linguistics for Biblical Studies Ellen Van Wolde argues that the verb ברא means “to separate” rather than the traditional understanding “to create.” This investigation considers her proposal, Becking and Korpel’s critique of it, cognate and parallel evidence, the semantic domain “creation,” the use of ברא outside of Genesis 1, the use of ברא within Genesis 1, as well its relation to the verb הבדיל. From this discussion, a contextual reading is then proposed which identifies the linguistic traces of the conceptualization of ברא within Gen 1:1-2:3, and it also takes into account script semantics in the association of larger episodes with key vocabulary.

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    Ellen Van Wolde, Reframing Biblical Studies: When Language and Text Meet Culture, Cognition, and Context (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2009); idem., “Why the Verb ברא Does Not Mean ‘to Create’ in Genesis 1.1-2.4a,” jsot 34.1 (2009), pp. 3-23. For earlier proposals of this idea, see Émille Dantinne, “Création et Séparation,” Le muséon 74 (1961), pp. 441-51. For identifying this unit as 1:1-2:3, see G. J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (wbc 1; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987), p. 6. An earlier form of this paper was presented at the sbl Midwest Regional Meeting at Luther Seminary on 5 April, 2013. I would like to thank the constructive comments of conference attendees and an anonymous reviewer.

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  • 2

    Van Wolde, “The Verb ברא,” pp. 5-10.

  • 3

    Van Wolde, “The Verb ברא,” pp. 10-13.

  • 4

    Van Wolde, “The Verb ברא,” pp. 13-14.

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    Van Wolde, “The Verb ברא,” pp. 20-22. However, Nahum Sarna (Genesis [jps; Philadelphia: jps, 1989], p. 7) indicates that divine fiat is the first modality of creation, whereas separation is the second modality, among others. Thus, Van Wolde is limiting the meaning of this verb to only one mode when several occur within this text’s field of discourse.

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  • 8

    Van Wolde and Rezetko, “ברא,” pp. 5-6, 14-15.

  • 9

    Van Wolde and Rezetko, “Semantics of ברא,” p. 18.

  • 18

    Susan Niditch, Oral World and Written Word: Ancient Israelite Literature (Library of Ancient Israel; Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996).

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  • 21

    Van Wolde and Rezetko, “Semantics of ברא,” p. 14.

  • 22

    Van Wolde and Rezetko, “Semantics of ברא,” pp. 14-15.

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    S. R. Driver, Genesis (7th ed; London: Methuen, 1909), p. 3; Dantinne, “Création et separation,” pp. 446-47. Following halot, cognates for this verb are found in Old South Arabian bry, “a religious figure in sculptured stone,” Phoenician הברא, “sculptor,” and Arabic barāy, “to shape by cutting.” (halot 1:154)

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