In A Beginning (An Alternate Reading of Genesis 1:1)

The first verse of the Old Testament reads: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

This verse has caused constant problems between religion and science, forcing a disagreement on when the beginning actually was. For a Bible literalist, this verse definitely shoots down modern cosmology. It seems to state that in the beginning of everything, God created both the heavens and the Earth at the same time. However, for a scientist, that is absurd. We have accurately dated the universe to around 14 billion years while the Earth has only been dated to 4.5 billion years. Pretty big difference.

However, this perceived problem, can actually be solved when we look at the real Hebrew text of the Bible, and more specifically how it is vocalized.

As the Hebrew part of the Bible was originally written, no vowels were put into the words. Thus, the translators of the Bible were sometimes forced to rely on tradition or their own scholarly knowledge to fill in the blanks. Sometime the way that Bible was read in Hebrew and the way that it was written in non-Hebrew languages were different.

Targum

Daniel M. Berry, a professor at Brown University explains:

The problem is that “b’reshit” is translated “In the beginning.” If the meaning were, in fact, In the beginning, the first word would have been vocalized slightly differently, with a “qamatz” vowel underneath the “bet,” making the word “bareshit.” What we have, however, is a “shva” under the “bet,” making the word “b’reshit,” meaning “In a beginning.” That is, the “qamatz” serves as a definite article, while a “shva” would serve as an indefinite article. In its traditional written form, the Bible has no vowel signs to distinguish between these two possible readings. The vocalization that has been handed down by tradition, and documented in vocalized versions of the Bible, is the one that has the first word spoken and written as b’reshit, with the indefinite article.

Thus we see that the vocalized version was the original one, which included the indefinite article “a” instead of the version we are familiar with using a definite article.

It should be noted that this view is not necessarily mainstream in Bible scholarship, and most translations follow the now common version using the definite article, which dates to approximately the 11th century. However, looking at the vocalized version brings up some intriguing possibilities.

First of all, this seems to support the view that the Biblical account is only an account of the proceedings on our Earth. Mormon theology leads to an interpretation of the scriptures that there are many worlds, but we only have a record of God’s dealing with ours. In the Book of Moses we read:

But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them. (Moses 1:35)

Embedded in this scripture is the idea that many worlds have come and gone before the record of our world even began. Thus, we can assume that many creation events occurred, leading  to the acceptance of the vocalized version of Genesis 1:1 as being more correct. Many worlds had beginnings before and after ours, but Genesis only talks about one of those beginnings.

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It is also important to consider that the first verse of Genesis either a) refers to two separate creation events (i.e. the heavens and the Earth) which did not necessarily occur simultaneously or b) refers to the creation from the perspective of the Earth, meaning that the heavens only appeared to be created at the same time because that is when Earth time started. Any thing before that time was not worth discussing following on the idea that God is only giving us an account of our Earth.

Taking the idea of many creation events and a fluid interpretation of the first verse of the Bible we are treated to both a solution to the science/religion debate and a powerful testifier of the eternal nature of God.

First, science and religion are not contradictory. Looking at Genesis 1:1 as meaning “in a beginning” verifies that our Earth can in fact be younger than the universe. It also works with modern cosmological theories about the multiverse, where our universe is one of many such structures in a larger cosmos. Using religion to prove science or vice versa is ultimately futile, but looking at the universe in this way makes conflicts less dire.

Secondly, reading the scripture this way testifies that God is in fact eternal. There were beginnings before and after our Earth, and God is over all of them. He is not confined by any human idea of time and can create when he wants to. I would rather live in a universe of many creations and beginnings than just ours.

I am not saying that this interpretation is the correct one, but it is interesting, and makes sense to me. It is always important to recognize that there are other ways to read the scriptures that may not have been readily apparent when they are taken at face value.

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