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Genesis 1:1

In the beginning בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית
created בָּרָ֣א

God אֱלֹהִ֑ים
(unknown word) אֵ֥ת

the heavens הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם
(unknown word) וְאֵ֥ת

the earth הָאָֽרֶץ׃

I would like some information on these two words that don't have an English translation. I have noticed them throughout the old testament and am quite curious about them. What are they? What are they telling us? Also, I have noticed that sometimes there is a "dash" or "negative sign" before these words. I am wondering what the significance of this is as well.
In

Genesis 1:4

saw God (unknown word with dash before it) אֶת־ the light that was good...

Thank you so much for any light you can shed on this for me please.

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2 Answers 2

OP's source that describes these particles as "unknown word(s)" is highly misleading. אֶת־ = ʾet is a Hebrew particle used to mark the definite direct object of a transitive verb; וְאֵ֥ת = wəʾet is the conjunction waw "and" (a.k.a. vav) followed by אֶת. Their usage in Genesis 1:1 is typical of the thousands of ocurrences found in the Hebrew Bible.

According to Brown Driver Briggs:

את, with makk. את־; the mark of the accusative, prefixed as a rule only to nouns that are definite.

This describes the normal usage; there are exceptions to the "rule", especially in poetry where use of such grammatical particles tends to be reduced in comparison with prose. It might help to think of it on analogy to "of" (a preposition) in the phrase "kind of blue" (or "think of it", for that matter!). What does /of/ "mean" here? Well, really nothing. It simply is English's way of structuring a relationship between "kind" and "blue".

In Genesis 1:1, ʾet explicitly indicates that both "the heavens" and "the earth" are the direct objects of the verb "create", but it remains untranslatable. There is no further or mystical meaning associated with it.

For a full discussion of the use and syntax of this well-known grammatical particle, see Gesenius's Hebrew Grammar, §117a-m.

As for the "'dash' or 'negative sign'" used in these phrases, that is called a maqqēph, and does the same job that a hyphen sometimes does in English: it indicates two (or more) closely joined words. In biblical Hebrew, this leads to them being thought of as a single accentual unit as well. For further explanation, see GKC §16a-b.

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Simple, correct, and informative. +1 –  Mark Edward 2 days ago

The question is to two words. This answer addresses only (et).

As noted in the first answer that (et) is the untranslatable mark of the accusative case. Strong’s Concordance says it is apparently a contraction of (#226) in the demonstrative sense of entity; properly self (but generally used to point out more definitely the object of a verb or preposition, even or namely). I understand it as a device to point to something. According to the Englishman’s concordance at Bible Hub (et) occurs 7034 times: http://biblehub.com/hebrew/et_853.htm

While not translated the meaning can be studied like any word and a good way to start is to see how it is used. The question is over the meaning in Genesis 1:1 which is also the first use. The usage can be followed through the seven days of creation noting where it is used and what comes before and after: enter image description here

It is used most often after the word God (Elohim). From the perspective of the days of creation the most frequent use is on the sixth day where it is found 6 times. There is a single use on the seventh day, meaning that the final seven usages fall into the form of a Sabbath pattern. There are seven; the first six have something in common and the seventh can be set apart. A similar arrangement can be seen in the first seven usages, except the pattern has been reversed. The first use in Genesis 1:1 comes before the first day and the next six are during the days of creation. Another thing that stands out is the absence of use on the third day.

These patterns suggest intentional arrangement within the overall written account. If that is the case, the understanding of the word should not be viewed in a limited sense of pointing to another word or words. Rather it is also pointing to the overall architecture of the creation account. In this sense (et) is a means of connecting the entire seven days of creation.

Creation events are also found after the seventh day and the usage can be followed in the remainder of Genesis 2:

enter image description here

It is used 10 times and there is no obvious connection to the previous patterns. While numerology can be overvalued, it should not be completely discounted. There are some obvious connections with the number 10 and God’s work to redeem mankind. Ten is the number of generations before the flood; there were 10 plagues before the Exodus; there were Ten Commandments. Ten is considered a number signifying perfection which is consistent with the how the written record describes the events up to this point, where the man and the woman are together in the garden with the LORD God. There has been no disobedience.

If the text is taken literally, the first use in this second record of creation events can be placed on the third day. When that is done, the use of (et) provides a means of connecting the two creation accounts:

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he seas: and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:9-10 KJV)

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till (et) the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered (et) the whole face of the ground. (Genesis 2:4-6 KJV)

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day. (Genesis 1:11-13 KJV)

The (et) locates where the record in Genesis 2 should be inserted into the events of the third day. This not only adds what had been absent in the description of the first seven days, it makes the reading of the third day more complete: there was no man, there was no rain, there was a mist from the earth, God said let the earth bring forth grass yielding seed.

There are 3 other uses of (et) in the Genesis 2 record which can be placed on the third day:

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind… (Genesis 1:11-12 KJV)

And a river went out of Eden to water (et) the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth (et) the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth (et) the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates. (Genesis 2:10-14 KJV)

…and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day. (Genesis 1:12-13 KJV)

In Genesis 2, the rivers are described in the context of the Garden of Eden which would be planted on the sixth day and where the man would be placed. The physical reality is that those rivers were already in existence; they had been created on the third day; not just the rivers, the precious metals and stones were also created on the third day.

The rivers and the garden have a common physical element: location. Yet the plants in the garden are not the source of the water for the rivers (if the rivers are taken as real rivers) nor was the garden planted on the third day. The (et) has been used with the rivers (created on the third day) but also defined by proximity to Eden and the garden (hence their placement in the second record).

The description of the four rivers has been puzzling as the location of the Pishon and Gihon is uncertain. The (et) is present in describing the two unknown rivers and it is missing from Tigris and Euphrates (whose locations are known). This seems to be an intentional device.

This pattern of usage has the effect of reinforcing the intentional use of (et) in the first record of seven days. Had the third day use been placed in the first record, there would be no pattern of sevens. Also there are six uses which can be placed on the sixth day, a repetition of the pattern in the first account. The six uses are broken up by the description of the rivers and which continues the pattern of where the (et) is present and where it is absent.

Following creation is the fall of man. Here is the use of (et) in Genesis 3:

enter image description here

There are seven uses. The first one is unique in that (et) occurs before both Elohim (and YHVH). This reverse of position in relation to Elohim makes this use unique following the pattern of the first use in Genesis 1:1. As with the first two records (et) is noticeable by it absence: there is no use of (et) as it pertains to the woman. The use and absence of (et) from common elements in the three records are:

First record    Missing from third day
Second record   Missing from two rivers
Third record    Missing from one of two people

There is a pattern of declining numbers: third day, two rivers, one person.

The uses in Genesis 3 can be divided at the expulsion from the garden. The last three occur in 3:24 which detail the expulsion and the steps taken to prevent their return. The uses at the beginning of Genesis 3 can be combined with the Genesis 2 record:

enter image description here There are 14 uses, the same number found in the first seven days and the first and last use contain the identical phrase:

And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till (laabod) (et) the ground (haadamah). (Genesis 2:5 KJV)

Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till (laabod) (et) the ground (haadamah) from whence he was taken. (Genesis 3:23 KJV)

The conclusion is that (et) is being used in such a way that ties together all three written records and does so using patterns found in the actual events. For example, there are 2 sets of six uses on the sixth day; there are two sets of 14 where the first and last uses can be set apart from. (14 is the number needed to establish the Sabbath – 7 days of creation and 7 days to the Sabbath.) The (et) is being used in a way that goes beyond a definition of a word.

This usage reflects single authorship and deliberate intent to use the mark in a way which also follows a message.

First 7 – Points to the pre-existent one
Second 7 – Points to the Sabbath
Third 10 – Points to the initial perfect of what was created
Fourth 7 – Points again to the pre-existent one

Also if (et) has meaning independent of Elohim, it would result in a different understanding of those verses where it is used without Elohim:

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth… (Genesis 1:29 KJV) becomes: And God said, Behold, I have given (et) every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth…

You is not in the Hebrew, (et) is.

Given the use my conclusion is that the meaning of (et) is that it is another way in the Hebrew language to identify the Creator.

In speaking there is the unpronounceable name of God: YHVH. In writing there is the untranslatable name of God: (et). While untranslatable, it can be spoken. The letters (et) are Aleph Tav, the first and last letters of the Hebrew language.

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I want to say thank you so much for your work above. I really appreciate such an in depth exploration and yes, this is what I was looking for. I wonder if you have put together the information for the other "unknown" word "we et" ? –  Kate May 17 at 23:57
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@Kate: I would encourage you to look at the other answer given. That answer gives a correct understanding of the Hebrew text. Unfortunately, this answer shows some serious ignorance of (1) how the Hebrew language works, especially with word order, (2) the real significance of "et" as the direct object marker, and (3) comes to a false conclusion that it is "the untranslatable name of God." –  ScottS 2 days ago
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@RevelationLad: Let me turn my above criticism into something constructive on possibly improving your answer. It may be that the particular use or absence of et in Genesis 1-3 does have significance (this is the basic premise of your answer), but your analysis of that should start by acknowledging what is already known about et from the basic Hebrew lexicons and grammars (not English concordances), rather than constructing a theory that totally ignores those facts of the Hebrew language. –  ScottS 2 days ago
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But your pattern of seven breaks down from the start, because Gen 1:1 has two et's in it, for the "second word" (וְאֵ֥ת) is also the word et, only with the waw conjunction ("and") prefixed to it (which is how Hebrew grammar works with that conjunction). So your count is already objectively off in your analysis, starting at v.1 (and I have not bothered to analyze if you missed any others in your count). –  ScottS yesterday
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Additionally, the word preceding the et is not as significant as what follows, for Hebrew does not order sentences like English, and the et is often going to relate to the first word in the clause, because the first word is often the verb, and so et, being the direct object marker, relates to the verb more than the subject of the clause. The structure of Hebrew clauses are often (not always) VERB SUBJECT et DIRECT OBJECT. So you place too much weight on the word preceding et because you ignore the objective rules of grammar for the Hebrew language. –  ScottS yesterday

protected by Dan Jun 18 '14 at 14:03

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