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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.

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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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 May 21 '15 at 12:15
The answer fails on several principles of hermeneutics. First, the principle of first use. It is the use in Genesis 1:1-2 which serves as the beginning for meaning. Second, the test of actual use in the text. If the function is strictly grammatical or limited to surrounding words, what is the reason for failing to use it? The-earth is written repeatedly without the mark. Third is context within the larger purpose of text. Authorial intent is made clear in Genesis 2:4 where it is omitted from both the-heaven and the-earth. An explanation based on grammar alone is clearly insufficient. – Revelation Lad May 31 '15 at 20:13
From Genesis 2:4 it is clear the writer of the text has a purpose in mind that goes beyond the limitations of normal grammar. This is not about looking for hidden meaning. This is about objectively looking at what is written. A common approach is to count words and see if there is any pattern to either the number or their placement. There are 22 uses from Genesis 1:1 to the end of the seventh day. This is both intentional and significant. When the word count and use are found in patterns in Genesis 2 and 3, it is clear this is purposeful on the part of the author not a grammatical device. – Revelation Lad May 31 '15 at 20:16

According to modern Hebrew scholarship the words (et) and (v-et) in Genesis 1:1 lack meaning on their own:

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.

According to Gesenius and then Brown Driver Briggs these words function only in conjunction to connect direct objects to verbs, having neither stand-alone use or meaning. The application of this definition into the English language causes them to disappear and they are not found in any translation. Despite scholars like Ivan Panin who showed there are over 30 different combinations of the number 7 in Genesis 1:1, modern scholarship attaches no significance to the use of (et) and (v-et) beyond the limited function described. Modern scholarship rejects numerical meaning as an acceptable use of language failing to see how the Author of Genesis 1:1 draws attention to the number 7 as He does more overtly in Revelation and throughout Scripture.

In addition to this, the inadequacy of the Gesenius/Brown-Driver-Briggs explanation of the use within the Hebrew text is self-evident:

In the beginning God created (et) the heavens and (v-et) the earth (Genesis 1:1)

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 (Genesis 2:4) (no et/v-et)

For in six days made the LORD (et) heaven (v-et) earth, (et) the sea, (v-et) all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore blessed the LORD (et) day the Sabbath, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:11)

If the function is to emphasize what God created (Genesis 1:1) then the function is to emphasize what the LORD made (Exodus 20:11). When the LORD God created and made there is no emphasis on the LORD God, the earth, or the heavens. If modern scholars have successfully identified these words as lacking stand-alone meaning whose only function is to operate on a limited basis of linking verbs to direct objects, then it has also demonstrated that the LORD God of Genesis 2:4 is not the creator of Genesis 1:1 or Exodus 20:11.

Much of modern scholarship rationalizes differences in Scripture by presenting them in the light of language theory and textual criticism. For example, differences between the creation records found in Genesis 1 and 2-3, are a result of different sources. According to modern scholarship, the text read today is a redaction of the “E” source (for Elohim) in Genesis 1 and the “J” source (for YHVH) in Genesis 2-3. Therefore contemporary scholarship can rationalize and dismiss the variant uses of (et) and (v-et) in the two records as another instance of the different sources of the first 3 chapters of Genesis. Degrading the text from the Word of God to a work of men in such ways is a common technique of modern man.

However, the use of (et) and (v-et) can be shown to demonstrate there is a single author for Genesis 1-3 exposing the fallacy of multiple source redacted text.

Begin by examining the use of (et):

enter image description here

The word is used 14 times (2 x 7). The last seven are six uses on the sixth day followed by a single use on the seventh (6+1), following the pattern of what will become the command to remember the Sabbath. The first seven uses also follow that pattern except it is reversed (1+6). The first use comes before the first day and the next six occur during the period of six days. The Sabbath demands a continuous and unbroken period of seven days in which six are alike and one has been set apart. Remembering the Sabbath is a continuing act which requires looking back in time (the previous six days) and looking forward in time (the next six days). The Author has used (et) in a way that demonstrates the Sabbath pattern within the seven days of creation, making an intimate connecting with the actual events which will serve as the basis for the future command.

A teaching that (et) is limited to connect God to making the heaven and the earth in a single verse (Genesis 1:1) fails to recognize the word has been used to connect God to creating everything from Genesis 1:1 to the seventh day being blessed. The Author has used the language to affirm the continuity of what was done with what has been written. Since the word has been distributed from the beginning to end, at a minimum, a more proper understanding of (et) is to recognize the Author’s use precludes any gap in time from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3. While there is no gap in time, there is no use on the third day, drawing attention to that day.

Next examine the use of (v-et):

enter image description here

During the six days of creation, there are seven uses. The seventh falls on the sixth day. So (v-et) connects the work of creation to six days. Uses 2 through 7 are connecting to specific works of creation that move. The first and last are set apart by the lack of motion. The core group of six alike has a physical nature (motion) which is reversible and can point to the beginning of creation where there was no motion or to trees which do not move. The Author of the text has used (v-et) to demonstrate unity in the work of creation being completed in six days. He has done so in such a way that also points to trees (which play a significant role in Genesis 2 and 3) as an important aspect to finishing His work on the sixth day. As with (et) there is no use on the third day.

The words have been purposely placed to demonstrate unity in the written word, the actual events, and future events. Moreover, the words have been used in a way which is consistent with the command to observe the Sabbath. Attempting to restrict the meaning to emphasis within a single verse ignores the Author has organized their use to demonstrate an internal continuity and unity which is both following the actual events and pointing to the future command. At the same time, this unity has an apparent discontinuity not in time but in written use as both words are absent from the third day.

Next consider the combined use from Genesis 1:1 to 3:24:

enter image description here The total number of uses from Genesis 1:1 to the end of the seventh day is 22, the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The letters which make up the word are את the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Again the Author is purposeful to use the words, language, and simple math in a way that points to the unity and a completed nature of creation and what is written. Modern scholarship offers language theory as the correct means of understanding the Scripture. However the letters את are the first and the last letters of the 22 letter alphabet and the Author has purposely used the word 22 times. Complete scholarship should point out that the Author has purposely started the Bible using the language itself as a self-affirming witness to the unity and completed nature of both the work and the written record describing the work.

After the seventh day to the end of chapter 3 there are 20 uses. If Genesis 1:1 is considered as an introduction coming before Genesis 2:4, there would also be 22 uses. This is an indication there is a single author who understands that if every event in Genesis 1 is omitted, Genesis 1:1 still remains as the opening before Genesis 2:4. By omitting any use in Genesis 2:4 the number of uses from the first day of creation to the end of Genesis 3 is 40 (the number of judgment). This is evidence there is one source. Adding (et) or (v-et) to Genesis 2:4 where it clearly belongs, would make 22 uses in Genesis 2-3 (as in the seven days) but alters the 40 uses from the beginning of creation through the fall of man: the correct number of uses based on the actual events.

The first use of the pair (Genesis 1:1) and the last use (Genesis 3:24) are such so that:

  • (et) which is first is also last
  • In combination (v-et) which was last (et)/(v-et) is first (v-et)/(et)
  • In combination (et) which was first (et)/(v-et) is last (v-et)/(et)

The Author has ensured the uses within Genesis 1-3 conform to what will be written later:

Who has performed and done it, Calling the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the Lord, am the first; And with the last I am He.’” (Isaiah 41:4 NKJV)

“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God.’” (Isaiah 44:6 NKJV)

“Listen to Me, O Jacob, And Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last.” (Isaiah 48:12 NKJV)

In the Genesis 1 record there is no use on the third day; they are found in the Genesis 2 record. This reflects the work of a single Author who purposely omits something in the first record which can be found in the second. Moreover, the use in the second account is purposeful to connect the text to the first account:

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 third day in the first record has been written with the second record in mind: there is a single Author of both. While the first record is specific to identify each day in succession, the second record has events which can only be placed on either the third day or sixth day. A single Author has ensured the two records act in unison to point to the significance of the third day, and to a period of three days (from the third to the sixth day).

The total number of uses in Genesis 2 is 12, a significant number in God’s plan to redeem mankind. The total number of uses in Genesis 3 is 8, also a significant number in that plan. The number of times the words are used corresponds to the manner in which God will bring forth salvation. Therefore, just as the use in during the seven days of creation was purposeful to point unity and the completed nature of creation, the uses in Genesis 2-3 are purposeful to point to both the need for redemption and the means it will be brought about. This also ties together the 40 uses from the beginning of creation to the expulsion from the garden. In particular, this unity has been established in the written word. It is a purposeful recording of history in a way that by selectively using and not using (et) and (v-et), the number of uses and their placement within the record are meaningful (in the light of all of Scripture). The second record which details the events bringing about the need for redemption also places attention on two specific days: the third and the sixth day. Thus (et) and (v-et) point to a significance of the third day and to a period of time of 3-days in God’s plan of redemption.

The number of times the words are used is not the only significant aspect. The 20 uses of (et) and (v-et) after Genesis 1:1 through the seventh day have been arranged into an antimetabole pattern starting with 1 and advancing in increments +1 to 4 then reversing:

enter image description here The bi-directional or reversible nature of the pattern is the same as that seen in Sabbath patterns of (et) and (v-et) separately. The words have been arranged in combination that continues to demonstrate unity and purpose throughout of the entire text. In other words, (et) and (v-et) are not merely connecting God to the creation of the heaven and the earth in Genesis 1:1, they are connecting everything written about His work of creation.

The antimetabole is a chiasmus. These structures are found elsewhere in Scripture and have been recognized as intentional devices to give emphasis of meaning. The Author is not only using (et) and (v-et) as direct object markers in the limited capacity of words before and after, He has also arranged them in a chiasmus to mark and give emphasis to specific passages. While lacking a true center, the chiasmus points to the events at the end of the fifth day and the beginning of the sixth day. At the end of fifth day God blesses all of the living things created on that day; the beginning of the sixth day describes the creation of every living thing that moves on the ground.

All of the units are identical pairs except for the third. This serves to focus on those specific passages of Scripture. Genesis 1:16 speaks to the rule over Day and Night, which if understood in the context of the completed work of creation recalls the beginning where Day and Night were defined:

God call the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. (Genesis 1:5 NKJV)

Again the emphasis is on the key element of time in creation; how it is measured; who governs it. All of which are essential to the command to observe the Sabbath. Here the specific uses are uniting related aspects to measuring time which the actual work has placed on different days.

The corresponding asymmetric pair focuses on Genesis 1:28-29, which describes God blessing the man and woman and giving them dominion over the earth and all animal life. God blessing the seventh day is how the work of creation ends. So the two asymmetric pairs reinforce the significance of measuring time and God blessing, the finishing work of creation.

The structure from the creation record can be applied to the uses following the seven days of creation: enter image description here

The chiasmus in the first record finds its center in the second record pointing to Genesis 2:19-24, the creation of the first woman which begins with the LORD God bringing all the animals to the man and ends with:

Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wide, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

A single Author has used the chiasmus to connect the complete record of the creation of the first man and woman in both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.

The center of the chiasmus is surrounded on both sides with exclusive use of (et), with the exception of the ending which the Author has done to preserve the beginning and ending of first and last.

The two segments of the asymmetric pairs in the chiasmus point to Genesis 2:8-11 and Genesis 3:18-24. The first records the location of the Garden of Eden and placing the first man there; the second records the LORD God speaking to the man and telling him he will leave the garden, return to the earth from which he was taken. Thus, the secondary structures within the chiasmus are used to reinforce the work of creation to place the man in the Garden of Eden and remove him after he ate from the tree.

(et) and (v-et) have been arranged in a sophisticated structure that unifies everything from Genesis 1:1 to 3:24 in a way that also places emphasis and unites every key point within the events. Modern scholarship which seeks to limit the use to only connecting words immediately before or after fails to recognize the words have been used to demonstrate the written records are from a single Author. This Author is not limited by rules of grammar humans seek to impose on Him. (et) and (v-et) prove there is a single source and that the text has not been redacted. Modern scholarship sees the individual uses as a limited function of the words failing to recognize this understanding is a natural consequence of the greater and higher use of the word. It is like examining a small section of a painting to determine technique and demanding that local use is the definition without stepping back to see it is the entire work that defines the technique and establishes meaning which is found everywhere (including each small section).

A more reasoned definition is that (et) is being used in a way which indicates the writer places a great significance on the word, its use and specific placement within the first three chapters of Genesis. This use also follows the primary pattern God will use to bring about salvation and has been placed within the descriptions of the events which will necessitate salvation. The use points forward to the command to observe the Sabbath. The use highlights the significance of the third day, trees and a period of time of three days in God’s plan of redemption. The meaning of the word should be seen as highly significant. If את is an untranslatable word (as it is treated in all translations) and if the text is divinely inspired, then את should be considered as the word of God for that is how the Author uses it in Genesis 1-3.

Throughout the days of creation, “God said…” and it is common to summarize creation by stating that God spoke the world into existence. That picture is accurate and incomplete as Isaiah explains:

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11 NKJV)

The word of God goes forth and returns. When God spoke to create, there was a word sent forth, accomplished its purpose, and returned. When God spoke again, the process was repeated. If the Scripture is taken literally, את can be seen as the word of God which went forth and returned and has been written to reflect that truth.

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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 May 21 '15 at 19:07
@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 May 21 '15 at 19:28
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 May 22 '15 at 12:17
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 May 22 '15 at 12:20
The issues with this answer cannot be counted in one comment. A few: (1) "The very next use of “the-earth” lacks either (et) or (v-et)," yes, because "earth" is the subject, not the direct object, which is what et marks. (2) You missed five et's in your first grouping and Genesis 2 counting alone: 1:17, 22, 27, 28, 2:3 (1st four have 3rd plural pronominal suffixes on them; אֹתָ֛ם; last 3rd singular, אֹת֑וֹ), which throws your counts off. (3) Your numerology imposed upon the text (22, 12) is not given significance in Gen 1-3 itself, which is contradictory to your premise of context. Etc. – ScottS Jun 1 '15 at 1:48

protected by Dan Jun 18 '14 at 14:03

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