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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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I didn't notice until you updated the title, which uses a larger font, that the Hebrew you quoted includes cantillation marks. Just FYI, that curve under the word "et" isn't part of the word. –  Gone Quiet May 27 '13 at 4:52
Is it just the curve or all of the dots and symbols? –  Kate May 27 '13 at 5:33
The curves on "b'reishit" and "et" and the right angle on "bara" are trop marks; the rest are vowels. –  Gone Quiet May 27 '13 at 14:39

1 Answer 1

אֵ֥ת (et) is the direct-object marker in Biblical Hebrew. This is especially important in a language that is as flexible about word order as Hebrew is; without it, there wouldn't be a way to tell from grammar which noun in a noun-verb-noun construct is the subject and which is the object. (Context can disambiguate in many cases, but not all.) This word doesn't have a direct English translation; English doesn't have the concept.

You will see this word in other forms in the Tanakh too. "Et" can combine with a possessive suffix; "oto אֹתוֹ" is "him", "otah אֹתָּה" is "her", "oti אֹתִּי" is "me", and so on. In that case, "et" isn't followed by another noun that is the object; it with its suffix is the object. (These same suffixes are used with other words too; this isn't specific to "et". For example, the word "im עם" means "with" -- and "imo עמו" means "with him", "imi עמי" means "with me", etc.)

One of your examples was וְאֵ֥ת. This is the same word; in Hebrew, the vav ("ו") prefix (vav is the first letter there) means "and" (or sometimes another conjunction). It is always a prefix; it does not stand alone. In the passage you quoted, there are two direct objects (the heaven and the earth); the "and" attaches to the "et" of the second phrase.

A good, accessible introduction to Biblical Hebrew that explains this well is The First Hebrew Primer. Don't be misled by the title; this is a book for adults, not children.

As for the hyphens, first, note that all punctuation was added long after the text was originally written, so while it's important, it's in a sense editorial. The punctuation added by the Masorites includes the trop, or cantillation, symbols, which specify both a melody to use when chanting the text and the internal punctuation (where are the commas, semicolons, and periods). There is one trop symbol per word -- but if not, if multiple words (mostly short, usually) are joined together in one musical "note", as it were, then those words are hyphenated in the text. "Et" is sometimes joined to the following word (the actual object), perhaps because of its specialized role, but it does not happen all the time.

Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Wow, thank you so much for that. I will look into getting the book you mentioned. Do you recommend any basic websites where I can learn when the hebrew is referring he/she/me/you... singular/plural etc??? I hope it's ok to ask that here. Also.....I wonder if there is deeper meaning involved in the use of the words we have been discussing? Hebrew is an intuitive language isn't it? –  Kate May 26 '13 at 4:30
@Kate, I'm sure there are web sites out there that explain this, but I don't know off-hand which they are, sorry. I'm not sure what you mean about deeper meanings and an intuitive language. –  Gone Quiet May 26 '13 at 19:08
I'm interested in the original Hebrew writing. I assume this was before the grammar came into being. I trust the words I'm inquiring about were in the original texts? If they were, I wonder if they point to something more? A pause perhaps? A time of reflection? Maybe more? –  Kate May 27 '13 at 3:53
I don't think you can have language without grammar. Grammar may change over time, but we only have the texts we have, received tradition, and scholarship. I'm not sure what you mean about pointing to "something more", but it sounds like it might be more about eisegesis than exegesis. Oh, and yes, so far as I know, these words are in the earliest manuscripts we have. –  Gone Quiet May 27 '13 at 4:23
Thank you so much. I appreciate your help. –  Kate May 27 '13 at 6:58

protected by Dan Jun 18 '14 at 14:03

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