Genesis 1:5:

וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ לָאֹור֙ יֹ֔ום וְלַחֹ֖שֶׁךְ קָ֣רָא לָ֑יְלָה וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר יֹ֥ום אֶחָֽד׃ (WLC)

God called [paseq] the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (ESV)

Neither Joüon/Muraoka or Gesenius have much to say on the paseq. I found the evidence in James Kennedy's The Note-Line in the Hebrew Scriptures Commonly Called Pāsēq, or Pěsîq to be convincing from the large body of evidence examined. My take from Kennedy is that the paseq (or note-line) is roughly analogous to our usage of the Latin sic.

  • Do others here find Kennedy convincing? Should we be calling the paseq a note-line?

  • It seems odd that a modern study has not been made of the paseq. Am I missing something?

  • How does this affect interpretation of Genesis 1:5?

  • @JonahBraun An interesting question, and one which opens up 'a can of worms', especially with the 'Gap Theory' enthusiasts. My $.02 worth suggests the original scribes realized the sun had not been created yet(3rd day), so where did the light come from? It was as if they were saying, "We didn't tamper with the text, here's what it says."
    – Tau
    Nov 3 '14 at 19:59

Kennedy summarizes his view on p. 5, and OP's sense that the paseq is a rough equivalent to how we use [sic] strikes me as about right. Kennedy's view, however, doesn't seem like a plausible -- or at least certainly not a sufficient -- explanation of this masoretic notation. On the one hand, there are just too many instances in which no such "warning" is called for; and on the other, there are better explanations for many of its occurrences.

That is by no means to suggest that Kennedy's work is without value. His collection and classification of occurrences is quite useful, and he is (I think) better in discussion than in conclusion. As far as the example given for our focus -- Genesis 1:5 -- I cannot find that Kennedy gives it any attention (perhaps telling in itself), and I have looked carefully! He notes it among the cluster of occurrences in Genesis 1 (p. 2, that situation itself somewhat of an oddity), and as an example to see its physical shape (!, p. 16 - as if that were needed!).

My own un-scientific sense of it, simply from reading the Hebrew Bible, has been that it separates words otherwise joined together, or in danger of being too closely joined together. Gesenius-Kautzsch-Cowley does treat it briefly, in a footnote to §15f, but draw on Wickes in particular to suggest the following main categories:

The purpose of Paseq is clearly recognizable in the five old rules:

  1. as a divider between identical letters at the end and beginning of two words;
  2. between identical or very similar words;
  3. between words which are absolutely contradictory (as God and evil-doer);
  4. between words which are liable to be wrongly connected;
  5. and lastly, between heterogeneous terms, as ‘Eleazar the High Priest, and Joshua’.

(Formatting added.) But proper mention must be made of William Wickes whose work on the accentuation of the Hebrew Bible remains fundamental. His A Treatise on the Accentuation of the Twenty-one So-called Prose Books (1887) treats paseq on pp. 120-129, and Genesis 1:5 gets a mention on p. 125 (though it's not his moment of greatest illumination). Israel Yeivin's vade mecum, Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah (ed. E.J. Revell; Scholars Press, 1985) still depends on Wickes for its treatment of paseq.

Most recently, Lea Himmelfarb wrote her 1990 PhD at Bar Ilan University on "The Paseq in the Hebrew Bible: Occurrences in Medieval Manuscripts, Characteristics and Relation to the Accentuation System". I don't have access to this work, but it appears to have a summary in an article: "The Exegetical Role of the Paseq", Sefarad 58 (1998): 243-260 (references culled from Elvira Martín-Contreras, "The Current State of Masoretic Studies", Sefarad 73 (2013): 423-458, see pp. 445-6, n. 50). Himmelfarb categorizes the 587 paseq signs in Codex Leningrad as follows (p. 244 n. 6):

  1. dividing a unit containing two or more conjunctive accents (e.g. Num 16:7);
  2. separating a Holy Name from an adjacent word (e.g. Ps 5:7);
  3. separating identical or similar words (e.g. Gen 22:11);
  4. separating two words in which the last letter of the first and the first letter of the next are both either lamed, mem, or nun (e.g. 1 Chron 22:5).

A further category (the one she devotes the article to) is the 78 occurrences where paseq is used "because of issues in understanding and comprehending a verse", i.e., what she terms the "exegetical" uses of paseq. (She states the number with emphatic caution, since the criteria for their identification is necessarily rough.) For this "exegetical" group, one of Himmelfarb's categories is (p. 250):

...the paseq separates the "said" from the actual content of the utterance.

I have to state my own caution here, because Himmelfarb's examples all involved wayyoʾm[e|a]r, and that's not what we have here. Still, it seems to me, this is the best possibility for Genesis 1:5, in combination with rule #1 (succession of conjunctive accents): the paseq separates "And God called... [wayyiqrāʾ ʾĕlōhîm]" from what God "called": "... the light 'day'... [lāʾôr yôm]...etc.". It might help to see this in diagram form, contrasting Gen 1:3 and 1:5. The curly-brace shows which words are joined by conjunctive accents:

Gen 1:3, 5

So the grouping works this way, with comma marking the placement of disjunctive accents:

1:3 and-god-said , let-there-be-light , and-there-was-light

1:5 and-god-called-|-the-light-day , ...

This layout helps to see how the paseq separates what the (earlier -- see "Addendum", below) cantillation system of conjunctive (and disjunctive) accents had joined together, and why. I'm not sure it's any more profound than that. As GKC conclude their note (see above):

... the assumption of a far-reaching critical importance in Paseq is at least doubtful.

Addendum - In Himmelfarb's article, cited above, she comments on p. 246 on the age of the paseq. She follows her academic mentor, Aron Dotan, in arguing for this sequence: "The disjunctive accents are the most ancient, and the conjunctive ones more recent. ... When it came to perfecting and refining the system, the only option was to add another graphic sign, the paseq." For Dotan's views generally, see his: "The Relative Chronology of Hebrew Vocalization and Accentuation", Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 48 (1981): 87-99. He there argues that in all three "systems", Babylonian, Palestinian, and Tiberian, the cantillation marks preceded the vocalization -- explicitly so in the former two, implicitly for the latter.

  • I appreciated your inclusion of recent sources, along with a working definition of what it is, but my question to you is the same as to Joseph-didn't the paseq pre-date the Masorites?
    – Tau
    Nov 11 '14 at 0:46
  • @Tau - in a word, no. At least, Kennedy seems to be the only one who thinks this. Here's Israel Yeivin (reference in my answer): "It seems probable that *paseq* was established after the system of conjunctives and disjunctives, as it completes it. If so, the lateness of its introduction would explain the lack of system in its use." Even this is still a bit tentative! But very often its presence is (or seems to be!) explicable on the basis of lightly dividing words marked with conjunctive accents. As such, it would seem to post-date, not pre-date, the main cantillation system. .../2
    – Dɑvïd
    Nov 11 '14 at 7:54
  • 1
    @Tau ... We can only go by the observable internal evidence, of course. Note that in the GKC reference you noted to Joseph (and to which I also referred above), they are simply reporting Kennedy's view, which they go on to challenge on the basis of existing reviews of Kennedy's work. It is not as if they are upholding his conclusion. None of the later studies of paseq take this view, to my knowledge. I will tweak my answer, though, to make this a bit more clear. Hope that helps!
    – Dɑvïd
    Nov 11 '14 at 8:35
  • Thank you! As a layman, approaching the subject of grammar in translation, it is important to know why such 'adjustments' were necessary. If it was to highlight "conjunctive and disjunctive accents", then it obviously is a tools of the Masorites. But if they draw attention to the special challenges translating the text imposed(such as separating God's name, or highlighting a meaning which could easily be misconstrued, then it seems they would pre-date the Masorites, who had their own challenges with codifying the previous revisions of the Hebrew text.
    – Tau
    Nov 16 '14 at 3:35

The Idea in Brief

The Paseq serves various purposes in the Hebrew Bible. In the first chapter of Genesis, the purpose of the Paseq served as the logical dichotomy between the divine name and what followed. That is, the Paseq occurs in verse 5 and also in verse 10, but was not necessary on the basis of the Masoretic accent principles. Its function was to provide not the grammatical pause, but the logical pause to draw attention to what "God called" (and why). The Masoretes point to their suggestions in their margin notes and footnotes.

In other words, the Masoretes provided us the system of grammatical vowel accents and cantillation not only to sing (and memorize) Scripture, but also to understand Scripture. In this latter regard, the Masoretes enable us to follow the flow of thought through their own references, or to what we would call side-notes/marginalia and footnotes & endnotes (or what scholars call the Masorah Parva and Masorah Magna, respectively).

To this end, in both verse 5 and in verse 10, the Masoretic editors provided commentary in the margins to help expound on what "God called" (and what "God saw"). That is, the Masoretic editors make us look at what "God called" by drawing our attention to other parallel passages in the Torah, which provide negative contrasts to what "God called." Over the seven day period of the creation story, what "God saw" was good because of His work each day, until the last day when His work was completed, at which time that which "God saw" was then very good (Gen 1:31).

So the narrative arc in Genesis Chapter 1 (according to the suggestions from the Masoretic notes) points the reader toward the idea that what God was calling, and what God was seeing, was only made better after his direct and personal intervention. This approach suggests that something may not have been good in Gen 1:2, after which the seven day process had begun.


According to the principles developed by Weekes (1887) on the accentuation of the Hebrew Bible, the accents found in Gen 1:5 and Gen 1:10 did not require the introduction of the Paseq on the basis of the order and arrangement of the accents, because the words following the divine name contained two or more syllables and was therefore sufficient as written. In other words, had the Paseq been absent, the accentuation would have stood correct. Please click here to review the discussion and analysis. The Paseq therefore provided not the grammatical dichotomy --there was no change and alteration of accentuation-- but the logical dichotomy, which then forces the reader to look at the Masoretic notes in the margin and/or foot (or endnotes) of the Codex, if present.

In regards to this verse, the Masoretic commentary in the margin, which is the Masorah Parva, provides references containing unfavorable information in the Masorah Magna. That is, the Masoretes indicate why they seprated the divine name from the remainder of the verse. Please click here and please note the yellow, light green, and pink highlights in the margin (the Masorah Parva) and at the footer (the Masorah Magna), which correspond to the respective words. The first (highlighted in yellow) tells us that there are seven instances of the phrase in the Masoretic Text that correspond to the exact phrase לָאֹור. That is the word אֹור (light) occurs with the preposition לְ seven times in the Hebrew Bible. We see the following information from Masorah 3105 of the Masorah Magna, which the editors of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia placed at the footer of the page. According to Weil (2001), these seven verses are as follows:

  לָאוֹר ז̇ וסימנהון׃ (seven instances of לָאוֹר) 
  Gn. 1:5      ויקרא   
  Jes. 42:16      אשים   
  Jes. 59:9      נקוה   
  Mi. 7:9      יוציאני   
  Zeph. 3:5      בבקר   
  Hio. 12:22      צלמות   
  Hio. 24:14      יקום

While there are 123 instances of the Hebrew word אוֹר in the Masoretic Text, only seven occur with the preposition לְ (see citations above), and in each instance the light appears in contrast with the darkness in a negative sense. The Masoretic editors therefore may be leading the reader to make the conclusion that the seven appearances of the phrase לָאוֹר with darkness in the Hebrew Bible are all negative. That is, six appearances have clear negative connotations, and therefore the seventh instance (Gen 1:5) too may have the same negative contrasts, which would make all seven occurrences in the Hebrew Bible of the phrase לָאוֹר to carry negative allusions. The Masoretic editors appears to make similar contrasts with the next two instances as well.

The next word under consideration is חֹשֶׁךְ ("darkness"), which is highlighted in light green here. This word occurs 80 times in the Masoretic Text. In regards to this word, the editors of the Masoretic Text point us to Job 28:3, where men are descending and working to mine precious metals inside the ground. That is, in Job 28:3 there is work involved in dispelling the darkness, which is the same meaning in the current verse of Gen 1:5, where the Lord is working (and will later declare Sabbath Rest after completion of His work). The Masoretes did not point us to Is 5:20 or to Joel 2:31, which have the same Hebrew spelling of the word, because in those passages darkness occurs with different nuances. In other words, the word חֹשֶׁךְ occurs four times in the Hebrew Bible with the preposition לְ, but in only two of those cases do we find light dispelling darkness as a result of working (Gen 1:5 and Job 28:3).

Finally in this verse the Masoretic editors point our attention to יֹום אֶחָד ("first day"), which is highlighted in red here. The Masorah Parva indicates 10 instances of this phrase in the Masoretic Text, which we can find using Bible Study tools. Using Weil (2001) again, when we reference the Masorah Magna, we see the following two verses.

  ליוֹם אֶחָד ב̇ סוף פסוק [בתורה]. (Occurs twice at the end of the verse [within the Torah])

  Gn. 1:5      ויהי ערב
  Gn. 27:45      למה אשכל גם

This reference is VERY IMPORTANT. The Masoretic editors did not point us to the four occurrences of this exact phrase in Torah, but to the two phrases in which the phrase ended the verse. Please click here. By not referencing Gen 33:13 and Num 11:19 (circled in blue), where the exact phrase occurs, and instead focusing on where the phrase ended the verse, the Masoretic editors are focusing our attention on something NEGATIVE. The Masoretic editors are VERY nuanced in their choice of cross-references. Otherwise why did they not mention Isaiah 9:14, where the exact same phrase occurs at the end of the verse? By limiting their commentary to those instances in the Torah where this phrase יֹום אֶחָד occurs at the end of the verse, they are forcing us to examine Gen 27:45, which was the watershed moment ("one day") when Cain killed Abel.

Also, we see another Paseq in Gen 1:10 with the SAME overtures. Please click here, and note the yellow colored highlighting. The Masoretes are making us look at Ps 66:6 according to the "footnotes."

Psalm 66:6 (NASB)
6 He turned the sea into dry land;
They passed through the river on foot;
There let us rejoice in Him!

The context was the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt, and God opened the Red Sea, and provided the Israelites "dry land" by which to escape the slavery of Egypt. Again, the image is salvation - God is intervening and saving - and thus, like the Genesis narrative, God declares His Sabbath Rest at Sinai. The idea here is that the Sabbath of Genesis and the Sabbath of Exodus both involved God's work, which resulted in rest.

In review, the Masoretic editors appear to be juxtaposing (and separating with the Paseq) the divine name in Gen 1:5 and Gen 1:10 with what follows. That is, these appearances of Paseq in Genesis Chapter 1 are what what Wickes (1887) terms the Paseq dichotomicum and the Paseq distinctivum. In order to conserve space, please click here to view his comments and my analysis. Finally, although not mentioned by Wickes in the context of Genesis Chapter 1, the Paseq Euphemisticum may also be relevant here as well. This particular Paseq appears in the Poetry Books (Psalms, Proverbs, and Job).

Various reasons led to the introduction of Paseq.
I. Most frequent in the three Books, is the use of what we may call Paseq euphemisticum, which occurs before or after the Divine Name, to prevent its being joined, in the reading, to a word, which—in the opinion of the accentuators—it was not seemly, משום כבוד השם, to bring into contact with it, e. g. נִאֵ֖ץ רָשָׁ֥ע ׀ אֱלֹהִ֑ים (10:13); מְשַׂנְֿאֶ֖יךָ יְהֹוָ֥ה ׀ אֶשְׂנָ֑א (139:21).
Thus it was counted unbecoming to speak of ‘the heathen’ (18:50; 57:10; 66:8; 67:4, 6; 108:4; 113:4); of ‘the wicked’ (94:3; 139:19; Job 27:13); of ‘God’s enemies’ (Ps. 89:52) or ‘the Psalmist’s enemies’ (59:2; 143:9), who were one and the same; of ‘other gods’ (86:8), or ‘a plurality,’ רַבִּים (119:156),—in the same breath with the Divine Name. (In one instance, 5:5, the personal pronoun takes the place of the Divine Name.) So also verbs signifying ‘to abominate’ (5:7), ‘to despise’ (10:3), ‘to destroy, overthrow’ (58:7, Prov. 15:25), ‘to abuse’ (Ps. 74:18), ‘to reject’ (77:8),—even when the Divine Being Himself is the subject,—are separated by a pause from the Divine Name following. The verb ‘to sleep’ (44:24) and the adj. ‘sleeping’ (78:65),—as conveying a strongly anthropomorphic idea,—are treated in the same way. For the fanciful reasons that commended themselves to the punctators for the employment of Paseq in 89:9, 50, 119:52, I must refer to Norzi’s notes.

While Wickes did not state that the Paseq Euphemisticum ever occurred in the non-Poetic books of the Hebrew Bible, the reading of Genesis Chapter 1 (in light of the notes provided by the Masoretic editors) suggests the separation of the divine name from what follows (unfavorable information and contrasts), and thus appears parallel to the Paseq Euphemisticum found in the Poetic Books.


Context always helps to understand verses under consideration. In other to help us understand several verses in Genesis Chapter 1, the Masoretic editors provided that context in the marginalia and footnotes/endnotes of the Masoretic Text. When viewing these notes in light of the passages under consideration, the two Paseqs (found in Gen 1:5 and Gen 1:10, respectively) appear to provide not grammatical pause, but logical pause in contradistinction to what follows. In this regard, the Masoretic notes help. Thus in both Gen 1:5 and Gen 1:10 the Paseqs appear to be the Paseq dichotomicum, Paseq distinctivum, and by logical extension, the Paseq euphemisticum.

To recap, in Gen 1:5 the light and darkness are contrasted by the Masoretic notes, but through allusions to verses within the Hebrew Bible with negative and unfavorable connotations; second, sandwiched in this verse, we see that "work" is involved in dispelling darkness through light -- the picture us that God is working to make creation good, after which he will declare creation very good and rest. Finally, at the end of the verse, the Masoretic editors force us to read the "first day" in the context of the day Abel killed Cain -- that is, they could have cited all instances of the occurrence of this phrase, or all instances when this phrase ended verses; but by limiting us to the scope of Torah, the Masoretic editors are pointing readers to the killing of Abel by his brother Cain (which is something not good). Thus after the appearance of the divine name in Gen 1:5, the Paseq provides the logical break with the remainder of the verse, because God is making something not good into something good. Finally, the same Paseq occurs with the divine name in Gen 1:10. In that verse the Masoretic editors pointed the readers to Psalm 66:6, where dry land was part of the saving process that resulted in the Covenant at Sinai, where God declared the same Sabbath Rest as found in Genesis Chapter 2.

In summary, in Gen 1:5 and Gen 1:10 the Paseq provides no grammatical function other than to point readers to the Masoretic notes, and so the function of the Paseq is logical. The logic is that the seven days of creation were work, which paralleled the work of saving Israel from Egypt. Thus this work was restorative: God was taking what was not good (the "formless and void" in Gen 1:2) and was in the process (which occurred over seven days) of making what was not good into something that was very good, at which time God rested from His work.

Finally, the Christian New Testament makes explicit allusion to Genesis Chapter 1 in the context of the regeneration of personal salvation (calling light from the darkness) in 2 Cor 4:6. This restorative regeneration is "work" of God leads the believer into the "Sabbath Rest of God" (Heb 4:1-11).

Weil, G. E. (2001). Massorah Gedolah: Manuscrit B. 19a de Léningrad. Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 344.
Wickes, William (1887). Two Treatises on the Accentuation of the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press, passim.

  • The challenge I have is that the "Paseq" pre-dated the Masorites; and there is some discussion that they no longer understood the purposes of their usage. Here is a source you may consider in your presentation.
    – Tau
    Nov 5 '14 at 6:59
  • There's another helpful introduction to the system of accentuation in the MT in the two PDFs provided by the British and Foreign Bible Society. As my "answer" elsewhere on this page indicates, I take a different view of the development of the system, but as a statement of the workings of the notation as we have it, they are very useful.
    – Dɑvïd
    Nov 13 '14 at 14:46
  • This is excellent and very helpful. Jun 13 '18 at 18:18

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