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I was looking at the end of Genesis 1:31 and there was an odd bit of Hebrew text here.  Perhaps the Hebrew experts here could help?  Genesis 1:31 ends with "yom hash-sheh-shi". The hebrew is: 

י֥וֹם הַשִּׁשִּֽׁי

There is a definite article (הַ) on the number six there, but in this word pair shouldn't that also be on the yom?  Wouldn't it read "the day the sixth" or "the sixth day" when this oddly reads "a day the sixth"?  Yom is not a proper noun which is the only place I've seen this kind of lack of the definite article (like "David The King" is "daveed ha-melech").

I do notice that In Genesis 1:5 when God "names" the light "Day" there is no definite article, but due to the nature of the verb "God called" this has the sense of naming a being. Because of this, the KJV and on down capitalize the first letter of the word "Day" (and Night and Heaven and Sea and Earth) as a proper noun. But this would then follow the convention as with proper nouns above and each of the days would have a definite article on the number, right?

The JPS torah commentary notes this and Nahum M. Sarna (does not notice the acrostic) writes:

"The exceptional definite article here [Genesis 1:31] and with the seventh day points to the special character of these days within the scheme of creation.

The pairing of the definite articles is what I learned in my intro Hebrew.  The definite article is absent on the other five days in genesis (e.g. "a day a fifth" or "a fifth day" not "the fifth day"), but it is present in this peculiar form in genesis 2:3 as well.  It seems that the definite article is present in genesis 2:2 in the correct pairing as expected ("the day the seventh"). In 2:2, the preposition on the word day (the 'bet') has a petach under it instead of a shevah. That's usually a sign of the definite article.

I got focused on this because there seems to be an acrostic for YHWH (the tetragrammaton) here in the text bridging the days. Kind of like a stamp on the conclusion of creation. Going from Genesis 1:31 - 2:1 the four words bridging the day are:

"י֥וֹם הַשִּׁשִּֽׁי וַיְכֻלּ֛וּ הַשָּׁמַ֥יִם"

Of course the author didn't know/care about the verse/chapter divisions. So my question goes like this with an interpretation in mind:

Question:

Is this Hebrew grammar incorrect (on purpose)? For example, in Genesis 17:23, we have: "הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה" which means "the day the this" or "This day" (unambiguous definite article on both words in the pair.. this day). Or am I missing something about how nouns and adjectives work in word pairs (numbers being adjectives)? If the grammar is incorrect on purpose, does this make it certain that this was an acrostic done intentionally?

Exodus 12:15-16 also has a similar situation. There you have "a day the seventh ... and in the day the first ... " This goes across the verse border and is right at the institution of the first passover. It seems like the language is intentionally structured to create this.

If this is intentional, it means that the P-text author of Genesis 1 (or the one that assembled Genesis 1) was not just dedicated to using the name Elohim only as the scholarship suggests, but may have been copying in a tradition which used Elohim while he thought of God using the tetragrammaton. This is also then the first instance of the tetragrammaton in the text, not in Genesis 2:4b.

But that's getting ahead of my own minimal Hebrew. There are a ton of wacko numerologists and acrostic seekers out there. I'm rather interested in the presence of unambiguous examples such as the noted acrostic of this form at the center of Esther where ancient authors actually highlighted these letters in red in the versions we have. Thoughts?

I got to this because the Esther arostic intrigued me and I downloaded the BHS standard Hebrew bible in digital format from the OpenHebrewBible Github project and ran a search. I found 8 such acrostics in the Torah and 35 overall in the text.

Here are the eight instances in the Torah: Genesis 1:31, Genesis 19:25, Genesis 38:24, Exodus 4:14, Exodus 12:15, Leviticus 9:9, Numbers 13:32, Deuteronomy 11:2

Edit and clarification:

I don't think this, in any way, undermines the documentary hypothesis. If anything it supports the hand of an author bridging the J text term for God in the P-text narrative of creation in Genesis 1. The documentary hypothesis claims that there was one author or group of authors in the post-exilic period - the priestly ("P") writers - from the late sixth century BC after release from slavery by Cyrus the Persian. The Torah as we know it would have been largely assembled in Israel as vassal state to Cyrus under Ezra/Nehemiah during the construction of the second temple.

These P authors compiled a variety of traditions that had aggregated over the previous thousand years. These previous sources were assembled at key points in Israelite history: J text in David/Solomon's court, E text in Ephraim and fused into J after Assyrian conquest... D text assembled under Hezekia...

But what we have was all copied in under the control of one author. This author would have added this YHWH as a bridge between texts. Of course at each point of fusion, an intermediate author also made editorial decisions. The last major set of hands was the P author. So you may say that "P" was the author of the entire Torah in that he edited existing texts together in a post-exilic monotheistic context. Hence you get the narrative of Abraham leaving from Chaldea, which is the status of the liberated Hebrews in 538 BC (See Isaiah 47:1, cheering the destruction of Babylon by Cyrus).

For example, we see this in the tower of babel story (Babel = Babylon). In Isaiah 47, the word "בָּבֶ֔ל" (babel) is translated as Babylon (in NRSV). In genesis 11:9, the word "בָּבֶ֔ל" (exact same word) is translated Babel (in NRSV). And in Genesis 11-12, we have a retelling of the return from Chaldea (city/region in Babylon) but using Abraham. So here we have a post-exhilic author again blurring the lines of the J-text narrative they received.

There is so much more that supports the idea of a complex collection of narratives, but the bottom line is that the current Torah has only one group of authors, the P authors, who added their own modifications and tweaks in the context of a return to a fractured Israel and needing to rebuild from scratch, displace the existing samaritan Jews who hadn't been eliminated, and add structure to a fledgling second temple cult. They did this with editorial control and redaction from several sources... Of course they didn't write it from scratch.

  • Excellent question! I specifically like the point you make that this might undermine the traditional Documentary hypothesis. Wondering which direction this will take. – Bach Jun 19 at 17:30
  • @Bach, thanks! I added a section with thoughts on this. I see this as support for the documentary hypothesis. This is evidence of a priestly redactor fusing and massaging existing traditions. Documentary hypothesis claims one final editor/author, multiple source traditions. – Gus L. Jun 19 at 17:55
  • Day the sixth ? As in part the sixth ? – Lucian Jun 21 at 2:24
  • @Lucian, The way that I learned it was that the definite article goes on both words or on neither. On all previous five days there is no definite article. So it is different here on day six for a reason. – Gus L. Jun 21 at 6:54
  • So it is different here on day six for a reason. - I agree with the former part of the sentence, but not with the latter. – Lucian Jun 21 at 13:35
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A few thoughts:

(1) יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי (yom hash-shish-shi) is a construct phrase where the adjective שִׁשִּׁי acts as a noun. The phrase literally means "the day of the sixth" or "the sixth's day" but can simply be understood as "the sixth day". This kind of construct where the last word is an adjective is not ungrammatical, but it is relatively rare. Here are the only eleven verses that I found in a computer search where there is no definite-article/definite-preposition preceding yom + definite article + adjective (i.e., adjectiveיום ה): Gen 1:31; 2:3; Ex 12:15, 18; 20:10//Deut 5:14; Lev 19:6; 22:27; Lev 14:57; Josh 24:31; Judg 2:7. In the last three passages the adjective is not a number. For a few other similar cases see BDB 2b: https://archive.org/details/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft/page/208/mode/2up. See p. 209.

(2) It is also relatively rare for there to be a definite-article + yom + definite-article + adjective (i.e., adjectiveהיום ה) though this kind of adjectival construction (i.e., adjectiveה nounה) is common overall. I only found four occurrences and they all (coincidentally?) have rishon(im) ("first)" or acharon ("last") for the adjective: Num 6:12; Eccl 7:10; Dan 10:12; Neh 8:18. Instead, the common pattern to express definiteness for yom in the HB is a definite-preposition + yom + definite-article + adjective. I found 117 verses like this. For example, בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי ("on the seventh day") in Gen 2:2. There is probably nothing too significant about this since it would be more common to speak about a particular day using a preposition than not. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that adjectiveהיום ה is even more rare than adjectiveיום ה.

(3) I agree with the verse division in Gen 1:31–2:1 since 2:1 is a new thought. The narrator is now telling us that the creation is finished.

Compare Gen 1:31–2:1 and Gen 2:3a:

Gen 1:31–2:1:

וַיְהִי־עֶרֶב וַיְהִי־בֹקֶר יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי׃

וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל־צְבָאָם׃

And there was evening and there was morning, the day of the sixth.

And they were finished the heavens and the earth and all their army.

Gen 2:3a:

וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ

And God blessed the day of the seventh and he sanctified it.

Notice that both have the adjectiveיום ה construct phrase but only the first passage has the acrostic and it is broken into two thoughts. If the acrostic were intentional then it seems to me that it would be in a passage like 2:3a since it would be continuous with itself. It would also parallel elohim in the same verse. Because it is not, I'm inclined to think that the acrostic is not intentional.

(4) Perhaps Nahum Sarna is on the right track to suggest that the definiteness of the construct phrase for days six and seven might be due to emphasize these culminating days of creation. I also suggest that perhaps style could explain the choice of the definite construct phrase rather than the definite adjectival phrase. Notice that seven of the eleven adjectiveיום ה verses cited above are considered to be from P: Gen 1:31; 2:3; Ex 12:15, 18; Lev 14:57; 19:6; 22:27. (Ex 20:20 // Deut 5:14 might also be from a priestly editorial hand.) And one of the four adjectiveהיום ה verses is considered to be from P: Num 6:12. Thus at least for the word yom there could potentially be some preference in P for the adjectiveיום ה construction where a definite preposition is not used. Perhaps there are certain contextual factors that play a role in this choice. It might be interesting to research adjectiveה noun and adjectiveה nounה phrases further to see if there might be a pattern in their usage. It is also possible that depending on the context there is not much difference to the author and it just so happens that one is chosen over the other. Perhaps another factor to consider is diachrony. Just some thoughts.

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  • Great stuff! Thanks! The verse markings and vowel pointings were added far after the text was assembled (e.g. 1000 AD). The original text would have just had the thought continue, only paused by the vav at the beginning of verse 2:1. The text would have flowed directly into the seventh day without spacings.. There was no room for white space on these ancient scrolls. – Gus L. Jun 20 at 0:40

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