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In John Walton's book The Lost World of Adam and Eve, Walton makes this statement:

Many have noticed that in Genesis 1, day 2 is not labeled as good. Fewer have noticed that the technicalities of the Masoretic assignment of accents patiently worked out according to their rankings indicate that in day 5 the great sea creatures (the tanninim) are not included in the statement that "it was good."

I am not remotely close to being able to work in the Hebrew text. I have tried to look up on Google what the bold text above could possibly mean or find some other source that discusses what Walton is saying. I'm hoping that someone here could point me in the right direction or even explain what Walton is talking about.

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  • At a minimum two different questions. Masoretic accents question. Are the tanninim good. Neither of these are trivial topics. The first question targets an interpretation which is over to millennia removed from the second question which is IMHO a fascinating project. Currently reading Isaiah 27 where it comes up. May 17, 2023 at 18:47
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    May 17, 2023 at 18:57

2 Answers 2

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Undoubtedly, what John Walton would be referring to are the cantillation marks, also called the Te'amim, which were added by the Masoretes along with the niqqud (vowel pointings).

The Te'amim are a complex system of marks that serve as punctuation and musical notation at the same time. For a brief introduction into their function, one may enjoy watching this MINI LESSON on youtube, presented by a Jewish professor of Hebrew.

Within the Te'amim system, marks provide indication of where the clauses of the sentence are to be divided, what is the most important word in each, which clause is of greater emphasis, where word accentuation should be, and more. Essentially, they serve as the equivalent to English commas, periods, colons, semicolons, quotation marks, exclamation points, and more even than English has available.

With the Hebrew punctuation, setting apart one clause or expression of a sentence could dissociate it from a later declaration. With respect to the verse in question--Genesis 1:21, it could be understood as punctuated something like the following:

So God created great sea creatures: And every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind; and every winged bird according to its kind and God saw that it was good.

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The "half-way point" marking, similar to a caret under the word (הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים/hag·gə·ḏō·lîm), indicates the point at which the two "halves" of the sentence should be split--which has nothing to do with actual length and everything to do with meaning. This is the word "great" (which comes after the word translated as "sea creatures"--remember, Hebrew reads right-to-left, and in Hebrew, adjectives usually follow their nouns), which means that the "great sea creatures" is the end of the first "half" of this verse. Everything past that expression is part of a second major clause to the verse. Further, there is no division made, in the Hebrew, between "according to its kind" and "and God saw that it was good." This links, without separation, these two clauses, which can be interpreted as part of a unit.

But the Masoretes may have, without realizing it, parsed it this way on account of the fact that the "תַּנִּינִ֖ם/tan·nî·nim" represent forces of evil that were to exist for a designated time in earth's history.

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וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הַתַּנִּינִם הַגְּדֹלִים

Perhaps Walton's phrase, "the technicalities of the Masoretic assignment of accents patiently worked out according to their rankings," refers to the "jot and tittle" vowel markings (see the Hebrew words, above) in the Masoretic Text (MT), developed by Masorites (Jewish scholars) during 600-900 CE. Prior to that time, Hebrew words were not voweled.

Accent markings came later when transliterators wrote transcribed Hebrew words into their foreign language equivalent wordings. For example, וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הַתַּנִּינִם הַגְּדֹלִים transliterates into English as way·yiḇ·rā ’ĕ·lō·hîm ’eṯ-hat·tan·nî·nim hag·gə·ḏō·lîm (And created God sea creatures great).

If that's what Walton referred to, then those later Masoretic (scholarly) vowels markings were added to unvoweled Jewish words to help rabbis in the synagogues to better read or pronounce a Hebrew word.

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