Tuesday, 13 May 2003

The first book of the torah is genesis. when i was a young christian (and that was a long time ago), i did wonder what the name 'genesis' meant. later, it was natural to think of phil collins' rock band GENESIS! a clue lies in the name. genesis is not english but comes from the greek through the latin. the original hebrew word for the first book of the torah (or our old testament) is 'bereshith' (which means 'in the beginning'). the hebrew people had a simple way of calling their books - they took the first word that appears in the book as the title of the book. thus, in the first book, the first word in hebrew that appears is 'bereshith'. however, we do not call the first book in the o.t. with this name (thankfully). if not, one can guess how difficult it is to remember all the names of the 39 books in the o.t. using the hebrew names. what happen then to the hebrew name?

somewhere around the 2nd century bc in alexandria in egypt, the jewish people living there wanted to have the jewish scriptures in greek. they had lived under the greek rule for a century and began to speak more greek than hebrew. in fact, hebrew was already relegated to the religious level as aramaic, a close dialect, was already in common use after the persian empire (prior to the coming of the greeks). the jewish community translated the jewish scriptures into the language of the greeks (this was the first ancient version or translation of the o.t.) and was called the septuagint (greek for '70' due to a legend that 70 elders took 70 days to each separately translated the jewish scriptures in greek). when the translators came to the names of the books, they had to struggle with either retaining the jewish names or give something in greek as an equivalent. reading through the book of genesis, one would immediately be struck by the repetition of the theme of origins or beginnings, as genesis is a book about beginnings - the beginnings of the universe, humankind, about the entry of sin, the fall of human beings, the effect of the fall on humanity, the call of abraham and sarah as the founders of the jewish nation, the 12 sons of jacob who were to form the 12 tribes (the precursor to the nation of israel).

to name the book with this theme would be a good and wise choice, hence, the word 'genesis' was chosen as 'genesis' itself means origins or beginnings. what a stroke of genius! today we do not need to bother to remember all the jewish names (except for a few) but need to understand the meaning of the greek words. from the greek version, the o.t. was later translated into latin with the version being called the vulgate. genesis in greek was the same as genesis in latin and hence, the english word today has been formed based on the latin. thus, if one has a clue to the meaning of the strange names in the o.t., he or she can immediately grasp the contents and themes of the whole book. more later.