The Creation of Heaven and Earth: Re-Interpretation of Genesis I in the Context of Judaism, Ancient Philosophy, Christianity, and Modern Physics

By George H. Van Kooten | Go to book overview

'LIGHTS SERVING AS SIGNS FOR FESTIVALS'
(Genesis I:14B) IN ENUMA ELIŠ AND EARLY JUDAISM

EIBERT J.C. TIGCHELAAR


I. Introduction

According to the translation of The New English Bible (NEB), God said: 'Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to separate day from night, and let them serve as signs both for festivals and for seasons and years. Let them also shine in the vault of heaven to give light on earth' (Gen 1:14–153). The Hebrew of Gen I:14b is problematic, both syntactically and semantically, and a verbal rendering results in 'and let them be' (or: 'they shall be') 'for signs and for festivals and for days and years'.1 The topic of this paper derives from the NEB rendering, in particular the concept of the luminaries 'serving as signs for festivals'.2

Most modern non-Jewish commentators on Genesis do not focus on the phrases of Gen I:14b, but limit themselves to general comments on this semi-verse, for example, that the luminaries govern both the cultic and the civil calendar, or that the religious festivals were connected to the calendar. Instead, scholars emphasize entirely different points. Gen I:14–19 is often read as a denial of the common belief that sun and moon were deities, and perhaps as a reaction to astrology which is based on the principle that the planets and other luminaries influence

1 Thus, e.g., ASV KJV, and NRSV. The Hebrew runs


The problems involve the meaning of and as well as the relation
between the three terms preceded by 'for'. E.A. Speiser, Genesis (AB 1), Garden
City, NY 1964, 6; the JPS; and N.M. Sarna, Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with
the Mew JPS Translation
, Philadephia 5749/1989, 9 understand as a
hendiadys 'signs for the set times', and 'for the days and the years', as a
specification (the waw in is read as an explicative waw). Alternatively one may,
with C. Westermann, Genesis I–11 (BKAT 1.1), Neukirchen-Vluyn 1974 and many other
scholars read 'for the festivals and for the days and years' as a specification of 'to
be signs' (the waw in is read as an explicative waw). Cf., e.g., the Jerusalem
Bible: 'and let them indicate festivals, days and years'. Usually is translated as
either 'festivals', 'set times' or 'seasons', but the NEB with which this paper started,
complicates things by rendering 'days', by 'seasons'.

2 Originally, I was asked to deliver a paper on the following subject: 'The Relation-
ship between Creation, Cosmos, and Liturgy: “Lights serving as Signs for Festivals'”.

-31-

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