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Genesis 1:2
The Deep


Hebrew Text

<wht - The Deep

The Deep is a watery abyss. There is no monster (Tiamat). There is no battle (theomacy). It is demythologized.

At the beginning there was the preexistence of a watery abyss, a primordial ocean where the bitter and sweet waters mingled together. The bitter water was the salt water of the ocean while the sweet water was rain, springs, and river waters. These waters were separated on day two to form a heavenly ocean and earthly ocean which is part of the subterranean ocean. In Ugaritic El’s abode is at the source of the two rivers, or oceans which might be the source of the bitter and sweet waters (Herdner 1963, 4:iv, 21-24) or more likely the heavenly ocean and the subterranean ocean that meet at the horizon. In the Bible "living water" would be "sweet or fresh non-salty water," while dead or bitter waters, like the Dead Sea is salty water. Many times the sea is used in parallel with the deep in poetic passages. The ancients may see the sea and deep as part of the same ocean which extended under the earth. This seems clear from the cycle in Ecclesiastes 1:7. The rocks of the earth sweeten the ocean water and the clouds filter the salt water.

In the OT <wht is the subterranean ocean where springs well up, rivers flow, and floods burst forth. They did not view rivers as water from melted snow, nor floods from torrential rains, but from the deep subterranean ocean. This is clearly seen in Noah’s Flood where the fountains of the deep burst forth. In the vassal-treaties of Esarhaddon it says, "may a flood, an irresistible deluge, rise from the bowels of the earth and devastate you" (ANET, 472).

In Hebrew <wht can appear in the plural form as in Isaiah 63:13, and Psalm 106:9. <wht never occurs as a third part of the universe as heaven/earth/sea. Only <y, sea occurs. <y corresponds to the Akkadian Apsu and Tiamat. <wht refers to the subterranean waters like the Babylonian Apsu, but since <wht is under or in the earth, it is considered part of the earth. <wht is not a person or god because it says, "face of the deep" indicating a physical place. <wht is used mostly in poetical passages as seen below.

Many scholars today think Habakkuk 3 contains imagery of divine conflict with the dragon and the sea as in Ugaritic literature (Tsumura, 1988, 25). Baal, rider of the clouds (his chariots), fights with the Yam-Sea and wins (KTU 1.2 III: Gibson, 1977, 37). Baal’s arrows are lightning like God’s arrows in Habakkuk 3:11 (See also Psalm 29; Amos 7:4; Hillers, 1964, 221-5). In Genesis 1:2 there is no conflict or battle between God and Tiamat or Yam (Tsumura, 1989, 62-65).

Sumerian Literature

In Sumerian thought the sea was all one with no distinction between salt and sweet water. Later Tiamat came to represent the salt sea while Apsu came to represent the sweet water. (see Kramer, 1959, 77). The Sumerians believed the sea fed the rivers, not the mountains (Kramer 1944, 27-28).

Akkadian Literature

In Akkadian the cognate for <wht is tiamtum which is used for ocean and a god. In Atra-Hasis six times the phrase, nahbalu tiamtim, meaning "the bar or bolt of the sea" occurs (rev. i 6,10, ii 4,11,18,34). This would be at the horizon which is the bond between heaven and earth. If there is a rip, waters will flood the earth. It stops the waters from mixing again. Taiamtum is also used in parallel with the word "sea." Marduk defeats Tiamat, cuts her in half, from one half the heavens are made, the other half the earth is made.

In Enuma Elish "When above the Heavens had not (yet) been named" (Tablet 1:1) Apsu (sweet water, male god) and Tiamat (salt water, female god) "mingled their waters together" (Tablet 1:5; Heidel, 1942, 18). It should be noted that there is no monster to slay in Genesis to form the heavens as Marduk did by killing Tiamat. Heidel does a good job of comparing Enuma Elish with Genesis. Both have primeval watery chaos, primeval darkness, and light before luminaries (Heidel, 97-102).

Ugaritic Literature

The Ugaritic cognate for <wht is thm which sometimes ends with a feminine ending t. It appears once as a proper noun that is part of a compound divine name Heaven and Ocean, smm-w-thm (KTU, 1.100:1). It is used in parallel with yam-sea. It is also used in the dual form especially describing El’s abode (Herdner 1963, 4:iv, 21-24).

There is much debate on the location of El’s abode. The following four lines in Ugaritic repeatedly give a description of El’s abode, m il mbk nhrm qrb apq thmtm tgly zd il wtb’u qrs mlk ab snm (CTA 4:iv, 21-24) which I translate as: Toward El at the source of the two rivers, amidst the springs of the two oceans (thm); she penetrated the heights of El, and entered the hillside of the king, the father of years. The source of life-giving water was from the gods in paradise, not from the stagnant underworld. El’s mountain seems to reach up to connect earth and heaven, and therefore is able to supply water to the heavenly and earthly oceans.

A cylinder seal of white stone discovered at Mari dates back to around 2350-2150 BC. (Keel 1978, 390). On this seal is a picture of a god sitting on a mountain with two rivers flowing out of it. Keel believes that this god could be the Canaanite god El (Ibid, 47). The god Ea from Mesopotamia sits enthroned "in the midst of the mouth of the two rivers" (Ibid, 48). Another cylinder seal from Ur pictures the god Ea seated in his inner chamber surrounded by water. From his arms flow two rivers. To the right the sun god ascends up a mountain to the gate of heaven where Ea is (Ibid, 390). This is very similar to the description of El’s abode.

When one compares El’s abode with Mot’s underworld abode one will discover many differences (CTA 4:viii, 11-14). Mot’s abode is clearly below the earth, while El’s abode seems to be above the earth. El’s abode is also the place where the assembly of El meets. This probably refers to the stars of heaven which are thought to be gods (CTA 10: I, 3-5).

Phoenician Literature

Probably the closest cosmology to the Bible is the Phoenicians. Philo of Byblos was a Phoenician scholar who was born about 64 AD. He reworks ancient Phoenician myths into the Hellenistic spirit by demythologizing them (Loewenstamm 1980 391). Traditional gods are replaced by physical forces that represent them to bring Greek science in harmony with ancient Phoenician tradition. The Church historian Eusebius preserves in his book Preparation of the Gospel the most important quotations from Philo’s book Phoenician History (For a detailed commentary see Baumgarten 1981).

Philo of Byblos in Phoenician History says, "He (Sanchuniathon) posits as the source of the universe a dark and windy gas, or a stream of dark gas, and turbid, gloomy chaos. These things were unbound and for ages were without limit" (Attridge and Oden, 1981, 37). Note that there is no god who created this chaos. This watery chaos is "the equivalent of the Tehom covered by darkness in Genesis 1:2 (Baumgarten, 106).

Greek Literature

To translate <wht the LXX usually uses abussos which means "bottomless, unfathomed" (L&S, Vol. 1, 4). The LXX never uses abussos to translate the Hebrew sheol, the abode of the dead. In Classical Greek abussos is always an adjective. Herodotus writes that the source of the Nile is unfathomed (Book 2.28). He says, "Psammethichus king of Egypt proved by experiment: for he had a rope woven of many thousand fathoms’ length and let down into the spring, but he could not reach the bottom (LCL, 1920, Vol. 1, 305).

Homer speaks of a watery beginning of the gods. In Iliad 14:200-4 Homer writes, "For I am faring to visit the limits of the all-nurturing earth, and Oceanus, from whom the gods are sprung (Zeus) thrust Cronos down to dwell beneath earth and the unresting (or unfruitful) sea" (LCL 171, 81). Again in the same book Homer writes (line 245) "even the streams of the river Oceanus, from whom they (the gods) all are sprung" (Ibid, 85).

Hesiod in his Theogony writes that chaos arose before the creation of the earth. Brown translates:

First of all, Void (Chaos) came into being, next broad-bosomed Earth. Out of Void came darkness and black night, and out of Night came light and Day.Earth first produced starry Sky, equal in size with herself, to cover her on all sides (to be the solid and eternal home of the blessed gods; (II:116-128; LCL, 1953, 56).

In Greek mythology Chaos was the original condition of the universe before creation. "Chaos was a dark formless void of infinite size and ungovernable fury" (Wilson, 1976, Vol. 4, 328).

Orphic cosmogony probably drew on Hesiod’s Theogony. Apollonius Rodius relates how Orpheus sang a song "how the earth, heaven and sea, which were formed joined together in one form, were separated from each other after deadly strife" (Argonautica I. 494; LCL, 1979, 39).

Aristophanes states, "There was Chaos (Void) first, and Night, dark Erebos (Darkness) and wide Tartaros; there was no earth, nor air, nor sky, but Night, she of dark wings, bore first of all a wind-egg, nesting in the limitless bosom of Erebos" (Birds, 688-702; LCL, 1979, 41).

Hermetica contains various Greek and Latin writings of religious and philosophical teachings that are attributed to the Egyptian sage, Hermes Trismegistus complied around the 2nd century AD. Libellvs I says, "Earth and water remained in their own place, mingled together-but they were kept in motion, by reason of the breath-like Word which moved upon the face of the water" (Scott 1993, 119). Libellvs III states, "There was darkness in the deep, and water without form; and there was a subtle breath, intelligent, which permeated the things in Chaos with divine power. Then when all was yet undistinguished and unwrought, there was shed forth holy light; and the elements came into being" (Ibid, 147).

New Testament

The NT in contrast to the LXX uses abussos for the abode of the dead (Romans 10:7), the abode of demons (Luke 8:31), the abode of Antichrist (Rev. 11:7, 17:8), the abode of Abaddon, the angle of the underworld (Rev. 9:11), and the dungeon where the devil is bound for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:3; A&G, 1957, 2).

In the NT usually Hades is used for the place of the dead, tartarus is used for the prison house of angels, and the abyss in the book of Revelations is used for the bottomless pit which imprisons fallen angels.

Jewish Literature

In the book of Enoch there is a graphic description of the abyss which is the prison house for fallen angels. "The place had a cleavage (that extended) to the last sea, pouring out great pillars of fire; neither its extent nor its magnitude could I see nor was I able to estimate" (21:7; Charlesworth, 1983, 24).

Philo describes the abyss as "the void is a region of immensity and vast depths" (On The Creation, 29; LCL, 1929, Vol. 1, 23).

It seems that the sea and the deep, <wht are connected. Rivers run into the ocean and the ocean returns under the earth to the rivers. The Targum of Ecclesiastes states, "All the rivers and streams of water go and flow into the waters of the ocean which surround the world like a ring, and the ocean is not full, and to the place where the streams go and flow there they go again through the channels of the sea" (Glossfeld, 1973, 503).

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