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A spirit like a bird! (Genesis chap. 1, verse 2)

“And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The last part of the second verse is another absolute mystery. In the source text the Hebrew phrase has a meaning which escapes us almost completely when transtated into English: werùach Elohim merachèfet al-penè hammàyim. Is this the spirit of God, or the text is speaking of a different agent of creation?

First of all, if you want to understand the meaning of these words – as well as those of the rest of the chapter – you must clear your mind of images coming from Christian interpretations of this enigmatic text. I prefer instead to remain in the Jewish world and seek there the elements that help us to understand Genesis source text.

Of course, it’s always the same person, namely Elohìm (God), portrayed as one who speaks (see Genesis 1.3 et seq.) or as a wind, because rùach means wind too. So it could be a divine wind, but what does it mean? Or a very strong wind or stormy … who knows ? It is always God who now performs an action different from the one described in the first verse.

The action of the divine spirit or wind of God is described by the verb merachèfet which is usually translated as “hover” … but how something or someone can “hovers” if not equipped with wings? In fact, the verb merachèfet in syriac means “to brood” and even “to fertilize”! Indeed in other parts of the Bible, God is depicted as an eagle that stirs up its nest (see Deuteronomy 32,11 )

Does it mean that while the land was totally enveloped by the seawater, the Spirit of God like a bird deposited something in the water? Who knows? Surely he was doing something  that would allow the land to become lush and fertile, just like God!

Simone Venturini

Scrittore

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