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Abyss and darkness (Genesis chap. 1, verse 2)

The second sentence of the first chapter of the Bible is usually translated as: and darkness covered the abyss. There are two words that need to be explained, or better to say, they need to be imagined. The ancient Jews, in fact, didn’t use concepts or ideas to figure reality, but fed their minds with images taken form the landscape around them.

Furthermore, the sentences of the second verse should not be taken separately, because they are part of a mosaic, which needs to be contemplated as a whole if you want to admire all its beauty. However, as the title of this blog’s section makes clear, we will explain the Bible word by word, or where we can’t do it, as in this case, sentence by sentence.

Darkness – in Hebrew chòsheq – is not the light’s absence, as when I’m inside a room and someone turns off the lights before leaving. In the Bible, darkness is a mysteririous presence, a reality and not just a symbol. In fact, darkness doesn’t represent evil, because darkness is evil, being almost its substance (see Proverbs chap. 2, verse 13; chap. 20, verse 20; Wisdom chap 17, verse 2 and 16; Sirach chap. 11, verse 16). Of course, according to Hebrews the night was a symbol of the darkness, but they knew that the darkness was a sinister presence, certainly not derived from God …

So darkness – you may imagine it like dense plumes of smoke, such as those of the burning oil – was over the deep, in Hebrew tehòm. In the Bible the abyss is always imagined as the deep and mysterious seawater (see. Job chap. 28, verse 14; chap. 38, verse 16; chap. 38, verse 30; Wisdom chap. 10, verse 9). In short, here it is described not the planet earth with continents, but only a flat table – so the ancients imagined the earth – entirely covered by seawater and dominated by darkness … this is the scenario before God created the entire habitat of the earth, including humans.

Simone Venturini


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