This post is the second in a series where I note Septuagintal passages of interest to students of Christian origins; e.g. texts where the New Testament quotes an LXX reading significantly different from the Masoretic reading, or texts where the LXX reading is needed to make sense of a NT text.
This week we turn to a text at the very beginning of the Greek Bible: Genesis 1:2, which reads: ἡ δὲ γῆ ἦν ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος, καὶ σκότος ἐπάνω τῆς ἀβύσσου, καὶ πνεῦμα Θεοῦ ἐπεφέρετο ἐπάνω τοῦ ὕδατος.
There is much of interest in this passage, but we will focus on the description of the earth (ἡ γῆ) as ἀόρατος, not visible. Its partner here, ἀκατασκεύαστος, could mean that the earth/land was empty, in the sense of unfurnished, or that it was not properly set up for living things, or that it was simply unstructured and chaotic, which would be a faithful rendering of the Hebrew tohu wabohu. More faithful, perhaps, is Aquila’s κένωμα καὶ οὐθέν, or Symmachus’s ἀργὸν καὶ ἀδιάκριτον.
Let’s look at some examples of the reception of this rendering:
Josephus (Antiquities 1.27) explains the earth’s invisibility as the result of the deep darkness which covered the earth. This darkness is blown away by the moving wind/spirit and, when God commands light, the earth becomes visible. Josephus’ understanding parallels ancient creation myths (e.g. Phoenician, Egyptian) recounting the first sunrise, which accompanied the emergence of the primordial hillock, previously covered in watery chaos.
Philo, on the other hand, takes the earth’s invisibility in a Platonic direction, perhaps in keeping with the intention of the LXX translator. In De opificio mundi 29, he reads Gen 1:2 as the creation of the model of the world, not the world itself. That is, Gen 1:1-5 describes the creation of the world of invisible forms, perceptible only to the intellect.
Hebrews 11:3 also appears to depend upon the LXX rendering: πίστει νοοῦμεν κατηρτίσθαι τοὺς αἰῶνας ῥήματι θεοῦ, εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων τὸ βλεπόμενον γεγονέναι. For Auctor, this truth is only perceptible to the believing intellect. He does not use the exact language of Gen 1:2, but the thought is similar. Thus, we have the visible not being made from things that are visible (τὰ φαινόμενα, a good Platonic term).
Joseph and Aseneth
In 12.2, Aseneth prays: Κύριε ὁ θεὸς τῶν αἰώνων . . . ὁ ἐξενέγκας τὰ ἀόρατα εἰς τὸ φῶς, ὁ ποιήσας τὰ πάντα καὶ φανερώσας τὰ ἀφανῆ. This appears to depend upon the LXX, and to combine Philo’s understanding of original creation as (metaphysically) invisible with Josephus’s emphasis on the introduction of light as the element which brings visibility.
Can you think of other texts where the LXX’s invisible earth may be in play?