Genesis 1:1 -- "heaven" or "heavens"?

elroy

Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
In the original Hebrew, Genesis 1:1 uses the plural form of "heaven," which is still the word used for "heaven" or "sky" in Modern Hebrew:

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ‎

This has been preserved in the most well-known English and Arabic translations of the verse, even though the plural forms are not otherwise widespread in contemporary usage:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
في البدء خلق الله السموات والأرض

I've just discovered that in Hungarian, the singular form of the word is used and that the plural is not used because it would be ungrammatical.

In the most well-known Arabic translation of the Bible, John 1:1 violates Arabic grammar by using a masculine verb with the subject الكلمة ("the Word"), a feminine word in Arabic, because here the reference is to God and God is masculine. The translators obviously saw fit to compromise grammaticality for what they believed to be theological accuracy. The Hungarian translator(s) of Genesis 1:1 made a different decision.

How has Genesis 1:1 been translated into other languages? Do translations in other languages use "heaven" or "heavens"?
 
  • Yendred

    Senior Member
    Français - France
    In French, both forms can be found, depending on the translation:
    Au commencement, Dieu créa le ciel et la terre (24000 results in Google)
    Au commencement, Dieu créa les cieux et la terre (18000 results in Google)
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    How has Genesis 1:1 been translated into other languages?
    Septuagint (Koine Greek) has ουρανον - the accusative singular form (sky, Heaven). Old Church Slavonic has naturally conveyed it as небо (nébo, nom./acc. sg.), and the Sinodal Russian translation also keeps it as nébo (nom./acc. sg.):
    В начале сотворил Бог небо и землю.

    It should be noted that the plural form (skies, Heavens) is also possible in Greek, Church Slavonic and Russian, and is used, for example, in Lord's prayer. However, it seems that the authority of Septuagint prevents using it in Genesis 1:1.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Why? / How so? (I'm not sure what you mean.)
    Septuagint is believed to have been succesfully translated (from Hebrew to Koine Greek) by God's intervention. Therefore attempts to revise this translation are unwelcome in traditionalist Christianity and in Orthodox Christianity in particular. Masoretic Hebrew texts are normally used only to supplement the correct translation of Septuagint into the target language.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Oh, you were talking about revising the translation. Thanks for clarifying.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    In Catalan, both singular and plural forms are also found in different bibles.

    Al principi, Déu va crear el cel i la terra.
    En el principi Déu creà els cels i la terra.
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    Maybe I should add that although nefoedd is plur., any following qualifying adjective will be in the fem. sing.

    Y nefoedd
    - Heaven/The heavens
    Nefoedd wen! - Good Heavens! (Lit. 'Heavens' 'white' fem. sing. adj.)

    Nefoedd gwynion!
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    It is in this context - as usually of course adjectives agree in gender and number with their noun in Welsh. (That said, the fem. plur. adj. has never existed in Welsh either. We have to use the masc. plur.)
     

    Circunflejo

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Castilla
    In Spanish both forms can be found. In the web of the Vatican the easy to find version in Spanish of the bible (an Argentinian translation) makes use of the singular (cielo) while the hidden version that you can still find through a good search engine makes use of the plural (cielos). In other words, traditionally, it was cielos but they changed it to cielo.
     

    raamez

    Senior Member
    Arabic (Syria)
    Worth mentioning that Hebrew שמים (heaven/sky) has no singular form. It's always plural, in any context and in both Biblical and Modern Hebrew.
    Interesting! in Arabic the usage of the plural form is very rare outside religious context. In fact in the Quran it is also الأرض والسماوات earth and skies(heavens) although the notion of seven "earths" in contrast to the seven skies also exist in Islam.
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    In fact in the Quran it is also الأرض والسماوات earth and skies(heavens) although the notion of seven "earths" in contrast to the seven skies also exist in Islam.

    ________

    This is why you have the English expression, "Seventh heaven"

    Definition of SEVENTH HEAVEN
     
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    numerator

    Senior Member
    Hungarian, Slovak
    I've just discovered that in Hungarian, the singular form of the word is used and that the plural is not used because it would be ungrammatical.
    It appears that all Hungarian translations of Gn 1:1 indeed consistently use the singular.

    I have no hypothesis as to why; I wouldn't consider a plural version ungrammatical. Both egek 'skies' and mennyek 'heavens' are quite possible in Hungarian and are freely used not just elsewhere in the Bible, but also in common speech.
     

    numerator

    Senior Member
    Hungarian, Slovak
    Oh, and to add to the translation zoo here, most Slovak translations of Gn 1:1 also use the singular nebo. Just one rarely used translation has plural nebesia.

    The sky/heaven distinction would also be interesting cross-linguistically, but that would merit its own thread.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Oh, and to add to the translation zoo here, most Slovak translations of Gn 1:1 also use the singular nebo. Just one rarely used translation has plural nebesia.

    The sky/heaven distinction would also be interesting cross-linguistically, but that would merit its own thread.
    Indeed, why don't you start a thread on that topic?
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    Oh, and to add to the translation zoo here, most Slovak translations of Gn 1:1 also use the singular nebo. Just one rarely used translation has plural nebesia.

    The sky/heaven distinction would also be interesting cross-linguistically, but that would merit its own thread.

    Just curious, @numerator.

    If you look upstream, I state that the Cymraeg/Welsh for 'heaven' is 'nef' /ne:v/.

    Considering the comment as to Slovak (nebo) can we establish a Celtic connection/root in the Slovak word? (The interchange of < b> /b/ and <f> /v/ is well established in the Indo-European languages (and even within them, where, e.g.in Welsh Soft Mutation of < b> is <f>.

    I'm also happy to contribute to any thread you may start with regard to sky/heaven, as we distinguish between the two as well.

    PS Of course, Celts didn't believe in 'heaven' (in the Abrahamic religions' sense). Rather, upon passing on (the soul is immortal, it's only the body which dies), the soul enters 'the Otherworld' or 'the other world' - which is at one and the same time 'here present' and 'there'.
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    Well, on behalf of the Celts, nef is from Celtic *nem-. Again we notice the interplay of /b/, /v/ and /m/ - so obviously an old word. (See also the idea of nemeton 'the sanctuary', a place-name element common in 'Celtic Europe', e.g. Nanterre in France.)

    Am sure this would be food and drink to @Margrave if he's around! ;)
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    In Hebrew the word for "heaven" is plurale tantum, that is: plural in form but singular in meaning. The same is true of the word for "water". The translators have had to decide whether to translate them morphologically ("heavens", "waters") or according to context ("heaven", "water"). There is no reason to believe that the ancient Hebrews thought that there is more than one heaven.
     

    raamez

    Senior Member
    Arabic (Syria)
    In Hebrew the word for "heaven" is plurale tantum, that is: plural in form but singular in meaning. The same is true of the word for "water". The translators have had to decide whether to translate them morphologically ("heavens", "waters") or according to context ("heaven", "water"). There is no reason to believe that the ancient Hebrews thought that there is more than one heaven.
    Interesting! I wonder then where the Arabs got the idea of seven earths and seven skies as it is mentioned so in the Quran:
    اللَّهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ وَمِنَ الْأَرْضِ مِثْلَهُنَّ
    Allah is the one who has created seven skies and their like from earth ...
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    American English (New England and NYC)
    The idea of "seven heavens" appears in Mesopotamian and ancient Greek astronomy and cosmology as well as in the Talmud, so I expect that the idea was easily available for inclusion in the Quran.
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    The idea of "seven heavens" appears in Mesopotamian and ancient Greek astronomy and cosmology as well as in the Talmud, so I expect that the idea was easily available for inclusion in the Quran.


    The “seven heavens”, corresponding to the seven planets, is, as you say, an old concept in the Near East. Most of the Qur’an commentators see the “seven earths” as seven (flat) earths supposedly piled on top of each other, but I suspect that the text in 65, 12 refers to something different.
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    Septuagint is believed to have been succesfully translated (from Hebrew to Koine Greek) by God's intervention. Therefore attempts to revise this translation are unwelcome in traditionalist Christianity and in Orthodox Christianity in particular. Masoretic Hebrew texts are normally used only to supplement the correct translation of Septuagint into the target language.

    So there is no Greek translation of the OT other than the Septuagint??
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    Interesting! I wonder then where the Arabs got the idea of seven earths and seven skies as it is mentioned so in the Quran:

    Judaism and Christianity already had the idea of the 'seven heavens' before Islam. The issue @fdb raises is whether this is what Genesis 1:1 was referring to or whether the idea of 'seven heavens' developed later.
     

    AutumnOwl

    Senior Member
    Swedish, Finnish
    All three official Swedish translations of the Bible uses "himmel" (heaven) in singular. Well, I couldn't find the original first translation from 1541 (Gustav Vasas Bibel, but the revised version from 1703 (Karl XII:s Bibel) is online, as well as the new translation from 1917 (Kyrkobibeln, or Gustav V:s Bible) and the newest from 2000 (Bibel 2000, or Carl XVI Gustaf:s Bible) are available online.

    In Bibel 2000, there are seven "himlen, himlarnas himmel" (the heaven, the heavens of heaven) in the Old Testament, while "himlar" is mentioned six times, in the New Testament.
     
    Origen’s Hexapla incorporates four ancient Greek translations: Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, as well as the Septuagint. There are also translations of the Bible in Modern Greek, but these are not generally approved by the Orthodox clergy.
    True, the authoritative OT text in the Orthodox Church is the Septuagint, only the Septuagint bears the Oecumenical Patriarch's seal of approval
     

    Margrave

    Senior Member
    Portuguese
    @Welsh_Sion thank you for calling me into this very interesting thread. After a couple of hellish days due to other businesses, I feel good now thinking about the heavens! :)

    @Awwal12 Concerning the stem neb- it could come from PIE *nebh- as already mentioned, which means "fog", Latin nebula, Portuguese névoa (mist), Portuguese neblina (<*nebulina, thin mist), Galician toponymy Nibueiro (mount). The Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic (Kroonen), mentions Nebel coming directly from PIE. I think that while there are imports of Latin words into Celtic, Germanic and Slavic languages, I doubt this could have happen with the stem *nebh-.

    As @numerator proposed to discuss about the difference between "heaven" and "sky", I would like to contribute with some information on how the Celtic peoples thought about the same subject:

    @fdb as you mention seven is the usual mythic number of Near East religions. It is so among some South American Indians and in India (Hinduism) too, while for the Celtics and Germanics nine is the mythic number.

    Paradise vs Heaven vs Sky: Paradise is an island (Abalon) sometimes situated after the nine last waves of the sea before the sky meets the sea (the horizon). Abalon was the Paradise, but not the spiritual heaven we know from Christian religion. It was the Isle of the Apples (=abalon). Why apples? What better Paradise than a place where they would rest in peace drinking apple cider from their typically big beverage cauldrons and feasting forever and ever. There was no heaven, but there was Paradise. Gaulish legend tells how big birds would take the souls of the deceased to Abalon. Therefore, the sky was the path to Paradise (Abalon) but not the Paradise itself.

    As Welsh Sion mentions, the Otherworld was believed to be "there" and "here". During the Samain (Gamain) 3-day feast (1 to 3rd November) the deceased were believed to visit their living relatives back home to check if everybody was ok and in good health. Until the 19th in some regions of Ireland, people set a table near the fireplace with food and beverages so their deceased ancestors could sit and enjoy their stay. Cajuns came from several regions of France, but mainly from Celtic Bretagne. Until the 1950's on the All Saints Day (la Toussaint) whole Cajun families would go clean the resting place of their ancestors, decorate it with flowers and do a picnic there so everybody, deceased and living ones, would feast happily together. Romans imposed us the final and dramatic separation between the living and dead, when those that crossed the river Hades could never go back and on drinking its water would forget all their past. The Celts were likely to live with their ancestors who they believed were "there" but also here "here", as in a big and happy family. :)

    Hi @elroy , in Portuguese, it depends on the Bible version, a few mention "céu" (heaven), while most mention "céus" (heavens), in Almeida Corrigida Fiel, NVI and the translation into Portuguese of the King James Bible. Usually, in Portuguese céu can be sky and heaven while céus is almost always heaven only. However, in the Portuguese Paternostro it is céu (heaven, singular): Pai nosso que estais no céu.
     
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