Genesis 1.1, again

Professor Kenneth Turner of Bryan College emailed me recently about another subtle feature in the grammar of Gen 1.1, given in (1).

(1) Gen 1:1

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃

He and his students have been working through the various issues, and reading my VT article and some older posts I made here and here, and they came up with a fascinating question: does the disjunctive accent on ראשׁית (which is a טפחא) provide any support for taking the word as the free or bound form?

Now, I must admit that while I have read by the טעמים since my first year of graduate school (when I learned how they worked and how to chant them from Michael Fox), I don’t claim to understand all the subtleties of their patterns. I’m fairly sure that B. Elan Dresher’s argument that they are essentially prosodic is right, or at least, heading in the right direction. But beyond that, I’m not always sure what the טעמים are indicating.

The question by Professor Turner is the second טעם question in two weeks. The first one was by Professor Gary Rendsburg (Rutgers), who asked me about the possible relative use of זה in Exod 13.8, given in (2).

(2) Exod 13.8

וְהִגַּדְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֖וּא לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּעֲב֣וּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂ֤ה יְהוָה֙ לִ֔י בְּצֵאתִ֖י מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃

The problem here, as in Gen 1.1, is the presence of a disjunctive accent (in this case, a רביע) on the word in question. The two issues are closely related: 1) can a bound word carry a disjunctive accent?, and 2) can the relative element carry a disjunctive accent?

Using the powerful yet easy-to-use Accordance Bible software and the Westminster tagged text, I performed two simple searches, the first for a bound noun with a טפחא, the second for אשׁר with a טפחא. The results for each were determinative: 2301 examples of a bound noun with טפחא, as in (3), occur in Westminster’s electronic Leningrad text and 251 examples of אשׁר with טפחא occur, as in (4).

(3) Gen 1.20

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים יִשְׁרְצ֣וּ הַמַּ֔יִם שֶׁ֖רֶץ נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֑ה וְעוֹף֙ יְעוֹפֵ֣ף עַל־הָאָ֔רֶץ עַל־פְּנֵ֖י רְקִ֥יעַ הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃

(4) Gen 1.7

‏ וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִים֮ אֶת־הָרָקִיעַ֒ וַיַּבְדֵּ֗ל בֵּ֤ין הַמַּ֙יִם֙ אֲשֶׁר֙ מִתַּ֣חַת לָרָקִ֔יעַ וּבֵ֣ין הַמַּ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֖ר מֵעַ֣ל לָרָקִ֑יעַ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן׃

It seems clear to me that the pattern of the טעם depends on the prosodic features of the context before and especially after the bound noun or אשׁר. That is, if what follows is considered to be a tighter prosodic unit, as with ברא אלהים in Gen 1.1, then those two words will have the conjunctive-disjunctive pair and the preceding בראשׁית will have a disjunctive to indicate that it is a preceding prosodic unit. Or, in cases of very short phrases, as with ‏וּבְנֵ֖י גֹּ֑מֶר in Gen 10.3, the disjunctive must reflect a principle of at least one disjunctive within an אתנחתא unit. Heady stuff, these principles of the טעמים.

Edited addition: For Gen 1.1 and Exod 13.8, though, the critical point is that the disjunctive accent on the two words in question absolutely does not prohibit my relative analyses.

Below are the screenshots of the two Accordance searches, for those interested in seeing the results themselves. Note that you made need to consult the Accordance Help to find the right key-strokes to enter the accents into the Character field (for these searches, I used the regular, narrow, and wide versions of טפחא in order to cover the bases).

Bound Noun and Tipha Accent

אשׁר and Tipha Accent

** I forgot to add the reference for Dresher:

Dresher, Bezalel Elan. 1994. The Prosodic Basis of the Tiberian Hebrew System of Accents. Language 70 (1): 1-52.

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13 Responses to “Genesis 1.1, again”

  1. Bob MacDonald Says:

    What if the te’amim are music? the theory of Suzanne Haik Vantoura has to my mind been amply proven. The Bereshit is absolutely beautiful. There are several links and a terribly brief overview here – must deal with the oven! [prior comment lost]

  2. robertholmstedt Says:

    Bob,
    I think it’s clear that the musical qualities of the accents are a later development, at least in terms of the sequences we are aware of. The simplest evidence for this comes from the inverse relationship between the priority level of the disjunctives and their notes — the more important, the less notes. It’s counter-intuitive.

  3. Bob MacDonald Says:

    The more important the fewer notes. Robert, I can’t see how this is relevant. The signs below the letters are one note each. The ones above (the lesser in importance) are ornaments. Ornaments always have a flourish. The argument in favour of the music is that it is there. I have lived with this since I first heard of them in 2010 and I recognize that there seems to be an 8th C CE barrier of sorts in the evidence, but it is not one that is impossible to understand especially if the music were considered a sealed item, there being no temple. I hope to follow this up ‘as long as I live’ to quote the psalmist. :)

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      Bob,
      Have you learned to chant the melodies in a synagogue or with someone trained in rabbinic cantillation? It is a fact that the tropes/melodies exist in inverse relationship to the important of the ta’am within the verse. For examples, the silluq and atnah have the simplest tropes and a lesser accent like zarqa has a comparatively elaborate trope.

      And I will add that it *is* relevant in that we do not know the medieval musical tropes that go along with the te’amim system. My point (which was admittedly oblique) was that music per se gets us no advantage in understanding the system over the prosodic analyses of Dresher. Thus, whether they were actually musical or reflected the recitation patterns is what is irrelevant.

      • Bob MacDonald Says:

        Thanks Robert – No, I am not following any particular synagogue tradition. They have significantly varied into many traditions in comparison with the theories of Suzanne Haik Vantoura who via a long experimentation c 1940-60 created her theory from the signs interpreted as chironomy. The results are like nothing ever heard in our time. Hear for instance David’s lament over Absalom – http://meafar.blogspot.ca/2012/11/theology-and-music.html

        Or listen to Esther Lamandier sing Genesis 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PexZW0ZKZ6E

        (It’s worth the 10 minutes)

      • robertholmstedt Says:

        Bob,
        Thank you for the links. Very interesting music. But I maintain that whatever the melodies were has little to do with my arguments. In the cases I’ve discussed in the post, there are thousands of bound nouns with a conjunctive accent (many different ones) and thousands with a disjunctive. There are thousands of ‘asher with a conjunctive accent and hundreds with a disjunctive. My point is that this, then, does not affect the analysis of the status of reshit in Gen 1.1 or the relative zeh in Exod 13.8, since it is the overall prosodic (or, if you want, musical) structure of the verse that is dictating the choice of the ta’am type on those words.

  4. simeon chavel Says:

    IIANM, the disjunctive note matches rabbinic interpretations that reshit is not the bound form but an independent noun and that the preposition bet is either instrumental or purpose. E.g. (1): Through / with the help of reshit God created … and reshit = Torah etc. (2) For the sake of reshit God created … and reshit = Israel etc.

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      Yes, I am well aware of that interpretation. I think we covered those texts 2 or 3 times in grad school when we had a search for a rabbinicist. It’s great fun and gives ones a fascinating window on rabbinic exegesis, but irrelevant for what the ancient Hebrew text actually meant.

      I should also add that my grammatical search in the post actually invalidates any claim that the disjunctive accent on ראשׁית supports its analysis as an absolute form. I think my point was missed.


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