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SBL e-journal

Emanuel Tov

(

2023

)

.

On What Day Did God Cease Working? – Genesis 2:2

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TheTorah.com

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https://thetorah.com/article/on-what-day-did-god-cease-working-genesis-2-2

APA e-journal

Emanuel Tov

,

,

,

"

On What Day Did God Cease Working? – Genesis 2:2

"

TheTorah.com

(

2023

)

.

https://thetorah.com/article/on-what-day-did-god-cease-working-genesis-2-2

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Series

Textual Criticism of the Torah: Ten Short Case Studies

On What Day Did God Cease Working? – Genesis 2:2

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On What Day Did God Cease Working? – Genesis 2:2

Following the six days of creation recounted in Genesis 1, we read of how God then rests, which provides an etiology (origin story) for Shabbat. But the texts differ regarding when, exactly, God ceased working:

Masoretic Text

Samaritan Pentateuch (+ LXX, Pesh)

בראשית ב:ב וַיְכַל אֱלֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה.

בראשית ב:ב ויכל אלהים ביום הששי מלאכתו אשר עשה וישבת ביום השביעי מכל מלאכתו אשר עשה.[1]

Gen 2:2 God completed, on the seventh day, the work that He had undertaken: [God] ceased on the seventh day from doing any of the work.

Gen 2:2 God completed, on the sixth day, the work that He had undertaken: [God] ceased on the seventh day from doing any of the work.

Umberto Cassuto argued that the poetic structure of the verses demonstrates that MT is the superior text in this case.[2] Both stichs contain “seventh” and express the same point, that God ceased working on this day. Furthermore, I will note that this parallelism continues in the next verse:

בראשית ב:ג וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת.
Gen 2:3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy—having ceased on it from all the work of creation that God had done.

The alternative reading “sixth day” of SP and other sources in Genesis 2:2 developed due to a theological problem: The phrase “God completed the work on the seventh day” implies that God did, in fact, work on that day. The problem is noted by Rashi in his commentary (ad loc.):

ר׳ שמעון אומר: בשר ודם שאינו יודע עתיו ורגעיו צריך להוסיף מחול על הקדש, הקדוש ברוך הוא שיודע עתותיו ורגעיו, נכנס בו כחוט השערה ונראה כאילו כלה בו ביום.
Rabbi Simon says: “Humans, who cannot determine time and moments exactly, need to treat [the final moments] of a regular day as if it were holy, but the Blessed Holy One, who knows time and moments exactly, worked until the seventh day entered by a hair’s breadth [and then stopped], and it seemed [to an observer] as if the work ceased on the [seventh] day.”
דבר אחר: מה היה העולם חסר מנוחה, באתה שבת באת מנוחה, כלתה ונגמרה המלאכה.
Another interpretation: What was the world lacking? Rest. Shabbat came and with it came rest, and in that sense, the work was completed on that day.

Both of Rashi’s interpretations try to avoid the implication that God actually did work on the seventh day. Assuming that MT is the earlier text, this is also what the SP as well as the Greek and Syriac translators (or their Vorlage) were trying to avoid, by changing “seventh” to “sixth.”[3]

The Talmud mentions the reading of the LXX as one of the ten changes that the Greek translators, each working on their own, made when translating the Torah for King Ptolemy:

בבלי מגילה ט. מעשה בתלמי המלך שכינס שבעים [ו]שנים זקנים והושיב{ו}ם בשבעים [ו]שנים בתים ולא גילה להם על מה כינסם. נכנס אצל כל אחד ואמ[ר] להן כתבו לי תורת משה רבכם. נתן הק'ב'ה' עצה בלב כל אחד ואחד והסכימה דעתם לדעת אחת וכתבו לו... ויכל ביום הששי וישבת ביו[ם] השב[יעי]...[4]
b. Megillah 9a It happened with King Ptolemy that he gathered 72 elders and sat them in 72 houses and didn’t tell them why. He entered each room and said to them: “Write for me the Torah of Moses your teacher [in Greek].” The Blessed Holy One placed a wise policy in the hearts of each, and they all agreed to one common understanding. Thus they wrote… “God completed [his work] on the sixth day, ceased on the seventh day”…

Further, the textual rule of thumb known as lectio difficilior potior (the more difficult reading is the stronger one) applies here. It is hard to understand why a scribe would have changed an understandable reading “sixth” to a contextually difficult “seventh,” but it is easy to understand a change in the opposite direction, with some scribes (and possibly translators) finding it difficult to imagine God working on the seventh day, even for a moment, and therefore correcting the primary reading to a theologically easier one.

Published

August 24, 2023

|

Last Updated

April 3, 2024

Footnotes

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Prof. Emanuel Tov is J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible (emeritus) in the Dept. of Bible at the Hebrew University, where he received his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies. He was the editor of 33 volumes of Discoveries in the Judean Desert. Among his many publications are, Scribal Practices and Approaches Reflected in the Texts Found in the Judean Desert, Textual Criticism of the Bible: An Introduction, The Biblical Encyclopaedia Library 31 and The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research.