The Creation of Language and Language without Time: Metaphysics and Metapragmatics in Genesis 1

Biblical Interpretation: A Journal of Contemporary Approaches vol. 20 issue 3 pp. 205-225 (July 2012)

22 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2010 Last revised: 30 Oct 2019

See all articles by Jonathan Yovel

Jonathan Yovel

NYU School of Law - Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice; University of Haifa - Faculty of Law; Yale Law School

Abstract

The linguistic creation narrative of the world in Genesis 1 is a radical performance that is unique among creation narratives of the world, and rests largely under-explained. This essay explores the relations between language, theology and metaphysical commitments in Genesis 1:3. It makes two related arguments regarding the relation of language to temporality and existence. The first offers a new explanation for language being the instrument of creation ex nihilo to begin with (since omnipotence could create by sheer performative will). It argues that fiat lux should be understood as the necessary instant of the metalinguistic creation of language itself. The second explores how Biblical Hebrew constructs language that is free of metaphysical commitments in order to designate divine action that does not presuppose temporality.

Readers who approach the Biblical text in translations that presuppose temporal categories in their grammatical forms (such as English and other Germanic languages), and thus in their metaphysical commitments, miss this essential point about the nature of creation entirely. They read a story in which divinity operates within time, as it metaphysical categories logically and temporally precede creation. This is a gravely flawed story of the relation between divinity and creation. The essay explores several efforts to remedy this flaw.

Keywords: Biblical creation, Genesis, Metaphisics and language, Biblical Hebrew, Atemporality, Mimesis, Translation, Omnipotence, Metalanguage, Metapragmatics, Linguistic performativity, Grammatical aspects, Aorist aspect, Perfective aspect, Aktionsart

Suggested Citation

Yovel, Jonathan, The Creation of Language and Language without Time: Metaphysics and Metapragmatics in Genesis 1. Biblical Interpretation: A Journal of Contemporary Approaches vol. 20 issue 3 pp. 205-225 (July 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1551612 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1551612

Jonathan Yovel (Contact Author)

NYU School of Law - Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice ( email )

New York
United States

University of Haifa - Faculty of Law ( email )

Mount Carmel
Haifa, 31905
Israel

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203.435.5911 (Phone)

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