Woven Text

In ancient Hebrew writings, emphasis was often shown by giving the text a specific shape which I like to call woven text because it resembles the weaving of fabric. This writing style is first found in the Torah, but it also appears in other books like the Talmud. It was considered to be beautiful while at the same time conveying more meaning with more depth.

The creation narrative

The creation narrative is an example of order created from chaos, just like what happens when a weaver takes single threads and gives them a shape by creating a piece of cloth.1

The narrative starts with a prologue, showing the initial situation

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Gen. 1:1-2

When God spoke His word, order was brought to the formless void earth. And not only did He bring order, but the way he did it was cleverly designed and ordered. The following table depicts the way he did this.

# Dividers/Vessels
motionless, singular
“And God called”
Population
moving, plural
unnamed
#
Celestial 1 Light & Darkness Sun, moon, stars 4
Middle divider 2 Waters above & below Fish & birds 5
Terrestrial 3 Land mass & waters
Plants
Land animals
Humans
6
7 Rest

During the first half of the week, God created vessels that were populated during the second half. These vessels were created through the separation of different elements, while they were populated during the second half of the week.

  1. Gen. 1:3-5: On the first day, light and darkness were separated. Before that, there were no days. As such, this is also the beginning of time measurement.
  2. Gen. 1:6-8: On the second day, the waters above (the sky) were separated from the waters below.
  3. Gen. 1:9-10: On the third day, God separated the water masses (oceans, lakes, etc.) from the dry land.Gen. 1:11-13: God finished this first 3-day cycle, the separations, by perfecting it through the creation of a first type of life: plants.
  4. Gen. 1:14-19: On the fourth day, God populated/filled the light and darkness by creating sun, moon and stars, and He specifically made them with the purpose of knowing the date and time.
  5. Gen. 1:20-23: On the fifth day, God filled the skies and the oceans by creating birds and fish.
  6. Gen. 1:24-25: On the sixth day, God populated the land mass with land animals.Gen. 1:26-31: He then finished the second 3-day cycle of creation by perfecting it through the creation of mankind.
  7. Gen. 2:1-3: On the seventh day, God rested. This is how He introduced the day of rest, the Shabbat (שַׁבָּת‎, Saturday).

On a symbolic level of interpretation, it is interesting to note that according to the creation narrative, there has never been an end to the Shabbat. As such, we are still living in the day of rest, as the words depicting a new day (“And there was evening and there was morning”) are missing at the end of the narrative.

After the first account, the story of the creation is told a second time from a slightly different perspective (Gen. 2:4-25), with a more detailed on the creation of humanity, while other parts that were told in the first account (Gen. 1) were deliberately left out here.

The plagues in Egypt

The usage of woven text becomes much clearer in another story of the bible, the account of the 10 plagues in Egypt.2 Here, the woven creation is systematically undone by countering the creation narrative.

To show it more easily, I numbered the plagues and coded them: the numbers 1-10 show which plague it is, the letters L, M & R describe the wording used and the letters A-C describe the level or place the plague comes from.

Announcement L
Public;
Changes in natural order
M
Public meets personal;
Changes in animal kingdom
R
Personal experience
Trigger Affected „Go to Pharaoh in the morning…“ „Come to Pharaoh!“ Nothing
A – Aaron points staff towards the earth Everyone 1-LA
Ex. 7:14-25

Blood
2-MA
Ex. 7:26-8:11

Frogs
3-RA
Ex. 8:12-15

Gnats (lice)
Plagues from the bottom up
B – Middle, no pointing
God
Only Egyptians 4-LB
Ex. 8:20-32

The mix (often translated as flies)
5-MB
Ex. 9:1-7

Death of livestock
6-RB
Ex. 9:8-12

Boils (skin sickness)
Plagues from the middle
C – Moses points towards the sky Only Egyptians 7-LC
Ex. 9:13-35

Hail
8-MC
Ex. 10:1-20

Locusts
9-RC
Ex. 10:21-29

Darkness (depression)
Plagues from the top down
God Only Egyptians 10
Ex. 11-12:32

Death of the firstborns, Pesach

More information could be added to this table, considering how deep the text is. However, it makes more sense to list some of the additional insights separately:

  • After plagues 1 to 5, Pharaoh decides to harden his own heart. After five plagues, it seems as if God is saying: “If you want to have a hardened heart, you can have it.” Knowing everything, God had announced to Moses that this would happen (Ex. 4.21), but he still gave Pharaoh a chance to change it.
  • Pharaoh’s magicians manage to duplicate plagues 1 and 2, but they can not undo them. Starting with plague 3, they can no longer duplicate them, while the text explicitly states they are affected by plague 6. Similarly, the devil always tries to fake God’s work but never truly manages to do so.
  • God systematically unweaves the creation story: He starts on the ground (Line A: Aaron points towards the earth) and ends in the sky (Line C: Moses points towards the sky). The signs not only invert creation, but negate it. The goal is to bring chaos upon Egypt:
L
Dividers/Vessels mix
M
Additional plagues
R
Attacks on the populated vessels
A – Earth (below) 1-LA
Ex. 7:14-25

Waters turn to blood
2-MA
Ex. 7:26-8:11
3-RA
Ex. 8:12-15

Earth produces gnats (lice)
B – Middle 4-LB
Ex. 8:20-32

The divider (above/below) becomes a mix (often translated as flies)
5-MB
Ex. 9:1-7
6-RB
Ex. 9:8-12

Moses & Aaron mix above and below: Boils (skin sickness)
C – Sky (above) 7-LC
Ex. 9:13-35

Hail (lights mixed with ice) falls from the sky
8-MC
Ex. 10:1-20
9-RC
Ex. 10:21-29

Darkness replaces light
10
Ex. 11-12:32

Death of the firstborns, Pesach

To illustrate the undoing of creation, these are a few examples:

  • The water that was separated from the earth on the third day of creation is transformed into blood during the first plague, therefore making it impure.
  • The earth from which land animals were created on the sixth day attacks them during the second plague.
  • The separations between the above and below (creation day 2, and population on day 5) are destroyed by mixing them again.
  • In Hebrew, the word used for “hail” (plague 7) is a mix between lights and ice. When those lights fall down, it is like an undoing of the creation of sun, moon and stars (creation day 4)
  • Darkness (plague 9) replaces light (creation day 1)
  • Finally, using a Sod level of interpretation, Jewish Scholars are saying the following about the 10th plague:1
    At the very end, God killed all the firstborn sons of the unbelieving Egyptians. This opposes the wording of creation’s prologue (Genesis 1.1: “In the Beginning, …”) by describing the end like an epilogue.
    The word for the firstborn son in Hebrew (Bakur בכור, from the same root comes “first fruits of the crop” בכר) is a synonym of “the beginning” (ראשית, ruashit). Jewish scholars claim that Genesis 1.1 could therefore be read as “Through the firstborn, God created the heavens and the earth”.1 As such, the death of the firstborn sons inverts the prologue of the creation narrative.

As the writing style of woven text shows, God is a God of order. He creates order to replace chaos, which he does systematically, in an ordered way.
Similar structures can be found throughout the bible, be it on the level of a few verses up to entire books. Finding them can be tricky, but they can help to show the intent of the message (e.g. the plagues are meant to undo creation).

References

1 Moshe Kline, The Lord Spoke to Moses in Tables: Part 1, Part 2

2 Chaver.com; The Ways of Holiness (Chapter 4: The Nine Plagues)

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