Saturday, 26 March 2016

Seeing the Unseen

I'm still reading Genesis from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, and paying particular attention to the opening chapter. (I'm drafting a translation which I'll post here when it's done).

The Hebrew text has a wonderful phrase in the opening lines: "the earth was tohu wa-bohu" - usually translated "formless and void". The Greek text takes a somewhat different angle:
ἡ δὲ γῆ ἦν ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος. (Gen 1.2)
ē de gē ēn aoratos kai akataskeuastos
Which means "the earth was unseen / invisible and unformed."

"Unformed" clearly mirrors the "formless" (bohu) of the Hebrew original. But "unseen" is a fresh take on the story. And it's interesting, having noticed that, to read through the rest of Genesis 1 and discover how important seeing is: the creation of light as the beginning of the creative acts; the recurring refrain that "God saw all that he had made"; the creation of human beings in God's "image" and "likeness" (both visual / seeing words).

And that's even more tantalising when you throw in the importance of seeing to Greek philosophy, particularly in Plato. Remember the Allegory of the Cave from the Republic? Truth, for Plato, is revealed when we learn to see well. And that fed into the whole Christian tradition of contemplation, which was all about learning to look upon God and find God looking upon us. And that in turn led to the theological idea of the Beatific Vision, which is rarely talked about today but for a long time was the classic understanding of the consummation of the Christian life: a vision of God.

An "unseen" world which comes into being by being "seen". Human beings imaging the unseen God, learning to look upon him who cannot be looked upon, and being perfected in perfect vision. I love it!

Image: Moisey (Делал сам) via Wikimedia Commons

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