David Toshio Tsumura, Creation and Destruction: A Reappraisal of the Chaoskampf Theory in the Old Testament.
(Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2005). Pp. xviii + 214. Cloth, US$32.50. ISBN: 1-57506-106-6.
Reviewed by Karljürgen G. Feuerherm
Wilfrid Laurier University

The present work, the culmination of three decades of research, is divided into two parts. Part I is a revision of The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A Linguistic Investigation (JSOT 83; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989) by the same author. Part II, a new addition, discusses the Chaoskampf motif in poetic texts. Since Part I represents nearly three-quarters of the total content, it will form the basis for the major portion of this review even though its predecessor may be known to some readers.

Part I is on the whole very similar to the predecessor work. Structurally, the chapter divisions remain the same, though the original final chapter of ‘Summary and Conclusions’ has been disposed of in favour of end-of-chapter summaries. Content-wise, discussions have been to some extent expanded and updated, but remain otherwise substantially identical. There are seven chapters to this part.

‘1: The Earth in Genesis 1’ examines the roots *THW and *BHW, and concludes that the תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ‎ of Gen. 1:2 ‘simply means “emptiness”… a desolate and empty place,’ communicating an initial situation of ‘not yet’ (35), rather than a condition of primeval chaos which is in need of organising, as has often been argued.

‘2: The Waters in Genesis 1’ evaluates the use of *THM in Biblical Hebrew, particularly in relation to the Babylonian connection in Enūma Eliš suggested by Hermann Gunkel and followed by others since. The author shows that the common term for ‘sea’ in West Semitic is *YMM rather than *THM, effectively disposing of the alluded-to mythological connection as a basis for exegesis of Genesis 1, since the word yam does not appear in the context under examination.

Having discussed the earth in the first chapter and the waters in the second, the author proceeds to their interrelationship, examining it in great detail in ‘3: The Earth-Waters-rûaḥ in Genesis 1’ (formerly ‘The Earth-Waters Relationship in Genesis 1’), concluding with an examination of the role of God’s in the creative process. רוּחַ‎ is ultimately concluded to be the breath of God, preparing for the creative utterance which immediately follows.

With ‘4: The Earth in Genesis 2’ (formerly qualified as ‘Earth in a bare state,’ now become a subsection within the chapter), the argument moves to material from the next Biblical chapter. Tsumura’s analysis of the structure of Gen 2:5–6 alongside the semantic interplay of שָׂדֶה ,אֶרֶץ‎ and אֲדָמָה‎ suggests that the narrative of Genesis 2 parallels that of Genesis 1 in terms of its description of the primordial state of the earth: there being neither shrub nor plant, and no human to till the land, that is, it being ‘unproductive in concrete terms’ (84), is tantamount to the desolation and emptiness discussed above.

‘5: The Waters in Genesis 2’ takes the next logical step in the comparison, the bulk of the discussion centring on the etymology of אֵד‎. Various theories are considered and the pros and cons weighed. Ultimately, Tsumura comes to no certain conclusion, suggesting as the least of evils that אֵד‎ be taken as direct loan from Sumerian with a meaning akin to ‘water flooding out of the subterranean ocean’ (106), a tantalising if speculative notion.

The parallel to the first three chapters is completed in ‘6: The Earth-Waters Relationship in Genesis 2.’ The interpretation of אֵד‎ concluding the previous chapter is picked up and examined for fit in terms of context—passing the test—and the term עֵדֶן‎ comes under the microscope, but once again without there being any conclusive resolution. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the etymologies of Tigris and Euphrates and a summary of the role of water in Genesis 2.

The final chapter of Part I, ‘7: God and the Waters,’ compares God’s relationship with water in Genesis 1 and 2 with various extra-biblical materials, focussing in particular on similarities and differences between the biblical God and creator or water-related deities Hadad (and cognates), Marduk, Ea, and El. The overview is interesting, but in light of its brevity necessarily too superficial given the complexity of the subject matter to be taken as in any sense definitive: probably this is the least valuable part of the book.

Part II comprises four chapters which examine the potentiality of Chaoskampf as a basis for certain poetic passages. Psalms 18, 29, and 46 are discussed as is Habakkuk 3. In each case, the author demonstrates how any apparent connection to Chaoskampf motifs from other ancient Near Eastern cultures relies—in his assessment—on circular argumentation or unproven assumption at best. This part concludes with a discussion of the use of metaphor in poetry: the use of terms such as ‘war,’ ‘storm,’ and ‘flood’ are shown to be no more than metaphoric, and references to Rahab and Leviathan, while acknowledged as having some mythological origin, are taken as ‘simply … personification’ (192), or to put it another way, conscious use of mythological material as metaphor but without any intent to import (or accept) the mythology itself.

A brief summary of main points is given in the final chapter, ‘Conclusions.’

In general, the treatment of subject matter is sophisticated and comprehensive, comprising detailed etymological analysis of key terms through examination of possible cognates in Ugaritic, Arabic, Aramaic, Akkadian, Phoenician, Sumerian, and even Egyptian1 in light of various proposals and counter-proposals that have been made and meticulous discussion of poetic structures. The treatment is clear if somewhat technical, though the general reader of Biblical Hebrew will certainly appreciate the main points which are made; morphological analyses in particular are nicely balanced by an examination of semantic ranges and consideration of discourse analysis concerns.

The book does suffer from certain typographic problems (particularly in headers), and would, in my opinion, have benefited from the inclusion of an explicit bibliography (at the end of each chapter or of the work); I understand from the publisher that the omission was deliberate. These practical issues however do not detract from the value of the study, which should be considered a must-read by anyone interested in the issues tackled therein.


[1] The completeness of the study is shown in Tsumura’s brief discussion of certain theories claiming a relationship to Egyptian words as well, which he rejects as speculative at best.