In this series of posts I intend to look at ancient Israelite concepts concerning creation by exploring two important biblical creation texts—Genesis 1.1-2.4a and Genesis 2.4b-3. Mormon scholars have been especially interested in understanding ancient Israelite conceptions about creation for several reasons. For instance, William Clayton’s report of a sermon that Joseph Smith gave during King Follett’s funeral on April 7th, 1844 states that:
“Learned Doctors tell us God created the heavens & earth out of nothing. They account it blasphemy to contradict the idea—They will call you a fool—You ask them why they say don’t the Bible say he created the world & they infer that it must be out of nothing. The word create came from the word Barau—don’t mean so—it means to organize—same as man would use to build a ship—hence we infer that God had materials to organize from—chaos—chaotic matter.—element had an existence from the time he had. The pure pure principles of element are principles that never can be destroyed—they may be organized and re organized = but not destroyed.” 
Here Joseph Smith argues that the verb translated “created” in Genesis 1.1 (Hebrew bara’) means “to organize,” not to create something out of (absolute) nothing. As Joseph Smith himself recognizes, his interpretation of creation in Genesis conflicts with the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo—or “creation out of nothing”—which has been a common understanding of God’s manner of creating in the broader Judeo-Christian tradition since the early Middle Ages.
In this series of posts I thus want to bring further attention to several of these studies by Mormon scholars, as well as those arguments and conclusions of biblical scholars concerning ancient Israelite ideas pertaining to creation which they utilize. Therefore, I will summarize those portions of these articles that I believe are most important for understanding creation in Genesis 1-3 in its socio-historical context. However, I also intend to supplement these discussions by drawing on and providing further relevant information and arguments from biblical scholarship. For reference, the most important articles (in my judgment) from a Mormon perspective concerning creation in the Hebrew Bible, and especially creation in Genesis 1-3, are by Kevin Barney, Keith Norman, and Blake Ostler. Kevin’s most relevant article may be found here; Keith’s article may be found here; and Blake’s article may be found here. I will draw heavily from these scholars’ articles in certain segments of this series; also, I do not intend to summarize all of their arguments which may be of some relevance. Therefore, I recommend you read their articles when you have a chance.
Finally, as always, feel free to add comments following the post.
The very first word of the Bible in Genesis 1.1 is bereshit, rendered in the King James Version of as “In the beginning.”  Bereshit is a compound preposition composed of the preposition be (meaning “in,” “at,” “on,” or “while”) and the noun reshit (meaning “beginning” or “first”). As it currently stands vocalized, the word is in what is termed grammatically as the “construct state.” For those without a Hebrew grammatical background (or another relevant Semitic language), when a noun is in the construct state, as bereshit is vocalized here, the word is grammatically bound to a following word or phrase, in a manner somewhat analogous to the genitival construction in classical languages. Thus the passage says more literally: “in/at the beginning of.” In his influential commentary in the Anchor Bible series, biblical scholar E.A. Speiser explains:
“The first word of Genesis, and hence the first word in the Hebrew Bible as a unit, is vocalized as beresit. Grammatically, this is evidently in the construct state. . .Thus, the sense of this particular initial term is, or should be, “At the beginning of. . .,” or “When,” and not “In/At the beginning”; the absolute form with adverbial connotation would be bare’sit. As the text is now vocalized, therefore, the Hebrew Bible starts out with a dependent clause.” 
It must be remembered, however, as Speiser goes on to explain, that vowel points are not original to the consonantal text. Therefore, the current vocalization in itself is not sufficient evidence that bereshit is in the construct state. However, relevant grammatical evidence for bereshit strongly indicates that it is, in fact, in the construct state and thus introducing a temporal clause. For instance, bereshit occurs four other times in biblical literature (Jeremiah 26.1; 27.1; 28.1; 49.34), and in each of these occurrences the word is clearly in the construct state introducing a temporal clause. Furthermore, the word noun reshit (which, as mentioned, is one of the elements of the compound preposition bereshit) occurs around fifty times in the Bible, and it is virtually always in the construct state as well. This too strongly encourage us to take bereshit as introducing a temporal clause, and not as introducing an absolute beginning in a metphysical sense.
 Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1994), p. 359.
 For the subsequent analysis, I recommend also reading Blake Ostler’s discussion which can be accessed at http://www.fairlds.org/New_Mormon_Challenge/TNMC04.html. See his section entitled “3.2.1 The Argument from beresit as a Temporal Clause.”
 E. A. Speiser, Genesis: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (The Anchor Bible Vol. 1) (Garden City: Doubleday and Co., 1964), pg 12.