Thirty Days of First Lines: Day 30

As I finish this edition of “30 Days” I should say a bit about my “first line test.” It is a response to the question, “Given the vast riches available to read, how do you decide?” I have, quite arbitrarily, adopted an approach of reading the first line and seeing if–under a very generous conception–it grabs me, and whether the author took some care over it. This, of course, can be quite unfair: some good books have merely serviceable first lines and turn out to be fine reads.

Still, a powerful first line is still one of the great pleasures of literature and writers take them seriously. Small differences matter, sometimes profoundly. As evidence, and also because it’s fun, here’s a sample of English versions of the “ur first line,” that of Genesis. Perhaps the simplest and the most complicated of all.

This compilation is drawn from web sources, including http://www.biblegateway.com, which I think is meant for religious study. But also nice for comp lit in a nutshell.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. New International Version (NIV)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (21st Century KJV)

In the beginning God (prepared, formed, fashioned, and) created the heavens and the earth. (Amplified Bible)

When God began to create[a] the heavens and the earth— 2 the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— 3 God said, “Let there be light.” (Common English Bible)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Complete Jewish Bible)

In the beginning God created heaven, and earth. Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)

God created the sky and the earth. At first, the earth was completely empty. Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

In the beginning [or In the beginning when] God created [this Hebrew verb is used only when God is the one creating] the ·sky [heavens] and the earth. Expanded Bible (EXB)

In the beginning, when God created the universe,[a] 2 the earth was formless and desolate. Good News Translation (GNT)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (KJV)

When God began creating[a] the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was[b] a shapeless, chaotic mass,* with the Spirit of God brooding over the dark vapors.* (Living Bible (TLB)

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. (The Message (MSG))

In the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth. Names of God Bible (NOG)

In the beginning God created the sky and the earth. New Century Version (NCV)

In the beginning God made from nothing the heavens and the earth. New Life Version (NLV)

In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

In the beginning Elohim created hashomayim (the heavens, Himel) and haaretz (the earth). Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)

In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below. Here’s what happened: (The Voice)

In the beginning God made of nought heaven and earth. (In the beginning God made out of nothing the heavens and the earth.)

2 Forsooth the earth was idle and void, and darknesses were on the face of (the) depth; and the Spirit of the Lord was borne on the waters [and the Spirit of God was borne upon the waters]. (Wycliffe Bible (WYC))

In the beginning of God’s preparing the heavens and the earth –Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱ־לֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ (The original Hebrew)

The Polyglot Bible

The Polyglot Bible

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