What would “Genesis” be without the letter ‘E’?
Initial Instructions is a fresh rendering of the Bible’s beginning with an unusual twist: It doesn’t use the letter e.
Initial Instructions strikes words like “the,” “beginning”, “created,” “heavens,” and “earth” from its lexicon. Instead, Rabbi Joseph Prouser looks for original ways to render ancient meanings and reveal The Book of Genesis in a new way.
Why undertake this exercise? For Rabbi Prouser, a lipogram — a text that avoids a particular letter — offers the virtues of discipine and restraint.
“Clichés must be interpreted,” he explains in his introduction. “That which one would ordinarily express in a manner dictated by habit becomes a fresh, carefully crafted statement reflecting heightened consciousness. The resulting tone, language, and style are distinctive.
“The end product is (it is to be hoped) not a cumbersome composition — but rather fine poetry, like a sonnet the more beautiful and artful for its principled attention to form. Within the lipogram’s prescribed constraints, the writer moves freely, reveling in the innumerable possibilities which appear when boundaries are clearly established.”
“God’s initial act in His constantly unfolding work of cosmogony was formation of our world and its sky. All was, at that point, without form, and chaotic. It was profoundly dark, with God’s Spirit floating in a cosmic limbo. God said: “Now for light!” And it was light!! God saw how good His light was, distinguishing light from dark. God’s light was known as “day.” Dark was known as “night.” Following nightfall was morning. A first day!!”
“Rabbi Joseph Prouser has transformed an ancient word game into a vehicle for producing poetic beauty and new understandings of Biblical texts. His linguistic restraint becomes an eloquent metaphor for the self-control that facilitates both religious ritual and morality itself. Amid countless Biblical translations, Initial Instructions stands out for its originality, depth, and grace.”
— Rabbi Jonathan Rosenbaum, Ph.D., president emeritus, Gratz College
“A delightful translation! The lipogram makes the book of Genesis come alive. The freshness of this translation inspires the reader to see the stories anew. The words of the Bible escape from the confines of the familiar and commonplace and become vivid and stirring. This is a translation to savor, to read and re-read for years to come.”
—Rabbi Pamela Barmash, Ph.D., Professor of Hebrew Bible and Biblical Hebrew, Washington University in St. Louis
“I was particularly intrigued with the foundational message of the lipogram, that through discipline (and often through correction), we gain freedom. Rabbi Prouser talks about how discipline and demands often result in beauty, creativity and freedom. Thanks, Rabbi, for taking the time to teach and to share.”
— Charles W. Dahlquist II, national commissioner, Boy Scouts of America, and former Young Men general president, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)
“ An admirable and imaginative project. Rabbi Prouser breathes fresh life into familiar texts and allows us to take a step back and admire the artistry of the Scriptures.”
— Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, secretary, Orthodox Church in America
“The fresh translation invites us to newly hear and reconsider our ‘initial instructions.’”
–Dr. Charles Flynn, president, College of Mount Saint Vincent
God’s initial act in His constantly unfolding work of cosmogony was formation of our world and its sky. All was, at that point, without form, and chaotic. It was profoundly dark, with God’s Spirit floating in a cosmic limbo. God said: “Now for light!” And it was light!! God saw how good His light was, distinguishing light from dark. God’s light was known as “day.” Dark was known as “night.” Following nightfall was morning. A first day!!
God said: “Now, a distinct boundary for this sky, so as to distinguish among fluids!” God did form such a division, distinguishing our world’s fluid from fluids on high. And it was so. God’s boundary was known as “sky.” Following nightfall was morning. Day two!!
God said: “All fluids will form a solitary pool, allowing for dry land!” And it was so. This dry part is now known as “Land.” All that fluid, though, is commonly known as “ponds,” “brooks” and such (also: cricks, wadis, lagoons, gulfs, lochs and fjords). And God saw that this was good. God said: “Now plants will sprout (plants such as cactus and carnation, lilac and lily, poppy and poplar, moss and magnolia, acacia and ash…)! Plants which will, in turn, bring about additional off-shoots! And fruit orchards which will bring about young saplings of similar kind throughout this world (So many fruits: apricots, figs, casabas, citrons, and guavas; kumquats and mangos, papaya and passion fruit, pitanga and plum)!” And it was so. Plants did grow — and with just such a capacity for off-shoots! Fruits, too — with additional saplings to follow! And God saw that this was good. Following nightfall was morning. A third day!!
God said: “Now… lights for My sky, to distinguish day from night! Said lights will act as a natural clock of a daily and annual sort… also providing illumination for this world.” And it was so. God did form two such lights: a sun for ruling days and a moon for ruling nights. Stars, too (amazing astral and galactic displays: Canis and Ursa — both with Major and Minor — Corona Australis, Dorado and Draco, Lupus and Lyra, Cygnus and Grus)! God did assign to all lights provision of worldly illumination from on high, ruling day and night, and distinguishing light from dark. And God saw that this was good. Following nightfall was morning. A fourth day!!
God said: “All this fluid will now bring forth swarms of living animals (stingrays and swordfish, tuna and trout; marlin and minnow, clam, carp, cod, shark); and birds that fly way up in My sky (bank swallows, barn owls, blackbirds, and buzzards; macaws and mallards, martins and mynas). God did form monstrous aquatic animals (humpbacks and narwhals and so on), and all sorts of living things that crawl forth from pool and pond in swarms (no doubt arthropods, gastropods, mollusks, slugs, and worms). Also all sorts of birds with wings! And God saw that this was good. God did wish His animals only good, saying: “Fructify! Multiply! Fill all ponds and pools. Birds, fill My world!” Following nightfall was morning. A fifth day!!
God said: “Now… dry land will bring forth all sorts of living animals: cows (Angus, Brahman, Durham…) and such; and crawling things (all kinds of bugs and arachnids, gnats, moths, scarabs, locust, and woodticks); and all kinds of wild animals (lions and bobcats, dingo and fox; jackal and warthog, llama and lynx)!” And it was so. God did form wild animals of all sorts, and cows of all sorts — and all kinds of crawling things on land. And God saw that this was good. And God said: “Now it is up to Us to form humankind with a Godly capacity — akin to Our own! Humans will control fish in all pools and ponds, all cows and similar animals, all this world! Also all crawling things among land animals.” God did form humankind with a Godly capacity. With a most Godly capacity did God form humanity — woman just as Godly as man, boys just as Godly as girls. God did wish humanity only good, saying: “Fructify! Multiply! Fill all this world, dominating it… ruling all fish that swim, all birds that fly, and all living things that crawl on land.”
God said: “Now, a gift to you: all plants throughout this world, all orchards with fruit — all this is yours for food. All this world’s plants, too, I am giving as a gift to all animals on land, all birds that fly skyward, all that crawls on this world — — all living animals.” And it was so. And God saw all His works, and found it — Oh, so good! Following nightfall was morning. A sixth day!!