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Between Abgrund and Urwirbel: The Story of One Word in the Buber-Rosenzweig Bible Translation

  • Ghilad H. Shenhav EMAIL logo
From the journal Naharaim


This paper closely examines the translation of the Hebrew word תהום – abyss (Genesis 1:2), in two versions of the Buber-Rosenzweig Bible: In the first edition of Die Schrift published 1926 the abyss is translated as “Abgrund”. However, after Rosenzweig’s death, the “Abgrund” is erased by Buber and replaced in later versions (1930/1952/1962) by the rather odd word “Urwirbel.” This paper reflects on the transition from “Abgrund” to “Urwirbel” and demonstrates the profound rootedness of Buber and Rosenzweig in the German philosophical vocabulary of the early twentieth century. It shows how the conversion from “Abgrund” to “Urwirbel” crystalized a moment in German-Jewish thought, a historical meeting point in the depths of the abyss between the German and the Hebrew languages. The encounter was covered by the course of history but deserves to be revisited and reinterpreted.

Published Online: 2020-06-05
Published in Print: 2020-06-25

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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