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

Ghilad H. Shenhav 1
  • 1 Cultural Studies, Tel Aviv University, Faculty of Protestant Theology, Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany, Haim Levanon Street 1, Tel Aviv, Israel
Ghilad H. Shenhav
  • Corresponding author
  • Cultural Studies, Tel Aviv University, Haim Levanon Street 1, Tel Aviv, 69978, Israel, Faculty of Protestant Theology, Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany
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Abstract

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.

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Naharaim is a peer-reviewed journal of the Franz Rosenzweig Minerva Research Centre at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It is devoted to current research in philosophical, literary, and historical aspects of German-Jewish culture. The contributions are mainly in German or English.

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