The Torah knows what is prior to the creation of the world but you have no business inquiring of aught save ‘since man was placed upon earth’. (Job 20, 4) (MidrashRabbah Ch. 8)
Researchers have already attempted to keep track of the roots of the genuses and the creatures according to their species, and have come to research the development [or “evolution”] from the plant to the world of animals etc. as for instance: in muddy stagnant waters we can see with the help of the microscope green round [things] moving in their hundreds in a drop hanging from the eye of a needle — their movement resembling [that of] worms, the covering of their bodies made of a net and their cavities [lit., “holes”] empty, and within them also roll tiny round [things]. And when the covering of the round [things] are opened the tiny round [things] emerge separated, and move around in space like independent creatures. No mouth or member is seen on them and yet they do not rest in one place like a plant, but move about in space all their lives. The hypothesis is that these are the transition [stages] between the plant and the animal, and similarly in the seas are seen many islands which stand [as] on bridges built by corals. The “Polipen” [i.e., “polyps”, in German] are little animals from whose bodies emerges a mud-like substance which hardens and becomes like stone. The “Polipen” spread over many miles and like a tree its branches multiply and harden in the sea until coralline rock (Korallen-Felsen) forms from them, and it is said of them “ships dash against them and they break [into pieces]”. Such hypotheses have brought about the decided theory that the animal kingdom emerged from the vegetable kingdom, and hands [of scientists] have proven that in ancient rocks are found remains of plants, which existed hundreds of millions of years before there were animals in the world, and by all this we can set our seal to the theory that plants gave rise to animals. Moreover they strengthen the proximal hypothesis that the worms found in very young children [lit., “children of soft teeth”] are born without father or mother and without egg or yolk and these [also] teach us [and give us an] idea about the origins and beginnings of the creatures. [Researchers] have also researched and demonstrated that not all the species of animals that have existed are with us today, [some of] them lived long, long ago on the earth, only some species at infrequent times emerged into the world [literally, “into the air of the world”]. From this [observation] everyone is agreed with one voice that man is the youngest species on the face of the earth. The crust of the earth is the grave of all living things — it hides in its bosom the traces and remains of all things that have lived on the face of the earth. The various rocks that are on the crust of the earth which conceal the remains of living things and of animals, are from ancient times distant from each other and differ in their nature. And if we classify the types of rock according to their age — which every type will by itself attest, up to many millions of years then we can find exactly which plant and which animal is the oldest on the floor of the rocks. These rocks are for us as tablets that chronicle the [history of] the world of the plant and of the animal, and from these tablets we read that animal species humbler in their degree [or “status”] lived at such and such a time, and rocks found in layers lying higher [than these] are witnesses to traces of species of animals and plants which were improved [or “evolved”] and larger according to [their] degree. Remains of human bones are found only in layers of rock which lie at this time on the surface of the earth, and this is absolute testimony to the [fact that] man was created last.
Even though darkness is yet cast upon the chronicles of the improvement and perfection [or “evolution”] of the animal kingdom, yet in this we can emerge unto the light of science that the animal kingdom has risen from the humble to the exalted or from lower to higher, earlier there were in the animal kingdom simple and lowly species, before there were higher species living in life.
Corals are from the lowly species, after them came into being species which do not possess a nervous system like the Muschelthiere [shellfish], whose claim to independence lies in their coverings. After this came the animals with rings (Ringelthiere) like the scorpion (Skorpionen, Krebsen). And in more recent [lit., “younger”] periods came into being swimming species, like fishes frogs and suchlike, and after that the flying species, and after a long time mammals which give birth to life in their image and likeness, unto the most recent [lit., “latest”] times when man emerged into the world.
Wise men inquirers into nature have paid attention to this subject which we are discussing, and the teachings and beliefs of many of these wise men have shocked [or “jolted”] the hearts of their students [sufficiently so as] to [cause them to] believe in all their [new] hypotheses, and to discard the ancient speculations, passed down to us from years gone by. And I have come here not to split hairs in argument but only to show that even in our holy Torah there is no contradiction to these hypotheses and surmises, which the wise men of our generation have laid down, and [which have] set back the date of the creation of the world [to a date] far earlier than was thought in days gone by, and [in fact] we shall be able to find no contradiction between their utterances and the Torah and vice versa for even in it [i.e., the Torah] we shall see the order of evolution from the moss on the wall to the cedars of Lebanon — from the worm to the perfected man — but it [the Torah] shall set a limit and a boundary to the first days which fell into tens of thousands of years and are no more, the thread of the chronicles of man from the first foundation shall not be seen for this is against its method as we shall observe generally from the beginning of creation, it shall set its utterances only upon the beginnings of the improvements that were necessary for the perfected man, and after that will lay bare before us the order of man’s emergence from the wild state to the perfected.
The aim of our Torah is not [lit., “does not come”] to teach the foundations of the science of the stars. But to the place which touches and is necessary to the subject, only in passing does the first chapter remind [us] of the true foundation (that which we can attain [or “grasp”] of the total construction of the world is what we can indicate as [being] from the beginning of our attainment [or “grasping”] and not from the absolute beginning) that “God created the heaven and the earth”. And the basic point of the first chapter is only the elucidation of the concept which the intellect conceives from [observation of] everything that is found in the lower and humbler world (and this in the opinion of the Rabbi 'Ak"i is the appellation [or “nomenclature”] of the ten sayings [of God] by which the world was created, etc.) and after having spoken of the general concept the Torah begins to portray the state of the earth from the beginning of its emergence to its present state of being and reality, that it was a ball of gas and after that it passed over to a liquid state, all this is meant by the word tohu unto which arrived the liquid ball [of the earth], as it cooled down [literally, “between the straits of cold and freezing”]. The upper crust froze and this state is called [in the Torah] bohu. The space of the universe [literally, “the emptiness of the world”] generally, in which floated the hosts of the heavens and the planets [literally: “the earths”] like islands in the sea is called [in the Torah] by the name of “the deep” [tehom, literally “abyss”] since the sea of ether has no location, boundary or limit. Or perhaps the Torah looks upon [or “views”] the beginning of reality, the two atoms that attract and repel, or the positive and the negative, which by their combination which is given only unto the imagination, become the beginnings of the being of the earth, the mother (Materia) of all that exists);3 and the finest of the fine atoms, and those most devoid of form as made clear in the third chapter, are called in the language of the Torahtohu and vohu, by these names giving strength [lit., “giving weapons”] to the theory [literally, “Torah”] of the concept of atoms, [in which] are laid the main concepts best able to realise the emergence of being into action, and when the two forces emerged as action in reality, the space of the universe lay in darkness, and no ray of light shone. — Though the Torah knows that there in the skies above lights and suns in the tens of thousands [exist], since time immemorial [having] emerged to course their ways — as the Midrash says: he lit lamps and lanterns to know how to lay the foundations [thereof]? — and the Torah also knows many watery substances in the expanses of space in the place designated on the face of “the deep” [tehom] of the space in the universe, that first were there at the creation of the lower world which it [the Torah] calls by the name “earth” [arets], but even after this initial knowledge, its way in [or “to”] the heavens was not paved, its judgements were not set upon on the laws of the stars, on the lights of the heavens, and on the heavenly host, the many worlds and the rest of their goings [and comings], but only arouses the ear to listen to the general [or “overall”] knowledge [of these matters], and in a few verses includes all its sentences concerning them, and immediately returns to the head [or “main concern”] of its study, to speak of the chronology of nature, and the evolution of man from nothing upon the earth. [Translator’s note: the name 'Ak"i is the abbreviated form of the Rabbi's name; however, I do not know what the full name is]
[Translator’s note: in the King James version of the English Bible the words tohu and vohu (or bohu) in the book of Genesis, chapter 1, verse 2, are translated as “without form, and void”; but there seems to be no agreement among scholars regarding the accurate English translations for these Hebrew terms]
And but [a single] one of its passages [lit., “hypotheses” or “surmises”] will teach us understanding in the method of cognisance and the theory [or “concept”] of reduction in the course of its text. For if we observe creation from its beginning, its reality and its existence, and pay attention to the inquiry of the beginnings of the force of creation, we shall not seek the spiritual force within matter itself but we must seek the force above the limits of matter, for the spiritual is external to it and stands above it. Our Torah presents matter to us in [the form of] the primeval watery matter, and the spiritual force, [in the form of] the spiritual force of creation which stands above it [as] “the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”. The spirit of G-d [that] moved upon the face of the waters, is the spirit of G-d which creates everything and sustains everything, and establishes everything, He is the God of the world.
[Translator’s note: perhaps the author intends here to allow himself a play upon words, Torah and “theory”? This is sometimes done in modern (Israeli) Hebrew: as for example “Torat ha-yachasut”, “Theory of Relativity”]
After laying down in the beginning the emergence of reality — and all only according to the concept [or “theory”] of reduction and certainly not [or “absolutely not”] at the absolute beginning — the Torah gazes upon that very place of darkness in the abyss of the space of the universe, — upon which “he sought to build a palace and that is the same place of darkness — what did [he] do? [or, “what action did [he] perform”?] After [those which were] “without form, and void” [tohu and vohu] were compiled, God said: The light of the world that was created shall begin to light up and shine its rays upon this formlessness and emptiness [here again, tohu and vohu], this light rolled away the darkness — and “there was light” and with that the emergence of creation was completed.
[Translator’s note: it should be noted that at times the author does not spell out the name of God in full, for orthodox Jewish custom forbids doing so except in the holy scriptures; however, the author is not quite rigorous in this custom]
[Tr. Note: “he sought to build a palace” — referring to the quote at head of Chapter Two]
The Torah speaks according to [lit. “in”] the method of the system of reduction; after having looked at what was done in the beginning [literally, “the first act”, viz. creation] according to the most conventional concept, it turns its examining eye upon the earth as it might appear to the eye of the observer, and calls out a name for it according to the laws of gravity [literally, “laws of weight”]: since the Torah knows what preceded the laying down of the creation of the world, that all the lines of gravitation [literally, “lines of weight”] on the entire face of the earth, unite at the central focus of the earth, and the form of the earth is [that of] a perfect sphere, and therefore the lines of gravitation meet inside the earth, and stand all of them vertically (Senkrecht); the face of the earth is called and described as the upper surface and by this name is not called the [actual] upper surface with all the tall mountains and the wide valleys, but the abstract upper surface by itself (ideale Oberfleche) in this manner: Let us imagine the Atlantic ocean, and the Southern Sea (Sued-see) and all the seas that encircle their shores and [let us further suppose that] they are taken out each to the boundary of its neighbour so that they join together, and become connected [as it were] in a strong chain in their flow and course. And let us imagine for a moment that they are resting and standing still in their flow and course, then shall easily be seen in their mirror (Spiegel), one part of the earth’s globe bounded by the shores of oceans and seas — . And if we were to think in our minds that the parts of the earth’s globe with all their ups and downs and twists and turns, in every section of the surface were to spread out below and above until they gather together in one place, then in this state [the earth] would appear to the eye a complete sphere. The abstract upper surface is also known as the “sea level” (Niveauflaeche).
The abstract [or “simplified”] surface which is seen in the midst of the great mirror of connected seas (eine ideale Oberflaeche die mittelst das ungeheiren Spiegel der verbindenden-meere dargestellt werden kann) our Holy Torah calls in the book of creation by the name “firmament in the midst of the waters” and regarding the internal review in the order of creation according to the method of the concept of reduction the Torah says: “and God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters”. [Translator’s note: the original Hebrew word used here for “firmament” is reki’a, which can mean, in addition to “firmament”, also “expanse”, “canopy”, or “vault”; while a related phrase, kav reki’a, means “horizon”, which interpretation more clearly explains the author’s argument given here]
In this way we shall resolve all the texts of the Bible attributing to God everything, which human attainment grasps according to understanding knowledge and wisdom. The Father of Prophets laid the cornerstone to this method, and from the beginnings of the Biblical texts pertaining to the subject of creation we can recognise the method in the divinity of our Lord Moses [who] gave us the Torah. After him came the Prophets [who] gazed upon the face of The Lord in all their visions exultations and prophecies, who with [the help of] this earlier knowledge were to solve many riddles in different texts of the Bible, which speak of things of lower value but nevertheless relating to the things of the Lord which in our eyes are considered as absolute — .
“Father of Prophets”: i.e., Moses, who according to tradition gave the Torah to mankind]
Even though according to the method of the concept of reduction remain [to be discussed] the heavens, the higher world and all the hosts of the wide open heavens, of which there is no number limit boundary or end, capable of being conceptualised only by the sublimest of conceptualisations, and in evaluating such concepts we can even ascribe [or “allocate”] degrees [of value to] prophecy — for all that we have profited from this method [in the knowledge] that there is nothing absolute in that which we find [around us], and in a general way we shall say that the Torah has established the concept of reduction at the sublimest level that the hand of the intellect of man touches [spoken figuratively].
The proper inquiry of the first section of our Torah, yet lies far away from the limits of our knowledge, [and] yet many generations will solve problems of the nature of reality, and yet centuries will unravel mysteries of their existence in the first ancient affair as the days of writing man on the earth. Hear the flowery language of a [certain] German who says:4 Let us hear what Mr. Alexander von Humbold in his book Kosmos tells us: “The most adorned and magnificent life of Nature [made so] as a result of wealth and perfection will be perceived only as song and music to the passers-by, and we can say that in the 35th Psalm of David the entire form of the cosmos is seen” — and I say that in the one passage from the words “In the beginning” to “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth” the entire cosmos and the songs of David which carry [or “deal with”] the subject of creation are included, and the great natural scientists — among the generations of these wise men of the world, began to clarify and interpret the passage [of the Bible] on creation, according to the knowledge of nature in the method of reduction in their generations and it still remains covered with a veil, of which the science of nature has not raised the curtain to this day — . And I have touched merely the outskirts [or “extremity”] of the passage to clarify [or “explain”] [it], I shall leave the rest to the inquirers after nature who stand before the sanctuary of nature itself to serve, and they and those that come after them dealing in the affair will come one by one into its chambers, and only in a general way have I decided according to the saying of our forebears within which is contained all the glory of the Torah: “The Torah knows what predates the existence of the world”. And here I come with this to begin my inquiries and pre-occupations to seek after the root of human origin, his wild [or “savage”] as well as [his] perfected state, and I have supported my foundations by the second half of the above saying, [which] complements [it]: “But you have no business to inquire about aught save ‘since man was placed upon earth’.” [toldot, literally "history" or "chronology"]
[Translator’s note: the word toldot can be translated in diverse ways, and although the King James Bible translates it as "generations", in my opinion that is somewhat misleading, a more exact translation being "chronology" or "history". Toldot also means "origin", however, and is used by the author of this article in this sense in the title of the entire article.]
The saying which complements the aim of our seeking, which emerged from the mouths of our forebears, will open for us an opening in the body of the affair of creation which our Torah begins [as follows]: “These are the generations [toldot] of the heavens and the earth when they were created”. The ear will explain to us [so that we may] hear: the story of creation is but the story of the order of existence of man on the earth for only for his sake and for his honour, thinks our Torah, was intended the creation from that yesterday [which existed] before the son of nature [i.e., man] was called into existence living and sturdy upon the earth. The passage on creation in our Torah is the first passage which explains the body of the contents of the aim of creation. Hence it is required of us to come to the inquiry of the explanation in order to stand at the root of the matter, its essence and source — .