For Israel, the planned 11 April touchdown of the Beresheet moon lander will be a moment of national pride, as it becomes the fourth country to put a spacecraft on the moon, after Russia, the United States, and China. But for many, the feat will mark a different milestone: If successful, Beresheet would be the first privately built spacecraft to reach the lunar surface, at a fraction of the cost of a government mission. By pioneering a cutrate route to the moon, the landing could ensure that "the world's lunar scientists are going to be busy for many years to come," says John Thornton, CEO of rival space company Astrobotic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which plans to launch its first lunar mission in early 2021.As a space-travel enthusiast, I have enjoyed following this story. But it deserves at least a mention on PaleoJudaica because of the spacecraft's name.
"Beresheet" is the first word of the Hebrew Bible and, accordingly, the first word of the creation account in Genesis chapter one. It means "in the beginning." Traditionally the opening of Genesis 1:1 has been translated "In the beginning God created ..." But the grammar of the verse points toward a somewhat different translation, "When God began to create ..." This matters theologically because the first translation implies divine creation out of nothing. The second implies that that God shaped the earth out of "formless and void" pre-existing primordial matter. The second interpretation fits better in the context of ancient Near Eastern creation theology.
Be that as it may, it is a cool name for a spacecraft headed for the moon. I wish the Beresheet project all success.
For a more detailed discussion of the opening of Genesis 1:1, see here.
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