10 04 2013

This haunting piece is “Moya”, the opening track on Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s 1999 EP, “Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada”. The image displayed is that of the album’s cover: two words in Hebrew, which are translated by the familiar King James Version as “without form, and void”. As a phrase, it appears both in Genesis 1:2 and in Jeremiah 4:23. Both are descriptions of the earth at the beginning of creation, but the second text also alludes to what the world will be like for a time after God brings destruction upon it.

To which of these texts was the post-rock band alluding? Cleverly (if perhaps unintentionally), to both of them.

The inside of the record jacket includes the text from Jeremiah 4:23-27 in both Hebrew and English, putting the passage into its apocalyptic and eschatological context. A context, I should add, that is most fitting for this and for all of their other albums as well. But the te’amim (the trope signs) on the album cover are those of Genesis 1:2. Had they intended the cover to allude to Jeremiah 4:23, they would have utilised a tifcha under the first word and an atnachta under the second. Since they utilised instead two pashtin above the first word and a zaqef qatan above the second, the passage from which they were copying out their text was from Genesis instead.

If they meant to allude to Jeremiah, why did they copy the words from Genesis? Is it possible that they knew what they were doing, and that they were deliberately alluding to both? If so, I like to assume that they were also aware of the fact that they had included a small circle above the /heh/, which is not part of the te’amim at all. It’s a masoretic notation, found within the Leningrad Codex and other representatives of the MT (such as, as is more likely, the BHS) and it serves to direct the reader to a corresponding gloss in the margin.

The marginal gloss for this phrase features a single letter, ב, which represents the number 2. This means that the phrase in question occurs twice within the biblical literature – the second instance, of course, being Jeremiah 4:23. Copying the te’amim from Genesis and including the circle is both the smartest and the subtlest way that they could have alluded to both passages simultaneously. I really hope that they intended to do so.