In comparing Bibles, I chose to quote each version’s rendition of Genesis 1:1–2 not only because it is well known and it appears in all Bibles, Jewish and Christian, but also because it contains an authentic and insoluble crux interpretation, or interpretive knot. Both popular translations, “In the beginning” and “When God began,” have support within Jewish exegetical traditions; for Christians, “In the beginning …” is compatible with the belief in creatio ex nihilo, or creation out of nothing. As much as possible, I would wish to capture both nuances in my “ideal” translation.

Further, since the Hebrew words for “heaven(s)” and “earth” are both preceded by the definite article and since the first term is plural (or, more properly, dual), I prefer the rendering “the heavens and the earth.” I would deliberately use a form of “create,” which accurately reflects the Hebrew verb that uniquely takes the Divine as its subject.

I am happy with any number of permutations that express the concept of “void” and “lacking form.” (On some days, I’m willing to make the argument that transliteration—tohu ve-vohu—should appear in my “ideal” text to give a sense of what the Hebrew looks and sounds like here.) I would retain the more literal “deep” over against any changes.

For the traditional “Spirit of God,” I would go with “spirit of God.” As many people are aware, there are no capital (or small) letters in Hebrew, so that “Spirit” (as opposed to “spirit”) seeks to impose a particular Christian perspective on this phrase. Although “mighty wind” is a perfectly acceptable rendering of the Hebrew, as are the “wind” or “breath” “of God,” I think they all fall short in reflecting the majesty of the Hebrew at this point. As for the following verb, I prefer something more expressive of expansive movement or action than the traditional “hover.”

Putting all this together, I come up with the following translation, found nowhere else in its entirety, with which I am not entirely unhappy:

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void, and darkness over the surface of the deep; and the spirit of God sweeping over the surface of the waters.”