The Deep

The word ṩûlâ is used only in Isaiah 44:27, where it seems to refer to the canals of Babylon. Its derivatives, meṩôlâ and meṩûlâ are used of the depths of the sea crossed by Israel (Exod 15:5), also of the Mediterranean Sea (Ps 107:24; Jonah 2:5).

The word tehôm is of more import. It is thought by some to be used mythologically of the waters of a nether world. This view sees in tehôm (Gen 1:2) a parallel to Tiamat of the Babylonian creation story. Tiamat was the demon of chaos from whose split body Marduk made the earth and sky. This Babylonian story, called Enuma Elish, has little if anything else in common with the Biblical account.

It is clear that tehôm could not be borrowed from the Babylonian Tiamat because the Akkad. language lacks the laryngeal consonant “h” which a borrowed Heb. word would not acquire. It is far better to assume that the old Sem. root thm indicated “ocean,” of which the Babylonian demon Tiamat was a personification.

The NT abyssos is used only nine times. In the LXX it regularly trs. the Heb. tehôm and thus about thirty times means merely the ocean and lakes. However, as the seas were the deepest things known to the ancients the word gained a fig. usage and is used seven times in Revelation of the bottomless pit, the abode of evil spirits. It is possible that Luke 8:31 (KJV) also shows this usage. The other reference (Rom 10:7 RSV) uses the word abyssos of the place from which Christ was raised. Opinions will differ whether abyssos refers merely to the grave, as the author believes, or to the underworld (cf. the author’s “Meaning of the Word Sheol,” ETSB, IV [1961], pp. 129-135).


A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis (1951), 98-101.