It appears that Ellen Van Wolde’s article about the meaning of ברא in Genesis 1 has appeared in JSOT (link to the reference is here). There has already been some discussion over her claim on other blogs, so I’m hoping to get a copy of her article soon (if anyone feels motivated to send me a copy please let me know!).
The abstract at the above link provides the summary (here reproduced in unicode rather than using the BFI method adopted at Sage):
The linguistic and textual examination of the seven usages of the verb ברא in Genesis 1 leads to the conclusion that the verb ברא in Genesis 1 does not mean ‘to create’ but ‘to separate’. This hypothesis is subsequently tested against external evidence from cognate literature in Mesopotamia. In these Mesopotamian accounts of creation, the opening lines often describe the (divine) acts of separation of heaven and earth. The Sumerian verb bad and the Akkadian verb parāsu employed in these texts designate clearly ‘to separate’. Textual evidence from the Hebrew Bible appears to support this hypothesis, too, for example, the fact that in the Hebrew Bible the noun ‘creator’ is never expressed with the participle of ברא, but always with the participle of other verbs. Thus, based on internal and external linguistic and textual evidence and on a controlled argumentation, it is highly plausible and very likely that the type of action expressed by the verb ברא in Genesis 1 is of a very concrete, spatial and physical character, and can be rendered by ‘to separate’. Finally, an analysis is made of the differences between הבדיל and ברא.
The verb ברא in Genesis 1 has been the subject of quite a bit of focus, beginning with Walton’s assertion that it does not imply “to create” but rather describes the assignment of function to that which already exists, and now Van Wolde’s claim that it means “to separate” rather than “to create.” Once I can get a copy of the article I may venture to make further comment.