When God began creating heaven and earth…

When we look at our own life, our beginnings can influence what our end can also be. We all ask questions of where we have come from and where we are going.  Although these can be scientific questions, they can also be existential, moral, and spiritual questions. I found Rabbi Sacks really important on my understanding of Genesis one and two.  Some of the reflections I came to were heavily influenced by his thinking.  In Genesis one and two we can already see God’s love for his creation.  The way rabbi Sacks brought this out in his Covenant and conversation from my point of view is fantastic.  I really enjoyed reading it because it is not dry such as the higher criticism of J, E , and P… and taking the razor to the text that ought not to have ever have been done.

I am also aware of the ancients who also attempted to interpret Genesis allegorically, philosophically, scientifically. These ways I just mentioned are ways that Josephus talked about. All these ways fail if we miss the genre of Genesis.  The genre is Scripture and thus God wants to speak to us through his word. God is not so interested in what of knowledge rather he is more interested in who and this wrapped in Divine love.  The intention of the creation of the world was not out of selfish reasons but rather the opposite that people can have a meaningful relationship with God through His covenant as established through Abraham. For my own tradition this finds complete fruition in the life and work of Christ. These images were taken from the wikipedia. In a lot of the creation stories there can also be some type of monster.

The Translation of Genesis 1. 1-2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2

Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are not a scientific textbook.  Indeed, the above text in the English translation has a serious problem. At the end of verse 1 it should have a comma and not a full stop because it is one idea that holds the two parts together. Scholars including Rabbi Sacks and Walter Brueggemann show this in their translations:

“When God began creating heaven and earth, the earth was void and desolate, there was darkness on the face of the deep, and the spirit of God moved over the waters.”

(From the KOREN TANAKH, The Magerman Edition, Bereshit, chapter 1, verses 1-2, The Torah was translated by the Late Rabbi Sacks)

Some modern translations such as the NRSV, The Contemporary Torah, JPS, 2006 and so on prefer this way of translating.  This way of reading though however can make life a little more difficult for scholars who try to make connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  One case in point would be john chapter one and Genesis 1.  ‘In the beginning…’ The translation of the Greek LXX and John on the other hand is an almost perfect copy.

Sometimes I think scholars can over complicate things and talk about consensus’ in the academic world.  However, we have to be careful not to fall into this trap.  Some have said that Genesis 1.1 is exilic rather than pre-exilic and that there are many comparisons with the Babylonian creation myths.

There can be a lot to say but I also think we can talk more about the contrasts than the comparisons.  One big contrast that in the six-day creation story until the moment of making Adam everything was made by God speaking.  God ‘brooded over the waters’.  The Babylonian creation story says somewhere:

“17. “Marduk laid a rush mat upon the face of the waters,

18. “He mixed up earth and moulded it upon the rush mat,

19. “To enable the gods to dwell in the place where they fain would be.

20. “He fashioned man.

21. “The goddess Aruru [Cuneiform] with him created the seed of mankind.

22. “He created the beasts of the field and [all] the living things in the field.

23. “He created the river Idiglat (Tigris) and the river Purattu (Euphrates), and he set them in their places,”

(https://www.gutenberg.org/files/9914/9914-h/9914-h.htm)

In the creation of matter and the setting up of the theatre for human civilization God did not do a lot. God spoke and said things and things happened. 

It is only when God got involved with man that God did things:

“Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8 The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Genesis 2:7-8”

Then again later for the creation of the woman:

“But for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man and brought her to the man. Genesis 2:20-22”

On reflection it is really only in the second creation story of Adam and Eve that God got involved with his creation.

In the second story God

  • Became a potter
  • Became a gardener
  • Became a surgeon

God took a personal interest in his creation of humanity.  Later on, we also find big differences between the Babylonian creation stories and Genesis.  In the Babylonian creation stories the gods were involved directly in the creation of city states.  God in Genesis did not create city states only a garden.  In fact, if we think about Sodom and Gomorrah the human invention of city states had every type of evil and vice in them. 

Where they agree is that the fashioning of the theatre for humankind started from a dark watery world.

One very good reason for Genesis 1 having a pre-exilic date is the symbolism around Solomon’s brazen sea which could represent the watery abyss:

“—In Rabbinical Literature:

The layer contained water sufficient for 150 ritual baths (“miḳwaot”), if forty seahs be taken as the legal measure of such bath. The laver was not entirely round, as might be inferred from Scripture (I Kings vii. 23): the upper two-fifths were round; but the lower three were square (‘Er. 14a, b). The symbolism of the brazen sea is described in detail in the Midrash Tadshe. The sea represented the world; the ten ells of diameter corresponded to the ten Sefirot; and it was round at the top (according to the Talmud passage above cited) as the heavens are round. The depth of the sea was five ells, corresponding to the distance of five hundred years’ journey between heaven and earth (compare Ḥag. 13a). The band of thirty ells around it corresponded to the Ten Commandments, to the ten words of God at the creation of the world, and to the ten Sefirot: for the world can exist only when the Ten Commandments are observed; and the ten Sefirot as well as the ten words of God were the instruments of the Creation. The two rows of colocynths (knops) below the rim were symbolic of the sun and the moon, while the twelve oxen on which the sea rested represented the zodiac (“mazzalot”). It contained 2,000 baths (cubic measures), for the world will sustain him who keeps the Torah, which was created 2,000 years before the world (Midrash Tadshe ii., ed. Epstein, in “Mi-Ḳadmoniyot ha-Yehudim,” xvi., xvii.; Yalḳ., Kings, 185).”

See:  https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3659-brazen-sea

Obviously, Genesis 1 and 2 already existed in the Tanakh that Moses wrote!  If Moses was brought up in the household of Egypt, he certainly would have known about these competing creation stories and by the Holy Spirit we are given the correct version. Judaism was and is a purely Monotheistic religion and the disorderly chaos before the creation of man is shown for what it is.

The word ‘reshit’ ‘beginning’ is a noun that is in the feminine case. It has ‘b’ attached to the front and it reads ‘bereshit’ not bareshit.  There is one vowel difference between these two forms.  My argument is that no matter which form one takes whenever ‘reshit’ is used it is the ‘beginning or chief’ thus in the order of creation the chaos was created first.  No commentary is really necessary apart from the fact that this was a dark watery world which was completely in darkness.

Concerning the word created ‘bara’ it is a verb:

PARSING

Hebrew, verb, qal, perfect, 3rd person, masculine, singular

In other words it is active but completed action. This stage of chaotic creation ‘was completed and finished’. 

The description was tohu and bohu

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְהֹ֑ום וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃ Genesis 1:2

The second verse starts with an ‘and’ and a noun ‘earth’ this is enough according to Hebrew convention to not start understanding it as a new sentence.

So I would change the NASB translation at the beginning of verse 2 with a comma.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, 2 and the earth was a [a]formless and desolate emptiness, and darkness was over the [b]surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the [c]surface of the waters.

(From the NASB: I changed the end of vese 1 with a comma and I started verse 2 with a small and (wa-eretz).

Note to gap theorists on the creation story.

Some hold that at the end of verse one a new creation starts.  The evidence goes against this.

Note to those who hold a late date on Genesis 1. 1-2

The internal evidence goes against a late date because of ‘Solomon’s brass sea’.

The only two things that one can argue for is the creation of man and the sea of chaos.  In the Babylonian creation stories these were created by various gods.  The Genesis account rejects this completely.

Reflection and my view

The big mistake some scholars make is to see Genesis as a scientific interpretation of the universe, heaven and this earth.  No I think it is much deeper than this that God is interested in his relationship to mankind. Genesis chapter 1 is very impersonal, and the use of Elohim is favoured. In chapter one God only does things through the spoken word.  However, in the creation of Man and Woman God gets more personal and his name also changes from Elohim to the Tetragrammaton (Ha-Shem, the Lord).  In this creation God is more involved with his creation and he becomes:

A potter, a life-giving mouth blower, a gardener, a surgeon, and a clothes maker.  He is not only speaking but God the Lord is being creative and getting very involved with his creation.

Old Testament use of Genesis 1 & 2

  • He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Psalms 33:7
  • You divided the sea by Your strength; You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters. Psalms 74:13
  • The fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field, all the creeping things that creep on the earth, and all the men who are on the face of the earth will shake at My presence; the mountains also will be thrown down, the steep pathways will collapse, and every wall will fall to the ground. Ezekiel 38:20
  • He established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter forever and ever. 6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment; The waters were standing above the mountains. 7 At Your rebuke they fled, At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away. 8 The mountains rose; the valleys sank down to the place which You established for them. 9 You set a boundary that they may not pass over, so that they will not return to cover the earth. Psalms 104:5-9

New Testament use of Genesis 1 & 2

  • And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, Matthew 19:4
  • For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. Mark 13:19
  • and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; Ephesians 3:9
  • For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. Colossians 1:16
  • and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, WHO CREATED HEAVEN AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE EARTH AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE SEA AND THE THINGS IN IT, that there will be delay no longer, Revelation 10:6

Genesis is basic foundational truths for all Christians and Jews and also influences Islamic theology.  These texts for example would not make any sense without our foundational belief that God is Creator.  For the believer Genesis is important for the moral and spiritual truths God has for us.  Scholars have wanted to emphasise the Babylonian myth creation stories to Genesis as though somehow Judaism was reliant on Babylonian myths. Obviously prehistoric man was thinking about the elements of the Genesis story.  Creation has always played a huge role in how people saw this tiny world in the universe. 

INDEX

Notes

If basic ideas were borrowed from creation myths, my own subjective opinion is that it is more likely to be from Egypt.  After all Moses was a prince of Egypt and thus would have been taught by their education system and this is the country from which the Israelites escaped.

I also find similar ideas between Solomon’s bronze sea and one of the Egyptian creation stories.

“Summary of a photo Description        

The sun rises from the mound of creation at the beginning of time. The central circle represents the mound, and the three orange circles are the sun in different stages of its rising. At the top is the “horizon” hieroglyph with the sun appearing atop it. At either side are the goddesses of the north and south, pouring out the waters that surround the mound. The eight stick figures are the gods of the Ogdoad, hoeing the soil.

Date      Book published 2003; artwork made in Twenty-first Dynasty (c. 1075–945 BC)

Source Scanned from the book Ancient Egypt, edited by David P. Silverman, p. 121; photograph from the Book of the Dead of Khensumose

Author Original artist unknown”

from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sunrise_at_Creation.jpg

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