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            Genesis chapter I and modern science

This essay argues that there is little concordance between Genesis chapter 1 and modern science, but it does bear some resemblance to other creation myths of the time, such as the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish.  This chapter can best be understood as a polemic against the ideas of paganism. The creation story of Genesis I is not a scientific account. It is an allegorical poem written with imagery that would have been familiar and understandable to the generation receiving the Torah.  Despite its outdated science, the contribution of this one chapter to the moral, and even scientific progress, of mankind is inestimable.   

 

This is hardly a minor matter.  If the Torah is the word of God it contains nothing but truth and there should be no discordance between the Torah and modern knowledge.  Conversely, lack of concordance would constitute a serious challenge to the authenticity and Divine authorship of the Bible.

In fact, there are many areas of discordance between Genesis I and modern science.  Science recognizes no factor of six in the creation of the earth.  In the Bible, a firmament called heaven is created on day 2 wedged between two layers of water.  This could represent the earth’s atmosphere.  However, on day 4, luminaries are placed in this firmament, which must therefore be considered a combination of earth’s atmosphere and outer space.  But modern science recognizes no layer of water in the upper regions of outer space.  Moreover, science tells us that the earth and sun are part of the solar system and were formed over a similar time period.  However, in the Bible, primitive earth was created on day 1 and it was not until day 4 that the sun was created.  Furthermore, vegetation was created on day 3, which is before the creation of the luminaries on day 4; but we know that sunlight is necessary for photosynthesis and plant growth.  Science also describes important interactions between the plant and animal kingdoms.  Pollination, for example, is necessary for plant reproduction and usually involves insects.  Yet in the Bible, animals were created on the sixth day, well after the creation of vegetation on day 3.

 

How can a religious person deal with these aspects of Torah that seem to contradict current scientific knowledge? 

 

One way of dealing with the discordanace is that of Biblical criticism which considers the Bible to be the product of human minds.  These authors would only have been familiar with the science of their times.  Over the course of this book, I will look critically at Biblical criticism and show that it represents a major misunderstanding of Biblical writing.

A second popular approach in the Jewish religious world is to postulate that there is no discordance between science and religion.  One of the leading proponents of this viewpoint is Dr. Gerald Schroeder who has authored several books on this topic.  In the following passage, he argues that the light created on the first day of creation is understandable within the framework of the Big Bang:

 

“When the universe was very young, it was also very small.  All the energy that today is spread over the reaches of space was concentrated into that confined, primordial volume……  Several hundred thousand years passed.  Temperature and photon energies had continued to fall in proportion with the universe’s expansion.  When the temperature fell below 3000°, a critical event occurred: light separated from matter and emerged from the darkness of the universe….. The light of Genesis 1:3 existed prior to the Divine separation of light from darkness, which is described in Genesis 1:4.  Both the Talmud and cosmology acknowledge that this first “light” was of a nature so powerful that it would not have been visible by humans.  We have learnt from science that the “light” of that early period was in the energy range of gamma rays, an energy far in excess of that which is visible to the naked eye.  As the thermal energy of the photons fell to 3000° K  …. they became visible as well.  Light was now light and darkness dark, theologically and scientifically. With an understanding that light was actually held within the primeval mass until being freed by the binding of electrons into atomic orbits, the enigmatic division by God between light (which is totally composed of photons) and darkness takes on a significant meaning consistent with its literal meaning.”1

 

It is easy to get blinded by Schroeder’s science, but what he is suggesting is that light created during the first day of creation emanated from the cooling of energy from the Big Bang. 

 

This is a questionable connection.  Light in Genesis I was formed subsequent to the “tohu” (desolation)” and “vohu (void)” of primordial earth, whereas radiation from the Big Bang began billions of years before earth’s creation.  

 

There is yet a third explanation suggested by Nahum Sarna is his book “Understanding Genesis.”2 This is that these early chapters in Genesis were written as a polemic against paganism.  A polemic can hardly be effective if there is confusion.  Therefore, the Bible used only concepts that would have been readily understandable to readers at the time the Bible was written. 

 

Chapter 1 of Genesis, however, is more than just a polemic against multiple gods.  Mesopotamian paganism encompassed an entire way of thinking about the functioning of society, and Genesis 1 is also a polemic against these ideas.  In fact, much of the Bible is built upon a negation of these ideas, so that Genesis I can be considered a foundation stone of the Torah.

 

In sum, there is little concordance between the first chapter of Genesis and modern science because Genesis I is not based on modern science, but on the science of ancient Mesopotamia.  Modern science concerns itself with such questions as - what is the material basis of the physical and biological worlds, how are these elements put together, and how do these combinations influence their function?  These questions would have been unanswerable to ancient societies.  A creation account that included the theory of evolution, Einstein’s theory of Relativity and the Big Bang would have been inexplicable and irrelevant to people living in the ancient world.  However, these ancients did have questions that were very much of concern to them, such as how was order created from disorder at the beginning of the universe, and who was responsible for this?  Such questions were addressed by almost all the ancient creation myths of that period, and it is not surprisingly, therefore, that were also addressed by Genesis I. 

 

Despite its obsolete science, a modern religious person can still very much relate to this Divinely written chapter, but he/she needs to read it with somewhat different lenses than did the Jewish commentators of former years. 

Our first example for looking afresh at Genesis I will be the last paragraph of this chapter concerning the Sabbath day.

 

Creation as a poem based on numbers 6 and 7

 

An important Jewish ritual is the recitation of the last paragraph of Genesis I before the Friday night evening meal, and this constitutes the “Kiddush” ritual – the verbal sanctification of the Sabbath, which officially begins the evening before the Sabbath day.  This passage is highly appropriate for this night, since it describes God’s creation and sanctification of the Sabbath.  

  

The paragraph has a wonderful lilt and rhythm to it when read in the original Hebrew, thus adding to the beauty of its recitation. 

  

But what gives it this lyric form? 

 

The Biblical scholar Umberto Cassuto was a pioneer in the literary analysis of the Bible and he points out the poetic dimensions of this passage.3  The passage reads as follows in English and in Hebrew:

 

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their hosts. 

    #1. And Elokim finished on the seventh day His work which He had made;

    #2. And He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. 

     #3. And Elokim blessed the seventh day and sanctified it;

      Because in it He had rested from all his work which Elokim created and made”.(Genesis 2:1-3)

 

וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל-צְבָאָם:     

 

וַיְכַל אֱלֹקים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי       #1.

מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָֹה                    

 וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי        #2.

                                                                              מִכָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָֹה    

  וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹקים אֶת-יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי       #3.

  וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹקים אֶת-יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי       #3.

וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתו         

ֹ        

כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר-בָּרָא אֱלֹקים לַעֲשֹוֹת:

           

There are a number of reasons for the lilt of this paragraph.  Firstly, the middle of each of the three sections labeled #1 to #3 each contain the words bayom hashevi’i בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ)) or yom hashevi’iיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי )), which mean “on the seventh day” or just “the seventh day,” and this phrase constitutes a refrain for the passage.  In addition, each sentence #1, #2 and #3 contains seven words, and these features provide the paragraph with its structure and rhythm.  What we have here, therefore, is a melodic poem based on number 7.3

In the ancient world, numbers had meaning.  Number 7 represented perfection and the realm of the Divine, being one level above the natural world which was represented by number 6.  This association with number 7 does not appear to be a Jewish concept.  In ancient Mesopotamia, number 7 was associated with pagan gods.  Hence, the famous ziggurat in Babylon, on which the Biblical tower of Babylon story is based, had 7 stories, and on the seventh story stood the temple to Marduk, the chief god of Babylon. 

 

As will be explained in chapter 2, there are many aspects of the Torah that are based on number 7.  This should not be surprising as the Bible is a book about the relationship between God and humanity. 

 

There are also other associations to number 7 in Genesis I.   This paragraph about the Sabbath, for example, contains 35 words, i.e. 7 x 35.4  Consider also the first sentence of the Bible, which reads as follows: 

 

In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and the earth.

 

   בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹקֵים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ:

 

There is much one can say about this sentence.  Firstly, it’s grammatical form is unusual in that its first word “bereishit” is in the construct form, meaning “in the beginning of …”   However, the object of the “of” is missing!  The usual way of saying “in the beginning” is barishona, which means “first of all.” 

 

Most Jewish commentators answer this problem by considering this first sentence as being a general introduction to the creation story with there being an implied noun here – i.e. “In the beginning of (everything), ….. “ 

 

I like to think of this sentence as a wake-up sentence, a sentence of surprise, puzzlement and finally understanding.  In other words, the Bible is saying: I would now like to tell you a creation story: “In the beginning of … God created the heaven and the earth”  What do you mean “in the beginning of”?  In the beginning of what??  “In the beginning of everything” of course!

    

Now look again at the Hebrew version of this sentence and count the number of words. There are 7!

         

Consider the second sentence of the Torah:

 

And the earth was without form (tohu), and void (vohu); and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of  God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

 

ב   וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹקֵים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם:

     

The meaning of the words “tohu” and “vohu” is not clear, but they are usually thought of as expressing the desolation and disorganization of early planet earth.4 The “darkness”in this sentence represents disorder.  In the ancient world, darkness was considered a distinct creation, rather than being just the absence of light, and it way well have this significance in this sentence.  Meanwhile, God’s spirit hovered over the face of the deep sea waters (the deep sea water being another aspect of disorder) to orchestrate the creation of order from disorder. 

 

Note that this sentence contains 14 words (2 x 7)!

 

Are these number 7’s within this story coincidental?  This is most unlikely, since the meaning of number 7 is an integral aspect of the creation account.5

 

Just as the world of the Divine was conceptualized in terms of number 7, the naturalworld in ancient Mesopotamia was represented by the numbers 6 and 60.6  We have vestiges of this system even today in our 24-hour day (6 x 4) and 12-month year (6 x 2).  There is no scientific reason for there being 24 hours in a day.  It is an artificial construct based on Mesopotamian numerology.  A sexagesimal system, i.e. a number system based on 60 (6 x 10), was also used in the ancient world.  We also have vestiges of this today with our 60-minute hour, 360-degree circle (60 x 6), and 180-degree triangle (60 x 3). 

 

What significance can we derive from the use of this numerical system within this chapter?  Firstly, it indicates the poetic nature of this account.  News stories, for example, are never written in poetic form, since this is a difficult way to convey factual information.  Similarly, scientists never write their scientific observations in poetic form, since they wish to emphasize hypotheses and observations and not broad ideas.  However, Genesis I is not a factual account.  It is an allegorical poem conveying profound religious truths that are based on numbers 6 and 7 representing the natural and Divine realms.  

 

The 7’s found within the first two sentences of Genesis I further emphasize the Divine nature of every aspect of creation. The creation of the deep waters, as well as the tohu and the vohu, did not preexist God, but were part of His divine activity.  Similarly, the 6 days of Biblical creation are not scientific periods of time that can be nicely slotted into modern cosmology, but are highly figurative expressions of God’s activity within the natural world.  Finally, the 7’s in the last paragraph provide further emphasis of the fact that the Sabbath day is also an integral aspect of Divine creation. 

  

The creation account of Enuma Elish

 

Many of the concepts important to Mesopotamian culture can be derived from their myths.  Many of these that were written down in cuneiform form and have survived to this day.  An important genre of myths are creation myths.  These describe the involvement of the gods within nature, how different gods came into being, and the relationship of gods to man. 

 

Looking at the natural world around them, the Mesopotamians saw powerful forces determining their lives.  Each day the sun moved across the sky.  In the spring, seeds germinated to produce crops.  What controlled these forces of nature?  A logical step was to surmise that they were controlled by different gods that inhered within nature.

 

It was also evident to the Babylonian authors of these creation myths that the forces of nature were frequently in conflict with each other.  The Tigris-Euphrates valley was prone to unpredictable floods that left destruction in their wake.  Fierce storms led to disruption and chaos in the towns and villages along the rivers.  Looking at the political situation of their cities and villages, these authors also saw tension, conflict, and violence.  It was but a natural step to conclude that conflict was part of the fabric of the universe, and this ethos became incorporated into their creation myths.  Hence, their creation myths describe conflict between the gods controlling cosmic order and chaos, the conspiracies and violence that beset the origins of the pantheons, and the violence that attended the creation of the universe.

 

The consequences of this way of thinking would be far-reaching.  Creation myths functioned as the blueprint for the order of the cosmos and a model for societal behavior and governance.  What these writers had done was to take cues from their perceptions of the world around them; but in so doing they had legitimized the hierarchical power structures of their cities and legitimized power as the arbiter of discord. 

 

This is not to say that Mesopotamians had no respect for goodness and justice.  Accounts of Mesopotamian monarchs make mention of the works they did to improve the lives of their subjects.  The Mesopotamian king Hammurabi brought a unified system of justice to his empire.  Nevertheless, until the advent of the Bible, there was no philosophical underpinning for goodness and justice in the world other than for the exigencies of an ordered society.  The Biblical project can be regarded, therefore, not only as a protest against paganism but also as a protest against the Mesopotamian legitimization of power and violence.

 

There were probably a number of creation myths written in Mesopotamia, but with the rise of the Babylonian empire, one creation story in particular was widely known.  The creation myth Enuma Elish was written in Babylon between 1,500 to 1,700 BCE.  This myth would therefore have predated Moses’ writing of the Torah by several hundred years.  The name Enuma Elish means “when the skies” and comes from the first words of the myth.  It was recorded on cuneiform tablets and has survived almost intact.  

 

Enuma Elish describes the ascendancy of the fourth generation god Marduk to become chief god of Babylon.  It is difficult to say categorically that the first chapter of Genesis had this myth in mind, but there are sufficient similarities and counterpoints to Enuma Elish to suggest that it was directed either at this myth or others very like it.

 

An examination of selected passages from the Enuma Elish creation epic reveals the similarities as well as polar differences to its Biblical counterpart.7 

 

Emuna Elish opens in the following manner:

 

When skies above were not yet named [by the gods]

Nor earth below pronounced by name,

Apsu, the first one, their begetter

And maker Tiamat, who bore them all

Had mixed their waters together………

Then gods were born within them

Lahmu and Lahamu emerged, their names pronounced.”8

 

The primordial aspects of creation in this myth are the goddess Tiamat and her husband god Apsu.  Tiamat is the goddess of the deep-sea waters and represents the forces of chaos. Her husband Apsu is the god of subterranean sweet waters from which all fresh water springs arise.  In Genesis I, also, the deep sea waters are a primordial material of chaos from which creation proceeds.  

 

To “name” an object, material, and even a person in the literature of this time meant to define its essence and have dominion over it.  This is probably also its meaning in Genesis I when Elokim “calls to” and thereby defines the domains of day, night, heavens, sea, and earth (Genesis 1:1-10).  These become the fundamental  realms of the universe that are exclusively under God’s control. 

 

Subsequent generations of gods arise by sexual union, and in this passage Tiamat and Apsu “mix their waters together” to form the gods, Lahmu and Lahamu.  These siblings will stand at the end of the earth to hold up the heavens.  They are also the two parents of Anshar and Kishar, the sky father and earth mother gods. 

 

But how will order be produced from chaos?  In a universe of discord and violence this cannot be a peaceful process.  A violent soap opera now ensues, and it is only when Marduk defeats the forces of chaos that an ordered universe ensues.

  

The story tells us that Apsu becomes disturbed by the noise of the younger gods and decides to kill them.  It could well be, parenthetically, that Mesopotamian cities were noisy places, and without movie theaters, bowling allies and youth centers the young people had no place to go without disturbing the tranquility of their parents.  At this point in the myth, Tiamat informs the younger gods about her husband’s plot, and the younger gods kill her husband Apsu.  Marduk now flaunts his power to control whirlwinds and flood-waves.  This is annoying to some of the other gods and they persuade Tiamat to take revenge for her husband’s death and to kill these younger gods.  Tiamat forms a coalition, elevates Kingu her new husband to a position of power and creates monsters to help with the forthcoming struggle.  The younger gods now approach Marduk to save them, and he agrees to do this provided they appoint him as their permanent leader.  Marduk now challenges Tiamat to combat.  Marduk, representing the forces of order, confronts Tiamat, representing the forces of chaos, in a momentous clash.  Marduk prevails.  Note the gruesome violence that accompanies this struggle:

 

He shot an arrow which pierced her belly,

Split her down the middle and slit her heart,

Vanquishes her and extinguished her life.9

 The next tablet describes how Marduk creates the earth and heavens by slicing Tiamat in two:8 

The lord rested, and inspected her corpse.

He divided the monstrous shape and created marvels (from it)……..

He sliced her in half like a fish for drying:

Half of her he put to roof the sky,

Drew a bolt across and made a guard hold.

Her waters he arranged so that they could not escape.”10

           

Enuma Elish was publicly narrated on the Babylonian New Year.  There was a political motivation for this.  The king of the city ruled by divine appointment.  He, in turn, built temples for the gods and appointed a priestly class responsible for offering sacrifices and propitiating the chief god Marduk.  Enuma Elish thus supported the power structure of Babylon, while its ethos supported a despotic rule based on power. 

 This was the violent world that the Bible would confront, and Genesis chapter 1 was its opening salvo.

 

Elokim - the Creator of the universe

 

The first chapter of Genesis is a beautifully flowing poem designed to refute much of the philosophical underpinnings of the pagan world and to convey profound philosophical truths about Elokim’s creation of the universe.  It is a world apart from Enuma Elish.  Gone are the divinization of nature and the ascension of the gods through brute force.  There is no suggestion in Genesis I of a struggle between the forces of order and chaos.  Like the Mesopotamian creation story, the Biblical beginnings of the universe are marked by disorder, but creation is achieved by division and separation in response to the words of Elokim and not by armed combat.

 

On the other hand, Genesis I is by no means remote from Mesopotamian ideas regarding the origins of the world, and many concepts that are found in Enuma Elish can also be seen in the Biblical account. 

In both Genesis I and Emuna Elish, creation begins with a state of disorganization.  In Enuma Elish, Tiamat, the goddess of the deep-sea waters, represents the forces of chaos and she predates all aspects of creation other than her spouse Apsu, the god of sweet water, who is slain early in the story.  In Genesis I, primeval chaos is represented by the “tehom” (תְהוֹם), which has the meaning of deep seas, and by darkness (Genesis 1:2).  In contrast to Enuma Elish, Elokim achieves order not by battling these forces but by making divisions and differentiation within the primordial “formlessness” (tohu) (תֹהוּ)and “void” (vohu) (בֹהוּ) that characterize the beginnings of the earth.  As an eagle hovering over its offspring, Elokim “hovers” over the primeval waters to orchestrate the formation of order.

“As for the earth, it was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; but the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2)

 

 Within the creation account one finds figurative expressions of the order, purpose, and perfection of God’s creation (see table 1). 

             

The 6 “days” of creation are not six 24- hour days.  Nor are they phases in the creation of the universe that can be explained in scientific terms, but are expressions of the order pervading creation.  In Enuma Elish, squabbling gods determine the initial part of the story before Marduk is able to assert his authority, whereas in Genesis I, God begins creating from “day one.”  The notion of order is further emphasized by a poetic refrain found at the end of most days of creation – “And it was evening and it was morning the … day”) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The purpose manifested by Elokim’s creative acts is emphasized by another stylistic form.  From days 1 to day 3, Elokim created stationary domains within the physical world, and on days 4 to day 6 the purpose of these entities becomes established when these domains become filled with moving entities - luminaries, fish, birds and animals.11 This is illustrated in table 2 below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Specifically, day 1 is linked to day 4 when Elokhim places the heavenly constellations within the domain of light.  The reasons for the creation of the heavenly bodies are described in the text: (i). To separate day from night; (ii). For signs, seasons, days, and years; and (iii). To provide light to the earth.  Two of these reasons are mentioned in Enuma Elish and all may have been mentioned in the original version, as the fragment containing the description of the sun has been damaged. 

 

A question comes very much to the fore.  How can modern man relate to the fact that light was created on day 1 and the sun on day 4 when logic would dictate that the sun be created first? 

 

A number of answers have been suggested.  A somewhat figurative approach is that suggested by a Midrash (a Rabbinic interpretation that is part of the Jewish oral tradition):

 

“It is like the case of a king who wishes to build a palace, but the site was in darkness.  What did he do?  He kindled lamps and torches to see where to lay the foundations.”12

Creation resembles a stage.  The stage is empty except for the backdrop.  Act 1 (or day 1) cannot begin until the stage is bathed in light. 

      

It may also be that the Bible deliberately chose to downplay the importance of the heavenly bodies, since these were regarded as gods in the ancient world.13  In Egypt, in particular, the sun god Ra was considered one of the chief deities, and for a brief period in Egyptian history was worshipped as the sole god.  It is against such worship that the following passage from Deuteronomy is directed:

 

But you should take great care for your souls, for you did not see any likeness on the day YKVK spoke to you at Horeb, from the midst of the fire.  Lest you act corruptly, and make yourself a carved image, a likeness of any shape …. And lest you raise your eyes to the heavens and you see the sun, and the moon, and the stars – the entire legion of the heavens – and you be drawn astray and bow to them and worship them, which YKVK, your G-d, has apportioned to all the peoples under the entire heavens.  But YKVK has taken you and withdrawn you from the iron crucible, from Egypt, to be a nation of heritage for Him, as this very day.” (Deuteronomy 4:15-20)

 

There are other answers, too, more in the line with the themes being developed in this essay.  Darkness represents chaos, while light represents order.  The separation of light, therefore, has to be an early stage in the development of the world. 

 

The Creation narrative is also modeled to a degree on the “science” reflected by Babylonian creation myths.  Once Marduk has assumed supremacy, his first act after he has established the heavens and earth is to create the constellations, the sun, and the moon:   

 

As for the stars, he set up constellations corresponding to them.

He designed the years and marked out its divisions,

Apportioned three stars each to the twelve months.

He founded the stand of Neberu (the planet Juniper) to mark out their courses

So that none of them could go wrong or stray.

…………………………………………….

He made the crescent moon appear, entrusted night [to it]

And designated it the jewel of the night to mark out the days.

“Go forth every month without fail in a corona,

At the beginning of the month, to glow over the land.”14

 

There is no description of the creation of the sun, as this particular tablet has been damaged.  However, the presumption is that its creation by Marduk would have been similar to that of the other constellations.  This sequence is also followed in Genesis and this would explain the creation of the sun on day 4.   

 

Day 2 describes the creation of a firmament or space separating the “deep waters”below from water above the firmament.  This firmament is called heavens (shomayim) and would correspond to the combination of the earth’s atmosphere and outer space.  On its corresponding day 5, Elohim fills the domains of the waters below and the heavens.  He creates fish to swarm in the seas, and fowl to fly within the part of the firmament in proximity to the earth.  Great monsters, which in Enuma Elish are harnessed by the forces of chaos, are also placed within the watery domain.

 

On day 3, dry land arises from within the “deep seas” (tehom) and the waters around the dry land are gathered together to form seas.  Vegetation now sprouts from the earth.  On its corresponding day 6, the earth domain becomes filled with moving animals, and man is also created on this day.

 

The perfection of God’s creative activity is emphasized by another literary form seen at the end of each day of creation: “and God saw that it was good.”  In other words, each creative act of Elokim fulfilled the purpose for which it was intended.  Unlike the contentious world implied by Enuma Elish, God’s world is in complete harmony.

 

There are two omissions in these expressions of perfection.  Day 2 is not declared “good,” since the watery domain remains incomplete until dry land appears and oceans are formed.  However, day 3 is declared “good’ twice, once for the completion of the work of the second day and again for that of the third day.15

 

Alternatively, once with the formation of the dry land and seas, and again with the formation of vegetation.  Also, in anticipation of the Garden of Eden story, man’s creation is never described as “good,”since man is not intrinsically good.  Nevertheless, by the end of the 6th day, by which time all creative activity had been done, Elokim “saw all that he had made, and behold it was very (i.e. extremely) good.” (Genesis 1:31)  

 

But is the world we live in really in harmony?  Does not the food pyramid by its very nature pit one living being against another?  The answer of the Bible is might be somewhat surprising to us - at the beginning of the world living beings did not eat each other!

 

This becomes very evident by comparing a passage in Genesis I with verses from Noah and the Flood story.

 

In Genesis I, Elokim gives man dominion over all living creatures and also provides him with food:

 

And Elokim created man in his image, in the image of Elokim He created him, male and female He created them.  And Elokim blessed them and Elokim said to them: Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion  over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that moves on the earth. And Elokim said: Behold I have given you every plant which bears seed, it shall be to you for food ………” (Genesis i:27-30)

     

Adam’s role as ruler of the world is to care for his living “subjects.”  It goes without saying that Adam cannot eat them.  Animals, also, are to be herbivorous:

 

And to every beast of the field, to every bird of the sky, and to everything that moves on the earth, within which there is a living soul, all greenery which is an herb is for food.  And it was so.” (Genesis 1:31)

   

This creation model of universal harmony cannot last forever, however.  Subsequent to the corruption of Noah’s generation, the nature of the world changes. Elokim’s blessing to Noah and his sons is very similar to the one given to Adam, but with a fundamental difference:

 

 “And Elokim blessed Noah and his sons, and He said to them: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.  And the fear and dread of you shall be upon all creatures of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky…….  Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you……..” (Genesis 9:2-3)

 

Man has failed to maintain the world in peaceful harmony and can therefore no longer function as sovereign over nature and must perforce become part of it, “preying on those weaker than himself.”  Eating of meat is now permitted, and instead of harmony between man and animal, “fear and dread” of man is placed upon all creatures.  The text does not say this specifically, but the presumption must be that the nature of the animal world has also changed.

    

Creation accounts are the blueprints for civilization.  The creation myths of Mesopotamia promoted a worldview based on survival of the fittest.  Not surprisingly, therefore, the history of the ancient world is the story of conflicts between great empires and new predatory empires arising on the dust of the old.

 

This is not the model promoted by the Bible.  In highly figurative language the Bible describes a world in which every aspect of creation was in harmony.  It could not last, but it remains, nevertheless, the ideal.

 Isaiah’s portrayal of the messianic world is almost certainly a recreation of the situation at the beginning of the world:

 

And the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be food for the snake.  They shall not cause harm or corruption in all My holy mountain.” (Isaiah 65:25)

 

An attempt has been made in this section to explain all the scientific dilemmas mentioned at the beginning of the chapter - the 6 days of creation, the creation of the luminaries after the creation of light, and the creation of the plant kingdom before the animal kingdom.  Why the firmament is described as having a canopy of water above it has not been explained and the presumption must be that this was an ancient belief.  This canopy is also mentioned in the account of Noah and the Flood.  In this story we are told that on the day of the flood:

….. on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth; and the windows of the heavens were opened. (Genesis     7:11)

 

The deep seas returned to cover the earth and the water above the firmament discharged itself though “windows” that had opened up.  In other words, the world has now partially returned to the state of primeval chaos existing at the beginning of creation. 

 

The God-man relationship of Genesis I

 

The main focus of the Bible is not God, or man, but the relationship between them. 

 

At least two ways of relating to God are recognized in the Bible and these are typified by two different names for God.

 

To us, two names of God for two different aspects of God seems odd, since we are used to thinking of God in nothing but unitary terms.  Nevertheless, the use of different names for the same person depending on the type of relationship is not remote to us.  For example, the children of the president of the United States probably refer to their father as “Dad,” while his wife may use his first name.  In fact, it would be strange for her to refer to him as “Mr. President” in a family setting.  Similarly, it would be inappropriate for anyone other than family or a close friend to call him by his first name.  Despite his election to the highest office in the realm, the president’s relationship to his family is still as father-child/husband-wife, while his relationship to everyone else is as “Mr. President.” 

 

The first modern scholar to review the names of God in detail was Umberto Cassuto in a succinct monograph entitled  “The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch”.16  The name of God was an important topic for Cassuto.  He was on the faculty at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, which was a hotbed of Biblical criticism, but in contrast to other members of his department, he became a leading critic of Biblical criticism.  One of the foundations of Biblical criticism is the notion that different names of God are used by different authors of the Pentateuch.  However, Cassuto pointed out that the names of God used in specific Biblical texts are germane to the theme of that text.

 

For example, the first chapter of Genesis uses exclusively the name Elokim.  Elokim is a distant transcendent God who created the universe, but who is concerned, nevertheless, with the general providence of the universe He created and the moral direction of society. 

 

In the Semitic language “El” was a general term for deity, although in the Canaanite religion it was also the name of a supreme god.  The name has the meaning of “a force within nature.”17  The word Elokim is in the plural because there are numerous powers within nature created and controlled by God.  Nevertheless, the verb attached to Elokim in the Bible, when used as a name for God, is in the singular, except for one exception.  Elokim is also always addressed in the third person as “He.”

     

Elokim is not only the God of the Jewish people but also the God of all humanity.  The universal aspect of Elokim is evident from a number of places in the Pentateuch.18  Noah blesses his son Shem in the name of YKVK, but his son Japheth in the name of Elokim (Genesis 9:26-27). Shem is the progenitor of the Semites, while Japheth is the father of the Greek nations.  It is Elokim who informs Abraham and Sarah that they will be the parents of a “multitude of nations” when He commands Abraham and his offspring about circumcision (Genesis 17:5).  Circumcision is not exclusively a Jewish ritual, but is practiced also by the children of Abraham’s wife Keturah and by present-day Muslims (Genesis 17:13).  In other words, these are all aspects of God’s relation to man that are not solely related to the Jewish people.

 

The other commonly found name for God in the Torah is YKVK, and this name first appears in the second chapter of Genesis.  In contrast to Elokim, YKVK is an immanent God who relates to mankind on an individual level.  In Egypt, He will become the tribal God of the Jewish people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These two names of God and the attributes they describe would have been new and radical in the ancient world.  There was no pagan god who was interested in all of humanity.  There were gods of cities, and even gods of local areas or countries, but no god of the entire world.  Moreover, the notion of a personal god who was interested in and even communicated with individuals would also have been a transformative idea in the ancient world.  The gods of the ancient world had specific functions within nature, such as governing fertility and storms, but they had no relationship with individuals, nor did they communicate with them.

 

To appreciate fully the emphases of the Bible when describing the creation of man by Elokim, it is helpful to consider again the Enumah Elish myth and specifically its description of man’s creation.

Following the completion of the creation of the world, the gods who pledged their allegiance to Tiamat (i.e. the losing side) are forced into laboring for those who sided with Marduk.  The presumption is that this would have been primarily agricultural work.  The Euphrates and Tigris periodically overflowed their banks and deposited silt.  This provided fertile soil for crop cultivation, but necessitated the laborious construction of ditches and irrigation channels to bring water to the fields.

 

But Marduk has an idea.  To free the gods from this hard labor he decides to create human beings to do the work.  Marduk kills Tiamat's husband, Kingu, and from his blood creates a person.

 

When Marduk heard the speech of the gods,

He made up his mind to perform miracles.

He spoke his utterance to Ea,

And communicated to him the plan that he was considering.

“Let me put blood together, and make bones too.

Let me set up primeval man: Man shall be his name.

Let me create a primeval man.

The work of the gods shall be imposed (on him),

And so they shall be at leisure….

 

“Let one who is hostile to them be surrendered [up]

Let him be destroyed, and let people be created [from him] …

 

It was Kingu who started the war,

He who incited Tiamat and gathered an army!”

They bound him and held him in front of Ea,

Imposed the penalty on him and cut off his blood.

He created mankind from his blood.

Imposed the toil of the gods [on man] and released the gods from it.19

 

There is nothing dignified in this myth about the creation of man.  In fact, he is almost an afterthought in the creation story.  The focus of Enuma Elish is the supremacy of Marduck amongst the other gods, and the creation of man as a workhorse for the gods is very much subsidiary to the myth’s theogony.  There is, perhaps, a spark of divinity in man’s creation, but it comes from the blood of the forces of chaos, and this aspect of man’s creation is not developed further in the story.

 

In gratitude for being created, Marduk requires of man that he recognize Marduk’s supremacy and provide him with appropriate reverence:

 

Let him act as a shepherd over the black-headed people, his creation.

Let his ways be proclaimed in future days, never forgotten……..

Let him designate the black-headed people to revere him,

That mankind may be mindful of him, and name him as their god.”20

 

The creation of man described in Genesis I and II presents a stark contrast to the Enuma Elish account.  It is very clear from Genesis I that the entire universe is created for the sake of man.  Man is not a non-entity to be exploited by the gods, but akin to God, and created “in the image of Elokim and in His likeness.”

 

And Elokim said: Let us make Man in Our image, after Our likeness.  They shall rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and over the animals, the whole earth, and every moving thing that treads upon the earth.  So Elokim created man in His image, in the image of Elokim He created him, male and female He created them.  Elokim blessed them and Elokim said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every living thing that treads upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)

  

The text pointedly distinguishes between the creation of man and all other aspects of creation by a number of literary forms that serve to emphasize man’s dignity and autonomy: 

·      

Elokim brings the Biblical reader into His thought processes.  Speaking previously in the singular, He now turns to the plural – “Let us make man!” (Genesis 1:26)

·      

Man is made in the “image and likeness of God.”  

 

The entire chapter I is written in a poetic format, but the Bible waxes particularly poetic:  

 

“So Elokim created man in His image, in the image of Elokim He created him, male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27)  

    ·      

Man is given dominion over the earth and everything that Elokim has created.

       ·      Elokim blesses man and urges him to be fruitful.

 

But what does the Torah mean when it says that man is made “in the image and likeness of Elokim”? 

 

The medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides expended considerable energy in moving the Jewish people away from any physical conception of God and it would have been inconceivable to him that the Bible would describe man as being a physical image of God.  It must be, therefore, that the Bible was describing his spiritual qualities.  Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writing in the 19th century also took this approach.21

 

Maimonides writes:

 

 “On this account, i.e. on account of the Divine intellect with which man has been endowed, he is said to have been made in the form and likeness of the Almighty, but far from it be the notion that the Supreme Being is corporeal, having a material form.”22

 

However, the medieval Biblical commentator Rashi seems closer to the literal meaning of the text when he explains that although God has no physical form, man is, nevertheless, a physical representation of the attributes of God.23  It is these physical and intellectual attributes that will enable him to assert his new role as caretaker of the world.

The implications of this description of the creation of man in Genesis I for the progress of mankind cannot be underestimated.  In pagan Mesopotamian thought man is a non-entity and a slave for the gods.  It is no wonder then that historians describe Mesopotamian culture as being, on a philosophical level, extremely pessimistic.  As a slave to the gods, there is no challenge to man to improve the world and no driving force for man’s intellectual progress.  

 

By contrast, in the Genesis story, man is designated as the master of a perfectly functioning world created specifically for him.  The Bible has now placed mankind on a trajectory for intellectual, humanitarian and scientific progress.

 

Psalm 8 summarizes beautifully what Genesis I has achieved for man:

    

What is frail man that thou You should remember him?

And the son of mortal man that You should be mindful of him? 

Yet You have made him slightly less than the angels,

And with glory and honor You have crowned him.

You gave him dominion over Your handiwork. 

You placed everything under his feet:

Sheep and cattle, all of them, even the beasts of the field;……..

YKVK our Master, how mighty is your Name throughout the earth.”(Psalm 8:5-10)

 

Summary

 The creation story of Genesis I is not a scientific account.  It is an allegorical poem written with imagery that would have been familiar and understandable to the generation receiving the Torah.  Despite its outdated science, the contribution of this one chapter to the moral, and even scientific progress, of mankind is inestimable.  In contrast to Enuma Elish, the Bible describes a universe created with purpose and harmony and not in conflict with itself.  Violence is no longer the foundation of society and morality can flourish.  Man is not a slave of the gods but a dignified being to whom God has handed over direction of the world.  He can develop or damage the world with all the physical and intellectual powers that God has bestowed upon him. There is no request by Elokim for reverence, homage, praise or sacrifices.  His only request is that He be recognized as Creator of the universe, and this can be done by ceasing from creative activity for one day of the week, on the Sabbath.  

 

References

 1.  “Needed, a Big Universe” in “Genesis and the Big Bang. The Discovery of Harmony between Modern Science and the Bible” by Gerald L. Schroeder, Chapter 5 p89, Bantam Books 1992

 2.  Creation, Genesis 1-4 in Understanding Genesis. The Heritage of Biblical Israel by Nahum M. Sarna, Schoken Books, New York, 1970

 3.  Seventh Paragraph. The Seventh Day; End of the Section in A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Part One. From Adam to Noah by U.Cassuto, p 61, The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem 1998

 4.  The translation for the words “tohu” and “vohu” is unclear, since these words are not found elsewhere in the Bible other than as an allusion to Genesis.  Rashi following a midrash translates it as “astonishment and amazement” or “astonishingly empty”, this being the reaction a person would have at the void.   Targum Yonasan translates the words as “emptiness and desolation” and the Kuzari as “absence of form and order.”

 5.  Section One . The Story of Creation, Chapter 1, verse 1- chapter 2, verse 3, Introduction in A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Part One. From Adam to Noah by U.Cassuto, p12, The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem 1998

 6.  Understanding Jewish Prayer. I. Numerical Structures in The Koren Siddur with Introduction, Translation and Commentary by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks. p xxviii, Koren Publishers Jerusalem, 2009

 7.   Creation, Genesis 1-4 in Understanding Genesis in The Heritage of Biblical Israel by Nahum M. Sarna, p4, Schoken Books, New York, 1970

 8.  The Epic of Creation, Tablet 1 in Myths from Mesopotamia. Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh and Others by Stephanie Dalley. Oxford University Press, 2008, p 233.

 9. The Epic of Creation, Tablet 4 in Myths from Mesopotamia. Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh and Others by Stephanie Dalley. Oxford University Press, 2008, p 253

 10.  The Epic of Creation, Tablet 4 in Myths from Mesopotamia. Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh and Others by Stephanie Dalley. Oxford University Press, 2008, p 254-255

 11. Introduction in A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Part One. From Adam to Noah by U.Cassuto, p 17, The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem 1998, and Looking with Mind’s Eye: Intelligible Hierarchy in The Beginning of Wisdom. Reading Genesis by Leon R. Kass, p31. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2003

 12. Midrash Rabba 3:1

 13. At First Glance: The Visible Cast of Creatures (in Order of Appearance) in The Beginning of Wisdom. Reading Genesis by Leon R. Kass, p30. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2003

 14. The Epic of Creation. Tablet 5 in Myths from Mesopotamia. Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh and Others by Stephanie Dalley. Oxford University Press, 2008, p 255-256

 15.  See Rashi on Genesis 1:7 and Bereishis Rabba 4:6 

 16. Lecture 2, The Divine Names in The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch by Umberto Cassuto, p18, Shalem Press, Jerusalem and New York, 2006.  See also The Names of God in The Koren Siddur with Introduction, Translation and Commentary by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks. p xiv, Koren Publishers Jerusalem, 2009

 17. Kuzari IV:1. This explanation also partially follows that of the Ramban, as documented in his interpretation to Genesis. 1:1.  See also The Names of God in The Koren Siddur with Introduction, Translation and Commentary by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks. p xiv, Koren Publishers Jerusalem, 2009

 18.  Lecture 3, More about the Divine Names in The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch by Umberto Cassuto, p 32,  Shalem Press, Jerusalem and New York 2006

  19. Myths from Mesopotamia. Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh and Others by Stephanie Dalley, The Epic of Creation. Tablet 6, Oxford University Press, 2008, p 260-261

 20. Myths from Mesopotamia. Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh and Others by Stephanie Dalley, The Epic of Creation. Tablet 6, Oxford University Press, 2008, p 264

 21. Hirsch in his commentary to the Torah writes: “Bezalmenu – in our sheath, i.e. if all the compassion and love, the truth and equity and holiness of he Divine Rule wished to appear cased in an exterior visible form, it would appear in the figure in which the Creator gave man.”  While this description describes the relationship to YKVK as in the 2nd chapter of Genesis, it is not clear to me that this describes the relationship to the name Elokim, and I feel that Rashi’s explanation may be closer to the plain meaning of the text.

 22. Chapter 1 in Moses Maimonides: The Guide for the Perplexed by M. Friedlander, second edition, p14, Dover Publications, Inc. New York

 23. Rashi on Genesis1:26

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