The challenge this week is to understand where the stories of creation contained in the Hebrew Bible came from and what did they say to the people for whom they were written. Genesis kicks off our Christian Bible and contains many of the stories I have heard multiple times over the past 40+ years participating in the United Methodist Church. Again I can’t help but feel let down that the clergy who retold these stories in my presence have never used the lenses that the scholars I read this week have done. By shying away from challenging the disproven myths and not using the contemporary knowledge they simply continued to reinforce that women were somehow less than men. I feel angry and betrayed that I wasn’t given more information at an earlier age so that I could have formed my own conclusions on stories contained in the Bible. Maybe it was a matter of the student being ready for the teacher to appear? I guess it really doesn’t matter for I have the opportunity now, so here we go…
The creation stories you might be familiar with are found in Genesis. Genesis is the first of the five books which make up the Torah also known as the Pentateuch and where this blog post will focus on why the stories there are not found in other parts of the Hebrew Bible and why they differ from other creation stories. After a description of how the scholars explain the content and how they believe it came to be, I will use other creation story excerpts found in the Hebrew Bible and compare them to the Genesis 1-2 creation stories.
The Pentateuch is comprised of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy and is the terminology used by scholars while Torah is typically what religious leaders call the same five books. (Bandstra) In the article by Jean-Louis Ska he states that scholars agree that the Pentateuch was written in the Persian period. In his lectures, Dr. Brook Lester discusses how biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen came up with the documentary hypothesis in 1878 working with others to explain why the evidence in the Pentateuch demonstrates multiple writers. How it is believed that Genesis is worked over by one writer who is also the redactor or editor of the Pentateuch.
Christopher Stanley defines the documentary hypothesis as the theory which proposes four earlier written sources are combined to make the Pentateuch. (pg. 297) The four sources are called J- the Yahwist narrative because it calls God Yahweh. This narrative is considered epic and shares how humans came to be and how one group of people became the people of God. It has the first account of the nation of Israel and its importance to God. The next is the E- Elohist source written in the northern kingdom of Israel in either the 800s or early 700s BCE after J- the Yahwist narrative. Elohim is a broad word to describe God, not God’s proper name, Yahweh. It also refers to the plural gods which causes confusion. The Elohist source is found mixed with the Yahwist narrative and the writer was a priest. He wrote about moral implications of human behavior, fear of God, God coming to people in dreams, and prophets. These two sources have some writings called JE- combined Yahwist-Elohist epic which took place after the fall of Israel in 721 BCE. The Elohist source priest fled to Jerusalem with both sets of previously discussed writings and combined them using David’s lineage. This source is also known for the religious and moral devotion it promoted. It is considered the national story for the people who fled to the south after 721 BCE. The third is called D- the Deuteronomic source written after the others. It is not combined with them and is the book of Deuteronomy even though it continues the story of Moses’ life as a collection of his sermons. It has similarities to the Elohist source because it too is written by Levites who came from the northern kingdom of Israel. Last is P- the Priestly document composed by priests exiled after Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in the early 500s BCE. They wrote to bring hope back to the people who felt they were being punished by God for breaking the covenant. The Priestly document focuses on divine blessings, covenants with God, genealogies, and the important role of priests in society. (Bandstra, pg. 20-26) Another scholar, Richard Elliott Friedman, talks about how the Pentateuch using Documentary Hypothesis took hundreds of years to comprise the poetry, prose, and laws found in today’s Bible. He also lists seven attributes to determining how the four sources differ: linguistics, terminology, consistent content, continuity of texts, connection with other parts of the Bible, relation to historical events, and when evidence converges consistently.
Synopsis of Genesis 1-2
Here is my brief synopsis of the parts of these chapters I will compare to the other scriptures:
Genesis 1 God created heaven and earth. The face of the deep, like the wind God swept over the face of the waters. Let there be light. Separated light from dark called them day and night. Dome in the midst of waters and separated waters above and below the dome. Sky. Dry land called earth, waters below became the seas. Plants. Lights in the sky day and night. Seasons, days, and years. Sun and the moon. Creatures birds, sea monsters. Wild animals and cattle and creeps on the ground of every kind. Humankind in our image. Give them dominion over fish, birds, cattle and wild animals and creeping things. Created humankind in God’s image. Dominion over all.
Genesis 2 Heavens and the earth were finished and all their multitude. God rested on the 7th day. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. The day God made earth and heavens no plants, no herbs sprung up, no one to till the ground, a stream would rise up from the earth and water the face of the ground. God formed man breathed live and man became a living being. God planted a garden in Eden. Trees grew including the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flows out of Eden to water the garden which breaks into four branches. God put the man in the garden to till and keep it. Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil or you will die. The man should not be alone, make him a helper for a partner. Out of the ground, God formed every animal of the field and bird of the sky. Brought them to man to name. The man named them. No helper was found as a partner so God caused the man to sleep and took a rib making a woman. Brought her to man, the man named her woman. Both were naked and unashamed.
Scholars Discuss Creation Stories
Scholars share the importance of creation stories for ancient people. Shawna Dolansky compares the Hebrew Bible creation stories to those of the other ancient Near East stories which include a goddess who has been omitted by Genesis writers. She feels the main difference is that the Bible version is not about the fall of mankind but of the fall of the goddess. The contribution of Janet Soskice is that Christians have disagreed about their creation views over the years like that the world was made in six 24 hour days. Christians believe God made all and that everything is a gift. She argues that a view like this means creation continues in the here and now. Scholar, David Carr, says the story is not compatible with science but is a theological story showing God’s power and might and how humans share in it. The goodness of creation and humanity’s role in it and that to be like God we are to rest on Sabbath, this is a very important point. It can be missed trying to make the idea of days interpreted as eras to try and fit into a science model.
Comparative Creation Hebrew Bible Scripture Readings
Here is my synopsis of each of the ten readings:
Isaiah 51:9 God cuts up the chaos monster Rahab at the time of creation. (Rahab may also be symbolic of Egypt at the time of the exodus.
Job 9:4-14 Believed to be part of an ancient hymn praising God as the creator of the universe. (Compare to Gen 1:1-19) Moves mountains turning them over in anger. (Earth was flat and supported on pillars.) Shakes earth, commands the sun, seals up stars, created constellations, Heavens, and earth were covered by the dark waters of chaos. God tamed these waters believed to be a monster so that land could exist, helpers of Rahab bowed to God.
Job 26:7-14 God spreads out the sky suspends the earth over nothing. Binds up water in clouds. Covers the moon with clouds. Creates the horizon on the face of the waters with a boundary between light and darkness. Pillars of heaven tremble. God churns up the sea and his wisdom cuts Rahab into pieces. His breath makes skies fair, his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
Job 38:1-11 God states laid earth’s foundation. Determined the measurements. Stretched the line (horizon) across it. Set the footings and cornerstone. Closed the sea behind doors when it burst forth in creation. Made clouds as its garment. Wrapped it in darkness. Set its bars and doors.
Psalm 8 God set glory above heaven. Made the heavens, moon, stars, set them in place. Made mankind a little lower than heavenly beings. Made man ruler of what you have created and put everything under the feet of mankind. The sheep, oxen, and beasts of the field. Birds, fish, and other sea creatures.
Psalm 74:12-17 Divided the sea by your might. Broke the heads of the monsters in the waters. Crushed the heads of Leviathan giving him as food to the creatures in the wilderness. Made openings for springs and streams, dried up rivers. Made day and night. Sun and the moon. Made the limitations of the earth. Summer and winter.
Psalm 89:8-10 Rule over the sea, quieting the waves. Crushed Rahab and scattered your enemies.
Psalm 104:1-9 Stretch out the heavens like a tent. Sets beams of your chambers on the waters. Clouds are your chariot, ride wings of the wind. Set the earth on its foundations, cover it with the deep as with a garment. Waters stood above the mountains. At God’s rebuke, the waters fled. Flowed over mountains, down into the valleys. You set a boundary they cannot cross so they will never again cover the earth.
Psalm 136:1-9 ( Compare to Gen 1:1,2,16) Made the heavens, spread out the earth on the waters, made great lights, sun to govern the day and moon and stars to rule the night.
Proverbs 8:22-31 Wisdom is present as God created “her” first. Before the world began when there were no oceans, no springs full of water before mountains and hills were in place before the earth was formed in fields or dust. Was present when God set the heavens in place and marked out the horizon on the face of the deep. Established the clouds and the fountains of the deep. Wisdom was beside God when the sea was given limits, foundations of the earth were set. Rejoicing in God’s presence and in the world, delighting in mankind.
Comparisons Genesis & Other Readings
It can be seen that often creation is described as heavens and earth separations. Creation of the sun and moon. The water made into the sea and God making humankind. There are depictions of animals, birds, and sea creatures.
In the combined readings from other parts of the Hebrew Bible, I was struck how many places mentioned a sea monster, either called Rahab or Leviathan. Another glaring difference is how the earth is believed to be flat and situated on pillars. Stars and clouds become more important in these retellings of a creation story. Wisdom is mentioned a couple of times.
Another Creation Story
Now for my retelling, I hope you enjoy!
Before humankind was created by God, the Universe, and Wisdom together they placed in the sky stars formed into constellations, clouds to hold the rain, and the sun and the moon. Next, they defeat the monster called Rahab, the chaos of the sea to make land as mountains with streams and springs. Land strong and stable as if balanced on pillars. Wisdom watches as God creates seasons, makes animals to live on the land, in the sky, and in the sea. Finally, God makes humankind in their image to the delight of Wisdom.
Bandstra, Barry http://barrybandstra.com/rtot4/rtot4-03-pt1.html
Friedman, Richard Elliott http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/flood.html
Lester, Dr. Brook
Soskice, Janet http://bibleodyssey.org/tools/video-gallery/c/creation.aspx
Stanley, Christopher D. “The Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Approach”