Revised May 23, 2008

The Genesis Creation Stories

Note: the symbol > means that one idea leads to, results in, becomes, develops into that to which it is pointed.

1. Why would modern scholars ignore theological value of creation stories?

> Nonetheless, the Genesis creation and paradise stories have enduring value in Christian theology, if for no other reason than Jesus pointed to them as a higher value than Deuteronomy teaching, and Paul's Adam/Christ comparison

2. ANE parallels show striking difference of Genesis 1-3

a. Types of ANE Creation Stories

Significant examples of ancient creation stories:

b. Enuma Elish (Babylonian; 2nd millenium BCE): heaven and earth is result of battle between the gods Marduk and primordial water Tiamat.

The world is therefore the result of violence among the gods

Humans are created to be laborers for the gods:

"Blood I will mass and cause bones to be,
I will establish a savage, a man shall be his name.
Verily a savage-man I will create.
He shall be charged with the service of the gods
That they might be at ease.
They bound him [the god Kingu], holding him before Ea.
They imposed upon him his guilt and severed his blood vessels.
Out of his blood Ea fashioned mankind,
He imposed the service and let free the gods"

c. Old Greek Goddess Eurynome

Homer: Eros hatched from the egg and set creation in motion

d. Plato's Timaeus

(Greek; 1st millenium BCE): The indivisible God creates lesser gods who create human beings; if God would have created people then they would be equal to the gods. Body is created after the soul. Male is higher than female.

Genesis 1

The Genesis creations stories are in contrast to the terror, alienation and chaos of other ANE creation stories.

Canaanite Baal myths: Baal slays sea monsters, gods of chaos (scary to humans)

Genesis: Elohim in control of waters

"O Yhwh God of hosts, who is as mighty as you, O Yhwh?
Your faithfulness surrounds you.
You rule the raging of the sea (yam);
when its waves rise, you still them.
You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm" (Psalm 89:8-10)
"On that day Yhwh with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent,
Leviathan the twisting serpent,
and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.
On that day: a pleasant vineyard, sing about it!" (Isaiah 27:1-2)

Genesis 1 dissolves some of the terrifying mythology of the ANE:

Water and sea monsters are under God's control: "the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters" (1:2); "God created the great sea monsters" (1:21). Avoids naming sun and moon which were gods among other peoples: "God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night" (1:16). Stars do not govern fate (astrology) but are merely bodies of light created by God: "God said, 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years" (1:14). The contrasts continue into the 2nd creation story: in Genesis 2-3 human rebellion rather than divine rebellion made the world and human life the way it is. This is different from the stories of other ANE peoples.

Other elements of world that control HP are also under Elohim's control: stars, sun and moon. Therefore the HP does not have to fear the world.

Creatio ex nihilo

Many scholars suppose that this idea is a much later invention for philosophical reasons, but Flanders et al note: "Although not explicitly stated, something very near that [Creatio ex nihilo] is implied" (F98).

The Hebrew verb bara' ("to create") only used for God: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1). Contrast the verb used in the second story: "Yhwh God formed (yatzar) man of dust from the ground" (Gen 2:7). If "formed" implies preexisting matter, perhaps the contrast with "made" in Genesis 1 was intentional. Thus Gen 1:2 reveals the state of things before God began creating: "The earth was without form and void [tohu webohu = state of chaos], and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters."

Because the human person is given herbs to eat, and animal meat is not allowed until after the flood, the ancients understood that the human person was vegetarians in the beginning. This is an aspect of the original shalom (peace > harmony of species):

"God said, 'Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." (Gen 1:29-30)

Creation of HP

In Enuma Elish and other myths HP is created from bodies of murdered gods for sole purpose of slaving for gods.

Creation of HP in Genesis: "in the image of God" (1:26-27); it is not known exactly what it means but basis for inherent dignity and worth of every HP.

The Two Creations of Adam

Gen 1:26-27 and Gen 2:7 are dual theological understandings of the nature of the human person. Creation from dust, clay of earth (2:7) side by side with "image of God" is theological genius: HP essentially good, modeled after God, but also subject to decay, corruption.

"God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen 1:26-27)
"Yhwh God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." (Gen 2:7 )

What is symbolized by the 2 adams? A healthy balance between a high and low anthropology: the HP as both the summit of creation in the biblical storyworld, and corruptible, capable of intense evil. The balance is reflected in the rabbinic notion of the two yezers, or inclinations, that compete for dominance in the HP.

Image of God, the Imago Dei. What it means to be "made in the image of God" is never clarified in the Bible, but it is the basis of a high anthropology in both Jewish and Christian theologies. The Image suggests the inherent value of the human person, of human life. After the flood, the Image reappears as the reason that murder of a human person is wrong:

"Whoever sheds the blood of man ('adam), by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image." (Gen 9:6)

Over the centuries theologians have argued whether the Image of God was lost in "the Fall" of Adam of Eve.

The formation of Adam in the second story suggests to some a devaluation of human person, because .

"Yhwh God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." (Gen 2:7)

The second account of HP creation is thought (by scholars) to conflict with Genesis 1: creation by Yhwh Elohim, from clay, Adam first then Eve. What is more important is that human person ('adam) made from the "dust of the earth" (familiar idea from Mesopotamian stories) suggests humankind in their weakness: fallible, corruptible, subject to decay. The Jewish philosopher/theologian Philo of Alexandria (1st CE) conceived of the first Adam as a heavenly man (commenting on Gen 2:7):

"by this expression ['from the earthly clay'] he shows most clearly that there is a vast difference between man as generated now, and the first man who was made according to the image of God. For man as formed now is perceptible to the external senses, partaking of qualities, consisting of body and soul, man or woman, by nature mortal. But man, made according to the image of God, was an idea...perceptible only by the intellect, incorporeal, neither male or female, imperishable by nature" (Op. Mund. 134)

By contrast, the Image of God Adam was the Platonic "idea" or form (eidos), the archetype of the human person.

The two Adams, Image of God and Dust of the Earth, can be understood as incompatible concepts of the human person, but in the canonical context they are complementary, representing our dual nature of the human person that is found in Paul's struggle between what he wills and what he does, and the war between flesh and spirit. It is also related to Paul's portrayal of Christ as the second Adam.

The Jewish philosopher/theologian Philo of Alexandria (1st CE) conceived of the first Adam as a heavenly man (commenting on Gen 2:7): "by this expression ['from the earthly clay'] he shows most clearly that there is a vast difference between man as generated now, and the first man who was made according to the image of God. For man as formed now is perceptible to the external senses, partaking of qualities, consisting of body and soul, man or woman, by nature mortal. But man, made according to the image of God, was an idea...perceptible only by the intellect, incorporeal, neither male or female, imperishable by nature" (Op. Mund. 134)

Image of God = Platonic "idea," form, archetype of human person"

Woman created secondary and subservient? In patriarchal ANE context where equality of sexes not obvious, says something important: male and female created for each other; affirms value of women.

ANE stories: world is "messed up" from the beginning because of evil of gods. By contrast, Genesis depicts a world that is good, messed up by the HP.

Conclusion: Genesis uses common ANE elements but dissolves the fearful imagery, affirms the worth of the created world and the HP. A perfect world (storyworld) in perfect peacem shalom.

b. Mythological character: myths

c. Creation may not appear in creedal statements that focus on the Exodus event

3. Symbolism of Creation and Paradise

a. be-reshit = when, or by what force?

b. primordial light = God's presence, glory, Kabod

c. God also present in garden: Gen 3:8 "Yhwh walking in garden in cool of day"

d. where was Eden?

e. Trees of paradise

"Out of the ground Yhwh God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen 2:9)

Yhwh's command that Adam "not eat" only concerns the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). The tree of life is not mentioned. In the Genesis paradise story the tree of life is an unexplored detail, since neither the human characters nor the serpent react to it in any way; yet paradise story ends with Yhwh denying future access to the tree of life: "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever..." (Gen 3:22).

"He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life" (Gen 3:24)

All sorts of wood and lumber texts were interpreted as appearances of the tree of life:

tendency to conflate significant mountains: Mt. Moriah as site of temple (Gen 22:2; 2 Chron 3:1); Eden and the Temple

f. Serpent's Role

A mythological snake (like pre-Greek myths?), or dragon, but not Satan at this point in the biblical story. Note its interpretation at the end of the biblical story:

"The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world -- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him." (Rev 12:9)

"Satan as personification of evil is a much later development in Jewish thought" (F116), but the name/title appears in the following OT texts: 1 Chr. 21:1 (satan); Job 1-2; Zech. 3:1-2 (ha-satan). There were nany names for an arch-demon, fallen angel, primary tempter: Prince Mastema, Beelzebub, etc.

g. The Fall?

What was lost? Access to God

Why removed from Eden? Prevent HP from eating fruit from tree of life

Original Sin is an interpretation of the text, rather than the plain meaning of the text itself

Later reflection -- esp. in the Christian theology of Augustine, following Paul's Adam/Christ contrast -- saw Adam's act as a stain on all humanity which must be undone by Christ:

"For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (Paul; 1 Cor 15:21-22)

Not every Christian or Jewish theologian interpreted Genesis 3 as a Fall, or as a stain on all humanity

In the New Testament era, Adam was not always a negative figure:

"Adam [was honored] above every living being in the creation" (Sir 49:16)

The Curses of Rebellion

Answers the question, if the creation was good in the beginning, why is it bad, or uncomfortable now?

Serpent cursed: "Yhwh God said to the serpent, 'Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life....I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Gen 3:14-15)

Woman cursed with painful childbirth: "To the woman he said, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16)

Subordination of the woman seems not to be part of the will of the creator:

Ground ('adamah) cursed

"To Adam he said, 'Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life... In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Gen 3:17-19)
"In God's creation work was not a curse; it becomes a curse because of sin" (F117)

Theological significance of creation and paradise story

  1. Book of the Covenant is correct: direct opposition to other mythologies (117)
  2. But not Yhwh (118). Yhwh is not in story until 2:4b, important to overall story
  3. fairy-tale that Yhwh walks with HP (118), but essential to biblical story
  4. tree of life a common symbol, but how is it worked with in Genesis (119)
  5. HP is to blame, rather than gods (121) -- it is etiological
  6. firmament = wind, what holds the world up: see egyptian gods holding the world up

1. Scholars are most confident in assigning these chapter to sources (J, E, P)

the separation between sources:

a. Gen 1:1-2:4a = P, E

b. Gen 2:4b-3:24 = J

"Adam and Eve heard the sound of Yhwh God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Yhwh God among the trees of the garden" (Gen 3:8)

2. Creation Stories in ANE

Since most ancient peoples had stories about origin of world and human person, how is the Genesis story unique? 

Are the early portions of OT monotheistic or henotheistic?

Scholars believe ancient "Israel" developed from polytheism to henotheism to monotheism. It is clear to your professor that real monotheism emerged only in the exilic (i.e., sixth century BC) portion of Isaiah (40-55):

"Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
I, even I, am Yhwh,
and apart from me there is no savior." (43:10-11)
"This is what Yhwh says― Israel's King and Redeemer, Yhwh Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me?...
Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?You are my witnesses.
Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one." (44:6-8)
"I am Yhwh, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God." (45:5)