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Creation according to Genesis
Creation according to Genesis refers to the description of the creation of the heavens and the earth by God, as described in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. The text spans Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of the book of Genesis. The Original Hebrew has been translated into English on innumerable occasions; the most famous of these is the King James version .
Genesis is canonical for both Christianity and Judaism, and to a lesser degree Islam, and thus is often taken as being of spiritual significance. For a discussion of the comparison between the first two chapters of Genesis and the theory of evolution, see Creation vs. evolution debate.
Translation and Authorship
The text does not name its author, and a variety of theories have arisen regarding its authorship.
Mosaic authorship hypothesis
According to Hebrew and Christian tradition, the first 5 books of the Bible, or Pentateuch, were written by Moses. John the Evangelist presents Jesus as having accepted Mosaic authorship (John 5:46–47).
It is often accepted that parts of the Pentateuch were added by later authors. Most commonly cited is Deuteronomy 34, which records the death of Moses. A number of passages indicate that Moses wrote texts, which may be part of the Pentateuch; e.g. Exodus 17:14; 24:4–7; 34:27; Numbers 33:2; Deuteronomy 31:9, 22, 24, but no passage explicitly ascribes the book of Genesis to Moses. (Benware 1993)
However, traditionalists argue that Moses seems to have all the right criteria to be the author. The books show immense familiarity with the customs, geography, fauna and flora of Egypt, which is consistent with an author who grew up there. But there is a curious naivety about Palestine, which seems inconsistent with being written after Israel was a nation.
Several possibilities have been suggested as to how Moses came to write the text:
- he may have received it all by oral traditions, passed down over the centuries from father to son, which he then collected and wrote down, (Morris 1981).
- he may have taken actual written records of the past as part of his education as an Egyptian prince, collected them, and brought them together into a final form. (Douglas 1990). Or as leader of the Israelites, he may have been in possession of written records of the past handed down from the Israelite ancestors, thus providing the possibility of direct witness to the events by the authors.
- he may have received it all by direct revelation from God, either in the form of audible words dictated by God and transcribed by him, or else by visions given him of the great events of the past, which he then put down in his own words. (Morris 1981).
Some believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Others believe that Moses wrote the text, but not under any divine inspiration.
Critics argue that belief in Mosaic authorship is unjustified because the text does not claim to be written by Moses; because large portions of the text were written about events long before Moses lived, or (in a few cases) after he died, were therefore not firsthand knowledge, and must have originated elsewhere; and because stylistic, vocabulary, and structural changes exist in the text indicating multiple authors and redaction.
A computer study was undertaken to determine the authorship of Genesis. The study concluded that it was produced by a single author, and that the author had major Egyptian influences. Omni magazine of August 1982 says:
- After feeding the 20,000 Hebrew words of Genesis into a computer at Technion University in Israel, researchers found many sentences that ended in verbs and numerous words of six characters or more. Because these idiosyncratic patterns appear again and again, says project director Yehuda Radday, it seems likely that a sole author was responsible. Their exhaustive computer analysis conducted in Israel suggested an 82 percent probability that the book has just one author.
JEPD authorship hypothesis
Main article: Documentary hypothesis
Modern textual critics posit that the first two chapters of Genesis are a composite of two different literary strands: the "Jehovist" (10th century BC), and the "Priestly" (7th century BC); and that the strands were compiled by an unknown redactor. One such scholar wrote, "The book of Genesis, like the other books of the Hexateuch, was not the production of one author. A definite plan may be traced in the book, but the structure of the work forbids us to consider it as the production of one writer." (Spurell xv).
The postulated source streams include:
- Genesis 1:1 to 2:3, which exclusively uses the word Elohim to describe God, is ascribed to the Priestly source, which biblical critics believe to have used only Elohim until the revelation of the Name (in Exodus 6:3).
- Genesis 2:4 to 2:24, which exclusively uses the words Jehovah Elohim to describe God, is ascribed to the Jehovist, who biblical critics believe used Jehovah exclusively.
See also: Names of God in Judaism
Textual critics assert that the two passages tell the story of creation in different ways, and that there are inconsistencies between the two accounts. They conclude that the most probable explanation for the two inconsistent accounts is that a redactor combined the two independent creation stories into the final text which we have today. Bible defenders argue that the inconsistencies are apparent rather than real.
Those rejecting the methodology of textual criticism argue that when a biblical text is measured against the scholar's own concept of unity and found wanting, this probably says more about the biblical scholar's sense of unity than about the text's prehistory. (Carr 24).
The JEPD hypothesis has also been criticized on the grounds that it apparently must even attribute different parts of individual sentences to different authors, since many sentences in Genesis refer to God both as Elohim and Jehovah. A good example is Genesis 2:4 through the end of chapter 3, where all 19 times the name "Jehovah" is found, it is followed immediately by "Elohim" (God).
Also, many of Wellhausen's assumptions are no longer held today, e.g. that there was no writing at the time Moses was alleged to have written. Also, J P Holding has shown that Deuteronomy is written as a suzerain–vassal treaty in the form common from 1400 to 1200 BC, centuries before the time Wellhausen thought it was written.
Theories of textual interpretation
The single account theory
Some scholars believe that the Genesis account is a report of creation, which is divided into two parts, written from different perspectives: the first part, from 1:1 to 2:3, describes the creation of the Earth from God's perspective; the second part, from 2:4-24, describes the creation of the Garden of Eden from Humanity's perspective. One such scholar wrote, "[T]he strictly complementary nature of the accounts is plain enough: Genesis 1 mentions the creation of man as the last of a series, and without any details, whereas in Genesis 2 man is the center of interest and more specific details are given about him and his setting." (Kitchen 116-117).
The dual account theory
Other scholars, particularly those ascribing to textual criticism and the Documentary hypothesis, believe that the first two chapters of Genesis are two separate accounts of the creation. (They agree that the "first chapter" should include the first three verses of chapter 2). One such scholar wrote, "The book of Genesis, like the other books of the Hexateuch, was not the production of one author. A definite plan may be traced in the book, but the structure of the work forbids us to consider it as the production of one writer." (Spurell xv).
The dual perspective theory
Other scholars, such as Pamela Tamarkin Reis, assert that the text can be read either as one account or as two accounts from different perspectives, as the text uses a literary device to describe the same events first from the perspective of God, and second from the perspective of Humanity.
Specific issues of textual interpretation
- Some understand the passage literally, as meaning that God created the Earth exactly as described.
- Some interpret the passage figuratively, as meaning that God created the Earth and Life by his own power, that he created it Good, that he entrusted it to Humankind; since they see such power in the allegory, they see no reason to necessarily understand the passage literally.
"In the Beginning"
- Some understand the text to refer to the creation of the entire universe, and translate the first verse of Genesis as "In the Beginning." Related to this is the belief in creatio ex nihilio, creation out of nothing.
- Some understand the text to refer to the creation of the entire universe, but suggest that God must have withdrawn some of his own being to make room for the creation. Related to this are various beliefs meant to explain the presence of evil in the world
- Some understand the text to refer to the creation of order in the universe. They point out that In the beginning is not a literal translation of the Hebrew text into English. The Hebrew text lacks the definite article, and many have suggested it should be translated as When God began to create the heaven and the earth. This interpretation implies that there was unordered matter in the universe before God began to order it, and implicitly rejects the doctrine of creatio ex nihilio.
- The dual account theory asserts that the first story describes the creation of plants, animals, and humans over a period of many days, the second story describes these things of happening on the same day.
- The single account theory asserts that the first segment of the story describes the creation of plants, animals, and humans of the course of several days, and the second segment picks up where the first leaves off, focusing on the creation of the Garden of Eden, and the creation of domesticable plants, ("plants of the field and herbs of the field");
Use of different words for God
The first section exclusively refers to God as Elohim (often translated God), whereas the second exclusively uses the composite name Yahweh Elohim (the former word is often "translated" Lord or LORD, though it is sometimes rendered as God).
- The single account theory asserts that Hebrew scriptures use different names for God throughout, depending on the characteristics of God which the author wished to emphasize. They argue that across the Hebrew scriptures, the use of Elohim in the first segment suggests "strength," focusing on God as the mighty Creator of the universe, while the use of Yahweh in the second segment suggested moral and spiritual natures of deity, particularly in relationship to the man. (Stone 17).
- The dual account theory asserts that the two segments using different words for God indicates different authorship and two distinct narratives, in accord with the documentary hypothesis.
Though not so obvious in translation, the Hebrew text of the two sections differ both in the type of words used and in stylistic qualities. The first section flows smoothly, wheras the second is more interested in pointing out side details, and does so in a more point of fact style.
- One of the principles of textual criticism is that large differences in the type of words used, and in the stylistic qualities of the text, should be taken as support for the existence of two different authors. Proponents of the two-account hypothesis point to the attempts (e.g. The Book of J by David Rosenburg) to separate the various authors of the Torah claimed by the Documentary Hypothesis into distinct and sometimes contradictory accounts.
- Proponents of the single account argue that style differences need not be indicative of multiple authors, but may simply indicate the purpose of different passages. For example, Kenneth Kitchen, a retired Archaeology Professor of the University of Liverpool, has argued (1966) that stylistic differences are meaningless, using the evidence of a biographical inscription of an Egyptian official in 2400 B.C., which reflects at least four different styles, but which is uniformly supposed to possess unity of authorship.
The likelihood of parallel inconsistent accounts
The single account theory asserts that it is unlikely that the text would have survived for three to four thousand years in such an obviously contradictory state, and that it is therefore much more likely that the two segments are consistent with each other, with the first being general and the second being more specific to the creation of humans and the garden.
However, those who argue that the differences in the accounts are unresolvable point to several historic factors that would have allowed the contradictory accounts to survive uncorrected. Prior to the modern era, factors that would have made correction difficult included mass illiteracy, hand copying of manuscripts prior to the printing press, early rules preventing translations of the scriptures into common languages, church discouragement and punishment of critical analysis of scripture, and the church's canonization of texts as they were. In early times, there were few incentives or opportunities to criticize or correct scriptural text.
How apparent the differences are depends on the translations. For example, some modern English Bibles translate the two different words for God--Yahweh and Elohim--both as God. Others, however, such as the King James and Revised Standard Versions, translate Elohim as God, and Yahweh as Lord. In addition, some translations (e.g. the New International Version) have rendered the start of the second section as the day when--as if it was a review of past events--rather than on that day--as if it were a first recording of events.
The dual perspective theory
Biblical scholar Pamela Tamarkin Reis (2001) proposes that Genesis 1 and 2 can be seen as either one story from two perspectives or two separate stories. Both are appropriate. She draws the parallel with the ancient story-telling technique of telling the same sequence of events through the eyes of several different people. This method is best known from its use by Kurosawa in the movie Rashomon. One can make sense of that movie either as four different stories or as four people having four different realistic narratives of the same story.
Ms. Reis analyzes Genesis 1 as God's narrative and Genesis 2 as man's narrative. In Genesis 1, the style of narration is very orderly and logical, proceeding from basics like heaven and earth, through plants and animals to man and woman. And everything is "good" or "very good." Ms. Reis suggests that the story-teller has a bit of whimsy in noting how perfect everything is from God's view.
In contrast, in Genesis 2, man tells the story from his own self-centered perspective. Man is created first, and there are a few flaws. For example, Man is alone, without a woman (in contrast to Genesis 1, where the two were created simultaneously). Where Genesis 1 repeats the phrase "heaven and earth" several times, Genesis 2 uses "earth and heaven." Moreover, Genesis 2 contains a notice that "there was no one to till the ground." The implication that the ground must be tilled contrasts with the completeness implied in Genesis 1.
Even the words used in Genesis 1 suggest serenity, the godly plane of existence. For example, in Genesis 1, the word for God is Elohim, the generic and distant God, while God's name in Genesis 2 is the personal and sacred YHWH Elohim, the Lord of Gods. Even the verb of making is different in the two narratives; in the first narrative the verb is the Hebrew "arb" which means "create from nothing," something that only God can do. In contrast, the verb in the second narrative means "make;" God "made earth and heaven." Furthermore, Man and Woman are both formed from pre-existing matter, in contrast to their creation ex nihil in the first chapter. This brings God's act within the range of human experience. There are also details about where to find gold and lapis lazuli--but only in the second narrative.
Ms. Reis argues that Genesis 1 and 2 make sense either way, just as for Kurosawa's Rashomon. They make sense as two different stories. Or they make sense as two narratives of the same story from different personal perspectives: that of God and that of man.
- Reis, Pamela Tamarkin (2001). Genesis as Rashomon: The creation as told by God and man. Bible Review 17 (3).
- Kitchen, Kenneth, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, London: Tyndale, 1966, p. 118
- G.J. Spurrel, Notes on the Text of the Book of Genesis, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896.
- Davis, John, Paradise to Prison - Studies in Genesis, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975, p. 23
- P.N. Benware, "Survey of the Old Testament", Moody Press, Chicago IL, (1993).
- Bloom, Harold and Rosenberg, David The Book of J, Random House, NY, USA 1990.
- Friedman, Richard E. Who Wrote The Bible?, Harper and Row, NY, USA, 1987.
- Stone, Nathan, Names of God, Chicago: Moody Press, 1944, p. 17.
- Nicholson, E. The Pentateuch in the Twentieth Century: The Legacy of Julius Wellhausen Oxford University Press, 2003.
- Tigay, Jeffrey, Ed. Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA, USA 1986
- Wiseman, P. J. Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, USA 1985
- J.D. Douglas et al, "Old Testament Volume: New Commentary on the Whole Bible," Tyndale, Wheaton, IL, (1990)
- A modified version of P. J. Wiseman's hypothesis
- The Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch
- The Multiple Authorship of the Books Attributed to Moses
Sources for the biblical text
- Chapter 1 Chapter 2 (Hebrew text)
- Chapter 1 Chapter 2 (King James Version)
- Chapter 1 Chapter 2 (Revised Standard Version)
- Chapter 1 Chapter 2 (New Living Translation)
- Chapter 1 Chapter 2 (New American Standard Bible)
- Chapter 1 Chapter 2 (New International Version (UK))
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