Genesis 1 starts with a grand portrait of the creation of the world. This portrait beings with God saying, “וַיְהִי-אוֹר “.יְהִי אוֹר “Be light, was light.” The big question is, “What color was the light?” “The Joy of the painter Bob Ross the Nicene Creed and I believe in One God Creator,” relates how the answer to that question is that light is diffused light. Light by itself has no color; it only reports what it reflects off of. Light allows God, and us to see how the cosmos God creates out of תהוּ וָבהוּ, wilderness and chaos, is good. “A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament,” relates how the writer of Genesis 1, a member of the northern tribes who uses the name, “אֱלהִים” for God did not necessarily believe God created the ordered world ex nihilo.
The text relates how Genesis 1 has been interpreted many ways through the centuries. The writer of Hebrews, chapter 4 relates the tradition, since for God one day is as a thousand years, Psalms 90:4, since St. Peter also relates the same tradition, and since Genesis 1 states, “Evening and morning, first day, second day… but no evening and morning seventh day, the seventh day has no evening, no end. There must only be seven millennium of history, before the Parousia.
When we look at Genesis 1 in light of the Great Assembly we find a different interpretation. The writer of “Striving to make an ideal world out of chaos” relates the chaos at the time the second temple was being built. The writers were codifying the traditions of J,E, and P. The D tradition was only written during the time of the last king of Judah. Within the priestly tradition there was dispute as to what a new Israel would look like. Israel and Judah had long since had their day. It was a glorious time when the eight tiered a acrostic was composed, along with the beautiful Song of Songs, about Judah and the Jewish temple. It had been a time of great art.
As scholars debated what they were going to include in their epic statement about who they were as a people, they must have debated what the cover of this work would look like. Today, publishers spend vast amounts of funds looking for the perfect book cover. With a glance, it must state what the book is about. Genesis 1 may well just be the book cover to the entirety of Torah. It may simply be a verbal tapestry written by an Elohist writer, pointing to what Torah is about.
If the writer of “Striving to make an ideal world out of chaos” is correct, the writer has two audiences. The first is the Persian satrap who commissioned the work. The second is the grand audience who hears Torah read to them for the first time, the common people who look to the rich tapestry set before them. If Torah does not reflect the rich heritage of their ancestors, they will reject it. If they reject it, so will that satrap. If there is a two audience theory of writing, there is also a two writer theory of writing.
Professional writers do not give their writing to clerks for proofreading, who check for basic grammar, punctuation, spelling… Professional writers give their writing to skilled rhetoriticians who look for rhythm and meter, who put in puns, rhymes, and alliterations. Genesis 1 was written by such a craftsman, who put everything into his craft. He would be insulted to find an advanced culture took his work of art as a literal interpretation of reality. As a verbal tapestry, Genesis 1 must point to who the Jewish people were as a people and their relationship with the rest of the world. Genesis 1 must paint a picture of how it sees the rest of the world. It is not history, nor is it meant to be so. It is a work of art.
We can believe the writer of Genesis 1 was so stupid that he did not know you cannot create light on the first day, the trees nourished by the light on the third day, and the source of the light of fourth. We can also believe that this writer came from an advanced culture and was writing art. Bob Ross, often drew the diffused light, with rivers, then put in dry land, and populating his land with plants, and trees. After his plants and trees, he often would add animals and maybe a person or two. This is the order of creation in Genesis 1, a literary landscape, not history.
יְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אתוֹ כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר-בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת
A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament relates how Exodus slavery to deliverance to worship. Genesis 1 ends with Kiddush in chapter 2. The writer of Genesis 1 could be writing part of his tradition, which included this prayer. He passes his tradition on to the entire Jewish nation, and to the world. Torah proper begins with Genesis 2:4. It does not begin with history, but with folk traditions by a writer who uses יְהוָה אֱלהִים to identify God.There is a problem about relating traditions. We all remember the game of telephone. A group of around 20 children sit in a circle. The lead child gives a message to the second child who in turn passes it on to the third… at the end the last child repeats the message, which seldom resembles the original message. The traditions reflected in Torah work much the same way. As scholars, we try to find the original message when all we have is the last message. It is impossible to know for sure if Kiddush was around when the writer of Genesis 1 wrote his work.
If the stories look like Aesop’s fables, there is a reason. Αἴσωπος, from around 620–564 BC comes from the Middle East. Although we identify him as Greek, north of Israel, one tradition holds that he was from Ethiopia, south of Judah. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament relates how the writers of Torah borrowed styles and even stories from their neighbors. Genesis 2 could relate how Torah writers borrowed from Aesop’s style.
“Striving to make an ideal world out of chaos” relates how Genesis 3 may refer, not to some historical past, but to the writer’s present. The apple was the way of the nations, the cherubim were Babylonian soldiers. The message is, if the Jewish people are going to be a people, they must first be Jewish.
Genesis 4 starts the discussion on violence and the importance of proper liturgical sacrifice. Genesis 4 is the story of Cain and Able. Immediately we find another name for God a different writer who refers to God as יְהוָה/השם the Personal Name. God moves from the impersonal force hovering over nature in Genesis 1, to the very personal, Personal Name who cares about his planet and all who are in it.
Cain means upraised one, and Abel means mist. Genesis 3:3 relates how Cain brings an offering of the ground. Abel brings from the first of his flock in Genesis 3:4. Cain brings from whatever. Abel brings from his best. “Striving to make an ideal world out of chaos” relates how important the temple was for the Jewish people. It also relates the difference between what is ללח or common and what is fit for sacrifice. Abel knows the difference, while Cain does not.
Another important lesson occurs when Cain becomes sad because God does not accept his sacrifice. Failure faces us every day, and we must face our failures as men. We must control our inclinations, not allow our inclinations to rule us.
The most important lesson comes in Genesis 4:10, “קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָצֹעֲקִים אֵלַי מִן-הָאֲדָמָה.” This odd reading literally translates, “The voice of my blood of your brother calls to me from Adam-ah.” Adam comes from the ground, and that is how he receives his name. Any attack upon any human being, for any reason is an attack, not just upon that person, but upon the image of God himself. Genesis 1 tells us, “וַיּאמֶר אֱלהִים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ “ let us make man in our Shalom, and in our bloods. The Hebrew spelling of Shalom is different, but the two words sound the same. דְמוּתֵ is the Hebrew feminine plural of blood. God’s blood, his image was the image Cain attacked.
We find a similar message at the end of Genesis 1, “God blessed them, telling them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth. God also said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food.”
Hebrew rhetoric has a rule, “The General and the Particular.” This rule states that when we see a general statement followed a particular and then the general statement again, the general statement teaches us about the particulars. The general statement is about having dominion over wildlife. The particular is about eating the plants. The general statement is repeated about having dominion of wildlife. The passage ends with the particular about eating plants. The writer of Genesis 1 was a vegetarian, as was Daniel.
Genesis 9:3 tells us, “Any living creature that moves about shall be yours to eat; I give them all to you as I did the green plants.” The green plants were the staple of all who went before. That was the original plan, and if we want to follow God’s plan closely, that will be our plan. Genesis 9:4 goes on to say, אַךְבָּשָׂרבְּנַפְשׁוֹ דָמוֹ לא תאכֵלוּ “Only the flesh in its soul, which is the blood, you will not eat.” Deuteronomy 12:23 also states, “הַדָּם הוּא הַנָּפֶשׁ” “The blood is the soul.”
Genesis 9 goes on to tell us, “I am now establishing my Brit/Social Contract with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you: the birds, the tame animals, and all the wild animals that were with you all that came out of the ark. I establish my Brit with you, that never again shall all creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.
Genesis 6 has two traditions about the founding of the flood. J beings the first by mentioning how The Personal Name saw how great the rot רָעַת of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but rot, רַע. The J version of the text states, “The earth was ruined/ שָּׁחֵתbefore the face of God and full of violence/ “חָמָס.” The modern violent Palestinian group is Hamas/חָמָס. The root failure is a lack of faith/participation in the image of God which leads to violence.
In Genesis chapter 9 the Elohist goes on to say, “God said: This is the sign of the Brit I make between me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the Brit between me and the earth.” This Brit, this Social Contract is not between Noah, Rest, and God. It is not between Noah with his family, and God. It is with all of creation and God. When the Lakota talk about, “All are my relatives,” they are on the same page as Elohist.
We find this concept among the Muslims, Buddhists, Tao, and all major world religions. We are all in the web of the world and we suffer when the world suffers. When we do not care for the world, the world has a way of getting even. God put us in the garden to guard it and to keep it. He never rescinded that command. God is active in the world making sure that when we do care for it, he does his part and takes care of us, and the world.
The Hebrew word for prayer, “תפלה” is reflexive and comes from a root word meaning to judge. We sit in judgment of ourselves when we pray. The Greek προσεύχομαι is in the Middle Greek, so is also reflexive. The best example is what we do in confession. It is not coming to God with a list of “Give me’s.“ It is sitting down with God to decide our role in his plan. Genesis 1-11 relates this to the original audience, and to us, if we listen.
For another article in the Genesis series please read The Jewish people have three fathers and four mothers with something to teach us part 1