Friday, September 04, 2009

Why We Shouldn't Apologize For Genesis

I consider Genesis to be more than a creation myth, but find no harm in examining it as only a creation myth for purpose of discussion and understanding. An interesting parallel exists between the story of Prometheus and Genesis. Pandora is told not to open the box, a similar story to the forbidding of the eating of the fruit of a single tree in Eden. The fruit is eaten, the box opened, and all the evil of the world results. The other characters in Pandora’s story are Prometheus and Epimetheus – forethought and afterthought. Which are the two things necessary for the knowledge of good and evil. Think about it. Unless one can imagine events being different than they are, one cannot know good and evil, cannot know choice. Animals at higher levels can know conflict, whether to obey the command or eat the food, but can only react to the stronger stimulus. Only when one can imagine how things might be otherwise can there be moral choices.

There are lots of similarities of creation myths worldwide – people being formed out of clay, an original god forming land, sky, and water out of chaos. Floods, eggs, and light figure prominently. Lots of them have gods or animals mating to create the various aspects of the world. Multiple gods and goddesses come onto the scene shortly after. Those are interesting in that they all seem to preserve some greatly similar original story of our origins, but that’s not what I am interested in here. The most philosophically sophisticated in terms of how good and evil came into the world boil down to two, the Greek and the Hebrew, and they are similar.

If you add in the bit about Prometheus, after stealing the fire, symbol of intelligence, being chained to a rock and having his liver torn out every day, there is an additional similarity. The liver was thought to be the seat of contentment – not very far from the idea of being cast out of the garden and having to work by the sweat of the brow thereafter. There’s a beginning of philosophy here, not just a story about how objects came into being. I recently heard a pastor say he could make almost a whole career out of preaching from the first three chapters of Genesis.

5 comments:

ELC said...

If you've never read Before Abraham Was, find it and read it.

Before Abraham Was

Roy Lofquist said...

AVI,

In re Genesis as a creation myth - the Book of Genesis is thought to have been written in about 900 B.C., some three thousand years after the fact. It bears resemblance to some of the early Babylonian writings.

It is certainly allegorical. For example, the word "man" is the translation of the Hebrew word "adam" which is a general expression rather akin to what we mean when we say "mankind". The Hebrew word for an individual man is "ish".

The chronology, the seven days, is also allegorical. This is stated explicitly in Psalm 90 - from memory - a thousand years to a man is but a day to the Lord. Now the word "thousand" is quite interesting. In those days it was the largest named number. Its usage was akin to our modern word "gazillion" - meaning a really, really big number.

The sequence of creation in Genesis conforms exactly with our current understanding of cosmology and natural history. If for "thousand" you substitute "billion" it is spot on.

Just sayin'.

Roy

Anonymous said...

Actually, it looks like "day" is defined in the Genesis account as a morning and evening - vay'hi boqer vay'hi erev yom echad - "And it came to pass that morning and evening are one day" NOT "the first day," as it is usually translated. Interestingly, it uses the word for "second," "third" and so on instead of "two," "three," etc. The use of "one" instead of "first" is unique in the account.

Also, the Genesis account does use "'adam", but almost always with the article "the" ha'adam. The few times it appears without the article it is speaking in general terms - "There was no man on the earth," "there was found no suitable helper for a man," "a man will leave his parents." The use of the word "adam" instead of "ish" probably has to due with its derivation from "adamah," "earth/soil".

You can try and interpret it to fit modern notions if you like, but saying that it is "certainly allegorical" is going too far, and basing that on a single, unrelated passage on Psalms is very tenuous indeed.

Gerard said...

Big Bang, looked at closely, is the latest creation myth. There'll be another one along sometime soon.

karrde said...

I do find attempts to date Genesis interesting.

For what it is worth, there is some appearance in the order of created things in Genesis 1. That is, a series of creations are done, and most of the specific items (and general classes of trees/animals) have some corollary in the Egyptian mythology.

It almost appears that author specifically wanted to credit the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with creation of the deities that a bunch of Israelites had seen and heard about while sojourning in Egypt.

Which could be used to date that section to 1200-1400 BC.

Since all the evidence is ancillary, even the experts in the field are trading in guesswork.

Doesn't mean that the tale doesn't contain a true rendering of Creation. (But the fact that it credits the God of Abe, Isaac, and Jacob is much more important than the details of how. I was surprised when I discovered that neither St. Augustine nor C.S. Lewis cared whether or not Genesis 1 was a literal history of creation or a figurative attempt to talk about Creation in terms that the early Israelites would understand. They did care that God was the Primary Cause, the Cause that preceded all other causes in the known world.)