Genesis 1: A Polemic Against the Gods

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  • Genesis 1: A Polemic Against the Gods

    I know you all have heard this before. The Bible must be interpreted in context. But what it often not stated is that context isn't our own or that of some theological tradition; it is the context that produced it, namely the ancient Near East/Mediterranean. God chose people to write the biblical text, and people write using grammar, in styles understood by their peers, and with deliberate intent. Thus the best way to understand the creation story in Gen. 1 is to try and understand it in its own historical, cultural, and theological context.

    When comparing Gen. 1 with other creation accounts, a number of simailities are obvious. Yet these simailities are turned against the creation accounts found in Egypt and Mesopotamia. They do not serve to endorse those accounts but to refute them and their god(s).

    In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
    The very first verse in Gen. 1 illustrates the major differences between the Gen. creation account and those of the other nations. There are two points that need to be noted about Gen. 1:1. First, the phrase "heavens and Earth" is a merism. A merism is a figure of speech which uses a pair of contrasting words or phrases to express totality or completeness. [Note the Hebrew noun שָׁמַיִם (i.e. heavens) is always plural and that is why I have "heavens."] Second, no explanation is given for Yahweh's origin. These two points demonstrate how Gen. 1 is a polemic against the gods of other nations.

    In some creation accounts there is preexisting material with which god(s) form the world, or some part of the god(s) is used to create the world and other gods. Gen. 1 will have no part in that. The whole of creation comes about because God wills it. Creation is by means of divine fiat. Additionally some creation account try and explain why or how the god(s) come into existence. Again Gen. 1 will have none of that. Yahweh existence prior to the universe is taken as axiomatic and does not even require assertion. It is a brute fact.

    There is another element found in Egyptian and Mesopotamian creation myths that is lacking in the biblical account, a sexual element. In many creation myths a sexual motif is part of the story.

    Below are some examples that illustrate the differences between the biblical account and the creation myths of the other nations around Israel as I have related above.


    (1) Self Creating Deities

    The Book of the Cow of Heaven
    "It happened [in the time of the majesty of] Re, the self-created, after he had become king of men and gods together..."

    Book of the Dead (Spell 17)
    "I am the great god who comes to be of himself. He is water, He is Nun, father of the gods."


    (2) The deities at one time did not exist.
    Enuma Elish

    When the sky above was not named,
    And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
    And the primeval Apsû, who begat them,
    And chaos, Tiamat, the mother of them both,

    Their waters were mingled together,
    And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
    When of the gods none had been called into being
    ."



    (3) Sexual act brings about other deities (i.e. masturbation)
    Papyrus Bremner-Rhind (1.9)

    "I am the one who acted as husband with my fist:
    I copulated with my hand,
    I let fall into my own mouth
    ,
    I sneezed Shu and spat Tefnut.
    It is my father, the Waters [i.e. Nun], that tended them,
    with my Eye after them since the time
    they became apart from me
    ."

    These are just a few examples of texts from Egypt and Mesopotamia and there are many more that could be provided. These highlight the beliefs of other cultures around Israel and demonstrate the uniqueness of Gen. 1.

    Two important components that are present in most creation myths is "water" and "chaos." I will address these in my next post and show how they relate to Gen. 1 and how they help us understand Gen.1.
    Last edited by Origen; 10-05-2016, 11:51 AM.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Origen View Post
    I know you all have heard this before. The Bible must be interpreted in context. But what it often not stated is that context isn't our own or that of some theological tradition; it is the context that produced it, namely the ancient Near East/Mediterranean. God chose people to write the biblical text, and people write using grammar, in styles understood by their peers, and with deliberate intent. Thus the best way to understand the creation story in Gen. 1 is to try and understand it in its own historical, cultural, and theological context.
    I can think of an exception, actually I wasn't thinking for one but it immediately came to mind. For example John 1:1, the Logos has a very interesting history. The Logos, if we were to solely rely on a Hellenistic understanding, or by a Jewish reader of the day, we'd miss what the author had in mind. I believe that Genesis 1 is best understood when paralleled with John 1. Perhaps this is because, John's writing is so multi layered, many allusions are drawn, but with new revelation the meaning of OT Scripture is not solely drawn out of historical context, otherwise we'd be interpreting the NT by the OT which is actually opposite of what we should be doing. Needlessly said, Trinitarian theology did not exists, by interpreting the NT from a historical context of the common Jew's understanding, in days of the OT, we'd only produce modern opponents to Trinitarian theology.

    Your thoughts?
    God bless,
    William
    Comment>

    • #3
      In all mythology, what god is like our God, having even one of His divine attributes? Eternally existing? Creator of the universe? Cannot be killed by any god? Is absolute love? Is absolute justice?

      The gods of mythology are merely super-humans.
      Comment>

      • #4
        Originally posted by Cornelius View Post
        In all mythology, what god is like our God, having even one of His divine attributes? Eternally existing? Creator of the universe? Cannot be killed by any god? Is absolute love? Is absolute justice?

        The gods of mythology are merely super-humans.

        I wouldn't mind seeing this thread unfold more, bringing the 10 plagues against Egypt into the equation which allusion is already being made in the creation account. For example, blotting out the sun could be seen as an attack on Ra. Hail and/or locust an attack on the grain deity Dagon etc..
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        • #5
          Originally posted by William View Post
          I wouldn't mind seeing this thread unfold more, bringing the 10 plagues against Egypt into the equation which allusion is already being made in the creation account. For example, blotting out the sun could be seen as an attack on Ra. Hail and/or locust an attack on the grain deity Dagon etc..
          In the Bible, miracles are never done to prove the existence of God. They're primarily done to demonstrate the authority of God's prophets. In the OT, especially, there does seem to be some attention to demonstrating the powerlessness of the false gods. In Egypt, the sun represented the god Ra, and Moses bringing darkness to the land would demonstrate the powerlessness of Ra in the face of the God of Moses. This would not have been missed by the Egyptians.
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          • #6
            Originally posted by William View Post
            I can think of an exception, actually I wasn't thinking for one but it immediately came to mind.
            I was speaking of our modern contexts and/or theological traditions. They could not have been aware of them.

            Originally posted by William View Post
            For example John 1:1, the Logos has a very interesting history. The Logos, if we were to solely rely on a Hellenistic understanding, or by a Jewish reader of the day, we'd miss what the author had in mind.
            I agree. But John takes the Logos and expands upon it. For the Greeks the logos was an impersonal principle of reason that gave order to the universe. However, John removes the impersonal element. The logos was with God. The Greek preposition used in this verse indicates an intimate interpersonal relationship. The Logos gives life. Moreover, the logos becomes a human being. These concepts move far beyond Greek thinking concerning the logos. This then is an excellent parallel to Gen. 1. Just as Gen. 1 turns the creation stories of the nations on their heads, so does John 1:1 in regard to the Logos.

            Originally posted by William View Post
            I believe that Genesis 1 is best understood when paralleled with John 1.
            While I agree John 1:1 does give us a better understanding of God (i.e. who the Logos really is), the message of Gen. 1 draws upon motifs found in creation myths of nations in order to show that there is only one God and that He is the sole creator of everything.

            Originally posted by William View Post
            Perhaps this is because, John's writing is so multi layered, many allusions are drawn, but with new revelation the meaning of OT Scripture is not solely drawn out of historical context, otherwise we'd be interpreting the NT by the OT which is actually opposite of what we should be doing.
            My contention is that the O.T. had to make sense to its original audience. It had to fit within their historical and cultural context. That is not to say that the N.T. did not elaborate upon O.T. passages but that would have been within their God given revelation.

            Originally posted by William View Post
            Needlessly said, Trinitarian theology did not exists, by interpreting the NT in light of a historical context of the common Jew's understanding, in days of the OT, we'd only produce modern opponents to Trinitarian theology.
            Very true that the full revelation concerning the trinity was not understood before the N.T (and in fact can truly come about as a revelation from God), yet the seeds were present. An excellent example of this are targumim. In the targumim the Aramaic noun "memra" (i.e. lit. word) is an active agent. In many passages the "memra" or the "memra of the Lord" does this or that.

            There is also Philo. In his "On the Confusion of Tongues," Chapter 28:
            "And even if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let him labor earnestly to be adorned according to his first-born logos, the eldest of his angels, as the great archangel of many names; for he is called, the authority, and the name of God, and the logos, and man according to God's image, and he who sees Israel. For which reason I was induced a little while ago to praise the principles of those who said, "We are all one man's Sons." For even if we are not yet suitable to be called the sons of God, still we may deserve to be called the children of his eternal image, of his most sacred logos; for the image of God is his most ancient logos."
            There is also our discussion concerning two Yahwehs (for lack of a better term, see Genesis 19:24, Zechariah 2:8-11).
            Last edited by Origen; 10-05-2016, 06:35 PM.
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            • #7
              Originally posted by William View Post
              I wouldn't mind seeing this thread unfold more, bringing the 10 plagues against Egypt into the equation which allusion is already being made in the creation account.
              I can give you a quick run down on that.

              The Ten Plagues
              (1) Blood - The Nile was identified with Hapi.
              The flooding itself was regarded as a manifestation of the god Osiris.

              (2) Frogs - Heqat had the head of a frog.

              (3) (4) Insects (gnats and flies) - Perhaps a connection with Khepreer (a beetle)

              (5) Pestilence (livestock, domesticated animals) - Perhaps Apis, Re and Ptah.

              (6) Boils - Healer deities such as Sekhmet and Amon-Re

              (7) Hail - Nut the god of the sky. Shu the god who supports the sky. Tefnut goddess of moisture.

              (8) Locusts - Senehem was the protector against pest and could be counted in plagues (3) and (4).

              (9) Darkness - Amon Re the sun god.

              (10) Death of the first born - Pharaoh himself as a deity.

              Comment>

              • #8
                Key points from Gen. 1:1 and how it differs from other creation accounts:

                (1) Yahweh exist. No explanation is given for Yahweh's origin because none is needed.

                (2) There is no primordial material.

                (3) The whole creation is brought into existence by Yahweh.

                (4) There is no sexual element concerning the creation of the universe.

                (5) No others gods played a part in creation nor were any created by Yahweh.

                Now that we have the foundation, lets examine the creation myth of the Akkadians and Babylonians.

                Words such as "water" (in Hebrew מַיִם) and "deep" (in Hebrew תְּהוֹם) play an important role in the creation myths of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The primordial waters create the gods.

                Enuma Elish (Table One)
                When in the height heaven was not named,
                And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
                And the primeval Apsu, who begat them,
                And chaos, Tiamat, the mother of them both
                Their waters were mingled together,
                And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
                When of the gods none had been called into being,
                And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained;
                Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven


                Apsu and Tiamat are the primordial waters. Apsu is fresh (or sweet) water and Tiama is salt water. From their union (i.e. mingling) the other gods are created. Apsu is worried that the first generation of deities, which came about from his union with Tiamat, are plaining overthrow him, which they are. Apsu is killed by the other gods and this enrages Tiamat. She bring forth monsters to make war with the gods.

                Enuma Elish (Table One)
                When Tiamat [heard] these words, they pleased her,
                "[As y]ou have counselled, we will make a tempest,
                [We will ] the gods within it,
                (For) they have been adopting [wicked ways] against the gods [thei]r parents."
                [They clo]sed ranks and drew up at Tiamat’s side,
                Angry, scheming, never lying down night and day,
                [Ma]king warfare, rumbling, raging,
                Convening in assembly, that they might start hostilities.
                Mother Hubur, who can form everything,
                Added countless invincible weapons, gave birth to monster serpents,
                Pointed of fang, with merciless incisors(?),
                She filled their bodies with venom for blood.
                Fierce dragons she clad with glories,
                Causing them to bear auras like gods, (saying)
                "Whoever sees them shall collapse from weakness!
                Wherever their bodies make onslaught,
                they shall not turn back!"
                She deployed serpents, dragons, and hairy hero-men,
                Lion monsters, lion men, scorpion men,
                Mighty demons, fish men, bull men
                ,
                Bearing unsparing arms, fearing no battle
                .
                Her commands were absolute, no one opposed them,
                Eleven indeed on this wise she crea[ted].
                From among the gods her offspring, who composed her assembly,
                She raised up Qingu from among them, it was he she made greatest!


                The gods were very worried. They needed a champion. Someone who could defeat Tiamat (i.e. the deep, water). Enter Marduk. Marduk agrees to take the job on one condition. When he defeats Tiamat he will be the supreme deity, the head god.

                Enuma Elish (Table Three)
                Marduk came forward, the sage of the gods, your son,
                He has resolved to go against Tiamat.
                When he spoke, he said to me,
                ‘If indeed I am to champion you,
                Subdue Tiamat and save your lives,
                Convene the assembly, nominate me for supreme destiny!
                Take your places in the Assembly Place of the Gods,
                all of you, in joyful mood,
                When I speak, let me ordain destinies instead of you.


                So Marduk defeats Tiamat and from her body creates the world.

                Enuma Elish (Table Four)
                Then the Lord was inspecting her carcass,
                That he might divide the monstrous lump and fashion artful things.
                He split her in two, like a fish for drying,
                Half of her he set up and made as a cover, heaven.
                He stretched out the hide and assigned watchmen,
                And ordered them not to let her waters escape.
                He crossed heaven and inspected (its) firmament

                [The section that deals with Marduk creation of the world is very long and I have only posted one small part of the account.]

                It is this last section that is most important for our study of Gen.1. Note these important points.

                (1) Marduk is just one god among many.

                (2) Marduck fashions the world from Tiamat the primordial water, the deep. The Hebrew word for the "deep" is tehom. Both the Akkadian tiamat and the Hebrew tehom are derived from the same root.

                (3) Marduk cuts, divides, separates Tiamat (i.e. the primordial water, the deep) to create the universe.

                (4) Marduck must subdue Tiamat (i.e. the primordial water, the deep) before he can create the world and become the supreme god.

                I do not want these posts to be long so I will leave it at that for now, but I think everyone can see certain simailities (i.e. key ideas such as water and the deep and the dividing of such). However the most important points have to do with major differences between Gen. 1 and the creation myth of the Akkadians and Babylonians.

                Here are the relevant passages from Gen. 1. Note how the subject matter is dealt with in Gen. 1. and the common elements found in both accounts.

                The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

                And God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters."

                And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.
                Last edited by Origen; 10-05-2016, 06:37 PM.
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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Origen View Post
                  Key points from Gen. 1:1 and how it differs from other creation accounts:

                  (1) Yahweh exist. No explanation is given for Yahweh's origin because none is needed.

                  (2) There is no primordial material.

                  (3) The whole creation is brought into existence by Yahweh.

                  (4) There is no sexual element concerning the creation of the universe.

                  (5) No others gods played a part in creation nor were any created by Yahweh.
                  All systems of philosophy start with Axioms, or non-provable propositions accepted as truth, and deduce theorems from them.

                  To quote Gordon H. Clark:

                  "If the axioms of other secularists are not nonsense, they are nonetheless axioms. Every system must start somewhere, and it cannot have started before it starts. A naturalist might amend the Logical Positivists’ principle and make it say that all knowledge is derived from sensation. This is not nonsense, but it is still an empirically unverifiable axiom. If it is not self-contradictory, it is at least without empirical justification. Other arguments against empiricism need not be given here: The point is that no system can deduce its axioms.
                  • Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
                  • John 1:1-3 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

                  God as an infinite being, outside of time, created time space and matter. Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning (time) God created (force) the heavens (space) and the earth (matter).”

                  This ex nihilo (out of nothing) creation took place over the course of a literal six-day week involving all three persons of the Trinity. Ex nihilo creation also reveals that God is omnipotent and is the Ultimate Cause of everything. God is absolute, and not dependent on any part of creation nor acknowledgement for His existence or His nature. Before the earth gave birth to life or before the beginning of time, God had being.

                  I believe these axioms make Christianity unique from other religions. These axioms are to be accepted without question or controversy.

                  God bless,
                  William
                  Comment>

                  • #10
                    Here's my take, based on my own Biblical understanding....
                    The Invisible Almighty God Father first CREATED (ex-nihilo) the elements needed..... in order for his Son to Make/Form our physical heavenS and the earth with his own hands.

                    In the context of Genesis 1:1-2, I see the narrative as saying:

                    In the beginning God Created the heaven (Air) and the Earth (Ground). And the Earth (Ground) was without form, (Dust) and void; (Empty) and darkness was upon the face of the deep, (Water) and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

                    The 3 elements necessary for all physical form are shown... Air, Dust, and Water. Everything which is physical is composed of these 3 elements. The text is correct in showing that the water was not directly created, or spoken into being, because it consists of elements of the Air or Atmosphere. Water is Hydrogen and Oxygen and came from the Atmosphere and is not shown as a separate creation.

                    This is correct in today's scientific knowledge, but IF the Scriptures were written by Ancient men, Moses would not have known this. He would have written that in the beginning God created the Air, Dust, and Water, but since God Himself is the Author, He correctly shows that the Atmosphere and Ground were created, and the Water was not a separate creation but instead, came from the Atmosphere.

                    It is therefore my Biblical Opinion.....that the actual physical forming of our first heaven took place on the 2nd Day (Gen. 1:6-8) NOT Genesis 1:1
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