THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNTS OF CREATION
In the Bible there are two creation stories found in the first three chapters of Genesis:
The first creation story begins in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” King James Bible (which I use here, as few Christians would disclaim its authority). This is the familiar story, read and taken literally by many Christians and often times cited as an authority against contemporary scientific knowledge that may differ.
As a preface to the creation story, Genesis 1:2 states that “the earth was waste and void,” and “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (And so I am, by the second verse, challenged by the meaning of basic words that seem to be ambiguous at best and contradictory at worst .) On the first day, God created light by saying, “Let there be light; and there was light.” “And there was evening and there was morning, one day” – the first day.
On the second day “God said, let there be a firmament (which I used to think referred to something firm, seeming to reference the earth, but we learn in verse 8 that “God called the firmament Heaven”) “and let it divide the waters from the waters.” The firmament divided the waters “above” from that “below.” “And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.”
Each day of creation begins with “and God said, Let …” and God calls each days’ creation into existence. (Again, we see the power of the spoken word, and again we can find the basis of the Jewish prohibition against naming God: to name is to exert power over when humankind has no power over God. To attempt to do so would be blasphemy.)
On the third day God gathered the waters “under the heavens” into one place and dry land to appear in its midst. God called the dry lands Earth and the gathered waters into seas. And then God caused the earth to put forth vegetation bearing its own seed.
On the fourth day, God gathered the lights of heaven, dividing them into day and night (with the greater light ruling the day and the lesser light ruling the night; and God further organized the lights into seasons.
On the fifth day God created animal life, with birds to fly “above the earth in the open firmament of heaven,” and “great sea-creatures.”
On the sixth day, God caused the earth to “bring forth living creatures after their kind.” And on that same day, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . “ Genesis 1:26, and God made both man and woman. God creates “man” in God’s own image. God finds it to be “good.” And when all is created at the end of the six day, God declared the whole creation to be “very good.”
The second creation story is Genesis 2:4 – 25. It begins with God creating the heavens and the earth. And then God plants a garden, the Garden of Eden, and creates Adam to tend the it. In the second story, God also breathes into man the breath of life. In the garden God is a tree of knowledge of good and evil, and also a tree of life. God commanded Adam not to eat of either tree.
Having planted the garden which Adam was to tend, God saw that Adam was alone, and it would not do for him to be lonely. So God formed out of the ground all animal life, each of which was brought to Adam, to be named.
The authors of the Bible believed, and the Bible reflected that belief, that for a person to name anything gave that person power over that object. Because of that power obtained by naming, the Hebrew authors of the various writings of their Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament, the very name of God (Yahweh) is so holy that to speak the name would be to profane the sacred. Therefore the Jews were prohibited from using the name of God. Moreover, various authors warn, ”No man has seen the face of God and lived.”
Having made the animals, God saw that still Adam was lonely, so God caused him to fall into a deep sleep, took a rib from him and formed from it a woman. God also took her to Adam to be named. Adam recognizes that she is “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh,” so he names her woman because “she was taken out of man.” They were naked and thought nothing of it.
Modern, Christian Fundamentalists’ Reading of the Creation Story
Particularly since the Scopes monkey trial, in which the theory of evolution was put to a judicial trial in the American South, Christian fundamentalists have rejected any form of evolution as a scientific reality, choosing a literal reading of the biblical creation stories, despite obvious conflicts within them. Indeed, the obvious conflicts were noted by the early Church Fathers.
The Church Fathers’ Difficulties with a Literal Story of Creation
The Church Father, Origen, writes in his book, Mysteries of Adoni, in about 230 A.D.,
What man of sense will agree with the statement that the first, second, and third days, in which the evening is named and the morning, were without sun, moon and stars?
What man is found such an idiot as to suppose that God planted trees in Paradise, in Eden, like a husbandman.
Origen: Mysteries Of Adini.
There is no way of preserving the literal sense of the first chapter of Genesis, without impiety, and attributing things to God unworthy of him.
OTHER ACCOUNTS OF CREATION
Prior to the biblical account, there were other similar stories of creation in the Mesopotamian area: Babylon, Persia, Egypt, even another Jewish account. In the Babylonian account, God created man and woman to attend his garden, Anu. In the Parsee account, Ahuramazda created the world in six periods, after which he rested. In the Persian account, Ormuzd, the god of gods, suggests to the other gods “let us make man in our likeness;” and he creates man and woman, together, joined at their backs, only to divide them to give them individuality. In Jewish tradition found in the Targum and Talmud, God also creates man and woman, joined together, with two faces in opposite directions. The Etruscan story also states that God created the world in six periods of time, 6000 years each. The Egyptian God, Ra, created the world, established a garden, also, and placed man and woman in it to tend it and to live as gods. In the Greek account, Zeus breathed life into clay, creating man; he then gave to man a beautiful woman, Pandora, with an infamous box, not so different than the story of the garden of Eden contained within the Bible.
Remote from the stories of the Mesopotamian area, Tahitians of Polynesia also have a creation story remarkably parallel in aspects to the Genesis account: God creates man of the red earth, causes him to fall into a deep sleep and fashions woman from one of his ribs.
For an excellent article concerning common elements among the stories of the Bible and around the world see http://dept.cs.williams.edu/~lindsey/myths/myths_10.html . “This web site was completed for a high school Latin course. The assignment was to explore some asset of classical culture and compare it to another culture, either modern of historic.” This site is much more than one would expect of a high school assignment. It is well-documented and well-presented, of the order of a higher level graduate research paper. Highly recommended!!
Before we examine what, exactly, was created in the literal sense of the stories, we will first proceed with the story of the Garden of Eden as told in Genesis.
The divine, the transcendent is revealed throughout the world.
Would you please share your own faith story?