In The Beginning: A Deep Dive Into Genesis
1. The composition and content of the Book of Genesis. The first book of the Bible is divided into two parts of unequal length: the shorter one – the prologue (1:1-11:26) and the longer one – the history of the patriarchs (11:27-50:26). The prologue was necessary for the God-inspired writer to point to the connection of the origins of the Covenant with the universal plans of the Creator for the world and the humanity. The prologue – the first part of the Book of Genesis, in turn, is dedicated to two main themes: the teaching about the creation of the world (chapters 1-2) and human sin (chapters 3-11).
2. The nature of the prologue of the Book of Genesis. One of the main features of the Old Testament is that it teaches one the God-revealed truths by means of history. The biblical prologue, however, is no history in the regular, contemporary sense of the word. Rather, it is the spiritual history of the origin of the world and humanity, where the events of old are conveyed in the language of imagery and symbols. The theology of the prologue is like the theology of an icon that communicates the revelation from the higher world through the conventional symbols of lines, colors, and forms. As a renown theologian Vladimir Lossky says: “Now the Bible has depth: but its most ancient parts, particularly Genesis, proceed according to an archaic logic which does not separate the concrete from the abstract, the image from the idea, the symbol from the symbolized reality.”
Studying the fabric of the Prologue’s narrative, one should first clarify what kind of thought, what teaching the sacred author is trying to convey under the cover of images and symbols. The Bible does not deal with the scientific and rationally conceivable aspect of the creation. The Bible is no manual of astronomy or biology. Its goal is to proclaim to the people of any civilization and epoch the Revelation about God. The first chapter of the Book of Genesis should be viewed not in continuity with the scientific discoveries of our times, but in continuity with the religious-philosophical views of paganism against which it is directed.
3. Pagan cosmogonies. The pagan notions about the creation of the world, with all their diversity, boil down to the following main types:
a) The world had no beginning. The primordial immense abyss of the ocean, divine in essence, gave birth to all the gods and everything that fills the heaven and the earth.
b) The chaotic abyss of the god-ocean (or goddess-ocean) had been conquered by the young gods that were born of her. It was the younger gods who introduced order into chaos, who formed and populated the earth, and who created the human beings as their slaves that were doomed to serve them.
c) Initially there had been two deities – the deity of light and the deity of darkness. They are creating the world in its current form in the process of fighting with each other.
In these beliefs shared by people all over the globe, from India to Ancient Greece, one can discern the main religious-philosophical views:
- The teaching about the inseparability of God and nature (pantheism);
- The view of natural phenomena as a form of activity of many gods (polytheism);
- The notion about the two primordial divine powers (dualism);
- The view on the infinity of the world arising out of the various elements;
- The notion of the creation of the world as a result of the fight between gods (theomachy);
- Faith in a common mother-goddess (later, her image merged with the concept of blind fate and necessity).
- The view of the universe as of an entity doomed to stay unchanging or to be moving in the circle of perpetual return.
- The conviction in the ability of a human being to magically (i.e., through incantations, rituals, etc.) influence the divine powers in order to procure one’s own wellbeing.
Many of these views were destined to have a long life, and in the time of the creation of the Bible, they were already predominant among the nations surrounding Israel. The theme of this opposition is invisibly present already in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis – the Six Days of Creation.
4. The Six Days of Creation (Genesis 1:1-2:4a). The Six Days of creation usually refer to the picture of creation given in Genesis 1:1-2:4a. It begins with the magnificent words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Here is no fight between gods, no primordial matter, no goddess-abyss (or the ocean) from which the world originates. The will of the one, personal Creator completes it all. According to His word, both light and darkness appear; waters separate from dry land; stars shine in the sky; the sea and the land generate plants and animals. And finally, God creates man, according to his own image and likeness. The narrative of the Six Days is brief, as it is just an introduction into the sacred history by means of which the will of God can be comprehended.
The teaching of the Six Days of Creation may be summed up in the following main points:
1) The powers of nature are not gods; God alone is the sole cause of the world.
2) He reveals himself as personal existence.
3) He reveals himself through his acts.
4) He creates the world through his word and acts in it.
5) He can act indirectly, through the elements and forces of nature (through secondary causes or principles).
6) The creation of the world happens not at a single moment but in a phased way: from the simple to the complex; from the non-living to living; from animal to human being;
7) God created man in his own image and likeness, and this is the reason that human being becomes the lord over the creation.
5. Some comments to the text of the Six Days of creation.
a) In the beginning (Hebrew bereshit). This word means not simply an ordinal or a chronological beginning, but rather, a transition from eternity to time. Before this mysterious beginning, according to Augustine, there was no time, because time was created together with the world.
b) Created (Hebrew bara) means “made,” “formed,” but the author of Genesis did not mean to say that God had “formed” the world from some pre-eternal matter. There is nothing co-eternal to God: this is how people would understand Genesis 1:1 in the Old Testament times, and this what the author of 2 Maccabees meant by saying: “ I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.”
c) God (Hebrew Elohim). “God” is the common Semitic word El (which means “strong,” powerful”). Elohim is a plural of a variant of that word El. It is not a remnant of polytheism, however: the plural number conveys the fullness of existence. The entire narrative of the Six Days of creation is targeted against polytheism.
d) The Deep (Hebrew tehom). The word tehom (the deep or the abyss) is a cognate with the name of the Mesopotamian goddess of the ocean Tiamat depicted in the form of a sea serpent or a dragon, personifying primordial chaos.
e) And God said … and God saw … and God called. Such anthropomorphisms (the attribution of human characteristics to God) in the Six Days narrative are no accident. Their purpose is to proclaim God who is not a de-personalized force but, rather, a personalized Being.
f) Composition of the creation narrative. The six days of creation are divided into two triads:
1) Light – 4) luminaries
2) Waters — 5) the living creatures in the waters
3) Dry land — 6) living creatures on dry land
The emergence of plants on dry land, as it were, connects the two triads with each other. On the whole, both triads speak about the three most important phases of creation: the formation of cosmos (the universe); the creation of the conditions necessary for life and of life itself, and the fashioning of the higher creatures and the human being. At that, the first triad speaks mainly about the formation and separation of the elements, whereas the second one talks about the filling of the “created space” with luminaries and living creatures. All of these are the creations of God.