Creation and Old Testament

According to Claus Westermann, the creation texts, especially those found in Genesis, as a relatively self-contained expression of faith that can be best understood through an analysis of their relationship to the myths of the ancient Near East. The Genesis creation texts were not composed to answer the scientific question of how the world came to be. On the contrary, they proclaim the relationship of God to reality, a relation of creator to creation. The people for whom these texts were written did not base their views of the universe on the critical use of empirical data. Rather their thinking was imaginative and their expressions of thought concrete, pictorial, and poetic. Furthermore, Genesis was not intended to give a final, single answer to the question of how God created the earth. In fact in Genesis a number of different presentations of the matter can be found. Hence it is said that each age of ancient Israel’s faith reflection expressed its understanding of creation in a way intelligible to itself. This point is illustrated in the initial chapters of Genesis, which present two different creation narratives. Each narrative has a long prehistory. The authors of these accounts received a tradition and shaped what they received into a new form. Each narrative is a product of a different period in Israelite history, a period that expressed its belief in God in a manner that reflects its own concerns and needs. Hence each narrative addresses issues that are peculiar to its own situation.

a) Gen 1: 1-2:4a– Priestly (P) Tradition ( sixth-fifth centuries B.C)

It is written as vigorous protest against the then accepted notions of creation. The historical context of the Priestly account of creation is the Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C. The exile was a devastating experience for Israel politically and theologically. Those who survived the trauma reasserted their belief in God’s power over chaos. They did this by developing their own creation narrative. This narrative was influenced by the Babylonian epic poem Enuma Elish[1] and possible by earlier motifs from Egyptian accounts of creation. The Babylonian creation myth was reshaped by the authors of the Priestly account in such a way as to portray the God of Israel establishing an orderly cosmos out of chaos for the people of Israel. The rekindling of confidence in this God, rather than the reporting of the history of  primordial times, seems to be the major purpose of the narrative. Thus it can be said that the only aim of the (P) narrative is to portray the sovereignty of God over the whole of creation. The author does this by contrasting primordial chaos (“Tohu wa bohu”) or formless wasteland to a well-ordered universe. What was chaotic and dreadful, what was primeval waste has become a habitable universe by God’s mighty word. What is presented here in the first 2 verses of Genesis then is not “ a theory but a credo, a credo untinged by the least hint of speculation”, that God is the skillful architect who fashioned the cosmos out of chaos by bringing out order from the primitive disorder.

The text Genesis 1: 26-31 views humans, male and female, as made in God’s image. Humans are the crowning species with a dual relationship, a relationship to God and to their coinhabitants. As creatures who image God, humans have a special purpose within the plan of creation. They are to act as God’s representatives are charged by God with dominion over the other orders of animals with whom humans share the same habitat.

The fact that the order of the universe is willed by God and that he is opposed to chaos and disorder is itself an invitation as well as a challenge for all humans to work for the protection and promotion of this order and harmony in the existing universe. Hence in the very first verses of Genesis the human beings are called to participate in and continue the creative activity of God as co-creators in so far as they do not disturb, desecrate and destroy the harmony that exists in nature and in all the created realities.

Now, the creation of the human race is put in the context of relationship with God and all the creatures. The relationship of the humans with God (“in our image, after our likeness”) is a summon to them that as vicegerents of God they function as God and in the place of God in having a claim of sovereignty over the creatures.  The relationship of the humans with the created realities is both a call and a challenge that as responsible partners with God they imitate him in their way of dealing with the creatures.

The Hebrew root “radah” for “dominion” means “to rule, to dominate, to exercise power”.  It is variously used in the context of crushing the grapes by the wine press (Joel 4:13), of imposing punishment on someone (Lam, 1:13), of suppression, oppression (Lev. 25:53; Is. 14:6) etc. Besides, it serves to express in court languages the royal ideology of ruling over one’s foes and enemies (cf. Pss. 110:2; 72:8; Is. 14:6; Ez. 34:4 etc.).

Similarly the term “subdue” (1:28), (in Hebrew “kabas”) is used to express various ideas as “to tread down, to press, to rape” (cf. Est. 7:8; Mic. 7:19), to reduce someone to the status of a slave (Neh. 5:5; 2 Chr. 28:10) or to bring nations under subjugation (2 Sam, 8:11).

Although one may notice in the use of these terms an aggressive, authoritarian and autocratic attitude towards and a certain manipulation of the material world by the humans, yet since the humans are expected toact on God’s behalf and as his image and likeness, the terms “dominion” and “subduing”(1:28) can permit “no license for the unbridled exploitation and subjugation of nature.”  It is “not a dominion of caprice or exploitation, but on of justice and benevolence patterned on God’s own benevolent justice.

It is an attitude patterned on the model of ancient kings of the Orient and of the shepherd-kings of Israel whose basic concern was the welfare of their subjects, especially the poor, the weak, the oppressed and the marginalized (cf. Pas. 72:12-14; 99:4; 116:15 etc.).  The human beings are therefore invited as well as commissioned to reign over created realities in a manner that befits the image-bearers of such a benevolent ruler.  They must treat the creatures in the same way as the merciful and sympathetic God does.

When humans are given “dominion” over the creatures they are only invited, as Vice-gerents to imitate and follow this shepherd-leader and this shepherd-king. Nay, they are challenged for a more daring act of commitment to the creatures, that of laying down their lives for the defense of creatures after the model of the “shoot from Jesse” (Jer. 23:5), the Son of David the shepherd, namely Jesus himself (Jo. 10:11-14). (R.J. Raja, Eco-Spirituality, N.B.C.L.C. Bangalore, 1997).

b) Gen. 2: 4b -3:24 Yahwistic (J) Tradition (10th-9th centuries B.C.)

The second creation account is the literary and theological product of a much earlier generation. Unlike the priestly tradition, which grew out of the exile experience of dissolution, the Yahwist tradition reveals biblical Israel’s appropriation of a royal ideology and its development as a national entity. This creation account is a statement that is theological and anthropological. The author does not primarily focus on the world, while in the Priestly text of Gen 1: 1-2:4a we find a creation story that speaks of the creation of the world. In Gen. 2: 4b -25 Yahweh is presented as a potter, architect and sculptor. His works without effort, but also without word.

The author is concerned with man and his environment. Only secondarily his eyes are turned to the creation of the whole universe. It is not an account of the historical origins of the then-known world. Yahwist creation narrative clearly indicates that it is not concerned with providing answers to questions about cosmogony. Rather, the Yahwist account is an etiology, a story rich in symbolism that attempts to locate and give expression to the causes for the present condition of the people. This etiology encompasses both the experience of goodness and intimate relatedness with God, the benevolent Gardener, and the contrasting experience of sin and estrangement from that God. Borrowing stories and themes from other Near Eastern religions, the Yahwist author refashioned them in response to the people ‘s concerns and in the light of Israel’s own religious faith.

Yahwist creation narrative blends two different narratives that the author brought together into a unified whole.

The one narrative tells how God put the human into the garden, provided this first human with plenty of nourishments, and forbade this creature to eat the fruits of one of the trees in the garden under the penality of death. The humans were led astray by the serpant and ate the forbidden fruit and God punished them by driving them out from the garden.

The other narrative tells how at the beginning God formed the first human creature (ha’-adam) from the earth and breathed into this creature the breath of life (Gen 2: 4b-17).The creation of humans from the earth was a widely spread notion, found in Egypt and in the Babylonian version of the Gilgamesh epic of the creation of Enkidu. Noticing that his creature was not yet complete, God tried to make up for what was lacking by the creation of the animals; but they were not adequate. God then created woman out of the human creature’s rib (Gen 2: 18-25). According to Westermann, the creation of humankind is complete only when woman is created and the man and the woman are together. He further says that the depiction of the creation of humans, male and female, in Genesis 2 reflects a stage of civilization that was aware of the great importance of the role of woman in the existence of humankind. Genesis 2 is unique among the creation myths of the whole of the ancient Near East in its appreciation of the meaning of woman, i.e., that human existence is a partnership of man and woman.

As in the Priestly Narrative, so also in the Yahwistic narrative the creation of humans is put in relationship to the creatures but in a reverse order. We may notice here the parallelism between 1:28-30 (P) and 2:8-9 (J) in so far as both the pericopes deal with the provision for sustenance of creatures by God the Great Provider.

The relationship of the humans to the earth is expressed by Yahwist through a play on words “adam” = humans and “adamah”= dust.

By the fact that the human beings were created from the soil, the author conveys the idea that both the humans and the earth are basically related to each other and conjoined to each other, and that is the earth mother who gives existence and meaning to the humans. Besides, humans have also a duty to “till the ground” so that “soil and people are associated with each other in agricultural life in such a way that each is determined by this mutual association.” (See R.J. Raja, Eco-Spirituality, N.B.C.L.C. Bangalore, 1997).

The narrative speaks then God’s solicitude and care for man so far as “he puts the man whom he had formed” in the garden (2:8-15) with the avowed purpose that he must “till it and keep it” (2:15; cf. Also 2:5; 3:17-23; 4:2).

Human are expected not merely to till the earth and cultivate it but guard it, watch over it, preserve it and protect it from all damage and destruction and decimation.

The command “to till the earth and guard it” demands from us a “responsibility as custodians of the world which is God’s gift. We must indeed develop the world and we must use all the discoveries of science and technology in doing so. We cannot, however, use the world just for our won profit and convenience. We must “keep” the earth, and prudently conserve its riches, we must avoid exploitation and waste which are simply a desecration of what God has placed at our disposal.” (See R.J. Raja, Eco-Spirituality, N.B.C.L.C. Bangalore, 1997).

Besides the Genesis creation narratives, creation is a theme that is found in the prophets and in the wisdom literature as well. For example, in the texts of the classical prophets such as Amos (4: 13; 5: 8) and Jeremiah (27:5; 31: 35-37). Deutero-Isaiah proclaims that the very earth will be recreated (Isa 40:4). Creation is not simply an act of God in the beginning, but rather God’s continual involvement throughout history. The prophet Isaiah links creation with redemption. It is made explicit in the opening verse of Isaiah 43: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

In the wisdom literature (Proberbs, Job, Ecclesiastes [Qoheleth], Sirach [Ecclesiaticus], the Wisdom of Solomon, and some of the Psalms) God is viewed primarily as creator (Proverbs 8, Sirach 24, Wisdom of Solomon 7).

In our survey of texts in the Old Testament makes it clear that its understandings of creation are rich and varied. These texts are deeply affected by the questions, concerns, and the worldview current when they were written. Hence the Biblical perspectives on creation do not necessarily conflict with modern scientific theories about the origins of the world and its development.

[1] In Enuma Elish creation unfolds through conflict between the deities. The conflict between Marduk and Tiamat gives rise ot the world out of the slain Tiamat, whose body is severed. It is only because of Marduk’s struggle with Tiamat that heaven and earth are created. In contrast to the Babylonian myth, Genesis 1 shows no conflict. In Genesis 1` creation takes place simply through God’s word. It is through God’s word that a good and orderly world is created.

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One thought on “Creation and Old Testament

  1. hello how ru? ru bussy? no contact at all. What happened? if u r busy O.K. if not call me. Praying for uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.

    On Mon, Jul 14, 2014 at 8:42 AM, VatiKos wrote:

    > Fr. Jefferson Bennit posted: “According to Claus Westermann, the > creation texts, especially those found in Genesis, as a relatively > self-contained expression of faith that can be best understood through an > analysis of their relationship to the myths of the ancient Near East. The > Genes”

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