Thursday, January 01, 2004

The Man and Woman Sin - Genesis 3:1-24

Genesis 3

The Man and Woman Sin

1Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the creatures the LORD God had made. "Really?" he asked the woman. "Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?"
2"Of course we may eat it," the woman told him. 3"It's only the fruit from the tree at the center of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says we must not eat it or even touch it, or we will die."
4"You won't die!" the serpent hissed. 5"God knows that your eyes will be opened when you eat it. You will become just like God, knowing everything, both good and evil."
6The woman was convinced. The fruit looked so fresh and delicious, and it would make her so wise! So she ate some of the fruit. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Then he ate it, too. 7At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they strung fig leaves together around their hips to cover themselves.
8Toward evening they heard the LORD God walking about in the garden, so they hid themselves among the trees. 9The LORD God called to Adam "Where are you?"
10He replied, "I heard you, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked."
11"Who told you that you were naked?" the LORD God asked. "Have you eaten the fruit I commanded you not to eat?"
12"Yes," Adam admitted, "but it was the woman you gave me who brought me the fruit, and I ate it."
13Then the LORD God asked the woman, "How could you do such a thing?"
"The serpent tricked me," she replied. "That's why I ate it."
14So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, you will be punished. You are singled out from all the domestic and wild animals of the whole earth to be cursed. You will grovel in the dust as long as you live, crawling along on your belly. 15From now on, you and the woman will be enemies, and your offspring and her offspring will be enemies. He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."
16Then he said to the woman, "You will bear children with intense pain and suffering. And though your desire will be for your husband,[a] he will be your master."
17And to Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate the fruit I told you not to eat, I have placed a curse on the ground. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. 18It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. 19All your life you will sweat to produce food, until your dying day. Then you will return to the ground from which you came. For you were made from dust, and to the dust you will return."
20Then Adam named his wife Eve,[a] because she would be the mother of all people everywhere. 21And the LORD God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.
22Then the LORD God said, "The people have become as we are, knowing everything, both good and evil. What if they eat the fruit of the tree of life? Then they will live forever!" 23So the LORD God banished Adam and his wife from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. 24After banishing them from the garden, the LORD God stationed mighty angelic beings[] to the east of Eden. And a flaming sword flashed back and forth, guarding the way to the tree of life.

The Man and Woman in Eden - Genesis 2:4b-25

The Man and Woman in Eden

When the LORD God made the heavens and the earth, 5there were no plants or grain growing on the earth, for the LORD God had not sent any rain. And no one was there to cultivate the soil. 6But water came up out of the ground and watered all the land. 7And the LORD God formed a man's body from the dust of the ground and breathed into it the breath of life. And the man became a living person.
8Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he placed the man he had created. 9And the LORD God planted all sorts of trees in the garden--beautiful trees that produced delicious fruit. At the center of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden and then dividing into four branches. 11One of these branches is the Pishon, which flows around the entire land of Havilah, where gold is found. 12The gold of that land is exceptionally pure; aromatic resin and onyx stone are also found there. 13The second branch is the Gihon, which flows around the entire land of Cush. 14The third branch is the Tigris, which flows to the east of Asshur. The fourth branch is the Euphrates.
15The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and care for it. 16But the LORD God gave him this warning: "You may freely eat any fruit in the garden 17except fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of its fruit, you will surely die."
18And the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him." 19So the LORD God formed from the soil every kind of animal and bird. He brought them to Adam[a] to see what he would call them, and Adam chose a name for each one. 20He gave names to all the livestock, birds, and wild animals. But still there was no companion suitable for him. 21So the LORD God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. He took one of Adam's ribs[b] and closed up the place from which he had taken it. 22Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib and brought her to Adam.
23"At last!" Adam exclaimed. "She is part of my own flesh and bone! She will be called `woman,' because she was taken out of a man." 24This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. 25Now, although Adam and his wife were both naked, neither of them felt any shame.

The Institution of Marriage in Genesis 2 and in Atrahasis

The Institution of Marriage in Genesis 2 and in Atrahasis

Batto, Bernard F
THROUGHOUT THE CENTURIES the majority of biblical commentators have assumed that Gen 2:18-25, and v. 24 in particular, either directly or indirectly touches upon the institution of marriage. Some, with an understanding of this text which is analogous to that of Jesus (Matt 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12), have even claimed this text as the foundation of monogamy.I In modern times some scholars have compared marriage in Genesis 2 with marriage in matriarchal societies or erebu marriages in an effort to account for the unexpected statement in Gen 2:24 that "for this reason a man forsakes his father and mother and clings to his wife," a statement which seems out of keeping with the normal patriarchal and patrilocal marital patterns of ancient Israel.2 Other commentators find in Gen 2:24 still other ideal conceptions of marriage, for example, that marriage creates a bond of kinship which transcends both death and divorce,3 or that marriage creates a covenantal relationship between spouses.4
In the twentieth century, however, with an increased awareness of comparative data and social-scientific interpretation, various scholars have challenged the assumption that Gen 2:18-25 must be understood in terms of marriage. Gunkel, in his ground-breaking commentary on Genesis, written in 1901, vociferously rejected the notion that Genesis 2 is concerned with the institution of marriage, much less with monogamy; Gen 2:24 in particular, Gunkel argued, is an ancient attempt to explain the mutual sexual attraction between man and woman as the yearning of the two, originally one, to become one again.' Moreover, the first humans did not engage in sex in Paradise, for in their childlike innocence they had not yet recognized their sexual differences; the first sexual intercourse occurred outside Paradise, when Adam "knew"his wife and she conceived Cain (Gen 5:1).6 Claus Westermann, in his exhaustive commentary on Genesis approves of Gunkel's opinion, though he nuances it considerably. For Westermann, the thrust of Gen 2:18-24 is the formation of "personal community between man and woman in the broadest sense-bodily and spiritual community, mutual help and understanding, joy and contentment in each other," not "the foundation of monogomy [sic]," for the author "is not concerned with the foundation of any sort of institution, but with primeval event" and thus "is not talking about marriage as an institution for the begetting of descendants, but of the community of man and woman as such."7 Westermann concludes that "the primary place is not given to propagation or to the institution of marriage as such," and that "the love of man and woman receives here a unique evaluation."8
Similarly, Bruce Vawter cautions against positing here the ideals of monogamous marriage, since "the kind of interpersonal relationship of which [the Yahwist] was speaking was also conceivable within the institution of polygamy."9 Gerhard von Rad parses the passage as an etiological explanation of the "extremely powerful drive of the sexes to each other,"10 a drive which the Yahwist thought to be "implanted in man by the Creator himself."11 The list of recent commentators adopting similar positions could be extended. 12
This debate over the question whether the author of Gen 2:18-25 envisions the institution of marriage or not can now be settled in the affirmative on the basis of comparative evidence, hitherto overlooked, from the Mesopotamian myth of Atrahasis.13
In my book Slaying the Dragon: Mythmaking in the Biblical Radition, I argued that the Yahwist-to whom scholarly consensus attributes Gen 2:1825-was in large measure dependent upon the myth of Atrahasis, both for the basic structure of his primeval myth of origins in Genesis 2-8,14 as well as for many of its specific themes." Specifically, I noted that the Yahwist's primeval myth parallels Atrahasis in broad outline: from an original setting in a dry wasteland, to the deity (god, or gods) creating humankind out of clay to serve as substitute laborers for the deity's garden or fields, to a revolt against the divine sovereign leading to an attempt to annihilate the human population through a flood in which but a single man and his family survived, to an offering to the deity by the pious survivor of the flood and a reconciliation of deity and humankind. But while I listed the institution of marriage as one of the parallels between Atrahasis and the Yahwist's primeval myth, I provided no evidence for that.16 Indeed, to my knowledge no commentator on either the biblical text or the Mesopotamian text has discussed this parallel. For that reason, it is incumbent upon me to redress that omission now.
1. The Institution of Marriage in Atrahasis
The failure to notice a parallel between Gen 2:23-24 and Atrahasis can be explained in part by the fragmentary condition of the text of Atrahasis. An additional factor is that Lambert and Millard, in their magisterial edition of newly assembled text of Atrahasis,17 misplaced one fragment.
The relevant passage in Atrahasis comes in the main text at 1.249-308. In this scene, Ea and Belet-ili (Maori), in the presence of the birth goddesses, shape fourteen pieces of clay to create humankind: seven pairs of males and females. Unfortunately, the main text is broken at this crucial point so that the story line is difficult to follow. An Assyrian text of Atrahasis from Ashurbanipal's library (text S), itself fragmentary, helps to fill in the gap. The Assyrian version is so different, however, that only the ideas, not the specific wording, can be used to reconstruct the main (Old Babylonian) version.
In the course of a lengthy article on the institution of the family in Babylonia, Claus Wilcke offers an improved reading of this particular section of Atrahasis, with a new translation in several places.18 In particular Wilcke has improved the reading of 1.273-74:
[in-nam-ma-a]t2 zi-iq-nu / [i-n]a le-ef el-li [i-na ki]-ra-ti ii lu-10 / [ih]-ti-ru aMa-tum u mu-us-si
When a beard appears on the cheeks of a young man, In gardens and by-ways let them choose one another as husband and wife.
When a young man begins to grow a beard, it is obvious that he has reached the age of sexual maturity and, thus, is ready to marry. At Mari, Shamshi-- Addu repeatedly attempted to shame his son Yasmah-Addu into joining his older brother Ishme-Dagan on a campaign against their common enemy with the words "Are you still a boy? Are you not yet a grown man (elu)? Is there no hair on your cheeks?" (ARM 1, texts 61.10-11; 73.43-44; 108.6-7; 113.7-8.). Or again, the Old Babylonian series, ana itti-Ju, under the verb etelu, describes the proper treatment of an adopted son by his legal father: "He did not strike him. He reared him. He taught him the scribal art. He caused him to become a man [Sumerian: "to grow hair on his cheeks"]. He acquired a wife for him."19
Just as the appearance of a beard is the sign of a young man's sexual maturity, so the development of breasts and the growth of pubic hair are the sign of a young woman's sexual maturity and readiness for marriage. In a bal-bale song celebrating the goddess Inanna's wedding to Utu, manna's girlfriends rejoice in Inanna's and their own sexual maturity in these words: This is a motif common to many cultures, of course, rooted in the universal experience of the way in which human bodies naturally develop. It is to be found in the Bible as well. In Ezek 16:6-8 Yahweh reproaches Israel for her infidelity under the metaphor of a foundling girl whom Yahweh has lovingly reared and eventually married:
Then I passed by and saw you weltering in your blood. I said to you: Live in your blood and grow like a plant in the field. You grew and developed, you came to the age of puberty; your breasts were formed, your hair had grown, but you were still stark naked. Again I passed by you and saw that you were now old enough for love. So I spread the comer of my cloak over you to cover your nakedness; I swore a covenant with you; you became mine, says the Lord GOD. (NAB) The image of breasts as a sign of sexual maturity and readiness for marriage also lies behind the dialogue between the bride and her older brothers in the Cant 8:8-10:
Thus, the presence of the word i-ir-ti-Via, "her chest," in Atrahasis 1.272, followed in the next line by a reference to a beard growing on a young man's cheeks, allows us confidently to posit a context about the sexual maturation of young men and women as the time for choosing marriage partners. This is also the import of the small fragment, text R, which Lambert and Millard mistakenly placed at the conclusion of the myth, in tablet 3.21 To judge from Asshurbanipal's Assyrian text S, which partially parallels the Old Babylonian text and which also has reference to similar "regulations for humankind" (usurat nine at this point, text R must be fitted in the break in the main text between lines 260 and 271.22 Accordingly, Atrahasis 1.271-72 must be restored approximately as
[a-na ar-da-ti tu-k] / (... i-na] i-ir-ti-la
When on a young woman breasts / [develop?], on her chest Improving upon Wilcke, the whole complex of lines 271-76 may be restored and translated as follows:
(271-72) [a-na ar-da-ti tu-k] / I... i-na] i-ir-ti-la (273-74) [in-nam-ma-a]r zi-iq-nu / [i-n]a k-et el-li (275-76) [i-na ki]-ra-li il A4-i / [ib]-ii-ru af-la-tum r) mu-us-sh (271-72) When on a young woman breasts [develop?], on her chest, (273-74) When a beard appears on the cheeks of a young man, (275-76) In gardens and byways let them choose one another as wife and husband.
At this point Belet-ili, the mother goddess, apparently suspends her dictation of these "regulations for humankind" (usurat nili, while she completes the creation of the humans by resorting to some kind of ritual birthing process (1.277-90). After she has "given birth" to humankind, she continues with the "regulations for humankind," which now have to do primarily with the procreation process itself. Again utilizing Wilcke's emendations, 1.291306 should be restored and translated as follows: The rest of the "regulations" and the conclusion of the scene are lost in the break. Nevertheless, enough is preserved to make it clear that the myth posits a certain symmetry between the divine creative act and the human procreative act:
Wilcke treats this text not under the heading of "marriage" but under the heading Geburt von Kindern, "birth of children"; he calls it a "mythic account about the divine ordering of procreation and birth."24 It is this, and more. The primary emphasis in the text is on the pairing of humankind into stable communities which we call marriage. According to Atrahasis, the institution of marriage and its corollary of procreation were part of the creator's design for humankind (usurat ni in.
This is not simply a matter of physical attraction or a celebration of love between men and women. In the text one finds frequent use of terms denoting the institution of marriage: "a wife and her husband" (assatum u mussa), and "wifehood and husbandhood" (assati u mututi). The latter phrase is itself a hendiadys indicating "marriage." Although Lambert's and Millard's translation of 1.301 as an explicit statement about the institution of marriage is unwarranted, they are on target, nonetheless, in understanding the intention of the Babylonian poet at this point. Marriage is quintessential to the human condition.
II. Implications for Genesis 2:23-24 One of the first points to notice is that Gen 2:23-24, with its reference to man and woman joining together to form "one flesh," comes at exactly the same point in the Yahwist's primeval myth as the "regulations for humankind" in Atrahasis, namely, at the very moment of the creation of the human species as male and female. Of course, in Atrahasis the human species is equally divided between males and females from the very beginning, while in Genesis 2 the human species is at first created androgynous, a fact which necessitates a second creative procedure by the deity in order for the human species to be appropriately divided into complementary halves, male and female. Both texts, however, end with the human species divided by divine design into complementary genders and ordained to choosing each other as husband and wife (Atrahasis), or to abandoning their parents in order to cling to each other (Genesis 2).
Precisely because of such paralleling of structure and theme in the two texts, Atrahasis provides an important hermeneutical key for unlocking the meaning of Gen 2:23-24. Although some maintain that v. 24 is a secondary addition to the narrative in 2:18-23,25 v. 24 is an integral part of this narrative. Indeed, the narrative reaches its climax in v. 24; in that verse is the goal to which the whole scene has been tending. Humankind was divided into male and female so that the one might have companionship with an cezer kenegdo, a helpmate appropriate to itself. That companionship achieves its realization, according to v. 24, in the union of husband and wife as "one flesh." Male and female taken separately are incomplete; each naturally tends toward the other. Marriage is the bond that reunites them into a natural community of wholesomeness.
Gunkel clearly was wrong in claiming that this text is not about the institution of marriage. There is more involved than the physical attraction of men and women to each other. Westermann is closer to the mark when he writes, "The purpose of the narrative is to lead to a new understanding of the creation of humanity. God's creature is humankind only in community, only when human beings interact with each other."26 But even this is too restrictive. Speaking of v. 24 specifically, Westermann writes, "The significance of the verse lies in this that in contrast to the established institutions and partly in opposition to them, it points to the basic power of love between man and woman."27 Given the parallel in Atrahasis, however, the Yahwist surely intended v. 24 as the equivalent of us urt n/grin Atrahasis, that is, as a universal law regulating the normative behavior of the sexes within a community of marriage. The leaving of one's mother and father to join with one of the opposite sex so that the two become "one flesh" can hardly be seen as anything other than a reference to marriage.
Granted that there are differences between Atrahasis and Genesis. The author of Atrahasis employs the abstraction adli u mututi, "wifehood and husbandhood." The Yahwist uses concrete but more ambiguous terms: is, "man" or "husband," and issa, "woman" or "wife." The author of Atrahasis has the regulations given in a single scene of two contiguous pronouncements of action: a first which has only to do with the pairing of the males and females into marriage partners at the time of puberty, and a second in which the human couple extend the marriage community through the procreation of children. The Yahwist has a comparable duality of pronouncements of action, but only the first, the pairing of husband and wife as one flesh, is associated directly with the moment of creation of humankind as male and female in Gen 2:18-24; the pronouncement concerning childbirth is delayed until the curse of the woman in Gen 3:16. Even so, Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 are but complementary scenes in which the full definition of humankind is being worked out.28 Nevertheless, by delaying the mention of children until a later scene the Yahwist does seem deliberately to drive at least a small wedge between marriage per se and procreation; procreation, thus, is reduced to a secondary end of marriage. By divine design, a design grounded in creation itself, humankind finds its fulfillment in marriage. In marriage both the human desire for community and the natural complementarity of the sexes achieve their intended goals.
Finally, evidence from Atrahasis helps to decide another old debate: whether or not the first couple engaged in sexual intercourse in Eden before they ate of the "tree of knowledge of good and evil" and before "the eyes of the two of them were opened" (Gen 3:67). If the Yahwist was indeed following the basic pattern of Atrahasis, it would appear that he also assumed that the primeval couple enjoyed sex as a natural part of their existence in the garden. Coitus is explicitly mentioned for the first time in Gen 4:1, where it serves the function of introducing a story about the next generation and its contribution to the primeval story. But as we have already noted, the Yahwist apparently saw a distinction between marriage and procreation. The first act of procreation was not necessarily the first act of sexual intercourse. As in Atrahasis, the Yahwist assumed that the couple experienced sexual desire as part and parcel of their being, from the moment of their creation. In Gen 3:16c the new element is not the woman's desire for her husband but the fact that now her husband will not return her desire in complementarity; he will attempt to dominate her instead. The first clause, "Your desire is for your husband," is a verbless clause which may be understood as a temporal or continuing condition. Only the second clause, "But he for his part shall rule you," contains a future-tense verb. Neither for Atrahasis nor for the Yahwist was sexual desire introduced by sin or concupiscence (contrary to an opinion dating back to Augustine and beyond).19 Sexual desire, like marriage, is part and parcel of the creation of humankind.
III. Conclusion When Atrahasis 1.249-308 is properly read, it provides an important parallel to Gen 2:18-24. Atrahasis thus provides an important hermeneutical tool for understanding the Yahwist's message and Gen 2:18-24 in particular. The Yahwist follows his source, Atrahasis, in positing that the institution of marriage is grounded in the very design of creation itself, but unlike the author of Atrahasis, who links marriage and procreation closely as if to suggest that the primary function of marriage is procreation, the Yahwist seems to distance marriage somewhat from procreation. For the Yahwist, the communitarian, affective function of marriage takes precedence over the procreative function of marriage.30
' Among others, Franz Delitzsch, A New Commentary on Genesis (2 vols.; New York: Scribner & Welford, 1889) 1. 145; August Dillmann, Die Genesis (Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zum Alten Testament 11; 3d ed.; Leipzig: Hirzel, 1875) 79; Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel (2 vols.; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961) 2. 24; Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26 (New American Commentary IA; Nashville: Broadman, 1996) 222-24.
2 W Robertson Smith, Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia (new ed.; London: Black, 1903; reprint, New York: AMS, 1979) 9-30; Cyrus Gordon, "Erebu Marriage," in In Honor of Ernest R. Lachemann on His Seventy-Fifth Birthday, April 29, 1981 (ed. M. A. Morrison and D. I. Owen; Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzu and the Humans 1; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1981) 155-61.
Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (WBC 1; Waco, TX: Word, 1987) 70-71.
Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 181. Similarly, Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, 222. Angelo Tosato ("On Genesis 2:24," CBQ 52 [1990] 389-409) finds that although Gen 2:24 does indeed address directly the issues of marriage, it is not an integral part of the story of the creation of man and woman but is rather a gloss from the Persian period. Tosato (p. 409) thinks that it was added to justify the new norm which was generically antipolygamous and implicitly antidivorce (Lev 18:18; cf. Mal 2:13-16), and perhaps also the new restrictive norms in the area of incestuous and mixed marriages (Leviticus 18 and 20; cf. Mal 2:10-12)."
' Hermann Gunkel, Genesis (HKAT 1/ 1; 3d ed.; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1910) 13, where he says, "Der Mythus ist oft miBverstanden; er redet nicht von der `Ehe" such davon, dab er die Einehe als normal hinstellen wolle, ist nicht die Rede; vielmehr schafft Gott nur ein Weib, well er nichts uberfltssiges tut: ein Mann and ein Weib konnen die gauze Menschheit zeugen." 0. Procksch (Die Genesis ubersetzt and erklart [KAT 1; Leipzig: Deichert, 1913] 30) adopted a similar position: the institution in question is "nicht eine Rechtssitte, sondern eine Naturgewalt."
Gunkel, Genesis, 41.
Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary (3 vols.; trans. John J. Scullion; Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984-86) 1. 232.
8 Ibid., 233, 234.
Bruce Vawter, On Genesis: A New Reading (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977) 75-76. Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (trans. John H. Marks; OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961) 82-83.
" Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (2 vols.; trans. D. M. G. Stalker; New York: Harper, 1962-65) 1. 150.
2 See, for example, 0. H. Steck, Die Paradieserzahlung: Fine Auslegung von Genesis 2,4b-3.24 (BibS[N] 60; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1970) 95; Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (OBT; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978) 104; Peter Weimar, Untersuchungen zur Redaktionsgeschichte des Pentateuchs (BZAW 146; Berlin/ New York: de Gruyter, 1977) 120.
'3 For a very different approach to this same conclusion see Helgo Lindner, "Spricht Gen. 2,24 von der Ehe?" TBei 19 (1983) 23-32.
" Or her primeval myth, should Bloom (in David Rosenberg and Harold Bloom, The Book of J[New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990] be correct in his thesis that J was a royal woman in the court of Rehoboam, son of Solomon.
" Bernard F Batto, Slaying the Dragon: Mythmaking in the Biblical Radition (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1992), esp. chap. 2, "The Yahwist's Primeval Myth," pp. 41-72.
16 Ibid., 52.
11 W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, Atra-bars: The Babylonian Story of the Flood (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969).
" Claus Wilcke,'"Familiengrundung im alten Babylonien," in Geschlechtsreife and Legitimation zur Zeugung (ed. Ernst W MUer; Verdffentlichungen dts Institute fr Historische Anthropologie e.V. 3; Freiburg/Munich: Alber, 1985) 213-317, esp. 295-98.
'9 Ibid., 241-42. This passage (ana itti- Su 7.3.16-21) has been published in Sumerian and Akkadian, with a German translation, by B. Landsberger, Materialien zum sumerischen Lexikon 1: Die Serie ana ittisu (Scripts Pontificii Instituti Biblici; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1937) 100-101.
20 Translation by Thorkild Jacobsen, The Harps That Once ... : Sumerian Poetry in Translation (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1987) 18. See also Wilcke, "Familien-- grundung," 243. For the Sumerian text (N 4305 rev. 2.1-3), see Samuel Noah Kramer, "Cuneiform Studies and the History of Literature: The Sumerian Sacred Marriage Texts," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 107 (1963) 508, 521.
2' Lambert and Millard, Atra-basis, 104.
12 John Van Seters (Prologue to History: The Yahwist as Historian in Genesis [Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1992] 53) has also noticed the misplacement of fragment R, but I dc not find convincing his further suggestion to interpret t4wat nisi and its variant usurate nift= as "shapes or figures of humans" instead of Lambert's "regulations for humankind."
' See Benjamin R. Foster, Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature (2 vols.; Bethesda, MD: CDL, 1993) 1. 167 with the note on p. 200.
I Wilcke, "Familiengriindung," 295.
25 For a history of this interpretation, see Tosato, "On Genesis 2:24," 389 n. 1. For Tosato's own position, see above, n. 4.
26 Westermann, Genesis 1-11, 192. 27 Ibid., 233.
21 See Batto, Slaying Me Dragon, 41-72.
' Taking issue with other commentators of his day, Augustine (De Genesi ad litteram 9.3-11 5-19) opined that Eve was created to be a helpmate for Adam precisely in the matter of procreation, and, therefore, that the primal couple eventually would have had coitus in Paradise, even had they not sinned. Such "honorable nuptial union and the bed undefiled" would have been totally rational and perfectly controlled by the will, however, without any ardor
of passion or concupiscence. For this, see St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis (2 vols.; trans. John Hammond Taylor, ACW 41-42; New York/Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982) 73-83; see further 11.1 33 (p. 135) and 11.32 42 (pp. 164-65).
30 Whether and how the Yahwist's view in this matter may be reconciled with the priestly theology of humankind's obligation to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Gen 1:28) are questions best left to another forum.
BERNARD F BATTO DePauw University Greencastle, IN 46135
Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Oct 2000Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

The Account of Creation - Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Genesis 1
The Account of Creation 1In the beginning God created[a] the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was empty, a formless mass cloaked in darkness. And the Spirit of God was hovering over its surface. 3Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4And God saw that it was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light "day" and the darkness "night." Together these made up one day.
6And God said, "Let there be space between the waters, to separate water from water." 7And so it was. God made this space to separate the waters above from the waters below. 8And God called the space "sky." This happened on the second day.
9And God said, "Let the waters beneath the sky be gathered into one place so dry ground may appear." And so it was. 10God named the dry ground "land" and the water "seas." And God saw that it was good. 11Then God said, "Let the land burst forth with every sort of grass and seed-bearing plant. And let there be trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. The seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came." And so it was. 12The land was filled with seed-bearing plants and trees, and their seeds produced plants and trees of like kind. And God saw that it was good. 13This all happened on the third day.
14And God said, "Let bright lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. They will be signs to mark off the seasons, the days, and the years. 15Let their light shine down upon the earth." And so it was. 16For God made two great lights, the sun and the moon, to shine down upon the earth. The greater one, the sun, presides during the day; the lesser one, the moon, presides through the night. He also made the stars. 17God set these lights in the heavens to light the earth, 18to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19This all happened on the fourth day.
20And God said, "Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind." 21So God created great sea creatures and every sort of fish and every kind of bird. And God saw that it was good. 22Then God blessed them, saying, "Let the fish multiply and fill the oceans. Let the birds increase and fill the earth." 23This all happened on the fifth day.
24And God said, "Let the earth bring forth every kind of animal--livestock, small animals, and wildlife." And so it was. 25God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to reproduce more of its own kind. And God saw that it was good.
26Then God said, "Let us make people[b] in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life--the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals,[c] and small animals."

27 So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them. 28God blessed them and told them, "Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters over the fish and birds and all the animals." 29And God said, "Look! I have given you the seed-bearing plants throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. 30And I have given all the grasses and other green plants to the animals and birds for their food." And so it was. 31Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way. This all happened on the sixth day.

Genesis 21 So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2On the seventh day, having finished his task, God rested from all his work. 3And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from his work of creation.
4This is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth.

Created in the Image of a Violent God?; The Ethical Problem of the Conquest of Chaos in Biblical Creation Texts

Created in the Image of a Violent God?; The Ethical Problem of the Conquest of Chaos in Biblical Creation Texts

J Richard Middleton. Interpretation. Richmond: Oct 2004.Vol.58, Iss. 4; pg. 341, 15 pgs Copyright Interpretation Oct 2004

By its alternative depiction of God's non-violent creative power at the start of the biblical canon, Gen 1 signals the Creator's original intent for shalom and blessing at the outset of human history, prior to the rise of human (or divine) violence. Gen 1 constitutes a normative frameworkby which we may judge all the violence that pervades the rest of the Bible.
The Bible opens with the remarkable claim that humans are made in God's image and likeness (imago Dei) and granted real power to rule the earth as emissaries or delegates of the Creator (Gen 1:26-28). Although the history of interpretation has often separated the meaning of the image of God from the mandate to rule, today many Old Testament scholars directly connect the imago Dei in humans with the exercise of power. The result is a "functional" interpretation of the image of God as the status or office of humanity as God's authorized stewards, charged with representing God's rule on earth. This interpretation of the imago Dei, wherein the human race is granted a share in God's rule (and thus may be said to be like the divine ruler), is congruent with careful exegesis of the Genesis text and is supported by ancient Near Eastern parallels, where kings (and sometimes priests) are understood as the image and representative of a god on earth.
But this interpretation of the image, while exegetically warranted, remains a purely formal statement and is thus inadequate as it stands. It is not enough to claim an analogy or likeness between human power and God's own power. What is urgently needed is an investigation into the content or substance of the power humans in the divine image are expected to exercise.1
The question of how humans appropriately image or represent God is important to explore since we live in a world pervaded by the violent abuse of human power, often explicitly legitimated by appeal to God's will. Even when there is no explicit appeal to God, humans are religious creatures and tend-consciously or subconsciously-to reproduce in their actions something of the character of whatever they take as their ultimate point of orientation and value (their god/God). Therefore, how we conceive of the God in whose image we are created has significant ethical implications.
Among the biblical portrayals of God as Creator, we find-beyond the familiar accounts in Gen 1 and 2-the quasi-mythic notion of God founding the cosmos through an act of primordial violence (the motif of the Chaoskampf or the "combat myth"), which some biblical scholars have claimed is the fundamental biblical portrayal of God.2 Such a conception of God, however, seems to enshrine violence as the quintessential divine action. The combat myth is thus highly problematic for those who believe that the canonical portrayal of God ought to be paradigmatic for the human exercise of power.
In this essay I propose to examine the presence of the combat myth in the Old Testament, with emphasis on the ethical problems that arise when the conquest of chaos is linked to God's creation of the world. I will then contrast creation-by-combat with the creation account of Gen 1, and I will conclude with some reflections on how Gen 1 might provide a normative framework for addressing not only creation-by-combat texts, but also the wider issues of violence in the Bible and in the contemporary world.
Biblical scholars have long recognized the presence in the Bible of the motif of God's conquest of primordial forces of chaos, where these forces are pictured mythically as the ocean or sea, or a dragon or monster associated with water. In these texts God's rebellious opponent is vanquished, either by being utterly annihilated or by being captured and bound, and thus rendered impotent. The cosmos (the realm of order) is thereby established (or re-established) in the face of threatening chaos or disorder.
Herman Gunkel, in his groundbreaking 1895 work, Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit, first traced the combat myth back to the Babylonian creation epic, Enuma Elish, where Marduk (the chief god of Babylon) vanquishes Tiamat (the divinized ocean, the leader of the older gods, also portrayed as a monster or dragon) and constructs the cosmos out of her corpse. Gunkel then proceeded to note a wide variety of biblical poetic texts in which the Chaoskampf could be found, from the Psalms, through Job, to the prophets, right up to the book of Revelation (especially ch. 12).3 And ever since Gunkel's work, the presence of the combat myth in the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) has been evident to biblical scholars.
While the Babylonian Enuma Elish is undoubtedly an important source for understanding the combat myth, it is unlikely that it is the most immediate source for most instances of the combat myth in the Old Testament. Most scholars today hold to a probable Canaanite (rather than a Babylonian) origin for the biblical combat myth. It is found in the cuneiform texts from Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) that came to light in the first half of the twentieth century. Not only is Ugaritic a closer sister language to Hebrew than Akkadian (the language of Babylon and Assyria), but the biblical YHWH is said in a variety of texts to have conquered (or that he will conquer) many of the same "enemies" mentioned in the Ugaritic literature.
Thus, for example, in Ugaritic mythology Baal vanquishes a primordial enemy known variously as Prince Sea and Judge River, with the result that the order of the world is either founded or restored.4 Following this battle, Baal comes to dwell in the temple/palace that is built for him in celebration of his victory over the chaotic forces. In the Old Testament, Sea and River (or Sea and Jordan) occur as parallel terms in the context of the combat myth in texts such as Pss 89:25 (Heb 89:26), 114:3, 5; and Nah 1:4, and the Song of the Sea in Exod 15 combines the victory at the Red Sea (15:1-12) with God coming to rest in his sanctuary in the promised land (15:13-19).
This motif of the conquest of watery enemies, however, is rarely used in Scripture to denote God's creation of the world. More typically, the mythological waters allude either to historical enemies whom God has vanquished or will vanquish (as in Pss 18:15-17, 65:7, 144:7; and Isa 17:12-13) or to the Red Sea through which the Israelites passed at the exodus (as in Ps 77:16-20, 106:9, 114:3, 5; and Isa 51:10; cf. Hab 3:8). Indeed, the Song of the Sea (Exod 15) contains an interesting twist on this motif, in that God does not battle the waters at all, but uses them as his instrument against an historical opponent, the Egyptian army led by pharaoh.
Besides battling the sea/waters, God is also depicted in the Old Testament as engaged in conflict with various beasts or monsters usually associated with water, some with specific names such as Leviathan or Rahab. Thus we find Isa 27:1 describing Leviathan (liwyatan) as a serpent that God will one day vanquish. This beast is mentioned (not always in the context of a combat myth) also in Pss 74:14 and 104:26; Job 3:8 and 41:1-34 (Heb 40:25-41:26), and is usually understood by biblical scholars as the Hebrew version of the seven-headed water serpent known from the Baal myths as ltn (usually vocalized as lôtari). Beyond the philological similarity of the names, Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1 and lotan in the Baal myth are each described as a "fleeing" and "twisting" (or "crooked") serpent (the Ugaritic and Hebrew words used are precise cognates). And Leviathan's "heads" are even mentioned in Ps 74:14.
Unlike Leviathan, however, no known parallel has so far turned up in ancient Near Eastern literature for Rahab. Although the term sometimes designates Egypt, as in Isa 30:7 and Ps 87:4, Rahab is clearly a serpent in Job 26:12, and is mentioned in the context of the combat myth also in Job 9:13; Isa 51:9; and Ps 89:10 (Heb 89:11), with the term occurring in the plural in Ps 40:4 (Heb 40:5), usually translated as proud or arrogant ones. In some texts, YHWH's mythological adversary or enemy is not named, but designated by the more general term tannîn (often translated as "dragon"), as in Job 7:12; Isa 27:1, 51:19; Ezek 29:3 and 32:2, with the plural tannînîm ("dragons") occurring in Ps 74:13.
As with God's battle with the mythological waters, most of the references to God's defeat of these various monsters are not associated with creation, but rather describe God's historical judgment on foreign military or political powers. The clearest references are found in the oracles against the nations in Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Thus Ezek 29:2-7 and 32:2-4 portray the Egyptian Pharaoh as a great water-monster (tannîn) whom God will pull out of the Nile with hooks or haul up with a net. Likewise, Jer 51:34 pictures king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon as a sea serpent swallowing Israel and 51:44 describes Bel (that is, Marduk) as forced to disgorge what he has swallowed (a usage that hints at the near functional identity of the king and the god in Babylon).
While I do not deny that creation-by-combat occurs in the Old Testament, it is important to note that this motif is not nearly as common as many biblical scholars have claimed.5 The majority of putative creation-by-combat texts turn out, on close inspection, to refer either to some intra-historical (or eschatological) conflict described in mythological language or to the non-conflictual containment of the primordial waters at creation. The tendency of biblical scholars to see creation-by-combat in texts where it is not obviously present is a legacy of the form criticism of Herman Gunkel-both because of his influential comparison of Chaoskampf texts in the Bible and in the ancient Near East and because of the very assumptions of form criticism as a comparative discipline. Whereas form criticism is predicated on the similarity and constancy of leitmotifs found in quite different texts (even from different cultures), no two texts simply replicate the same motif in exactly the same manner.6 To assume that they do is to fall into the trap that James Barr calls the fallacy of "illegitimate totality transfer."7 It is thus a methodological fallacy to assume that the mere presence of the combat myth in a biblical text means that it should be read as creation-by-combat or that any creation text that draws on the theme of God dividing or separating primordial waters must refer to a primordial battle. While we should certainly not ignore the embeddedness of individual texts in larger patterns of meaning (including shared motifs such as the combat myth), it is nevertheless important that we read each text for its own specificity and particularity-its "actuality," as James Muilenburg puts it.8
Although the vast majority of biblical texts that utilize the combat myth do not designate creation, but rather God's struggle with, and judgment on, various political empires either in the historical past or in the eschatological future, there are three rather clear creation-by-combat texts in the Old Testament. These are Job 26:7-14, Pss 74:12-17 and 89:5-14 (Heb 89:6-15). These poetic texts each portray God's creation of the world and the founding of cosmic order as issuing from the divine conquest of a primordial opponent or enemy which is variously identified using the parallelism characteristic of Hebrew poetry. In Job 26 the opponent is the sea/Rahab/the twisting serpent, in Ps 74 it is the sea/Leviathan/teininim and in Ps 89 it is the sea/Rahab/your enemies.
In contrast to Job 26, which cites the combat myth to evoke awe concerning the mystery of God, Psalms 74 and 89 clearly illustrate sociopolitical functions of the combat myth that are well known from the ancient Near East. That is, they link creation-by-combat in the divine realm with human institutions (and human power) on earth, and are thus directly relevant to our topic. Whereas Ps 74 appeals to the combat myth in connection with the Jerusalem temple (which has been destroyed), Ps 89 connects the myth to the Davidic monarchy (which is in crisis). Both psalms are laments and may come from the very beginning of the exile, when the temple and the monarchy (both institutional signs of Israel's election) came to an end.
Psalm 74 calls on God to "Remember Mount Zion, where you came to dwell" (v. 2), and describes the appalling destruction of the Jerusalem temple and the continued scoffing of Israel's enemies. In contrast to the present situation of crisis, the psalmist proceeds to draw on the ancient tradition of the Chaoskampf, portraying a time when God was clearly the victor over his foes (w. 12-14), and follows this by a description of creation (w. 15-17).
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The description of creation-by-combat in this psalm functions as a paradigm of "salvation" in times "of old" when God asserted his kingship over primordial opponents (v. 12) and calls God to act salvifically once again by defeating Israel's enemies in the present. Cosmic conquest of a primordial foe thus sets a precedent for the historical conquest of political and military enemies.
Particularly significant, although only implicit in the psalm, is the connection between the combat myth and temple building. Just as the conclusion of Baal's battles with his opponents (in the Ugaritic myths) results in the construction of his temple/palace, presumably if YHWH has once more defeated the forces of chaos, thus re-enacting the primordial battle in history, the culmination of the victory would be God coming to rest in his royal sanctuary in Zion. The implied outcome of the new battle would be a new temple. Israel's sacred historical cosmos would once again be secure.
Psalm 89 is even more instructive about the sociopolitical function of the combat myth in ancient Israel. Like Ps 74, this psalm links God's primordial victory with the possibility of a new victory in history against Israel's enemies (implied in 89:46-51). In Ps 89, however, the cosmic battle is connected not with the temple, but with the monarchy. Here God's primordial combat against the forces of chaos serves to legitimate the power and validity of the Davidic king, who functions as God's image on earth.
The psalm begins by extolling YHWH's steadfast love and 4faithfulness, which are grounded in the primordial victory over chaos (1-18). The psalm then recounts YHWH'S (supposedly) unbreakable, eternal covenant with David (19-37), contrasting this with the crisis of the Davidic monarchy, which testifies to the fact that the covenant is in fact broken (38-51).
What is most illuminating here is the parallel between how God is described in the combat myth section of the psalm and the description of the Davidic king which follows this section. In w. 5-8 YHWH is praised as incomparable among the gods or heavenly beings.
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This incomparability is then interpreted in terms of God's victory over the primordial forces of chaos, by which the cosmos was founded (w. 9-14).
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After the description of the creation-by-combat comes a brief stanza (w. 15-18) extolling the blessedness of Israel for having this warrior as their God. The next line (v. 19) begins by stating: "Then ('az) you spoke in a vision to your faithful one" and continues with an expansion of the narrative account of the Davidic covenant found in 2 Sam 7 (the text upon which this psalm obviously depends). Quite unlike the narrative account of the origin of the Israelite monarchy in 1 Sam 8 (where the monarchy is a late institution, historically speaking, and Saul, not David, is the first king), the mythical telescoping of events in Ps 89 portrays the election of David as the next event immediately after the creation battle. This certainly warrants Richard J. Clifford's comment that "The psalm regards the founding of the house of David as part of the foundation of the world just as several Mesopotamian cosmogonies list the king and the temple as things created at the beginning."9
When God's relationship with David (and the line of Davidic kings) is then elaborated, the description goes considerably beyond the account of the Davidic covenant found in 2 Sam 7. The "steadfast love" and the "secure" kingdom that God promised David in the Samuel narrative (2 Sam 7:15-16), reflected in the recurring use of "steadfast love" and "faithfulness" throughout the psalm, are here explained specifically in terms of the Chaoskampf.10 Not only will God defeat the king's foes, who represent the forces of chaos (Ps 89:20-24), but the king himself is described, in terms reminiscent of ancient Near Eastern royal ideology as the chosen representative of the divine on earth. While Ps 89:6 had claimed that none of the heavenly beings could be compared to YHWH, who surpassed them all by virtue of his conquest of primordial chaos, w. 25-27 suggest there is one on earth who is indeed God's image (since, like God, he controls the mythological waters).
Thus YHWH says of David:
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The king is both elevated to the status of God's chosen son and replicates in his own person the primordial victory over chaos. As Jon Levenson explains, "It is now the Davidic throne that guarantees cosmic stability, the continuation of the order established through primeval combat. In Psalm 89, as in the Enuma Elish, the bond between the exaltation of the deity and the imperial politics of his earthly seat of power is patent. David is YHWH'S vicar on earth."11 Psalm 89 thus illustrates very well the function of the creation-by-combat theme to legitimate the monarchy, via a motif remarkably like the imago Dei. Indeed, the term "highest"('elyon), used of the Davidic king in v. 27, may also indicate the ancient Near Eastern notion of the king's affinity/likeness to the divine, since 'elyon is used of God "Most High" in Genesis 14:18, 19, 22, in connection with Melchizedek, the Canaanite priest-king of Salem.
Psalms 2 and 110 also include this theme, the latter even drawing on the Melchizedek tradition. Both are royal psalms which mention YHWH'S oath or decree elevating the king to elite status. Whereas Ps 2:7 describes the king's election or adoption as God's son ("I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, 'You are my son; today I have begotten you'"), Psalm 110:4 characterizes the elect king as the high priest of the Jerusalem cult ("The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'"). Both psalms, furthermore, employ the combat myth (though not explicitly in connection with creation), in order to legitimate the monarchy. They portray YHWH together with the Davidic king (as divine father and earthly son) ruling from Zion and subduing Israel's enemies in a joint-conquest motif.
These two royal psalms, together with Pss 74 and 89, illustrate a well-known complex of ancient Near Eastern ideas concerning the mythic legitimation of human cultural institutions (temple and monarchy) on earth. The combat myth, especially when connected to creation, serves to ground the historical exercise of cultic and political/military power (by which the human world is ordered) in God's primordial ordering of the cosmos.
The primary question for us is whether the combat myth is a salutary or problematic complex of ideas. According to Jon Levenson, the biblical combat myth should be understood in a positive light, since humans are, ultimately, the prime beneficiary of this primordial exercise of divine power. Among the many reasons he gives for valuing the combat myth, Levenson points out that God's primordial conquest of chaos results in the elimination of threats to the human community. Creation-by-combat, he explains, involves "the establishment of a benevolent and life-sustaining order, founded upon the demonstrated authority of the God who is triumphant over all rivals."12
But this raises the question: Whose life is sustained by this order? Richard Clifford has pointed out that when the combat myth is combined (in the ancient Near East or in the Bible) with a cosmogony, the resulting cosmos is (in his terminology) "ethnocentric."13 Whereas a prominent feature of such cosmogonies (whether in Enuma Elish or the Psalms) is that they are concerned with the origin and founding of human society (a life-sustaining order, as Levenson puts it), Clifford explains that "the society in question is not the human race as such but a particular people or nation, e.g., Babylon, Israel."14 The "world" that is founded by primordial combat is the world of some particular group, with their own limited interests.
Although such ethnocentrism might be relatively innocent if the group in question never encounters anyone who is different, the reality of other nations and ethnic groups leads to the pressing question of how these groups will relate to each other. Defining one's own people or nation as the normative and true humanity, whose origin is grounded in creation itself, entails that everyone else is relegated to the status of "other"-other than truly human, other than legitimate, other than normative-and thus regarded as inferior in status if not downright evil. Particularly when a people's national/ethnic identity is both grounded in creation and understood to be established by the conquest of chaos, threats to this identity must be vanquished by re-enacting the chaos battle against one's historical competitors, understood as enemies of righteousness.15 Given this analysis, I suggest that Clifford's description of ancient cosmogonies founded by combat as "ethnocentric," although undoubtedly correct, is too tame. Such cosmogonies are not simply ethnocentric; they are inherently competitive, even violent and militaristic.
The Babylonian version of the combat myth (Enuma Elish) clearly illustrates this point, especially when its popularity in the sixth century is linked with the rise of the NeoBabylonian empire. Paul Ricoeur, in his masterful study The Symbolism of Evil, has discerned how the primordial act of violent cosmos-making in Enuma Elish becomes the mythic legitimation of Neo-Babylonian imperial expansionism. The king, as the image of Marduk, vanquishes the enemies of Babylon, who are regarded as the historical embodiments of the chaos monster.16 Through a theology of holy war, Babylon's defeat of its enemies establishes a social and political cosmos in historical time, comparable to the god Marduk's establishment of the broader cosmos in mythical time.
Texts like Pss 2 and 110 do not explicitly link the combat motif with creation, but they do provide divine legitimation for nationalistic (perhaps even imperial) military aspirations in ancient Israel. Such texts raise the question of whether it makes any significant difference if the combat myth is used in connection with creation or with history. Do not both suggest that violence is God's characteristic action, thus legitimating human violence in the world? Indeed, Levenson suggests that "too much can be made of the distinction between the myth with creation and the myth without creation."17
On the contrary, however, I think this is a crucial distinction. The use of a "historicized" combat myth to describe a particular historical event (like the exodus) makes no particular assumptions about the primordial or normative character of violence or evil. Rather, evil is treated as an intra-historical reality, without assigning it ontological status.
Creation-by-combat, on the other hand, ontologizes evil, and assumes it is equally primordial with God and goodness. It may be even more primordial, as in Enuma Elish, where the older gods are the locus of chaos, while order, represented by the younger gods, is later. But not only is evil (in the form of chaos) given primordial status. The conquest of this evil/chaos to found the world order enshrines violence as the divinely chosen method for establishing goodness. Ricoeur's explanation is particularly illuminating:
It will be seen that human violence is thus justified by the primordial violence. Creation is a victory over an Enemy older than the creator; that Enemy, immanent in the divine, will be represented in history by all the enemies whom the king in his turn, as servant of the god, will have as his mission to destroy. Thus Violence is inscribed in the origin of things, in the principle that establishes while it destroys.18
An important exploration of the sociopolitical implications of the creation-by-combat motif in contemporary society may be found in Pedro Trigo's profound study of creation theology from a Latin American liberation perspective, Creation and History.19 In a particularly insightful section entitled "From Chaos and Cosmos to Faith in Creation,"20 Trigo persuasively demonstrates that the same basic chaos/cosmos polarization that functioned in ancient Babylon undergirds various geopolitical and ideological splits in the contemporary world, both within and between nations and groups of nations, especially between the wealthy and the poor of the world.21 Trigo has in mind such ideological polarizations as North/South, East/West, Capitalist/Communist, Industrialized World/Developing World, where the split replicates the chaos/cosmos scheme (that is, where the security and well-being of one member of the polarization is thought to be of primary importance and is understood as threatened in some way by the other).
Contemporary versions of this chaos/cosmos polarization, like the Babylonian combat myth, accept the polarization as inevitable. Goodness is not primordial. "Violence is original, primordial," explains Trigo. "Chaos comes before cosmos, and abides at its heart still; therefore, it cannot be transposed."22
The result of taking the chaos/cosmos model as constitutive of reality is that cosmos, or righteousness, is understood to exist only in eternal struggle against chaos.23 "In a chaos-cosmos setting, the only salvation is a precarious one, never definitive, always under threat-and hence militant, sectarian, and self-repressive."24 Life thus consists in ideological and political warfare against those regarded as one's enemies, who are demonized and stripped of their humanity.25 This is Trigo's assessment of the oppressive function of the Western, North-Atlantic worldview from the perspective of the marginalized (those identified with chaos) in Latin America.
Whereas in the ancient Near East the king is authorized to enact the primordial combat in the historical present against the forces of chaos, the combat myth does not strictly require a monarchy. In the contemporary world, where human agency is more widely diffused, a democratized imago Dei combined with the us/them framework of the chaos/cosmos scheme may harbor significant potential for the legitimation of human violence at many levels.
Indeed, Trigo explains that the combat myth not only legitimates the violence of those in power, but is a pervasive temptation for marginalized groups seeking liberation from oppression. Trigo suggests it is a particular temptation of some base communities and liberation theologians in Latin America "to 'buy' the chaos-versus-cosmos schema, and simply throw in our lot with the excluded, chaotic member."26 In this understanding of the myth, participants undergo what we might call a Nietzschean "transvaluation of values," resulting in the valorization of the chaotic marginalized and the demonization of those who stand for false order.27 The violent suppression of otherness, in other words, can be rooted not only in an attempt to protect one's existing privilege, but also in an attempt to exact recompense for being victimized and disenfranchised by those in power. The tragic result of this reversal of the chaos-cosmos scheme is the legitimation of perpetual revolution and continued violence, indeed terror, in the name of the never-ending liberation struggle.
It is significant that Trigo, who has seen firsthand the oppressive effects of the combat myth in Latin America, posits what he calls an "atheism with respect to the divinity of the chaos/cosmos setting."28 As a matter of principle, he declares, "I cannot assign the name reality to what my faith tells me is a distortion of reality."29 Acknowledging that reality is often experienced in terms of chaos/cosmos polarizations, Trigo is nevertheless unwilling to grant this experience primordial or sacred status, explaining that "we cannot accept that this polarized setting should express the original constitution of reality. Consequently, neither can we place ourselves at either term of any of these polarizations."30
Instead, the entire chaos/cosmos framework must be challenged. The only adequate answer to this false ideological polarization, says Trigo, is faith in God as Creator, particularly as articulated in Gen 1.
It has long been recognized by biblical scholars that the creation account in Gen 1 draws on ancient Near Eastern creation motifs-many of which are found in Enuma Elish-in a way that articulates a distinctive vision of reality.31 In this vision, God's relationship to the world predates the origin of violence, which is portrayed as beginning with human disobedience in Gen 3. Whether or not Gen 1 is intentionally polemical against Enuma Elish, a close reading of the text discloses three crucial dimensions of this creation account that directly contradict the Chaoskampf myth.
The first dimension of the account that contradicts the Chaoskampf is the role given to the traditional chaotic elements from the ancient Near Eastern combat myths. The primordial ocean (tehom) in Gen 1:2 and the waters on the second and third days of creation are not portrayed as God's mythological enemies. The deep is no threat and so God does not need to fight it, though God does separate or divide the waters for various cosmic structures to emerge.
But not only are the waters thoroughly demythologized in Genesis 1, so are the sea monsters or dragons (tannim) in v. 21. Although tannin (in the singular or plural) is often paired with Leviathan or Rahab in biblical poetic texts and treated as YHWH'S mythological adversary, this is certainly not the meaning of the term in Gen 1. On the contrary, here the tannim are, to use Gunkel's words, "transformed into a remarkable sort of fish, which is to be included among other created beings."32 In Gen 1 even the dragons are part of God's peaceable kingdom.
The second dimension of the Genesis text which clearly distinguishes it from creation-by-combat is the obvious ease with which God creates in contrast to Marduk's bloody struggle against a primordial enemy. This ease is suggested by the immediate and unproblematic response of creatures to God's commanding fiats. The typical pattern of divine command (for example, "let there be light" or "let the waters be separated") followed by an execution report ("and there was light," or "and it was so") pictures God as encountering no resistance in creating the world. God commands and creation obeys God's every word. To put it differently, God rules willing subjects, who do not have to be coerced or subdued.
Indeed, this is a ruler who does not command, so much as invite creatures to respond to his will. This invitational character of God's creative fiats is indicated by the fact that they are not technically imperatives at all, but Hebrew jussives (which have no exact counterpart in English). As Eugene Roop explains, the force of the Hebrew jussive can range "from the very strong (almost a command) to the very soft (almost a wish)" and "always possesses a voluntary element."33 Whether we read the rhetorical intent of these jussives more forcefully as God's commands (to which there is no resistance), analogous with the sovereign decrees of a king, or, following Walter Brueggemann, as God's gracious "summons" or "permission" for creatures to exist,34 we are certainly very far removed from the Chaoskampf motif. In Roop's words: "Creation comes by divine direction, not by a dictator's demand."35 The ease of creation-indicated both by the jussives and by the immediate compliance of the creatures-is a prominent rhetorical feature of Gen 1, reflected even in the gentle, repetitive cadences of the text, which progressively build to a climax. Unlike a genuine narrative, Gen 1 contains not a trace of plot tension or resolution, since there is no evil to be resisted or overcome.
The third rhetorical indicator which differentiates Gen 1 from the combat myth is God's evaluation of each stage of the creative process as "good" (tob) and in w. 31 of the entire finished product as "very good" (tob me'od). The word tab has in this context at least a twofold connotation, aesthetic and ethical. The cosmos is "good" in two senses: it is both pleasing to God, as a beautiful, well-constructed world, and it is evaluated positively since it enacts God's will and is not recalcitrant or rebellious.
John Day explains that, in contrast to a primordial battle, creation in Gen 1 is simply "a job of work."36 God is pictured here not as warrior, but as craftsman or artisan. Or, in Levenson's terms, this is "creation without opposition."37 On this point, nothing could be further removed from Enuma Elish, which is filled with bloody battles between the gods culminating in Marduk's dismembering of Tiamat.
If a theology of holy war with disastrous implications for human society grows naturally out of the worldview exemplified by Enuma Elish, a creation which is originally "very good" sustains an entirely different understanding of society.
These differing views of creation underly the contrasting comments made by Trigo and Levenson about how evil is to be treated. Commenting on the implications of the combat myth, Levenson claims it is a mistake to regard goodness as basic to all that exists. Rather, he explains, "Some things exist that ought not to, and these deserve to be blasted from the world."38 Levenson is, admittedly, writing before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and his comment is about God's (not our) eradication of evil. Nevertheless, against his best intentions, Levenson's comment is fully consistent with the stance of al-Qaeda and many terrorist groups in the world today as well as other nationalistic uses of power. It is certainly rooted, as he himself recognizes, in the logic of the chaos/cosmos scheme, which requires that all threats to the cosmic order be suppressed or eliminated.
While Trigo does not deny the reality of the struggle against historical evil, he nevertheless claims that the goodness of the "almighty-God-with-us" (his phrase) is more primordial than either evil or the struggle against evil.39 And to illustrate that the "us" in the above phrase must not be understood in a narrow, partisan or ethnocentric manner (but in some sense must include even our historical opponents), Trigo makes a remarkable claim for a liberation theologian writing in the 1980s. He explains that Ronald Reagan, although denounced by many supporters of liberation theology for the violence he perpetrated in various Latin American countries, is nevertheless "a person for whom one ought to pray." He is even "a candidate for salvation."40
Trigo can make this claim because he distinguishes radically between creation as the conquest of chaos, which absolutizes one side of a historical struggle and demonizes the other, and creation in Gen 1, which relativizes both sides of all historical struggles vis-à-vis the sovereign and transcendent Creator. It becomes evident, then, that the contrasting views of Trigo and Levenson stem from the divergent models of creation they take to be normative. These models appeal to different interpretations of God's power in creation, and they have significantly different ethical implications for humanity made in God's image.
Granted that Gen 1 constitutes a distinctive creation account without cosmogonie conflict, what are we to make of creation-by-combat texts in the biblical canon? Do such texts constitute a different vision of reality that is in tension with the cosmogony of Gen 1?
In addressing this question, readers of Scripture as canon ought to face squarely not only the presence of cosmogonie conflict in those texts where it genuinely occurs, but also the overwhelming violence that pervades the Bible-from the holy wars of Israel against the Canaanites (at God's command), through the plethora of violent incidents attributed either to God or to God's people in the historical books. Moreover the widespread patriarchal social structure that underlies the biblical text certainly constitutes a form of systemic violence against women.
Nevertheless, while admitting the presence of much that is ethically problematic in the pages of Scripture (including cosmogonie conflict), I propose that we take seriously the canonical placement of Gen 1 as the prologue or preface to the biblical canon. Even Levenson, despite his tendency to claim that the Chaoskampf is the standard biblical way of depicting God's sovereignty, is constrained to admit that the Gen 1 creation account (which does not contain cosmogonie conflict) "now serves as the overture to the entire Bible, dramatically relativizing the other cosmogonies."41
But the creation account of Gen 1 does not just relativize the creation-by-combat motif. Rather, by its alternative depiction of God's non-violent creative power at the start of the biblical canon, Gen 1 signals the Creator's original intent for shalom and blessing at the outset of human history, prior to the rise of human (or divine) violence. As the opening canonical disclosure of God for readers of Scripture, Gen 1 constitutes a normative framework by which we may judge all the violence that pervades the rest of the Bible.
If the portrayal of God's exercise of non-violent creative power in Gen 1 is taken in conjunction with its claim that humanity is made in the image of this God, this has significant implications for contemporary ethics. This opening canonical disclosure of God and humanity constitutes, not only a normative framework for interpreting the rest of Scripture, but also a paradigm or model for exercising of human power in the midst of a world filled with violence.
[Footnote] 1 I have addressed the exegetical, comparative and ethical aspects of the imago Dei in a three-part study, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005). 2 The most well known recent proponent of this view is Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988; rev. ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), esp. Preface and ch. 1. 3 Herman Gunkel, "The Influence of Babylonian Mythology upon the Biblical Creation Story," ch. 1 in Creation in the Old Testament, ed. by Bernhard W. Anderson, Issues in Religion and Theology 6 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 25-52. Abridged and translated by Charles A. Muenchow from Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit: Eine religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung über Gen l und Ap Joh 12 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1895). 4 This depends on whether the conquest of chaos in the Baal myths is genuinely cosmogonie (referring to the founding of the world) or merely pertains to the preservation and renewal of the annual cycle of nature. 5 I address the issue of the misreading of creation and combat myth texts at greater length in The Liberating Image, part 3. 6 As Gunkel himself well recognized. Many later practitioners of form criticism, however, have not been as careful as Gunkel. 7 James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (London: Oxford University Press, 1961) 218. Although Barr is here addressing illegitimate inferences from biblical word studies, his basic critique is relevant to the issue at hand. 8 James Muilenburg, "Form Criticism and Beyond," JBL 88 (1969) 18. 9 Clifford, "Creation in the Psalms," in Creation in the Biblical Traditions, ed. by Richard J. Clifford and John J. Collins, CBQMS 24 (Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1992) 63. 10 Whereas "steadfast love" in 2 Sam 7:15 appears in both the singular (hesed) and the plural (hasdim) in Ps 89, "faithfulness" in the psalm translates 'emuna, the noun that is cognate to ne'eman "secure" which appears as neman in 2 Sam 7:16. 11 Levenson, 22-23. 12 Ibid., 47. 13 Clifford, 59. 14 Ibid. 15 TMs means that power is here conceived of as a zero-sum game, and thus can never be shared. Since power-like cosmos or order-is a finite quantity or scarce commodity, victory is always at someone else's expense. The success of one group or person thus requires the defeat of others. The creation-by-combat theme thus legitimates a fundamental us/them distinction, with only a win/lose alternative. 16 Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil, trans. by Emerson Buchanan (Boston: Beacon, 1969), Part 2, ch. 1: "The Drama of Creation and the 'Ritual' Vision of the World," esp. 194-98. 17 Levenson, 12 (his emphases). 18 Ricoeur, 182-83. 19 Pedro Trigo, Creation and History, tr. by Robert R. Barr, Theology and Liberation Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991). 20 Ibid., 69-110. This section consists of chs. 3 and 4. 21 Ibid., esp. 73-79. 22 Ibid., 80. 23 This would explain Levenson's strange attraction to Hegel's master-slave dialectic as a way of articulating his claim that God needs a worthy opponent to subdue in order to demonstrate his mastery (Levenson, xxv, 27, 140, 160, n. 1). 24 Trigo, 80. 25 IMd., 80-84. 26 Ibid., 79. 27 Ibid., 80, 86. 28 Ibid., 84. 29 Ibid., xviii. 30 IWd., 81. 31 Genesis 1 shares with the entire Primeval History (Gen 1-11) an unusual indebtedness to Mesopotamian literary and mythical traditions, which are utilized for the purpose of critique. see Middleton, The Liberating Image·, part 2. 32 Gunkel, 49. 33 Eugene F. Roop, Genesis, Believers Bible Commentary (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1987) 27. 36 Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, IBC (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982) 30. 35 Roop, 27. 36 Day, 1,49,52,61 37 This is the title of Levenson's chapter on Ps 104 (53-65), a phrase he also uses to characterize the Gen 1 creation account (127). 38 Levenson, xxiv. 39 Trigo, 84. 40 Ibid., 86-87. 41 Levenson, 100.
[Author Affiliation] J. RICHARD MIDDLETON Associate Professor of Biblical Studies Roberts Wesleyan College

Many voices, one voice - creation story in Genesis

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Many voices, one voice - creation story in Genesis

David R. Blumenthal

The majestic sweep of the creation story told in Genesis 1:1-2:3 strikes me every time I read it. The power is overwhelming, the simplicity is awe-inspiring, and the orderliness is deeply impressive. There is something beyond-time about this creation narrative. I have read it ritually on Simhat Torah and been moved to tears by its transcendent power.(1)
And yet, the creation narrative is a very complicated text. It is actually more complicated than the text of evolution which is, itself, not simple. So many problems and questions arise: What is the meaning of the grammatical irregularity in the first sentence? Are the waters not created? What exactly happened on the second day? Why does it take two days to do the "work of the waters and the land"? Since the trees were created with their fruits, were fall and spring fruits present at the same time? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? What is the difference, if any, between the slithering and the crawling creatures? What is the "image of God" in which humankind is created? Since there are differences between the creation stories in Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25, what is the relationship between these two tales? Study is the only way into this narrative; the more one studies, the deeper the text becomes.
The problem is how to translate and comment in a way that captures the depth of the text and the variety of readings thereof. Modern translators, editors, and commentators have adopted two methods. The first proposes a new translation and a brief commentary authored by the translator. Thus, Mitchell,(2) after an introduction, translates anew the Genesis narrative. Alter(3) translates anew with a brief commentary. And Fox(4) introduces and then translates with brief commentary. The same method was used by Sarna(5) and, before him, by Speiser(6) though, Sarna and Speiser are more scholarly, speaking from within the ancient near eastern setting of biblical culture. The problem with this method is that the reader gets the view only of the translator-commentator, learned, literary, and poetic though that may be. The plurality of the readings of the tradition is lost.
The second method for capturing the depth and variety of the text is to present the traditional rabbinic commentaries. This was done in English first under the editorship of the late chief rabbi of England, Dr.J.H. Hertz,(7) who also added his own comments to those of the traditional translators. The Soncino Press, which published the Hertz commentary, seems to have sensed that the traditional commentators had not been given a fair shake, and so they commissioned a work which excerpted the traditional commentaries without additions.(8) Most recently, the Artscroll series(9) returned to the task of presenting the traditional commentaries in a much more expansive manner. The problem with this method is that the medieval commentators (and the midrashic texts) are only summarized; they are not presented in their own voice. Hence, the reader has no direct contact, albeit in translation, with the richness of the readings of the tradition.
There are many traditional commentators but four deserve special attention because they represent four approaches to the text. The most widely read book in rabbinic Jewish culture is not, properly speaking, a book but a commentary, Rashi's commentary to the Tanakh.(10) No one with an education rooted in the tradition finds his or her way into the scriptural text without Rashi (1040-1105, northern Europe). His commentary, which is a mixture of explication and midrash, was and remains the key to the rabbinic understanding of the Tanakh. Another commentator widely read but only by the advanced student is Ibn Ezra (1194-1270, Spain). His commentary is very technical. It is also laconic to the point of being very difficult to understand at many points. Yet a third basic commentary to Genesis is that of Rashbam (1085-1174, northern Europe). He hews very closely to the text yet his commentary to our chapter is omitted from many of the standard editions of rabbinic commentaries; why? He is the grandson of Rashi; why did he feel compelled to write his own commentary? Finally, what would a philosopher, rabbinic sage, and kabbalist like Nahmanides, known as Ramban (1194-1270, Spain), do with this narrative? How would he work his science, philosophy, and mysticism into the text of the Torah?
To explore the varying interpretations of the creation narrative, I first studied and taught these four commentators.(11) In the course of this work, a series of very interesting questions arose: First, how did Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, and Ramban "read" the text? How would the narrative look if written from the point of view of these commentaries? How would one (re)write the narrative line so as to reflect their interpretations? What would "Rashi's Genesis" look like? "Ibn Ezra's"? "Rashbam's"? and "Ramban's"?
To answer this question, I asked students to (re)write the creation narrative from the point of view of various commentators. This was a new way of seeing the creation story, of reading Genesis.(12) In the text that follows, I present a joint effort at (re)writing the creation narrative according to Rashi and Ibn Ezra by Ms. Toby Director Goldman and myself. Our work is the result of long study sessions held together with the Wexner Heritage Foundation leadership group in Atlanta, and we wish to acknowledge their participation. In addition, I give my (re)written creation narrative of Rashbam and Ramban. For comparison, I include my translation of the original text, called "The Traditional Genesis." This translation hews as closely as possible to the original Hebrew as well as to traditional English style and rhythm so that the reader can get a sense of just how different the (re)written texts of the commentators are.
The existence of four very different "readings" of the Genesis story gave rise to another question, how should one best present them without favoring one over the other. Put more generally, how does one display polysemous texts? In a previous book,(31) presented four psalms, with four commentaries each, in the form of a "grouped textual field," that is, arranged on the page the way a traditional rabbinic book is arranged - with the main text in the middle and the commentaries displayed around the text. This method of text presentation, relatively new in English, is actually the classical rabbinic method of presenting a sacred text that can be read in more than one way. I have arranged the reconstructed Genesis narratives of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, and Ramban in a parallel manner here.(14) The reader is invited to follow these reconstructed narratives in this very Jewish mode of text presentation.
I have used the following editorial conventions: (1) Where a commentator offers more than one interpretation, I give it as an alternative in the footnotes, labeled "Alt." Where alternate phrasing for the English seemed appropriate, I present that, too, in the footnotes, labeled as "Ling. alt." ("linguistic alternative"). (2) The (re)written narratives are given, in large measure, without references to the literature upon which the commentators drew. For those sources, the reader should consult the editions and translations in the notes. (3) I have systematically used inclusive language even when referring to God, although Hebrew uses male-gendered language for God and for inclusive human references.
Yet another question arose while studying and teaching these commentaries: Is there such a thing as the "simple meaning," the sensus literalis, the peshat? Or, are we dealing with a polysignificant text, one which simply has more than one meaning? If so, how can one assert an authoritative meaning for a polysemous text? What is the relationship between multivalence and truth? These questions, although they have come to the fore of literary and philosophic criticism in the second half of our century, were known to the medieval commentators whose readings of the creation narrative are set forth here. The juxtaposition of these (re)written creation narratives presents an opportunity to examine these questions more fully.
Reading these creation narratives side by side leads to a sense of wonder - over the depth of the Genesis text itself and over the care with which earlier readers approached it. (Re)writing the creation narrative from the point of view of several commentators has highlighted this, as perhaps study of the commentaries alone did not. If, as Jon Levenson has argued,(15) the original Genesis version of the creation story was intended to stamp order on previous and parallel versions which are more chaotic, then the text did not succeed in doing that for long, for the sheer complexity of the received text, together with the love and intelligence lavished on it by readers throughout the ages, generated its own multiplicities. We are awash in questions and interpretations. It seems to me, therefore, that there is no "simple meaning," no sensus literalis, no peshat. Rather, there is variety of literary interpretation, though all subscribe to the theological thesis that there is but one God and that it is God Who is the source of the existence of all creation, in one way or another. There is no one voice, but rather voices, though there is only one Voice.
The question of the authority of the creation narrative is twofold - spiritual-theological and socio-political. Both these dimensions are common to the issue of authoritative written or oral texts in all religious traditions and both can be said to define the "sacredness" of the text(s) under consideration.
The spiritual-theological authority of a text can stem from one or more sources. One could argue, with Heschel,(16) that the ultimate authority of a sacred text comes from its ability to embody the holy, to allude to the transcendent. This aspect of a text, while not verifiable in any philosophic sense, is recognizable, and one generation conveys its sense of the numinous nature of the text to another. The authority of the text, in this view, is the echo of its spirituality through time. Or, one could argue, with Judah Halevi, that the ultimate authority of a sacred text comes from the continuous historical witness to its extraordinary origin. The presence of over one million people at Sinai and the continuous affirmation, generation after generation, that a text was given by God at that moment in time constitutes the authority of the text.(17) There are other arguments, but the arguments from spiritual experience and historical witness are among the strongest. Seen in this way, the Voice of the creation narrative, i.e., the theological thesis that the one God created reality, is "verified" for the contemporary reader either through his or her own experience of the numinous in this text, or by her or his sense of the weight of continuous historical witness. In either case, the authority does not vouch for the details; these are in interpretive dispute. Experience and/or history only affirm the Presence, the Voice.
The socio-political authority of a text can also stem from one or more sources. One could argue, with Kaplan,(18) that it is the acceptance of a text by a community that gives it its sacredness. If a text is not accepted by the community, it is not part of the canon and it is not sacred. Or, one could argue, with Maimonides,(19) that there is a continuous chain of scholars whose authority is recognized by the community and that it is the scholars who lend authority to the text. If one were to recognize different scholars as the appropriate interpretive authority, one would have a different sense of the authority of a text. Seen in this way, the truth of the creation narrative is a function of the community to which one belongs and/or of the scholars whom one invests with the authority to determine truth.(20)
In an article I wrote many years ago,(21) I noted that Maimonides confronted the question of the authority of the text in both its spiritual-theological and its sociopolitical dimensions and determined that Moses, and hence the Torah and the Jewish religion, were superior on both grounds. Moses had attained the most advanced possible spiritual state and he had given the world the most advanced possible legal system. He was, thus, both a spiritual-theological and a socio-political authority. Furthermore, the text he gave was, in its direct emanation from the Godhead, divine but, in its language and concepts, it was the work of Moses who was the best-prepared of intellects. The authority of the Torah, then, was a fusion of the spiritual-theological (divine) and the socio-political (human). Its origin was divine, but its formulation, the details of its language, its theology, and its legal implications, would certainly be disputed in the millennia after Moses.(22) The Voice is re-sounded in the multiplicity of voices.
It seems to me that the traditional Jewish world view is an approach to text that is both logocentric and plurisignificant; it is univocal and multivocal at the same time. Text, even sacred text, is the result of intertextuality - with other preceding texts and contexts, with the texts of the experience of the divine and of the community, and with the personal texts of the author and the reader. Text is, thus, always multivocal, plurisignificant. Yet text always has authority and, while that authority varies with the spiritual, theological, communal, and political location of the reader, it is authority that provides intellectual, spiritual, and social coherence. Text is, thus, always also univocal, logocentric.(23) Finally, even authority is always multivocal - as soon as one gets down to the details of the text - without the multivocity ever undermining the logocentricity of the text. (Re)writing of the creation narrative, in its authenticity and its multivocity, demonstrates this world view very clearly.
Here are the four versions of the first day of creation.(24)
1. Through(1) the Ten Sefirot,(2) God created, from absolute nothingness, the prime matter of the heavens and all it would contain and the prime matter of the earth and all that it would contain.(3)
1. When God as Judge(1) began creating the heavens and all that was embedded in them and the earth(2) and all that was embedded in it,(3)
1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.(*)
1. To remind the Jewish people of the reason for the observance of the Shabbat as described in the Ten Commandments, Moses told the story of creation: At the time when the upper heavens and the earth had already been created, a long or a short time before the acts related in Genesis,(1)
1. In the beginning of God's creating, God used natural forces to set boundaries, forming the created ante-mundane matter(1) into the visible sky, the invisible spheres, and the dry land.(2)
2. The lower prime matter, after its creation from nothingness, was completely prime matter, that is matter without substance.(4) God then clothed it in four forms:(5) fire(6) was above the water-earth,(7) and air(8) was above the water.
2. the earth was astonishingly empty, darkness was over the waters which covered the earth, and the Throne of Glory hovered over the waters by the command of God.(4)
2. The earth was void and empty; darkness was on the face of the depths; the spirit of God hovered above the waters.
2. the earth as we know it was completely empty, for water covered it up to the upper heavens. Darkness that was not night was over the depths, and there was no light in the heavens. A wind blew across the waters.
2. The dry land was an empty waste(3) because it was covered by darkness and water, and the wind of God blew over the waters.
3. God thoughtfully willed that, from the upper prime matter, light should pass from potentiality into existence;(9) and it was so forever.
3. God as Judge said, "Let there be light" and there was light.(5)
3. God said, "Let there be light" and there was light.
3. God said, "Let there be light" to correct the lack of light, and there was light.
3. God said effortlessly,(4) "Let there be elemental fire" and there was elemental fire.(5)
4. God confirmed the light in its existence in God's will.(10) God set the measure of the light and of the darkness.(11)
4. God saw that the light was good but that it was confusing for the light and the darkness to function together, so God separated the light from the darkness.(6)
4. God saw that the light was good; God divided between the light and the darkness.
4. God looked at the light and saw that it was beautiful. God divided the light into a unit of twelve hours and the darkness into a unit of twelve hours.
4. God understood(6) that the elemental fire was good. God divided the light of the fire from the absence thereof.
5. God differentiated "day" from "night."(12) The prime matters, the elements, and the light existed separately for twelve hours; then, God allowed the light to shine forth to the elements;(13) day one.(14)
5. God named the light "day" and the darkness "night." There was evening and there was morning, a day of God, alone in the world God had created.(7)
5. God called the light "day" and the darkness God called "night"; there was evening and there was morning, day one.
5. God named the newly-formed unit of twelve hours of light "day" and the newly-formed unit of twelve hours of darkness "night," and they have been so called ever since, day always preceding night. Daylight turned to evening as its light faded; then, morning broke as the morning star signaled the end of night. The first of the six days of creation referred to in the Ten Commandments was, thus, completed and the second day began.(2)
5. by naming the light "day" and the darkness "night." The diurnal(7) sphere revolved once, day blended into evening and night blended into dawn,(8) day one.(9)
* My translation from the Hebrew.
1. Ramban notes that the Torah begins with the narrative of the creation because creation is the root of Jewish faith. He, thus, knowingly disagrees with Rashi.
2. The Ten Sefirot of Jewish mysticism are: Keter, Hokhma, Gevura, Tiferet, Netsah, Hod, Yesod, and Malkhut (Shekhina). They are aspects of the inner being of God; they are, thus, "intradeical" and precede the creation of all parts of the universe. The sources always refer to them through a complicated set of symbols and images which need to be deciphered. Through study, one can learn the process by which the sefirot were generated and, through meditation, one can attain mystical contact with them. The Zohar is the best known source for this theosophic-mystical theology, though Ramban, who preceded the Zohar by a generation, was familiar with this system of thought. On the realm of the sefirot, see D. R. Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol. 1 (New York: Ktav, 1978), part 1.
In his interpretation of this passage, Ramban reasons that the first word, be-reshit, means "with reshit. "The latter alludes to Hokhma since Hokhma is called reshit (Prov. 3:19). Another biblical use of reshit refers to the heave-offering, which represents Malkhut. Yet another reshit refers to Israel, which represents Malkhut. And yet another reshit refers to Moses who, according to rabbinic tradition, looked at the "shining speculum" (a reference to Tiferet) and saw reshit, again a reference to Hokhma. Several sefirot, then, are alluded to with the word, bereshit. It is be-reshit, through, or with, these sefirot that God created the world.
Later in this commentary, Ramban notes that the crown on the word bereshit alludes to Keter while the word Elohim, the third word in the sentence, represents Bind. This yields the most esoteric interpretation which, however, Ramban does not mention at all: Through Hokhma, Keter created Bind (the rest of the sefirot correspond to the six days of creation plus the Shabbat). In this interpretation, Keter is the ineffable subject of bara' ("created"); Elohim is the object; and bereshit designates the means. This interpretation appears in the Zohar and elsewhere. Ramban, however, considered it too profound to state explicitly, though it is clearly present in his commentary. Alt.: In the beginning. Ramban, thus, provides an alternate, nonmystical rendering.
3. In medieval physics, all matter has a substrate. The heavenly spheres and the heavenly bodies are derived from the "fifth (quint-) essence," i.e., they have one common substrate; it is called "prime matter" (Greek, hyle; Arabic, hayula; Hebrew, golem). The four elements - fire, air, water, and earth - and therefore all terrestrial beings also have a substrate; it too is called a "prime matter" (same terms). Some theorists thought there was only one prime matter but Ramban clearly states that, since the two types of matter - supernal and sublunar - are different, so much their substrates be different; hence, there are two prime matters, an upper and a lower. These two substrates were created ex nihilo, from absolute nothingness, in contrast to the rest of creation (see below)
4. Hebrew, tohu, with supporting verses.
5. Hebrew, bohu, derived as two words: bo hu. In medieval physics, in addition to matter, there are "forms" (the neoaristotelian term) or "ideas" (the platonic term). These are "put" into matter to make it into whatever the form is. Thus, the form of "dog" put into the proper substrate generates a real dog. The process of "putting forms" into substrate, called "information," constitutes the other acts of creation. The first stage of creation is putting the forms of the four elements into the lower prime matter. That is the activity of bohu. The word of in-forming the upper prime matter is left to the second day.
6. Hebrew, hoshekh, taken as the element of fire. Elemental fire is invisible; hence, hoshekh, "darkness." On the elements, see the commentary of Ibn Ezra to v. 3.
7. Hebrew, tehom, is a mixture of water and earth, like the sea floor.
8. Hebrew, ruah. The elements are actually invisible spheres around our earth and, in the verse, they are arranged in their natural hierarchial order. The creation of the angels is not recorded in Scripture.
9. Hebrew, 'amar, always means: After thoughtful consideration, God willed that a given being pass from potentiality into existence, i.e., that it come into being.
10. Hebrew, ra'ah, always means: God confirmed that a given being continue to exist according to God's will.
11. Hebrew, vayavdel, always means: God set the measure/limits of.
12. Hebrew, vayikra', always means: God differentiated.
13. There was, thus, a period of (co-)existence equaling one "evening" (night) followed by a period of existence equaling one "morning" (day) in which the light shined in the realm of the elements. With this, Ramban aligns himself with those who say that the day begins at evening. For more on the light, see the fourth day.
Alt.: The prime matters and the elements existed for the length of one night; then the light existed for the length of a day. Again, Ramban preserves the precedence of evening (night).
Alt.: The diurnal sphere revolved once, generating a period of twenty-four hours: evening, morning, and evening. Again, Ramban preserves the precedence of evening (night) though he must posit that, on the first day, the diurnal sphere was in-formed into the upper prime matter, just as the four elements were in-formed into the lower prime matter.
14. Ramban notes that, since there is no second day yet, it would be inappropriate for the text to say "a first day." This obviates Rashi's elegant explanations.
1. The only divine Name used in this chapter is Elohim, the traditional designation of God's attribute of judgement. Rashi notes that God could not create the world with judgement alone and, hence, the Torah adds the Tetragrammaton, the traditional designation of God's mercy, in chapter two.
2. Rashi indicates that the reason for starting the Torah with Genesis, and not with Sinai, was to provide the Jewish people with a ground for their right to the promised land: Since God created the whole world, God could - and did - assign a special part of it to the Jews. This precludes counterclaims based on conquest or history.
3. Alt.: In the beginning of everything, God as Judge created the heavens and the earth; the heavens and all that it would produce embedded in it, and the earth and all that it would produce embedded within it.
Alt.: For the sake of Torah, / For the sake of Israel, / With wisdom, God as Judge created.
4. Alt.: by the breath blowing from God.
5. Alt.: God as Judge said, "Let there be spiritual light" and there was spiritual light.
6. Alt: God saw that the divine spiritual light was good for the righteous and should not be used by the wicked, so God separated the light and reserved it for the righteous in the world to come.
7. Ling. alt.: a day of God's oneness.
1. Rashbam may be alluding to the possibility of the world being eternal; even so, however, it is created. In either case the earth, the upper heavens, and the waters existed, i.e., were created, before the light.
2. Rashbam is, thus, of the opinion that the day begins and ends in the morning.
1. "Ante-mundane matter" is the primal stuff of which the universe is made. According to Plato, this ante-mundane matter is eternal; it was not created but was always there. Ibn Ezra does not express himself here on this issue. He only notes that this primal stuff was turned into the realities of creation by God. The process by which God turns prime matter into concrete creations is called "in-formation." On this, see the commentary of Ramban to v.
2. Both the concept of prime matter and that of information were well-known and accepted in medieval philosophy. Here, Ibn Ezra teaches, God informs the ante-mundane matter (which may be eternal or created) and, in this way, creates all of the universe.
2. Ling. alt: In the beginning of God's creating, God through the use of angels, set the boundaries of the sky and the dry land.
3. Ling. alt.: uninhabited.
4. Ling. alt.: Without any physical labor, God said (or, commanded).
5. There are four "elements" in late antique and medieval thought: fire, air, earth, and water. They exist in pure form in a sphere or spheres above the earth, and they are invisible in their pure forms. When combined in various proportions and informed, they become earthly fire, air, earth, and water. As such, they form the basic structure of all earthly created things. According to Ibn Ezra, the "light" of v. 3 was really this elemental fire.
Ling. alt.: Let there be light which is elemental fire.
Alt.: Let there be light which is the substance from which all elements are formed.
6. Ling. alt.: perceived / discerned / was aware.
7. In late antique and medieval astrophysics, the geocentric view of the world prevailed. In that Ptolemaic universe, named for the astronomer in late antiquity who taught this system, the earth is in the center of the universe and it does not move. In this view, the heavenly bodies are not free-floating bodies in space but are bodies embedded in solid but invisible "spheres" (not to be confused with the sefirot which are part of the Godhead in Jewish mystical thinking; see the commentary of Ramban to v. 1). The outermost sphere, called "the diurnal sphere," revolves once in twenty-four hours. The other eight spheres contain the various heavenly bodies: the stars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Mercury, Venus, and the Moon. There are, thus, a total of nine heavenly spheres in late antique and medieval astrophysics. All these spheres revolve around the earth and, although they are invisible, the bright bodies they contain are visible. Sometimes, however, medieval science listed a tenth sphere, the sphere of the elements, taken as a collective (actually, there are four spheres, one for each of the elements: fire, air, water, and earth). For a visual picture of this medieval universe, see D. Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol 2 (New York, Ktav: 1982) 5-9. Ibn Ezra affirms nine heavenly spheres; Ramban affirms ten (see his commentary to v.2).
8. The days of creation thus begin and end at daybreak, not at evening.
9. Ling. alt: At the end of the day, there was an evening and then a morning, day one.
1. See D. Blumenthal, God at the Center (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988; reprinted Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1994), pp. 191-194.
2. Stephen Mitchell, Genesis (New York: Harper Collins, 1996).
3. Robert Alter, Genesis (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996).
4. Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses (New York: Schocken Books, 1983/1995).
5. Nahum Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989).
6. Ephraim Speiser, The Anchor Bible: Genesis (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964).
7. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, edited by J. H. Hertz (London: Soncino Press, various editions).
8. The Soncino Chumash, edited by A. Cohen (London: Soncino Press, 1947/1983).
9. Bereshis, edited by M. Zlotowitz with overviews by N. Scherman (New York: Mesorah Publications, 1977/1988).
10. Rashi's commentary is actually the first printed Hebrew book, appearing in 1475 in Reggio di Calabria, Italy.
11. The following editions and translations have been used: Raschi, edited by A. Berliner (Frankfurt: J. Kauffmann: 1905; reprinted, Jerusalem: Kirya Ne'emana, 1973) together with Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth and Rashi's Commentary, edited by M. Rosenbaum and A. Silberman (Jerusalem: Silberman Family, 1973); Sefer Be'er Yitzhak (Livorno, 1564; reprinted, Israel, 1975) together with Ibn Ezra's Commentary on the Pentateuch, edited by H. N. Strickman and A. Silver (New York: Menorah Publishing, 1988); Der Pentateuch-Commentar des R. Samuel ben Meir, edited by D. Rosin (Breslau: S. Schottlaender, 1881; reprinted 1965); and Peirush ha-Torah le-rabbenu Moshe ben Nahman, edited by C. Chavel (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1974) together with Ramban, Commentary on the Torah, edited by C. Chavel (New York: Shilo, 1971).
12. At the time I did this, I did not know that it is customary to ask students of Talmud to write out the text from the point of view of various commentators. My thanks to my friend and colleague, Professor Michael Broyde, for this observation as well as for his sage advice on how best to prepare these texts for publication. My thanks, too, to my friend and colleague, Professor Michael Berger, for his very constructive comments to the various versions of this paper.
13. David R. Blumenthal, Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1993).
14. I am indebted to Brandon Strange of Emory University for his effort in first composing this text.
15. J. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988); reviewed by D. Blumenthal, Modern Judaism 10 (1990): 105-110.
16. A. J. Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (New York: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955).
17. To appreciate this argument one should pose the following questions: First, how do we know that Saturday is Shabbat? The answer is because each of us becomes part of a continuous chain of tradition on that subject: my parents told me, as their parents told them, and as I tell my children the rhythms of our community. Indeed, Jewish law gives quite some thought as to what to do when one gets separated from the living community of tradition. Second, one should ask: Where does the tradition of Saturday being Shabbat begin? There are no disputes about this matter in the tradition, though there are calendrical disagreements on many other matters. The answer seems to be that the tradition goes back to the manna which appeared after the crossing of the Reed Sea. Since that time, the Jewish people has, collectively, counted every seventh day and named it Shabbat. It is a continuous tradition, reaching way back into history.
18. M. M. Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American Jewish Life (New York: Macmillan, 1934) and elsewhere.
19. M. Maimonides, Commentary to the Mishna, "Introduction."
20. The conflict between (neo)fundamentalist and academic interpretation is, thus, really a socio-political conflict over authority - i.e., over which scholars to recognize as authority or, over which community to belong to.
21. D. Blumenthal, "Maimonides' Intellectualist Mysticism and the Superiority of the Prophecy of Moses," Studies in Medieval Culture 10 (1977): 51-68; reprinted in Approaches to Judaism in Medieval Times, edited by D. Blumenthal (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1984), pp. 27-52. Also available on my website at
22. This is also the opinion of Heschel, God in Search of Man.
23. I, personally, favor the use of the spiritual-experiential criterion but I know that others use other criteria for treating texts as authoritative.
24. A specially designed web-format version of this article, including the creation week, is available on my website at For a full text version of this article, see Bibel und Midrasch, ed. G. Bodendorfer and M. Millard, Forschung zum alten Testament (Heidelberg: Mohr Siebeck, 1998), pp. 117-166, with whose permission this excerpt is reprinted here.
DAVID R. BLUMENTHAL is the Jay and Leslie Cohen Professor of Judaic Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He has written studies of modern, medieval, and classic Jewish themes, texts, and thinkers. His most recent book, Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest, was published in 1335. His article, "Where God Is Not: The Book of Esther and Song of Songs," appeared in the Winter 1995 issue.
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