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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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CREATION . One of the most convincing proofs of the composite authorship of the Pentateuch has always been found in the existence side by side of two independent and mutually irreconcilable accounts of the creation of the world. The first, Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 a, forms the introduction of the Priestly Code (P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ), which was compiled, as is now generally acknowledged, in the 5th cent. b.c. The second, Genesis 2:4 bff., opens the Jahwistic document (J [Note: Jahwist.] ), whose latest portions must be dated at least a century and a half earlier than the compilation of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] . These two narratives, while expressing the same fundamental religious ideas, differ profoundly in their concrete conceptions of the process of creation. The account of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] starts with a description ( Genesis 2:2 ) of the primeval chaos a dark formless watery abyss, out of which the world of light and order was to be evolved. Whether this chaotic matter owed its origin to a prior creative act of God is a question depending on a delicate point of grammatical construction which cannot be adequately explained here; but, looking to the analogy of the Babylonian Creation-story (see below), it seems probable that the chaos is conceived as pre-existent, and that the representation of the chapter falls short of the full dogmatic idea of creation as production out of nothing, an idea first unambiguously expressed in 2Ma 7:28 The work of creation then proceeds in a series of eight Divine fiats, viz.: (1) Creation of light and separation of light from the primeval darkness, Genesis 1:3-5 ; (2) division of the chaotic waters by the firmament, Genesis 1:6-8 ; (3) separation of land and sea, Genesis 1:9-10 ; (4) clothing of the earth with vegetation, Genesis 1:11-13 ; (5) formation of the heavenly bodies, Genesis 1:14-19 ; (6) production of fishes and birds, Genesis 1:20-23 ; (7) land animals, Genesis 1:24 f.; and (8) the creation of man in the image of God with dominion over the creatures, Genesis 1:26 ff. The most remarkable formal feature of the record is a somewhat artificial but carefully planned and symmetrical arrangement of the eight works under a scheme of six days. The creative process is thus divided into two parallel stages, each embracing four works and occupying three days, the last day in each division having two works assigned to it. There is an obviously designed, though not quite complete, correspondence between the two series: (1) light || ( Genesis 1:5 ) luminaries; (2) waters and firmament || ( Genesis 1:6 ) fishes and fowls; (3) dry land || ( Genesis 1:7-8 ) terrestrial animals; (4) trees and grasses, and (on the sixth day) the appointment of these as the food of men and animals. The significance of the six days’ scheme is revealed in the closing verses ( Genesis 1:1-3 ), where the resting of the Creator on the seventh day is regarded as the antitype and sanction of the Jewish Sabbath-rest. It is not improbable that the scheme of days is a modification of the original cosmogony, introduced in the interest of the Sabbath law; and this adaptation may account for some anomalies of arrangement which seem to mar the consistency of the scheme.

In the narrative of J [Note: Jahwist.] (2:4bff.), the earth as originally made by Jahweh was an arid lifeless waste, in which no plant could grow for lack of moisture, and where there was no man to till the ground (vv. 5, 6). The idea of man’s superiority to the other creatures is here expressed by placing his creation, not at the end as in P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , but at the beginning (v. 7); followed by the planting of the garden in which he was to dwell and from whose trees he was to derive his food (vv. 8, 9, 15 17); the forming of beasts and birds to relieve his solitude and awake his craving for a nobler companionship (vv. 18 20); and lastly of the woman, in whom he recognizes a part of himself and a helpmeet for him (vv. 21 23). The express reference to the welfare of man in each act of creation makes it doubtful whether a systematic account of the origin of things was contemplated by the writer, or whether the passage is not rather to be regarded as a poetic clothing of ideas generated by reflexion on fundamental facts of human life and society. It is probable, however, that it contains fragments of a fuller cosmogony which has been abridged and utilized as a prologue to the story of Paradise and the Fall. On either view, the divergence from the account of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] is so obvious as to preclude the attempt to harmonize the two, or to treat the second as merely supplementary to the first.

Much ingenuity has been expended in the effort to bring the Biblical record of creation into accord with the facts disclosed by the modern sciences of Geology and Astronomy. Naturally such constructions confine their operations to the systematic and semi-scientific account of Genesis 1:1-31 ; for it has probably never occurred to any one to vindicate the scientific accuracy of the more imaginative narrative of J [Note: Jahwist.] . But even if we were to admit the unique claim of the first chapter to be a revealed cosmogony, the difficulty of harmonizing it with the teachings of science is seen to be insurmountable as soon as the real nature of the problem to be solved is fairly apprehended. It is not sufficient to emphasize the general idea of gradation and upward progress as common to science and Scripture, or to point to isolated coincidences, such as the creation of fishes before mammals, or the late appearance of man on the earth: the narrative must be taken as a whole, and it must be shown that there is a genuine parallelism between the order of days and works in Genesis 1:1-31 and the stages of development recognized by science as those through which the universe has reached its present form. This has never been done; and after making every allowance for the imperfection of the geological record, and the general insecurity of scientific hypothesis as distinguished from ascertained fact, enough is known to make it certain that the required correspondence can never be made out. Thus the formation of the sun and moon after the earth, after the alternation of day and night, and even after the emergence of plant-life, is a scientific impossibility. Again, the rough popular classifications of Genesis (plants, aquatic animals, birds, land animals, etc.) are, for scientific purposes, hopelessly inadequate; and the idea that these groups originated as wholes , and in the order here specified, is entirely contrary to the ‘testimony of the rocks.’ But, indeed, the whole conception of the universe on which the cosmogony of Genesis rests opposes a fatal barrier to any valid reconciliation with scientific theory. The world whose origin is here described is a solid expanse of earth, surrounded by and resting on a world-ocean, and surmounted by a rigid vault called the firmament , above which the waters of a heavenly ocean are spread. Such a world is unknown to science; and the manner in which such a world was conceived to have come into being cannot truly represent the process by which the very different world of science and fact has been evolved. This fact alone would amply justify the emphatic verdict of Professor Driver: ‘Read without prejudice or bias, the narrative of Genesis 1:1-31 creates an impression at variance with the facts revealed by science : the efforts at reconciliation … are but different modes of obliterating its characteristic features, and of reading into it a view which it does not express ’ ( Westm. Com . ‘Genesis,’ p. 26).

To form a correct estimate of the character and religious value of the first chapter of Genesis, it has to be borne in mind that speculative theories of the origin of the universe were an important element of all the higher religions of antiquity. Many of these cosmogonies (as they are called) are known to us; and amidst all the diversity of representation which characterizes them, we cannot fail to detect certain underlying affinities which suggest a common source, either in the natural tendencies of early thought, or in some dominant type of cosmological tradition. That the Hebrew cosmogony is influenced by such a tradition is proved by its striking likeness to the Babylonian story of creation as contained in cuneiform tablets from Ashurbanipal’s library, first unearthed in 1872. From these Assyriologists have deciphered a highly coloured mythological epic, describing the origin of the world in the form of a conflict between Marduk, god of light and supreme deity of the pantheon of Babylon, and the power of Chaos personified as a female monster named Ti’âmat (Heb. Tĕhôm ). Wide as is the difference between the polytheistic assumptions and fantastic imagery of the Babylonian narrative and the sober dignity and elevated monotheism of Genesis, there are yet coincidences in general outline and in detail which are too marked and too numerous to be ascribed to chance. In both we have the conception of chaos as a watery abyss, in both the separation of the waters into an upper and a lower ocean; the formation of the heavenly bodies and their function in regulating time are described with remarkable similarity; special prominence is given to the creation of man; and it may be added that, while the order of creation differs in the two documents, yet the separate works themselves are practically identical. In view of this pervading parallelism, it is clear that the Hebrew and Babylonian cosmogonies are very closely related; and the only question open to discussion is which of them represents more faithfully the primary tradition on which each is based. Looking, however, to the vastly higher antiquity of the Babylonian narrative, to its conformity (even in points which affect the Biblical record) to the climatic conditions of the Euphrates Valley, and to the general indebtedness of Israel to the civilization of Babylon, it cannot reasonably be doubted that the Hebrew narrative is dependent on Babylonian models; though it is of course not certain that the particular version preserved in the tablets referred to is the exact original by which the Biblical writers were influenced.

From this point of view we are able to state the significance of the Scripture account of creation in a way which does justice at once to its unrivalled religious value and to its lack of scientific corroboration. The material is derived from some form of the Babylonian cosmogony, and shares the imperfection and error incident to all pre-scientific speculation regarding the past history of the world. The Scripture writers make no pretension to supernatural illumination on matters which it is the province of physical investigation to ascertain. Their theology , on the other hand, is the product of a revelation which placed them far in advance of their heathen contemporaries, and imparted to all their thinking a sanity of imagination and a sublimity of conception that instinctively rejected the grosser features of paganism, and transformed what was retained into a vehicle of Divine truth. Thus the cosmogony became a classical expression of the monotheistic principle of the OT, which is here embodied in a detailed description of the genesis of the universe that lays hold of the mind as no abstract statement of the principle could do. In opposition to the heathen theogonies, the world is affirmed to have been created, i.e. to have originated in the will of God, whose Personality transcends the universe and exists independently of it. The spirituality of the First Cause of all things, and His absolute sovereignty over the material He employs, are further emphasized in the idea of the word of God as the agency through which the various orders of existence were produced; and the repeated assertion that the world in all its parts was ‘good,’ and as a whole ‘very good,’ suggests that it perfectly reflected the Divine thought which called it into being. When to these doctrines we add the view of man, as made in the likeness of God, and marked out as the crown and goal of creation, we have a body of spiritual truth which distinguishes the cosmogony of Genesis 1:1-31 from all similar compositions, and entitles it to rank amongst the most important documents of revealed religion.

John Skinner.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Creation'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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