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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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in its primary import, signifies the bringing into being something which did not exist before. The term is therefore most generally applied to the original production of the materials whereof the visible world is composed. It is also used in a secondary or subordinate sense, to denote those subsequent operations of the Deity upon the matter so produced, by which the whole system of nature, and all the primitive genera of things, received their forms, qualities, and laws. The accounts of the creation of the world which have existed among different nations, are called Cosmogonies. Moses's is unquestionably the most ancient; and had it no other circumstance to recommend it, its superior antiquity alone would give it a just claim to our attention. It is evidently Moses's intention to give a history of man, and of religion, and an account of creation. In the way in which he has detailed it, it would have been foreign to his plan, had it not been necessary to obviate that most ancient and most natural species of idolatry, the worship of the heavenly bodies. His first care, therefore, is to affirm decidedly, that God created the heavens and the earth; and then he proceeds to mention the order in which the various objects of creation were called into existence. First of all, the materials, of which the future universe was to be composed, were created. These were jumbled together in one indigested mass, which the ancients called chaos, and which they conceived to be eternal; but which Moses affirms to have been created by the power of God. The materials of the chaos were either held in solution by the waters, or floated in them, or were sunk under them; and they were reduced into form by the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters. Light was the first distinct object of creation; fishes were the first living things; man was last in the order of creation.

2. The account given by Moses is distinguished by its simplicity. That it involves difficulties which our faculties cannot comprehend, is only what might be expected from a detail of the operations of the omnipotent mind, which can never be fully understood but by the Being who planned them. Most of the writers who come nearest to Moses in point of antiquity have favoured the world with cosmogonies; and there is a wonderful coincidence in some leading particulars between their accounts and his.

They all have his chaos; and they all state water to have been the prevailing principle before the arrangement of the universe began. The systems became gradually more complicated, as the writers receded farther from the age of primitive tradition; and they increased in absurdity in proportion to the degree of philosophy which was applied to the subject. The problem of creation has been said to be, "Matter and motion being given, to form a world;" and the presumption of man has often led him to attempt the solution of this intricate question. But the true problem was, "Neither matter nor motion being given, to form a world." At first, the cosmogonists contented themselves with reasoning on the traditional or historical accounts they had received; but it is irksome to be shackled by authority; and after they had acquired a smattering of knowledge, they began to think that they could point out a much better way of forming the world than that which had been transmitted to them by the consenting voice of antiquity. Epicurus was most distinguished in this hopeful work of invention; and produced a cosmogony on the principle of a fortuitous concourse of atoms, whose extravagant absurdity has hitherto preserved it from oblivion. From his day to ours, the world has been annoyed with systems; but these are now modified by the theories of chemists and geologists, whose speculations, in so far as they proceed on the principle of induction, have sometimes been attended with useful results; but, when applied to solve the problem of creation, will serve, like the systems of their forerunners, to demonstrate the ignorance and the presumption of man.

3. The early cosmogonies are chiefly interesting from their resemblance to that of Moses; which proves that they have either been derived from him, or from some ancient prevailing tradition respecting the true history of creation. The most ancient author next to Moses, of whose writings any fragments remain, is Sanchoniatho, the Phenician. His writings were translated by Philo Byblius; and portions of this version are preserved by Eusebius. These writings come to us rather in an apocryphal form; they contain, however, no internal evidence which can affect their authenticity; they pretty nearly resemble the traditions of the Greeks, and are, perhaps, the parent stock from which these traditions are derived. The notions detailed by Sanchoniatho are almost translated by Hesiod, who mentions the primeval chaos, and states ερος , or love, to be its first offspring. Anaxagoras was the first among the Greeks who entertained tolerably accurate notions on the subject of creation: he assumed the agency of an intelligent mind in the arrangement of the chaotic materials. These sentiments gradually prevailed among the Greeks; from whom they passed to the Romans, and were generally adopted, notwithstanding the efforts which were made to establish the doctrines of Epicurus by the nervous poetry of Lucretius. Ovid has collected the orthodox doctrines which prevailed on the subject, both among Greeks and Romans; and has expressed them with uncommon elegance and perspicuity in the first chapter of his "Metamorphoses." There is so striking a coincidence between his account and that of Moses that one would almost think that he was translating from the first chapter of Genesis; and there can be no doubt that the Mosaic writings were well known at that time, both among the Greeks and Romans. Megasthenes, who lived in the time of Seleucus Nicanor, affirms, that all the doctrines of the Greeks respecting the creation, and the constitution of nature, were current among the Bramins in India, and the Jews in Syria. He must, of course, have been acquainted with the writings of the latter, before he could make the comparison. Juvenal talks of the writings of Moses as well known:—

Tradidit arcano quodcunque volumine Moses. [Whatever Moses has transmitted in his mystic volume.]

We are therefore inclined to think that Ovid actually copied from the Bible; for he adopts the very order detailed by Moses. Moses mentions the works of creation in the following order: the separation of the sea from the dry land; the creation of the heavenly bodies; of marine animals; of fowls and land animals; of man. Observe now the order of the Roman poet:—

Ante mare et terras, et, quod tegit omnia, coelum, Unus erat toto naturae vultus in orbe,

Quem dixere chaos, rudis, indiffestaque moles. Hanc Deus, et melior litem natura diremit. Nam coelo terras, et terras abscidit undis;

Et liquidum spisso secrevit ab aere coelum. Neu regio foret ulla suis animalibus orba;

Astra tenent coeleste solum, formaeque deorum; Cesserunt nitidis habitandae piscibus undae: Terra feras cepit, volucres agitabilis aer. Sanctius his animal, mentisque capacius altae

Deerat adhuc, et quod dominari in caetera posset: Natus homo est.

"Before the seas, and this terrestrial ball, And heav'n's high canopy, that covers all, One was the face of nature; if a face: Rather, a rude and indigested mass:

A lifeless lump, unfashion'd, and unframed, Of jarring seeds; and justly chaos named. But God, or nature, while they thus contend, To these intestine discords put an end;

Then earth from air, and seas from earth were driv'n,

And grosser air sunk from ethereal heav'n.

Thus when the God, whatever god was he, Had formed the whole, and made the parts agree,

That no unequal portions might be found,

He moulded earth into a spacious round.

Then, every void of nature to supply, With forms of gods he fills the vacant sky:

New herds of beasts he sends, the plains to share:

New colonies of birds, to people air; And to their oozy beds the finny fish repair.

A creature of a more exalted kind

Was wanting yet, and then was man design'd:

Conscious of thought, of more capacious breast, For empire formed, and fit to rule the rest: Whether with particles of heav'nly fire

The God of nature did his soul inspire," &c.


Here we see all the principal objects of creation mentioned exactly in the same order which Moses had assigned to them in his writings; and when we consider what follows;—the war of the giants; the general corruption of the world; the universal deluge; the preservation of Deucalion and Pyrrha; their sacrifices to the gods on leaving the vessel in which they had been preserved;—there can scarcely remain a doubt that Ovid borrowed, either directly or at second hand, from Moses. What he says, too, is perfectly consistent with the received notions on the subject, though it is probable that they had never before been so regularly methodised. This train of reasoning would lead us to conclude that Ovid, and indeed the whole Heathen world, derived their notions respecting the creation, and the early history of mankind, from the sacred Scriptures: and it shows how deficient their own resources were, when the pride of philosophy was forced to borrow from those whom it affected to despise. With regard to the western mythologists, then, there can be little doubt that their cosmogonies, at least such of them as profess to be historical, and not theoretical, are derived from Moses; and the same may be affirmed with regard to the traditions of the east: as they were the same with those of Greece in the time of Megasthenes, whose testimony to this effect is quoted both by Clemens Alexandrinus and Strabo, we may naturally conclude that they had the same origin.

4. The Hindoo mythology has grown, in the natural uninterrupted progress of corruption, to such monstrous and complicated absurdity, that in many cases it stands unique in extravagance. In the more ancient Hindoo writings, however, many sublime sentiments occur; and in the "Institutes of Menu," many passages are found relating to the creation, which bear a strong resemblance to the account given by Moses. They are thus given in an advertisement, prefixed to the fifth volume of the "Asiatic Researches," and are intended as a supplement to a former treatise on the Hindoo religion:—

"This universe existed only in the first divine idea, yet unexpanded, as if involved in darkness, imperceptible, undefinable, undiscoverable by reason, and undiscovered by revelation, as if it were wholly immersed in sleep. When the sole self-existing Power, himself undiscerned, but making this world discernible, with five elements and other principles of nature, appeared with undiminished glory, expanding his idea, or dispelling the gloom. He, whom the mind alone can perceive, whose essence eludes the

external organs, who has no visible parts, who exists from eternity, even he, the soul of all beings, whom no being can comprehend, shone forth in person. He, having willed to produce various beings from his own divine substance, first with a thought created the waters. The waters are called nara, because they are the production of Nara, or the Spirit of God; and since they were his first ayana,

or place of motion, he thence is called Narayana, or moving on the waters. From that which is, the first cause, not the object of sense, existing every where in substance, not existing to our perception, without beginning or end, was produced the divine male. He

framed the heaven above, and the earth beneath; in the midst he placed the subtile ether, the eight regions, and the permanent

receptacle of waters. He framed all creatures. He, too, first assigned to all creatures distinct names, distinct acts, and distinct occupations. He gave being to time, and the divisions of time; to the stars also, and the planets; to rivers, oceans, and mountains; to level plains, and uneven valleys. For the sake of distinguishing actions, he made a total difference between right and wrong. Having divided his own substance, the mighty Power became half male, half female. He whose powers are incomprehensible, having

created this universe, was again absorbed in the spirit, changing the time of energy for the time of repose."

In these passages we have evidently a philosophical comment on the account of creation given by Moses, or as transmitted from the same source of primitive tradition. We also see in these passages the rudiments of the Platonic philosophy, the eternal ideas in the divine mind, &c; and were any question to arise respecting the original author of these notions, we should have little hesitation in giving it against the Greeks. They were the greatest plagiaries both in literature and philosophy, and they have scarcely an article of literary property which they can call their own, except their poetry. Their sages penetrated into Egypt and India, and on their return stigmatized the natives of these countries as barbarians, lest they should be suspected of stealing their inventions.

5. The Chaldean cosmogony, according to Berosus, when divested of allegory, seems to resolve itself into this, that darkness and water existed from eternity; that Belus divided the humid mass, and gave birth to creation; that the human mind is an emanation from the divine nature. The cosmogony of the ancient Persians is very clumsy. They introduce two eternal principles, the one good, called Oromasdes, the other evil, called Arimanius; and they make these two principles contend with each other in the creation and government of the world. Each has his province, which he strives to enlarge; and Mithras is the mediator to moderate their contentions. This is the most inartificial plan that has been devised to account for the existence of evil, and has the least pretensions to a philosophical basis. The Egyptian cosmogony, according to the account given of it by Plutarch, seems to bear a strong resemblance to the Phenician, as detailed by Sanchoniatho. According to the Egyptian account, there was an eternal chaos, and an eternal spirit united with it, whose agency at last arranged the discordant materials, and produced the visible system of the universe. The cosmogony of the northern nations, as may be collected from the Edda, supposes an eternal principle prior to the formation of the world. The Orphic Fragments state every thing to have existed in God, and to proceed from him. The notion implied in this maxim is suspected to be pantheistic, that is, to imply the universe to be God; which, however, might be a more modern perversion. Plato supposed the world to be produced by the Deity, uniting eternal, immutable ideas, or forms, to variable matter. Aristotle had no cosmogony, because he supposed the world to be without beginning and without end. According to the Stoical doctrine, the divine nature, acting on matter, first produced moisture, and then the other elements, which are reciprocally convertible.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Creation'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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