Return here to the Shadows in Eden home page.....

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hawkwood's Guide to the Creation

Few passages in literature that I know of are as breathtaking in their poetic grandeur as the opening verses of the Book of Genesis in the King James Version of the Bible. These verses read like some magnificent force of destiny, sweeping all before them in a bow wave of creative intensity. The manuscripts are believed to have been written down in their original Hebrew form some twenty five to twenty six centuries ago, which places these writings in the transition period between the late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age. Tradition attributed them to the prophet Moses, although there is no confirmation of this in scholarship, and their true authors, who apparently were influenced by older Greek, Mesopotamian and Canaanite sources, remain unknown to us.

It is the verve of the King James language which carries the creation narrative along – so much so that we tend to uncritically accept its events through sheer familiarity. And yet if we take a little time to do so, we may glimpse behind the familiar words the distant minds of its original authors, and the ways in which they experienced the world around them, and their struggles to understand the forms of that world. In that dry desert clime, with its fierce sun by day and its cold starlit nights, they would particularly have been aware of a causality between the presence of that bright sun above and the glare of day, for when the red sun sank below the world, then the chill darkness of night would surely follow. Even if they did not understand the natural phenomena involved in these events in the ways in which we now do, surely even to a Bronze Age mind it still must have been a self-evident truth witnessed on a daily basis that the brightly-burning sun caused the clear light of day.

How, then, could the authors of Genesis have gotten things so wrong? To be clear: in Chapter 1 (verses 3-5), on the very first day of creation, God causes light and darkness. He calls the light, day, and the darkness, night. This newly-created light has nothing to do with any light-giving cosmic phenomena such as the stars, or the sun and the moon, which were not created until the fourth day. The ‘light’ called into existence on the first day of creation is specifically daylight of itself, and daylight only. And since the sun was not created until three days later, we have a curious cart-before-the-horse situation in which the new earth has daylight – but no sun. Was there not some small voice in the minds of the Genesis authors which urgently whispered to them that there was something really, really wrong with this picture? Apparently not.

On the second day, God commits his time to creating the firmament (that quintessential Biblical term), as a means of dividing the primeval waters into those of heaven and earth (verses 6-8). So now on the third day (verses 9-10), by gathering together the dry land and the waters, he creates lands and seas. Reasonable enough. Now, apparently, God is on a roll, because on the same day as the lands and the seas, he creates flora (verses 11-13). Or more specifically: he creates grass, herbs, and fruit trees. No other sorts of vegetation are mentioned, and we are left to ponder whether these scant three examples of the floral realm were the only things created then, and the rest came later, or whether the Genesis authors intended them to be interpreted generically, as token terms for all the conifers, succulents, bromeliads, cycads, and other myriad angiosperms and gymnosperms which fill the botanical catalogue.

Whatever the intended option, those grasses, herbs and fruit trees found themselves growing by the light of day, but without any sun to initiate the process of photosynthesis so vital to their life functions. Apparently they must have made it safely through to the next day (verses 14-19), for with the creation of said sun, moon and stars, things could begin in earnest. Now we reach the fifth day of creation, when birds and all the creatures of the seas are created (verses 20-23), and not forgetting, in that ringing King James phrase, that ‘God created great whales’, so it’s a good thing that Japan only kills them strictly for research purposes. L

Which brings us to the sixth and last day of creation. In the span of a single verse (verse 24, whose events are virtually repeated in verse 25) all the land animals are created. But as with the plants, only the beasts of the earth, cattle and creeping things are specifically mentioned. I’ll let bacteria and other microbial life go by on the nod, due to the scarcity of Bronze Age microscopes, and will presume that the nearly two million other known animal species are included generically in that grand catch-all term ‘beasts’. Later that same day God also creates man and woman (verses 26-31). But how did he do this? We yearn to know, because, after all, it concerns us directly. But just at this critical point in the narrative Genesis at its most terse informs us only that ‘male and female created he them’. With such a scarcity of information it’s just as well that God creates them all over again in more detail in the following [1]chapter.

Chapter 2 begins with what is actually the end of the seven days of creation (verses 1-3). We all know what happened on day seven. God the almighty, God the omnipotent, whose powers exceed the bounds of our imagination to encompass them, needed to rest ‘from all his work’. It must be true. You couldn’t make this stuff up. J 

[1] The recounting of the creation in Chapter 2 of Genesis is different in several distinct ways from the version in the previous chapter. It notably follows a markedly different order of events than those recounted in Chapter 1, this time with all the animals being created after humans. Genesis therefore contradicts itself in a major way in just its first two chapters: a point of fact which it once took me several days of extended sporadic argument to convince a stalwart Christian of on an internet forum. He only conceded the point once I had copy-pasted all the relevant verses ([2]Genesis 2:7-25) under his nose, and was clearly shaken that such blatant contradictions existed in a text which he considered that he knew intimately, and which he unquestioningly accepted as the immaculate Revealed Word.

[2] As with all such posts which deal with aspects of Biblical text on this blog, I always cite chapter-and-verse so that anyone, anywhere can check what I claim for these texts for themselves. When viewed as scholarship, such contradictions as can be found in these first two chapters of Genesis are a valuable clue to textual origins. Clearly at least two different sources were combined in Genesis, each of which had its own different narrative to relate. This is entirely reasonable, for the oral origins of such stories are flexible, and dependent upon the narrator. And clearly no chronicler of such stories, when committing them to text, was thinking, ‘Now I’m going to sit down and write the Book of Genesis, which will be the first book in the Bible.’ 

All photography and images © Hawkwood. Photographic locations are the Isle of Skye in Scotland, Margaret River in Western Australia, and Noorderhout in The Netherlands. The sculpture Couple, by Eddy Roos, is featured. The ammonites were photographed in Naturalis Museum, Leyden.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You are welcome to share your thoughts.