When we open up the bible and start reading from the beginning the first striking thing about the form of the text is that it presents us with two consecutive but distinct creation myths (NB: myths are not necessarily unfactual). Moreover, the join between the two occurs during the second chapter of Genesis, not between two chapters, so this this distinction was not made explicit by the author(s). In the 19th century biblical scholars decided to categorise parts of the bible after what appeared to be different sources from different authors. The first creation story was identified as part of the P source and the second as part of the J source.
In addition to comparing these two texts we will further compare them both with a non-biblical text, a creation myth from ancient Babylon. We will discuss the spirituality (rather than the plausibility) of the three texts, asking four things of each account: What is the author trying to say about the world, humanity, and God? What sort of person would have written this?
1) Genesis 1:1-2:4 (P source)
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’
And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven.
And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.” …
[Rest of 2nd day – separation of waters and land, 3rd day – creation of plants]
” And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years…’ And it was so… And God saw that it was good.
And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.” …
[5th day -creation of fish and birds. 6th day – creation of land animals]
“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion … over all the earth.’
So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them…
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.
So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.”
It claims that there was a beginning.
Everything shares that one beginning.
God is the basis for form, structure, and order in the world (note the repetition of ‘separated’).
(God recognises goodness in things he has created, he doesn’t impose goodness upon them, cf. the Euthyphro dilemma.)
God gives us a place within this order (note “male and female he created them”) ; we can trust that has a purpose.
Yet at the same time mankind (note that here God creates mankind before he does male and female) is the pinnacle of this order and has the role of taking care of it.
The fundamental dignity of human life is emphasised by likening us to God.
(Perhaps our having this likeness is not a mere claim, it is a challenge to all of humanity. )
God does not carry on creating more and more forever, but comes to be satisfied with what he has done.
God’s example demonstrates that rest and peace are extremely important in life.
God very powerful, but takes his time to get things right. This emphasises the value of creativity.
Things are allowed to develop in stages, to evolve as it were. That the stages get improve on each other is seen in that God is finally satisfied from creating man, saying that this is “very good”. This puts an interesting twist on woman being what God creates last in the J account!
This is what the biblical scholars thought.
2) Genesis 2:4-25 (J Source)
“In the day that the YAHWEH God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up (for YAHWEH God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground) then YAHWEH God formed the man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
And YAHWEH God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground YAHWEH God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…”
“…YAHWEH God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And YAHWEH God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
Then YAHWEH God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground YAHWEH God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.
The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.
So YAHWEH God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that YAHWEH God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”
God creates in one day, presumably directly and immediately.
This emphasises God’s power more than his creativity.
Creation is distinctly hierarchical, we are reminded that we are made from dust and that God commands man. Note that ‘dust’ in Hebrew is ‘adamah‘ so ‘adam‘ is derived from this.
(Man is tasked with naming other parts of creation- why did the author thing this was so significant?)
God himself has a name (which to the Israelites was so holy as to be unspeakable).
God desires to enter into a personal relationship with humanity. This reassures us of our fundamental dignity as was expressed by our bearing the ‘image’ of God in the P account.
Has a more poetic style, more evaluative than descriptive.
Perhaps earlier than P because more it has a less sophisticated view of God that is very anthropomorphic.
This is what the biblical scholars thought.
3) Babylonian Enuma Elish Myth
[Apsu and Tiamat beget all the gods but their noise disturbs them, so Apsu arranges for their murder. However they hear of it and one of them, Ea, kills Apsu and takes over. Tiamat makes an army of monsters to revenge her husband, and puts her lover, Qingu, in command. Ea’s son Marduk takes up the challenge to fight Tiamat’s army. Marduk is made king and is given the winds as weapons, a net to trap Tiamat, and a bow and a club. Marduk beats Tiamat in battle.]
“…The lord [Marduk] trod on the legs of Tiamat, with his unsparing mace he crushed her skull. When he had severed the arteries of her blood… the lord paused to view her dead body, that he might divide the form and do artful works. He split her like a shellfish into two parts: half of her he set up as a covering for heaven, pulled down the bar and posted guards. He bade them not to allow her waters to escape.
In her belly he established the heights. The Moon he caused to shine, entrusting the night to him. He appointed him a creature of the night to signify the days, and marked off every month, without cease, by means of his crown… Taking the spittle of Tiamat, Marduk created the clouds and filled them with water. Putting her head into position he formed the mountains. Opening the deep which was in flood, he caused to flow from her eyes the Euphrates and Tigris…”
[Marduk then builds Babylon as a throne for himself ]
“Below I have hardened the ground for a building site, I will build a house, it will be my luxurious abode. I will found there its temple, I will call its name Babylon which means the houses of the great gods…”
[Marduk decides to create humans using the body of Tiamet’s lover, Qingu]
“I will take blood and fashion bone. I will establish a savage, ‘man’ shall be his name. Truly, savage-man I will create. He shall be charged with the service of the gods that they might be at ease!” They bound Qingu, holding him before Ea. They imposed on him his punishment and severed his blood vessels. Out of his blood they fashioned mankind. Marduk imposed on him the service and let free the gods.”
[Marduk is enthroned in Babylon and the other gods praise him]
“This is Babylon, the place that is your home, Marduk! Make merry in its precincts, occupy its broad places.”
[The Enuma Elish ends with words from the author]
“Let these words be kept in mind and let the leader explain them. Let the wise and the knowing discuss them together. Let the father recite them and impart them to his son… Let him rejoice in Marduk… that his land may be fertile and that he may prosper”
‘Creation’ is accidental; there isn’t a definitive beginning.
Similarly to the P account, man’s creation comes out of the nature of the divine.
But it comes out of violence and man is called a savage.
Family relations are significant, but conflict emphasised over harmony.
Gods are plural, and can have children. They are not only anthropomorphic in the sense that J is, but exemplify the worse aspects of humanity. They require servants to be “at ease” and not only do they murder but they attempt infanticide. This violence is not condemned and is perhaps glorified; might appears to be right.
God has no desire to enter into a personal relationship with humanity; our only purpose is to serve God.
God has built a city -urban rather than garden- even though Babylon was renowned for to the splendour of its gardens.
Scholars accept that they do not know this one.
Questions for discussion
1. Which of these do you prefer and why?
2. If the bible had used the Babylonian story-
A) How might Christian history have been different?
B) How might Christianity have been different?
3. Can you find elements of the two types of myth in these passages?
4. Suppose that P and J really were written at different times by different people and have been spliced together. What impact would that have upon of theories of revelation?
5. Can you discern a trinitarian view of God in the Genesis stories?