History lessons

And God saw that it was good

Adam_and_EveIn the last blog I said that the first chapters of Genesis were not Science.If I said they were not history either I would expect a certain response, especially from conservative Christians. So let me explain.

History is written by people who are there at the time. Not that that necessarily means it is accurate. It has been said that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Which side of a conflict you are on will colour your version of events, and the version we have is that of the victors.  Another way history is written is by digging up the remains from the past and trying to reconstruct things from that.

But Genesis was not like that. It is one of the Books of Moses, but deals with a time long before Moses. It isn’t eye witness accounts, neither is there much archaeological evidence to and so it isn’t history as we know it. The episodic nature of Genesis is consistent with an oral tradition of stories handed down through generations. Not that that means it is false, or even inaccurate. In cultures that still use oral tradition the stories hardly change over generations.

But back to the creation stories.

Lots of cultures have oral traditions. In the Middle East there are several creation stories, and they have similarities. From these similarities it is possible to say that the Genesis stories are of their time, and are nothing special. So I’m not going to do that. I’m going to look for differences. From the differences we may be able to learn something about God.

The biggest difference is the number of gods. Conflict between the gods, or between gods and demons, leads to the creation of the world. The Enuma Elish from Babylonia starts, like Genesis, with a period of chaos before creation and  ends with the chief god Marduk fashioning the the earth and skies and ordering the planets and stars and the sun, moon and the weather. Similar to Genesis.

And it was not good

Where the two accounts differ, is that in the Babylonian version the creation is a result of a war among the gods, and Marduk after killing the goddess Tiamat made the earth out of her body. In the Persian version it is the demoness Jel that kills the primeval beast Gayomart.  In both accounts the role of humans is to serve the gods.

When you read the Genesis accounts, Chapter one seems to be based on the Babylonian account and chapter 2 on the Persian.

But there’s something different going on here. Genesis creation is not born out of conflict. God says creation is good, when it is complete it is very good. A god who wants to create and is in relationship with his creation. Here is something new, something that is not in the other creation stories. In the Genesis 2 version he even involves the man in the creation process. This is something not in the other ancient accounts.

So just suppose that Genesis was written in a contemporaneous way. It would show the same style as other writings from its time. By comparing it to similar writings and comparing the differences we get a picture that contrasts the capricious Gods of the other stories, which did not want to hve close contact with humanity, and only then demanding blind obedience to the God of Genesis who wanted to be close, not aloof from his creation, especially humans.


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