Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis 1-2. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:
These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.
While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.
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1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. [NASB}
The Hebrew of the Masoretic Text starts: “Bereshith bara” (brst br). This repetition of sounds from the start shows part of the problem with translation, as there is no way to effectively reproduce it into English, but this kind of wordplay (probably for mnemonic effect) is throughout all the OT. “Bara” means created, but is only used when God creates; when man creates other words are used. God is “elohim”, a plural form, often interpreted to mean God-above-all-Gods, or the heavenly powers (including the angels). “heavens and earth” is an example of an often-used formula in Hebrew, a uniting of opposites indicating totality (“everything”); it’s used later on with day-and-night", “good-and-evil”, etc. “formless and void” is tohu-bohu: tohu indicates chaos, and bohu is just a rhyming syllables, so the whole thing is similar to “mishmash” or “hurly-burly” to indicate confusion. Hebrew is a terse language (a few words do multiple duties), so "Spirit of God hovering " here can also (inclusively or exclusively) indicated “divine breath blowing on” or “a mighty wind troubling”.
Chapter 1 is written as if God was showing a big production number-There’s the light(YAY!), there’s the darkness(OOOH!), bring on the mighty waters then let the land slowly rise from them. Next, bring on the color-vegetation of all types start to bring definition and texture to the landscape. To show how nifty this can look, he starts alternating darkness and light to show how neat this all looks using constantly moving shadows and light. Ta-DAH! He steps back and lets us let it all sink in. Logical or not, I don’t think I would have changed a thing if I wanted to impress an audience.
God seems to be saying that Adam and Eve will be vegetarian, but nothing more is said about it, and in the later stories Abel is a herdsman (so, presumably, consumes milk and meat).
This vegan option seems to be imposed on other animals as well - they are given green plants for food, not each other. But the idea that this changes as a result of sin (if that is what it is, since Adam and Eve are dressed in skins by the angel) is not discussed or explained.
That having been said, this whole passage is incredibly poetic and impressive.
“In the beginning”, or “From of old” - sort of a pre-scientific way of saying “Before the Big Bang”. And of course the phrase is (probably consciously) echoed by the (Greek) opening line of the Gospel of John.
Another thing is that the story reflects some things very characteristically Jewish - the way of counting a day as beginning at sundown the previous night, and that there are seven days in a week, and that the seventh day is a sabbath.
And of course the mention of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowing out of the Garden. That would suggest that the garden of Eden is in Iraq. My son was there - he would beg to differ. (He says it is too beastly hot, and it stinks there).
And just to get it out of the way, there seems to have been a combination of Creation myths here. One is from the north of Israel, and the other from the south. In one it starts with Creation, in the other it starts with a garden. And one story gives that very matter-of-fact explanation why nothing was growing - there was no water, and there was no one to till the soil. So God has to do it.
And that whole story of making woman from a rib. I wonder where that came from? Why a rib?
There’s a longstanding tradition in interpreting this that vegetarian is what is meant. Later Biblical prophecies indicate a return to a time when men and animals will live together without fear of each other, and the phrases in the early parts of the gospels where Jesus goes out into the wilderness for 40 days and lives among the animals is probably a reflection of that tradition.
And that whole story of making woman from a rib. I wonder where that came from? Why a rib?
The Hebrew word is “tsela”, which, again, has multiple meanings, including “rib” or “side”. The rib idea comes mainly from 2.23, where man calls woman “bone of my bone”.
This is in the second creation account, and I find it interesting that in the middle of a mythical account of creation there is a reference to real, known rivers that people would be familiar with. The story implies that you could follow the Tigris and Euphrates to their common source to find Eden. But of course those two rivers do not have a common source - so how did this little detail survive?
Over the centuries there have been a number of theories as to the identities of the Pishon and Gihon rivers, if they existed.
The Babylonian Enuma Elish creation story begins in a very similar way:
When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
And the primeval Apsu, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiamut, the mother of them both
Their waters were mingled together,
And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
When of the gods none had been called into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained;
Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven"
Most scholars date this from roughly the 18th to 16th centuries BC, which would be before the circa 1500BC date often given to the time of Moses.
Maybe it is like the idea that the Greek gods lived on top of Mount Olympos. Theoretically you could have climbed up to the top and seen for yourself, but you couldn’t see the gods because they didn’t want you to. Likewise with the Tigris and Euphrates - ever since the Fall you cannot see their common source (maybe the angel with the fiery sword is blinding you, although that is getting ahead of the passage).
Or maybe the story was told by someone who never was that far away from where he was born. Thus the little asides like “that’s where you find gold” or “the river flows around Cush” and so on.
That’s part of the interesting contrast between the two accounts - one is poetic and sweeping, the second is much more down to earth.
But the second account is just as “mythic”. The interesting part about the trees in the garden, which Adam and Eve are not allowed to eat, even though they have been granted permission to eat of all the other seed-bearing plants. (Another thought - they can eat seed-bearing plants, but not leaves/roots? Is this related to later prohibitions on eating blood, which is the essence of life?)
I have never decided if this is a survival from an earlier, polytheistic period of the account, or a way to refer (as you say) to angels and the rest of the heavenly host, or a way to make God more impressive.
And isn’t calling God Elohim a characteristic of one of the suggested writers of Genesis - “E” vs. “J” for the one who calls Him “Yahweh”, plus a P for Priestly one, and then one other who I can never remember.
The tree of the knowledge of good-and-evil: again, this is a blending of opposites. To the Hebrew listener or reader, it would have indicated universal knowledge, and not just knowledge of morality.
Israel was a nation surrounded by other nations whose gods were animal in form or animal-headed. Having Adam name the animals shows that man is superior to animal, and, accordingly, Adam’s God is superior to an animal god.
Not necessarily, he could have raised sheep for just for the wool.
“Rib” is a mistranslation; the proper translation of the Hebrew “Tzela” is “side.” (compare Exodus 26, the same Hebrew word is used for “side of the tabernacle”). The implication is that Adam was originally created as a two-faced creature, both male and female, and then the female side was split off into a distinct entity. There are plenty of religious explanations for why this is so (at least from the Jewish perspective) but since this is strictly Cafe Society, I’ll stick to matters of translation.
Right, the four are Elohist (E), Yahwist (J), Priestly (P) and Deuteronomist (D): but the Deuteronomist doesn’t affect the first four books of the Torah, and doesn’t enter into it. A great many Hebraists have found that Elohists are a minor revision of Yahwist texts, so most current scholars judge sections of Genesis as either J or P.
Right. My opinion is that the bulk of the OT was redacted circa the 6th Century during the time of the Babylonian exile, or somewhat after when the nation was reunited. This is when that mindset would have taken hold.