A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Exodus 14 and Genesis 1:2

I recently purchased the book God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation by Terence E. Fretheim from my seminary’s bookstore. While I am only 94 pages in it, I have a feeling it will be a read I heartily recommend for everyone at all interested in Old Testament theology and/or Creation theology as the first few pages have set the framework which, if the author fulfills my expectations, that can have massive implications for Old Testament theology in general.

Anyways, in light of my renewed interest in Genesis and hope to engage Freitham’s ideas soon, I figure a new set of posts on Old Testament views of creation will set the context in which I can fully engage with Fretheim’s work.

One thing of particular note is the relationship between the Creation narrative of Genesis 1 and of the the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus 14. The imagery and language of the two bare some interesting parallels: “formless and void” and “wilderness”, “darkness” in both narratives, “Spirit/wind of God” and a “strong east wind”, “waters” and “sea.” Not to mention there are further possible parallels beyond just Genesis 1:2. The first thing God does in the Creation narrative is to make light, and in response to the darkness that comes upon the Israelites at the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud that gives lights to the Israelites. Also, the world in creation is not hospitable for life and it formed into a world full of blessing, just as Israel was going from a land that was inhospitable to them to “a good, broad land… flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8; note that same Hebrew word for “good” is used here and in Genesis 1). In addition, there is the splitting of the sea so that dry land arises for the Israelites to cross, just as God made the dry land on the third day.

The multiple possible parallels are probably more than coincidence, but rather speak to the fact that Creation is viewed in the terms and concepts of the Exodus, or vice versa (or even, that they are helped for the understanding for each other). If the Creaton and Exodus narrative are related, there is some further implications for interpretation of the first Creation narrative.

Firstly, the rather mundane statements such as “it was so” that follow the word of God may be more than a simple statement that what God spoke happened. Instead of it speaking positively about the extent to God’s powers, it may be seen as speaking negatively against any hypothetical powers that might could conflict with God in saying that there was no opposition to God’s desire for creation. In the Exodus narrative, the tenth plague of darkness (a reversal of creation?) is an attack against not only Egypt but its sun god Ra. If Ra existed and was powerful, there could have been resistance, but there was none to speak of. YHWH simply brought darkness upon Egypt, with seemingly no resistance.

Furthermore, YHWH’s victory over Egypt established himself as King. Likewise, the same concept could be applied to the creation narrative and seeing God as victorious over an inhospitable place (although, there is a need to refrain from calling it a evil in a idealogical, moral sense), and then exemplifying his reign by making humanity in the image of Himself, which carries possible connotations of royalty. That can be likened to Israel embracing the same ideals and beahviors of YHWH, such as having limits such as the Sabbath to exploitative work and practicing it just as YHWH did (all of which can be summarized in the statement “you shall be holy, for I am YHWH your God”; Leviticus 19:2)

Perhaps an insight is also available into how ruach, Hebrew for wind, came to be associated with the Spirit of God. With wind being the means by which God parted the Red Sea, such an central event could inspire an association with wind and God’s actiity in the world, at which point it is one short jump over to ruach being used to refer to God’s Spirit. Maybe this also means that to translated ruach in Genesis 1:2 as either Spirit or wind leaves a vital aspect out which the creators of the narrative would have seen.

Some of these relations may be stretching the relationship between the two narratives too far. However, I am of the opinion that viewing Creation in terms of the Exodus narrative is the way to go. And indeed, if the Exodus is historically accurate (and I believe it is) and the Creation narrative was formulated sometime relatively soon afterwards, at least to some degree, then it would make sense for the defining moment inIsrael’s history and relationship to YHWH to provide a framework for describing and understandign creation.

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Creation and God as an Artist

In the Creation narrative of Genesis 1:1-2:3, there is more going on than just a bare recounting of the order of creation. In the narrative, God is being portrayed as an arist, or more specifically a potter working with a lump of clay. Genesis 1:2 refers to the earth as being “formless”, as if the earth is a lump of clay that has yet to be formed. And then, after various parts of creation have been added, such as the light, God sees it as “good.” When God completes creation with the making of humanity, it is called “very good.” It is as if God had an image beforehand of what he wanted, and then at each stage saw that it looked like a portion of what he wanted, and then God finally completed his work of art on the sixth day. Then, the seventh day was taken as a day of rest, one might say to enjoy what he had created.

Incidentally, the second creation narrative also sees God as an artist, as he makes man from the dust of the ground, or clay, along with the other animals. Which shows there is a close relationship between the supposedly two differentsources for the first and second creation narratives.

Furthermore, if the creation narratives implicitly portray God as a potter, they can be related (especially the second one) to Isaiah’s and Jeremiah’s reference to God as a potter. But yet, the lack of explicit reference in creation past making man and the animals from dust doesn’t allow for an immediate transfer of the idea to Isaiah and Jeremiah, but that there likely another source that either expounded upon the creation narratives that then helped form the ideas of Isaiah and Jeremiah, or the reverse.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments

Genesis 6:1-8, the sons of God, and the breakdown of ancient sexual conduct

There is a particuarly mythic view of Genesis chapter 6 in regards to the ever controversial “sons of God” and “daughters of men” in which the “sons of God” are angelic beings who broke the division made between angels and humanity and bore children through females. This is due to the comparison with Job 1:6 and 2:1 where it used in reference to angelic beings, of which Satan (or the accuser) belongs to. While this might be the case, this makes a fundamental assumption that there was no change in meaning from the authoring of Genesis 6:2 and Job 1:6, 2:1. However, it is possible that there was an evolution of the phrase where from the first meaning, it adapted a second, related usage.

Quite literally, Genesis 6:2 and Job 1:6, 2:1 refers to “sons of the gods.” But as Elohim is used to refer to the one entity YHWH, to take it as the “sons of God” is perfectly acceptable translation. But it may not be justified, especially in the case of Genesis 6:2. In analyzing the different protions of Genesis, as source criticism has made note of, there is a tendency for certain passages to use Elohim to refer to the person we would refer to as God, and YHWH in others (with Genesis 2-3 being a notable exception). Genesis 6:1-8 happens to be a passages where YHWH is used. Now, YHWH is used extensively in the narrative of Job 1 and 2, but Elohim is also used and used in such a way that it is difficult to seperate the passages to use YHWH and Elohim to form two layers, one of which an editor added to the other (see Job 1:20-22).

With Genesis 6:1-8 being an otherwise exclusively YHWH passage (Although there is only a small sample size), it might seem appropriate to take ben_haelohim as “sons of the gods” instead of referring to the being of YHWH. One can take this quite literally as children of other deities, which retains a mythological interpretation of the passage but utterly belies the narrative of Genesis that does not speak of gods other than YHWH being active. Another option is to see the phrase as a title of kingly authority derived from religious claims, just as the Psalm 2 attributed to David makes a claim that he is a son of YHWH (Psalm 2:7). This option need not legitimate the “gods” whom supposedly authorize certain rulers, but it could have been a phrase that came in time to simply be attributed to rulers.

When analyzing the narrative further, the noteworthy dilemma isn’t necessarily the sons of Elohim procreating with thes daughters of men. Rather, the necessity to clarify that the wives the sons of Elohim took was “whomever they chose.” This phrase may imply that they were authoritarian in their pursuit of women. It could be that either they forcibly took women as their wives, or they ignored any social custom in which the father would “give” the daughter in marriage. Regardless, the central issue here is perhaps an improper usage of power for the purpose of procreation. Its narrative context definitely implied a proper sexual ethic (although it is never explicitly given in Genesis). In Genesis 1, the male and female are called to be fruitful and multiply. Abraham, in relation to the promise of his descendants, is called upon by God to circumcise his male sexual organ, implying there is a proper sexual conduct that Abraham was committing to. Furthermore, we see the multiple problems that are caused by Abraham’s and Sarah’s attempt to to have a child through Hagar, along with Jacob with Leah and Rachel. Thus, it would fit the theme of Genesis 6 to be focused not upon the breaking of a barrier between the “spiritual” and the physical, but rather that it is a violation of a proper sexual ethic.

This interpretation would make better sense of the reason YHWH purposed to destroy creation as He had formed it. If people were to play a pivotal role in exercising dominion (though not in a authoritarian or consumptionist sense) over the earth, including the animals, then it would be necessary for men and women to reproduce in order to bring about other human individuals who can help accomplish God’s design. But if the sexual ethic is somehow violated for the purpose of unjustified power over persons instead of the command power over creation, then humanity’s purpose was not to be fulfilled. Indeed, there is the abrogation of a sexual boundaries in Genesis 6:1-8, but there is also the mention that these children were somehow related to the Nephilim mentioned in verse 4 and there is mention of “them” (does it refer to the Nephilim or the children, if they are different?) being powerful men. In which case, if men weren’t fulfilling their purpose in ruling over creation, but instead exercising dominion more over each other, then the animals would not be “guided” properly and God’s whole creation purpose is thrown for a loop.

That Genesis 6:1-8 is related to God’s creation is clear by the declaration that YHWH “regretted that He made man on the earth” (6:6). But the link is strengthed by the usage of the adjective “evil” (6:5,) being the opposite of the “very good”  creation God had made after the creation of man (1:3). In other words, the humanity, whom God made with a purpose, was now opposing and rejecting their God ordained vocation and replacing it with a rule over each other.

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

The God says/God makes duplication in Genesis 1

In Genesis 1:6-7, 14-16, 20-21, 24-25, and 26-27, there is an apparent duplication in the narrative. On the one hand, you see God making a command for something be come into being. Then, what follows is a statement that God made/created said thing. If the purpose of the Genesis was to give an account of the events in creation, referring to God’s speech is perhaps a bit superfluous as the description of the making/creating is sufficient to give an account the creation of the earth and all that was in it.

However, as I have argued, I think part of the backdrop is that one being named Elohim in fact encompasses all the other El‘s. So for Elohim both to command and to do, it represents a unity of Elohim that does not rely on other beings in order to accomplish his will. There is no need for other El‘s to create the heaven’s, the earth, and all that is in them, as Elohim can accomplish that. But secondly, it is an affirmation of Elohim‘s sovereignty that he was not simply fulfilling the will of another being, but that Elohim himself is sovereign.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

The image of God, the Old Testament, and monotheism

One of the interesting aspects within Old Testament and Christian theology is the concept of the image of God in the creation narrative (Genesis 1:27-28). However, a particular oddity about this part of the narrative is that it is not a category that is used in the patriarchal narratives and after. Its influence is primarily within the pre-patriarchal narrative (Genesis 1-11). This is particularly intriguing in light of the fact that other aspects of God’s creation of humanity play a role throughout the Torah and onwards, such as the command to be fruitful and multiply, the command to fill the earth (for Israel, its primary fulfillment is in filling the land of Canaan), the concept of creation, the sabbath reast, etc. But for some reason, the image of God didn’t make the cut.

Now as I argued previously, the image of God represents a multiplicity in a unity of one. So Elohim is one entity (perhaps this gives new understanding of “YHWH is one” in Deuteronomy 6:4). Likewise humanity is to be a plurality as one (Note the second creation narrative that establish the man and woman become “one flesh” in Genesis 2:24). However, this unity was destroyed in the Babel narrative by God (Genesis 11:6). But after the narrative, there is no mention of the image of God, or similarity in language and concepts (as in the  Babel narrative).

On the one hand, one can interpret the absence as due to the lack of God’s image present in humankind after Babel. However, following the Babel narrative, Abraham is spoken of being a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). With the image of God being related to the creation of the reproductive couple of male and female (and thus becoming united/one), and blessing with being fruitful and multiplying, it is not as if the patriarchal narrative has forgotten the purpose contain withing being in the image of God. One can even say, Abraham’s being a blessing is meant to portray the restoration of the lost unity in a way. But the language of “image” is lacking, and so is the concept of many being one. In all likelihood then, that absence is not due to a lack of God’s image in the world, because one might expect an explicit trust of restoration if the Genesis narrative views the image of God as destroyed.

Rather, I think the change in language reflects an evolution in the thought of God, that fits within the history of religions approach. However, unlike some approaches that assume the Torah and the rest of the Tanakh is a late result of the evolution of religious thought, the Torah in fact exhibits the evolution of thought as the narrative progresses forward. If I am right about “the image of God” being understood as a plurality in a unity, then it may reveal an early development of Jewish monotheism, that is less polemical that later develops of Israel’s monotheistic belief (a change from what I wrote in an earlier post where I believe the creation narrative had a polemic to it).

This early monotheism would see the many gods as in fact being all parts of the same one being. One could not speak of this being simply as “El” at this point in time, because the connotation of El was not a sovereign being (unlike our usage of “God” today), but simply one being amongst many. Hence, the early narrative feels it necessary to speak of this one being in the plural (but yet frequently with singular verbs) in order to emphasize the power that would not be conveyed by the singular. With this broad understanding of Elohim that includes the many different El‘s, it would also be natural for the narrative to appropriate the many mythological narratives within its understanding of Elohim and history. Thus there are similarities between parts of Genesis 1-11 with other religious myths such as the Enuma Elish and Gilgamesh religious (although, there are differences and Genesis need not have borrowed directly from those stories we do have), in which the stories have been appropriated as being the work of this united Elohim, also known as YHWH.

However, the plurality as a unity is a logical deduction (although, this does not mean it was not divinely inspired, as the door is still open that revelation was the catalyst for this) that places its emphasis on the oneness more so than the plurality (hence Elohim acts with singular verbs). The tension between many and one would have been forgotten, and the oneness would have become more emphasized with a total loss of the plural aspect. Hence, the more classical form of Jewish monotheism (although not Christian monotheism, of the one being a plurality). As such, the “image of God” language and concept could not have been assimilated into the newer form of monotheism.

So Genesis 1-11 reflects a more universal religious belief that integrates all the concepts of the different El‘s into one entityYHWH Elohim (as spoken of in Genesis 2-3). Whereas Genesis 12 onwards reflects a more developed (or even developing?) monotheism that Israel appropriates to describe their past, present, and future. The first would reflect Israel’s belief in YHWH without having developed a thorough self-identity other than its relation to YHWH, whereas in the latter Israel has identified itself as a people particularly called by God to live in a particular land (indicating a shift from the “fill and subdue the earth” to more particularly, the land of Canaan). And despite the more universal tone of Genesis 1-11, it still has a particular Jewishness to it as it talks about God’s sabbath, which would echo the third of the Ten Commandments.

April 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Genesis 1-11, the image of God, and the plural Elohim

First off, I will be only intermittently posting on this blog till school gets out. Fewer viewers in the end, but the main purpose of this blog is to articulate my ideas more so than obtain an audience.

Over the past few weeks I have been doing study outside of my seminary work on the Old Testament, while reading authors such as Von Rad and Brueggemann. However, of particular interest to me is Genesis 1-11, due to the article in the JBL’s Winter 2008 article Shattering the Image of God by John T. Strong. While I do not agree totally with the article, of particular interest for me was seeing the Tower of Babel narrative as being understood in light of the image of God.

The image of God definitely plays a role within the Genesis narrative, especially early on. But the question as to what it means has received varied answers, many times reflected the views of the day more so than the intent of the text. As to my opinion, the way Genesis 1-11 is built, I think it in part reflects the many being united as one. In the Tower of Babel narrative, the language of the people follows the format of God’s declaration of creating humanity in his image in Genesis 1:16, the cohortive plural. God recognizes these people operating as one, and thus serves to divide them through the confusion of their language. As Strong notes, this is “in effect, smashing the [image of God] to pieces” (p. 628).

Multiplicity in the people is implied as being in the image of God. They were called to fill and subdue the earth, they were called to reproduce as a necessary consequence of filling and subduing the land, and humanity was made as male and female, as a the means for reproduction. Without there being many persons, they could not “rule” over the creation God had made.

And yet, there is a sense of unity implied by the image of God also. In making adam (used in this context not as the person Adam nor an individual, as 1:27 makes evident), the singular noun (compare with the singular nouns of the groups of animals, although they are frequently translated as plural) does not allow for the interpretation that each individual is itself in the image of God. That may be the case, but that would not conform the text at hand. Rather, this species was to be in God’s image. So a sense of unity in working together is probably conveyed by the text. Hence, this needed unity in God’s image perhaps explains why the image of God is evoked as support for capital punishment against murderers, who essentially would break up said unity.

So, I would contend the image of God conveying a multiplicity being one. Which I think coheres with the nature of the creator called Elohim, the plural for El (“god”). I am aware that some grammars refer to the plural here as the plural of majesty, but I think there is something more going on here. The narrative seems to have a polemical nature to it. For instance, Genesis 4:1 can be see as attributing Eve’s fertility to Yahweh, as if this was a counterclaim to a fertility god or goddess. Also, the inclusion of the serpent (nahash) has echoes of the Canaanite god Yam, who was also named Nahar and portrayed as a serpent (although, of the sea to be exact). Also, Elohim was used by the Cannaanites to refer to their pantheon of gods, but yet the Genesis narrative identifies Elohim with one named YHWH. Hence, the second creation narrative starting in 2:3 joins Elohim with YHWH.

My contention is that the creator is identified with the plural Elohim, to attribute all the powers of the gods within the Canaanite religion within one entity, such as the power of providing fertility and also over all the different animals, over the sea, and over the land. If that is the case, the narrative portrays the multiplicity as one. Therefore, Elohim can have verbs attributed to him that are both singular and plural. Thus, to be made in the image of God would mean to be a multiplicity working together as one. Therefore, in Genesis 3:22 the individual Adam (“the man”) is referred to being like “one of us.” The individual corresponds to a singular within YHWH Elohim.

Now if this sounds like a defense of the reading of classical Trinitarianism within the Genesis narrative, it isn’t. If Genesis 1 and on serves as a polemic against the multiple gods in attributing the many powers within one, it does not speak for a Trinitarian unity (of course, not against it either). Trintitarianism sees the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as three sharing the same one substance (ousia), with the multiplicity being in the three persons (hupostases). On the other hand, the Genesis narrative has the multiple powers within one. To fit the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit directly into Elohim of Genesis 1, one would have to say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three different, distinct powers united as one. Not only does that reject classic Trinitarianism, but it is grossly anachronistic.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genesis 9:25-27 and the composition of the Pentateuch

So he said, “Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants He shall be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant. “May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.”  – Genesis 9:25-27 (NASB)

Typically, the sources of the Pentateuch have been identified in part by the name that is given to God, whether it is Elohim (“God”) or Yahweh (typically translated as “LORD”) or a combination of the two (“the LORD God”). But 9:25-27 throws difficulty upon this form of identification, as by Elohim and Yahweh are used in this passage, and both have othere elements that are to be identified with either the “Elohim” or “Yahweh” sources.

Now, the difficulty could be alleviated if one could ascribe to 9:25-27 as following a process of development, where it had one part (probably Elohim) and then it was completed in its present form (probably Yahweh). The problem with this idea is that if any line of 25-27 is excluded, then the story is incomplete. If you exclude “Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Shem”, then you have taken out mention of one of the brothers, and verse 27 (which uses Elohim) relies upon the fortunate state of Shem (as communicated by 26) in order for Japeth dwelling in the tents of Shem to make a great amount of sense. Otherwise, Shem is only mentioned in passing. It is doubtful the oldest son would have been mentioned only briefly in a such a blessing and cursing. Secondly, there is a unity between 25 and 26 indicated by the contrast of “Cursed be Canaan” and “Blessed be Yahweh.” So 26 is essential for verse 27, but also verse 25 and 26 show a unity.

Every mention of Shem in Genesis besides this one is in the texts that identify God as Elohim, and never Yahweh. This is also the case for Japheth and the person of Canaan, distinguished from the phrase “the land of Canaan.” So the text is characteristic of the texts that contain Elohim. But yet the “Blessed be…” and “God of…” formula is used within the Yahweh texts.

Taken all of this into considering, it leaves us with one of two options:

1) That there was a completed blessing that the Elohist had compiled, and the Yahwehist altered it to its current form (or vice versa).

2) The source for this text used both Yahweh and Elohim interchangeably

If it is the first option, there has to be a reason for the Yahwehist or the Elohist (or the Documentary Hypothesis’ Priestly, who also uses Elohim). But there is no seemingly important facts pertinent to Israel within the Elohim material that would merit such an action. And while the exalting of Shem occurs in the Yahweh part, it would be likely that an alteration would be more explicit than merely identified Shem’s reliance upon Yahweh (“Blessded by Yahweh, the God of Shem”). Even if it is feasibly, this throws the hypothesis that the Yahwehist was the first source or redactor out the window.

Genesis 9:25-27 is best concieved as a literary whole, and as such throws out the idea of the exclusive use of Yahweh or Elohim within a text. While one should be careful of basing a large hypothesis based upon one text, this should reveal that the sources for the Pentateuch can not clearly and reliably be identified.

January 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Genesis and Abraham the astrologer

The book of Jubilees, along with other Jewish literary sources, hold a tradition that Abraham was at one time an astrologer (some saying he forsook astrology, and some saying he didn’t). However, Genesis never makes any explicit statement about Abraham’s occupation. But we find in Genesis 15:5 that God tells Abram “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” (cf Genesis 22:17).

When we look Genesis 15:5, is it really possible to conclude that this is related to an occupation of astrology, or would it be a commonly use form of a communication that was simply appropriated for the situation? We can note that a similar type analogy is used with dust (Genesis 13:16 and 22:17), of which no tradition has been passed down (to my knowledge) about Abraham working in a field that requires dust/sand. However, the analogy of sand and the analogy of the stars can have been appropriated for different reasons.

But if Genesis 15:5 is based upon the idea that Abraham was an astrologer, then we have to consider the relationship between the Abrahamic tradition in the Aprocrypha and the Genesis narrative. There is no direct mention of Abraham being an astrologer in Genesis, so the odds of the Abrahamic tradition being formed beforehand and then including this analogy from God without making any direct reference is incredibly unlikely. The only reasonable scenario for that would be to say that there was originally an inclusion of astrology into the narrative, but later scribes erased any explicit mention of Abraham’s astrological background due to an aversion. But if we take the hypothesis that Genesis was formed in stages and there were scribal removals, then why did this not happen for other more difficult parts of Genesis? Plus there is no explicit rejection of astrology either within the Torah. In my opinion then, it is extremely unlikely that any Abrahamic tradition was formed beforehand that lead to the addition of Genesis 15:5 and 22:17.

Either then, the Abrahamic tradition developed as an implication that was drawn from the stars analogy or the tradition and Genesis narrative came from a common third source. The former is perhaps unlikely also for two reasons. First, 15:5 and 22:17 are unlikely to have drawn such speculation. There is nothing that really marks them as indicating anything further. Secondly, if there was an aversion to astrology (and Isaiah 47:14 indicates one), then it is unlikely one would extrapolate that the revered Abraham practiced astrology.

So the best answer as to the relationship between the Abrahamic tradition and the Genesis narrative is that they developed, at least at first, from a third source. Genesis does not mention the occupations of the patriarchs unless it served to develop the story (for example, Jacob working for Laban), so if there were other sources the Genesis narrative were derived from (instead of being a later creation) then mentioning Abraham’s astrological background perhaps served no purpose. But the same sources (or sources that came from them) could have served as the basis for the Abrahamic tradition outside of Genesis.

So in my opinion, if Genesis 15:5 is based upon an astrological background for Abraham, then this leads us to ask questions regarding the composition of Genesis and the Pentateuch. For me, it takes away from any theory that attributes the composition to later date made by people with a particular agenda. Genesis’ and the Pentateuch’s composition best fits within a hypothesis that it is based upon sources that also make historical claims about the Patriarchs and Israel. The narratives and ideas of the Pentateuch are not the creation of compilers, but rather they are derived from other purportedly historical sources (as to how they came into being, we would have little idea).

January 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment