I owe the inspiration for the following to the book Conversations with God *1; while I do not agree with the content of the book, it gave me the idea that this must be how Abraham developed the basis of his new religion: not by an angel dictating to him, not through a book handed to him, but by a dialog with God. Questions asked and answered, revelations given, and thoughts related, through a normal conversation. We know through the early parts of Genesis that God did speak to Abraham, calling him to be the leader of the new religion, announcing that Sarah would give birth to a son, and throughout the near sacrifice of Isaac on Mt. Moriah, so why wouldn’t they speak about the tenets of this new belief system?
Abraham was being asked to give up everything that his family had believed for generations, what he had been brought up on as the truth. Regardless of how he felt about the idols, switching to a totally new concept could not have been an easy, or quick, change. Consider, for example, switching from Christianity to Taoism, or from Buddhism to Judaism, changes such as this are not done without considerable contemplation. Complicate this by the even more radical concept of creating a new religious system of beliefs, and trying to deal with your family over this decision. Abraham must have had many questions about who God was, and what he was asking: Who are you? What is different about you and the other gods? If you are all that is, how did everything come about? What of the great flood and other things I have been brought up on?
It is my belief, after a close reading of the Genesis text, and taking the background given above into consideration, that the early sections of Genesis were the answers Abram received from God, in terms that Abram could understand. Abram could not even begin to understand DNA, the Big Bang, or String theory, so God used terms and images with which he was already familiar.
Consider teaching a child the color red. You do not start by telling him that red is the part of the visible spectrum at about 650 nanometers – it would be beyond his understanding. You start by showing him a swatch of red cloth; then, perhaps, a red hat; and, finally, maybe a red car. Slowly he begins to understand that you are speaking of the color of the object, and not that all of these objects are called red.
Similarly, God used images familiar to Abram: days instead of eons, lights instead of stars and planets, and Babel’s tower instead of the evolution of language *2. It is through familiar images that God related who he is, and how he is different from anything that Abram has yet encountered. Abram then uses these answers to explain to his people who this new God is, and why they should abandon their current beliefs for a belief in YHWH *3.
Looking at the creation stories in the first few chapters reveals answers to Abram’s questions, not a literal history of the creation of the world / universe. What we read here is a description of how the God of Abram differs from the gods they are familiar with. Let’s begin with a look at the first creation narratitve (Gen. 1:1-2:3):
- In the first two verses God answers what must have been one of Abram’s first questions: Where did you come from? Nammu was created by the sea; did you come from the sea, the mountains, or the heavens? God’s answer is, “In the beginning I created the heavens, the earth, and the waters…there was nothing before me.” From there God goes on to emphasize this point when he says that even light did not exist. This heretofore unknown God created even light, and allowed the darkness to co-exist with the light. This was a total reversal of other cultures at the time who believed that matter was eternal and the gods were created.
- Over the next several verses God goes on to emphasize that he alone is the creator of everything that exists – water, heaven, land, plants, the lights in the skies, sea creatures, land animals, and even man. There was no helper, no one who did things for him: God alone is the source of everything that exists. All that was needed was for him to breathe things into existence (Spirit = breath).
- The next question Abram may have asked was, “What is man’s place in creation?” Here God tells Abram that man is above every other creature, without exception. He also states something here that would seem strange to Abram, and would require further emphasis later: men and women are equal. Up until now the word God used has been “ανθρωπον” (anthropod), a generic term for humanity. Now God gets specific, he says that he created both male (αρσενικό) and female (θηλυ). Not that he created male, then someone else created female (as in Semitic beliefs of the time), but that he created both of them.
- God now tells Abram that he gave to both man and woman authority over everything he had made: plants, animals, land and sea. The word for “authority” (κατακυριεύσατε) does not grant humanity the right to do with creation as he wills, rather it is a charge to be a caretaker who is appointed to use what he is given with discretion, knowing full well that man is not the owner of creation – I see this as similar to the parable of the landowner and the tenant farmers (Matt 21:33), where the owner gives the vineyard to others to care for it. Man may harness these resources for his benefit: agriculture, husbandry, mining, but not to exhaust them to the point of extinction. This in contrast to the culture Abram left, where man was created to tend the gardens for the gods. The gods then took what they wanted, leaving man to live off of the remaining scraps, whereas YHWH would only require a tithe (10%) as an offering.
- Another important point to note here is that at the end of each period of creation God looks back upon what he made and declares it to be “good” (καλό). Nothing was made bad, or sinful, everything made was seen as good, including man. This is also in contrast to the majority of the religions of the time, where man was seen as anything from a play toy (Rome/Greece) to the semi-domesticated animals for the use of the gods (Semitic).
- Then, God makes one more statement that would seem strange to Abram, he sets aside one day of the week for man to rest. Man was not made to labor all seven days, but to rest one day each week from all types of labor, for this is what God did. Prior to this, man worked seven days without rest.
Next, we will examine the second creation narrative, seeing how it is not a contradictory narrative, but fits into the creation of a new religion.
*1 Conversations with God : An Uncommon Dialogue (Book 1), Neale Donald Walsch, 1996
*2 Some linguistic theories purport that our languages evolved from a single, ancient, root language that developed into the multiple languages we have today as groups of humans split off and migrated to different parts of the globe. Much as American English has morphed from its’ original root in the British English language.
*3 If you are not familiar with it, YHWH is the collapsed form of the name of God, as the Hebrew written language did not include vowels. For a more complete discourse on the name see: YHWH