Saturday, March 24, 2018

Reading Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology by John H. Walton #3

Walton GenesisToday’s post continues my read through of Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology, by John H. Walton. This section of chapter 4 discusses the first 6 days of the creation week. Again Walton emphasizes that “creation” here is not discussing material creation, but an organization of material to assign functions as in other Ancient Near Eastern texts. While I would agree that Genesis 1 pictures God as organizing the chaotic situation from Genesis 1.2, I am not sure I would not necessarily agree that this precludes, at least some, material creation as well.  I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the theology are in blue below. I am using the Logos version of the book.…

The next section of chapter 4 looks at days 1-3 of creation. Creation on these days is characterized by God's actions of "naming" and "separating." Again Walton makes the point that creation is not bringing new material into existence but ordering material, giving it function and purpose. On days 1-3 God designs creation to provide for the basic needs of human beings. On day 1 God creates light and organizes it into periods of light and darkness, thus creating time. On day 2, God divides the waters above from those below with a hard surface that holds the cosmic waters above and provides a space between them and the waters below. He organizes this space to regulate the waters and thus provides weather. Finally on day 3, the dry land is separated from the waters below and made to produce vegetation that would nourish people. God pronounces this to be "good," that is it is now operating according to the functions he has designated. God has now provided an environment that meets the needs for his plans to be accomplished.

The text implies that God is indeed involved in creation on Day 3 just as much as on any other day, once the text is understood in its ancient context: creation is an ordering activity rather than a manufacturing enterprise. On Day 3, God created the basis for fecundity, fertility, vegetation, and agriculture—in short, he provided what was necessary to make the earth a source of food. 162

In Genesis Yahweh is outside the cosmic system, although in the ancient Near East the gods are viewed as inside the system. Thus, the Mesopotamian gods are subject to the MEs (cosmic destinies), while Yahweh controls them. This is similar to the idea that in Israel Yahweh is considered the source of law, whereas in Mesopotamia Shamash is the guardian of law. 167

The three functions—time, weather, and food production—are called into existence by the utterance of God and are given their functions through acts of separating and naming, with both the functions themselves and the actions that make them operational having precedents in the cognitive environment of the ancient Near East. They are evaluated and found to be perfectly functional (“good”) for the human world...The creative activity therefore involves bringing these functions into action in a system ordered around human beings. 170–171

The next section covers days 4-6 of creation in Genesis 1.14-31. On these days God creates the agents that fulfill the functions and occupy the spaces created on Days 1-3. The sun, moon and stars are assigned to the firmament to fulfill the functions of marking times and seasons. The sky and sea animals are created (The word bārāʾ, is picked up again for days 5 and 6) to fill the areas created on Day 2. On the 6th day land animals and humans are created to occupy the land and eat the food created on Day 3. God also blesses the creatures on Day 5-6 to be productive. The longest description is of the creation of humans for whom all of creation happens and who will represent God to the rest of creation. Though this reflects ANET backgrounds, Genesis presents a very different view of humans. ANE stories present humanity as menial slaves of the gods whose main role is to serve beer and barbecue (sacrifices), and are often pests that the gods need to control. Only kings were thought to be made in God's image. Genesis extends the image of God to all humanity, including females, and God works in creation to provide food and a wonderful environment for people. People, as God's imagers, are to be partners with God in his maintenance of creation.

The choice of the term “lights” need not be polemical; the label is, instead, the clearest functional term. It is possible, however, that the biblical author wanted to be clear that he intended no decreeing of destinies for lesser gods in this context, which was often the case in the Mesopotamian accounts. This is especially important because the function that is attributed to the lights is ruling. 171–172

Genesis elevates the portrayal of people, treating them not as cattle but as rulers. Thus, Genesis merges ideas from different ends of the cognitive environment: all humanity is in the image of God and collectively functions in a ruling capacity. People are central in the account of Genesis 1 (all functions are directed toward them) and central in the cosmos, functioning as rulers in the image of deity. 176–177

By the way in which Genesis 1 uses the shared ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment, it asks the same questions that lie behind all of the other ancient cosmologies and operates from the same metaphysical platform but gives quite different answers that reflect the uniqueness of the Israelite world view and theology. 178

No comments: