Wednesday, September 23, 2009



Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe.

You fashion light and you create darkness,

you make peace and create all things.

You mercifully give light to the earth and to those who dwell on it,

and in your goodness you continually renew the creation day by day.

How manifold are your works, O Lord,

in wisdom you have made them all . . . .

Cause a new light to shine on Sion;

may we all be worthy to behold its radiance soon .

Blessed are you, O Lord, Creator of the heavenly luminaries.

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe.

Your word brings on the evening twilight,

your wisdom opens the gates of heaven; (a new day)

your foresight ordains the passing of time

and the succession of seasons.

You arrange the stars in their courses in the sky according to your will.

You create day and you create night,

rolling the light away before the darkness

and the darkness before the light. . . .

May the ever-living and eternal God reign over us for ever and ever.

With deep love you have loved us, O Lord our God,
with great and overflowing compassion you have taken pity on us.

You taught our forefathers the laws of life,

and they trusted in you, our Father, our King.

For their sake be gracious to us also, and teach us.

Our Father, merciful and compassionate Father, have mercy on us. . . .

Enlighten our eyes in your Torah,

open our hearts to your commandments. . . .

Blessed are you, O Lord, in your love you have chosen your people Israel.

These are selections from Jewish daily prayers, namely the Shema‘ and its Benedictions:

(1) first morning benediction, (2) first evening benediction, (3) second morning benediction.

The third of these shows that Jews (as well as Christians) address God as "Our Father", and rejoice in the love of God. Notice the epithets merciful and compassionate, also applied to Allah in Islam. Here we see two aspects of the Fatherhood of God: Father (progenitor) and Creator (generater of life); this divine role of creation (genesis) is described. in Genesis, which is the first book in the Jewish Bible, where it is entitled Bereshith ("In the beginning").


Genesis 1-3


1:1 In the beginning God created heaven and earth.

1:2 The earth was then barren and bare1, with darkness over the face of the deep, and the spirit of God2 moving over the surface of the waters.

1 tohu wa bohu, in utter chaos 2 or: a mighty wind

1:3 Then God said: Let there be light. And light came into being.

1:4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

1:5 God called the light day, and the darkness he called night. So evening came and morning came, the first day.

1:6 God now said: Let there be a vault in between the waters, and let it separate water from water.

1:7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above the vault. That is what happened.

1:8 God called the vault heaven. So evening came and morning came, a second day.

1:9 God then said: Let the waters under heaven be gathered into one place and let the dry ground appear. And that is what happened.

1:10 God called the dry ground earth, and the gathered waters he called seas. And God saw that it was good.

1:11 God also said: Let the earth produce green growth, with plants bearing seed; and also on the earth, fruit trees bearing fruit with their own kind of seed in it. And that is what happened.

1:12 The earth brought forth green growth, with plants bearing their own kind of seed, and trees bearing fruit with their own kind of seed in it. And God saw that it was good.

1:13 So evening came and morning came, a third day.

1:14 Next God said: Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs for set times and for days and years.

1:15 Let them be luminaries in the vault of heaven to shine upon the earth. And that is what happened.

1:16 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night, and also the stars.

1:17 God put these in the vault of heaven to shine upon the earth.

1:18 They were also to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

1:19 So evening came and morning came, a fourth day.

1:20 Then God said: Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let winged creatures fly above the earth across the vault of heaven.

1:21 So God created great sea monsters and every kind of living creature that moves and swarms in the waters, and every kind of flying creature with wings. And God saw that it was good.

1:22 God blessed them, saying: Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas; and let the winged creatures multiply on the earth.

1:23 So evening came and morning came, a fifth day.

1:24 God now said: Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature, cattle and reptiles and beasts of the earth. And that is what happened.

1:25 God made all the different kinds of beasts of the earth, of cattle, and of reptiles that crawl on the ground. And God saw that it was good.

1:26 God then said: Let us make humankind (adam) in our own image and likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the flying creatures of the sky, and over the cattle and over all (the beasts of) the earth, and over all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.

1:27 So God created humankind in his own image; in the image of God he created humankind; male and female he created them.

1:28 So God blessed them, and said to them: Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea, and over the flying creatures of the sky, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.

1:29 God also said: I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the whole face of the earth, and every tree with seed-bearing fruit; they shall be food for you.

1:30 To all the beasts of the earth, to all the flying creatures of the sky, to all the living things moving upon the earth, I have given all the green plants for food. And that is what happened.

1:31 God then looked at all that he had made and saw that it was very good. Evening came and morning came, a sixth day.

2:1 Thus heaven and earth and their whole host were completed.

2:2 On the sixth day3 God had completed all the work he had been doing, and on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

2:3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on that day God rested from all the work of creation that he had done.

2:4 Such was the genesis of heaven and earth ...


The first chapter of The Bible describes the origins of the world in terms of a divine week of work at the beginning of time. Throughout this account God the Creator is called Elohim, (literally ‘gods’ in Hebrew; this is to be understood as a royal plural, or plural of majesty). Creation is accomplished simply by divine decree: it is the Word of God which creates (God said: Let there be ...).

The account of creation is rounded off in 2:1-4. The origin of the seventh day as a day of rest, the Sabbath, is there traced to God’s cessation of work after his six days of activity (as in ‘the ten commandments’, Exodus 20:11, though not in Deuteronomy 5:15, as a reminder that they had been slaves in Egypt with not many holidays).

When God says ‘Let us make’ (1:26) is he talking to himself, to his heavenly host of angels, or, as some Christians would take it, to the other two members of the Trinity (namely the Word, 1:3, and the Spirit, 1:2)? Incidentally, ‘the spirit of elohim’ (in 1:2) might simply be ‘an almighty wind’ or ‘divine breath’. Another agent of creation was Wisdom (Proverbs 8:22-31). Note that in Hebrew ‘Spirit’ and ‘Wisdom’ are of feminine gender.

It is often claimed that Genesis Chapter 1 is a demythologized version of the Babylonian myth of creation (Enuma elish). Certainly, the Hebrew word for 'the deep' (1.2) is tehom, cognate with the name Ti'amat, applied to the dragon-like goddess of the ocean in the Babylonian story, who is killed by the young god Marduk. The Bible does have allusions to battles between Yahweh and sea-monsters, though these are to be compared with the struggle between Ba‘al and Yam in Canaanite mythology, but Ba'al is not the creator of the world.

Are there any echoes from Egyptian mythology? Where do we see a battle between a god and a sea-monster, together with a characterization of humans as images of God, issuing from his body? (Instruction for Merikare) That humans (adam, humankind) were created in the divine image (1:26-27), male and female, suggests an androgynous image of Deity, like Hapy, the god of the Nile; but in any case it shows that both sexes have equal dignity before God (1:27; 5:1-3). The idea that the dry ground emerged from the universal water has an Egyptian parallel in the primeval hill. Creation by the word of God, divine decree, has a counterpart in the theology of Memphis, where the 'heart' (mind) of Ptah conceives and his 'tongue' (speech, word, command) creates, brings into existence, without the use of hands. In Genesis 2:7, Yahweh fashions a human, like Khnum the potter god.

This ancient picture of creation bears a marked resemblance to the modern scientific view of the genesis of life on planet Earth. But if ‘day’ is taken literally, the two accounts will be completely at variance. (And dinosaurs seem to be missing). Perhaps the writer was simply directing the readers’ gaze to the world around them and inviting them to appreciate that God was the maker of it all, and that when it was first created it was perfect and good (1:4, 12, 18, 21, 31). It was also orderly, with all the species separated (1:21, 24, 25, where ‘every kind of’ is often interpreted as meaning that they will go on to reproduce ‘after their own kind’, as the plants and trees do in 1:12). Humans and animals alike were vegetarian in the beginning (1:29-30; contrast 2:9, 16; 3:18; 4:3; 9:3; Leviticus 11). How sea creatures were nourished is not stated here, but the principle of ‘big fish eat little fish’ was probably meant to be excluded in this paradisical view of the world in its pristine purity.


2:4 On the day that YHWH God made earth and heaven,

2:5 there was then no plant of the field in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up, for YHWH God had sent no rain upon the earth, and there was no human to till the ground.

2:6 A stream (or mist) was coming up out of the earth and watering the entire surface of the ground.

2:7 Then YHWH God formed a human (adam) from the dust of the ground (adamah), and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils. Thus the human became a living being*.. *nephesh, 'soul'

2:8 Next YHWH God planted a garden in ‘Eden, over in the east, and there he placed the human that he had fashioned.

2:9 And out of the ground YHWH God brought forth every tree that is pleasant to look at and good to eat, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and also the tree of knowledge of good and evil . . . .

2:15 YHWH God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to till it and tend it.

2:16 YHWH God directed the human thus: You may eat freely from every tree in the garden.

2:17 But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for on the day that you eat from it you shall certainly die.

2:18 Then YHWH God said: It is not good for the human to be alone; I will provide him with a suitable partner*. *or: a counterpart helper

2:19 So out of the ground YHWH God formed every animal of the field and every flying creature of the sky; he brought them to the human to see what he would call them, and whatever the human called each living creature, that was its name.

2:20 The human gave names to all the cattle, to the flying creatures of the sky and to all the animals of the field; but for the human himself no suitable partner was found.

2:21 And so YHWH God caused a deep sleep to fall over the human, and while he slept God took one of his ribs * and closed the flesh over the place. *or: sides

2:22 And YHWH God turned this rib, taken from the human, into a woman; and he brought her to the human.

2:23 Whereupon the human (ha-adam) declared: This time it is someone of my own bone and flesh; she shall be called a woman (ishshah) because she was taken from a man (ish).

2:24 Hence a man (ish) leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife (ishshah), and they both become one flesh.

2:25 Now, the human and his wife were both naked (‘arom) but not ashamed.

3:1 The serpent was the most cunning (‘arum) of all the wild animals that YHWH God had made. He said to the woman: So God has told you both that you must not eat from any tree in the garden?

3:2 The woman replied to the serpent: No, we may eat from any tree in the garden.

3:3 But God has told us that we must not eat fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden, nor even touch it, or else we will die.

3:4 But the serpent said to the woman: You will not really die.

3:5 God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God*, knowing good and evil. *or: gods

3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and pleasing to the eye and desirable to contemplate*, she took some of the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband3, and he ate it with her.

3.:7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked (‘erom); so they stitched fig leaves together and made loin-coverings for themselves.

3:8 When the man (ha-'adam) and his wife heard the sound of YHWH God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they hid themselves from YHWH God among the trees of the garden.

3:9 But YHWH God called out to the human and said to him: Where are you?

3:10 He answered: I heard you walking in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and so I hid myself.

3:11 He replied: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from he tree I ordered you not to eat from?

3:12 The human said: It was the woman you gave me as my companion; she gave me some of the fruit of the tree and I ate it.

3:13 Then YHWH God asked the woman: What is this that you have done?

The woman replied: The serpent tricked me and I ate.

3:14 So YHWH God said to the serpent: Because you have done this you are accursed above all cattle and above all wild animals.

On your belly you shall crawl, and dust you shall eat, all the days of your life.

3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring*. *seed

They will strike you on the head, and you will strike them on the heel.

3:16 To the woman he said: I will make your labour pains very severe; you shall suffer pain when you bring forth children.

Yet you will have a desire for your husband, and he will rule over you.

3:17 And to the human (or: Adam) he said: Because you have listened to your wife’s voice, and have eaten from the tree that I ordered you not to eat from, the ground shall be cursed on your account.

You shall suffer pain when you eat from it, all the days of your life.

3:18 It will grow thorns and thistles for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field.

3:19 In the sweat of your brow you will eat bread, until you return to the ground from which you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return.

3:20 The human called his wife by the name Hawwah (Life), because she was the mother of all who live.

3:21 And YHWH God made garments of skin for the human (or Adam) and his wife, and he clothed them.

3:22 Then YHWH God said: The human has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. If he also reaches out his hand and takes fruit from the tree of life and eats it, he will live for ever.

3:23 So YHWH God drove him out of the garden of ‘Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken.

3:24 He cast the human out, and to the east of the garden of ‘Eden he stationed kerubim3 and a blazing sword whirling around, to guard the way to the tree of life.


In Genesis 2 we find a reiteration of God’s creation of the world. The focus here is on individuals rather than on species. And God’s personal name ‘Yahweh’ is used. The narrator calls God ‘YHWH Elohim’ (which English versions usually render as ‘the LORD God’, following the Jewish practice of refraining from pronouncing the sacred name ‘YHWH’). This personalising procedure continues in Genesis 3, though earthly creatures there refer to God simply as ‘God’ (Elohim) rather than ‘YHWH God’. And the human characters, namely the man and the woman do not receive personal names till late in the piece.

‘The woman’ is eventually given the name Hawwah by ‘the human’ (3.20), because she is ‘the mother of all living’. The name Hawwah is difficult to explain: commentators ancient and modern have noticed its similarity to the Aramaic word for ‘serpent’ (she too acted as a temptress); but the best view is probably that it means what the added explanation says in (3:20, perhaps ‘female giving birth and bringing to life’, or something like that, as also implied in the curse, 3:16). The English form ‘Eve’ comes through Latin ‘Eva’ as a transcription of Hawwah. The ancient Greek version has ‘Eua’ in 4:1, but chooses to translate the name here (3:20) as ‘Zoe’, (‘Life’), a name also found in English usage. ‘The man’, ha-’adam, is properly ‘the human’, a creature assembled from components taken out of the ground (Hebrew ’adamah; the root ’dm means ‘be red’). The picture here is of a potter-sculptor moulding brownish-red terracotta clay (‘dust’) and imparting the breath of life to his creation (2:7). But ‘the human’ is not named Adam (‘Human’ or ‘Man’) until 4:1 and 5:1-3. Even in the latter case there is an ambivalence: ‘God created them male and female ... and called their name Adam ... When Adam had lived 130 years he procreated a son in his own image and likeness and called his name Seth’. Such apparent confusion leads modern scholars to assume that two or three different documents have been combined in Genesis by a final editor.

It is thus assumed that the two accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 are from different sources. For one thing they seem to have creation in opposite chronological order: in the first, ‘humankind’ is the last creation of the word of ‘Elohim’; in the second, ‘the human’ is the first living creature put on the earth by the hand of ‘YHWH Elohim’ (2:7-8). The two accounts could be harmonized by accepting the order of the first, and interpreting the second in accord with it. Generally speaking, this would mean using pluperfect tenses at the critical points (2:19, for example, ‘YHWH God had formed every animal of the field ... and now he brought them to the man’). It has to be admitted however, that this procedure is very forced, since the Hebrew verbs are really describing consecutive actions, just as they do throughout the first chapter. The first account describes creation in six days; the second has everything created in one day (the evening of that day comes in 3:8). It might be better to ignore chronology in both accounts and see them as set in mythical time beyond history, or in divine eternity. They would thus be parables to illustrate the place of humankind in God’s world. In both cases humans are at the apex of creation, and they have the God-given task of tending the earth. The second account is more anthropomorphic than the first, in that God appears to possess hands with which to create, (2:7) and feet on which to walk (3:8). Nevertheless, if the idea of ‘image and likeness’ (Adam as the image of God in 1:27, ‘Seth’ as the image of Adam in 5:3) were taken literally and logically (as by Mormon theologians) then God would be the possessor of a body. (In this connection note that there is no Hebrew term for ‘body’ in the Bible; the word ‘flesh’ is used where necessary, but not with reference to God.)

The origins of various aspects of the human condition are presented in Genesis 3: toil and travail in work, labour in childbirth, sexual attraction, sense of shame over nakedness and need to wear clothing, antipathy between humans and snakes (and a reason for snakes not having legs whereas other animals do). The concept of sin (which means breaking one’s covenant with God through disobedience to God’s commands) is introduced in a story which is mythical or allegorical rather than historical. A doctrine of ‘original sin’ (inborn depravity, innate propensity towards sinning) does not have to be extracted from this, though many Christian theologians have done so. It is also inappropriate to characterise ‘womankind’ as the cause of all human troubles on the basis of this story. Furthermore, the snake is not identified as Satan, the adversary of humans (Job 1-2; 1 Chronicles 21:1; Zechariah 3:1), until Revelation 12:9 in the New Testament.

However, fundamentalist Jewish and Christian exegesis (scriptural exposition) will take most details of these chapters literally (including six days for creation, the first woman created from one of the man’s ribs [or: sides], a talking serpent, and a paradise garden somewhere on the earth guarded by angelic creatures with a fiery sword). But a new sophisticated interpretation of the story has it describing the socio-political situation in the kingdom of David (10th century BCE): the peasants were rebelling against the nobility.

Incidentally, a kerub (plural: kerubim) is not a winged infant angel (the cherubs or cherubim of European art) but a winged sphinx (an animal, usually a lion, with a human head).

Translations from Hebrew are my own.

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