Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bible Study #3

A Continuation of our Look at the Creation Story in Genesis 1

Genesis 1:11-13

11. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. 12. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 13. And the evening and the morning were the third day.

Having made a congenial place for further creation, God now plants a garden; this garden will provide food for the creatures he will bring into being. But there’s a catch: he brings them into being because he needs someone to tend his new garden! This is mentioned early in the next chapter of Genesis where it says:
“and there was not a man to till the ground.” (Genesis 2:5)

So, too, did the Sumerian gods have a lovely garden spot.... It was called Dilmun and was the place where Enki (called Ea in Babylonian myth) and Ninhursag created humans. It was referred to as “the place where the sun rises” (which usually indicates the direction of east) and “the Land of the Living.”

Genesis 1:14-18
14. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: 15. and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. 16. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. 17. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18. and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

God realizes that the light of consciousness is not going to be quite enough; his creation now has physicality—substance—and to go along with that God fashions light of a physical kind. He makes a light to rule the day—the sun—and a lesser one—the moon—to rule the night. In addition, he makes the stars. Then he sets sun, moon, and stars in that dome of a firmament to give their light and mark the division between day and night.

Genesis 1:19
19. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

The fact that the time periods referred to in Genesis do not refer to 24 hour periods should be evident by the fact that the earth itself is not created till the third day, and the time-marking, day-creating solar body does not come into being until the fourth day. So when God said, “Let their be light” on the first day, it was not the light of sun or moon he was referring to. It was the light of consciousness.

Genesis 1:20-25
20. And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. 21. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 22. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. 23. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. 24. And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. 25. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

In this newly created planet earth, there is now air, water, and land, so God seeks to fill each of these with appropriate forms of animal life, all of which can reproduce themselves so that life may continue. They live in his lovely garden, but he requires someone to tend his garden....

Genesis 1:26
26. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

The creation of humankind has been dealt with in a previous posting, Bible Study #1, so I refer you to that:

In verse 26 God gives humans “dominion” over the rest of earth’s animals. The Hebrew word translated as dominion is
rdh or râdâh It means to govern, to hold sway over. It implies a position of responsibility for what is governed, which, in turn, implies a duty to care for it properly. The word does not mean “dominate” with that word’s usual implications of conquering and subjugating.

In these verses God says—or the gods say to each other—“We’ve made this beautiful place, this garden, and many wondrous creatures to inhabit it. Let’s make beings who can caretake it for us.”

Genesis 1:27
27. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

This, also, has been dealt with in a previous posting but I’d like to add a few more thoughts.

What is the “image of God?” This has been argued over the years, some holding that it refers to man’s immortal soul, and some thinking that it refers to mankind’s special mental abilities, the ones that separate us from the animal kingdom. Some believe that this verse means that God has a physical body, complete with all the parts possessed by humans. This last belief seems to echo the stories of the ancient gods and goddesses of mythology, who were quite often portrayed as having human type bodies and being subject to human type injuries and emotions.

I think the intention in this passage is the second option—to indicate that humans, although animal in physical form,
do possess mental and spiritual abilities beyond those of the rest of the animal kingdom.

Genesis 1:28
28. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

There’s that word “dominion” again. To me it seems that in this passage God is saying, “Here’s the lovely garden I’ve made you. It’s now your home and contains all you need to live. But you must take care of it so that it will continue to be healthy. In fact, I’m appointing you my deputy, my proxy here, to make sure all goes well and the garden—and all its plants and animals—stay in good shape.”

The implication being that if they fail to do their caretaker duties,
they themselves will not thrive.

It should be noted that in the Babylonian version of the story, humans were created as workers to serve the gods, who were tired of all the grunt work and warfare they’d been doing. After the battle with Tiamat, Marduk announces:

My blood will I take and bone will I fashion
I will make man....I will create man who shall inhabit the earth,
That the service of the gods may be established, and that their shrines may be built.

Genesis 1:29-30
29. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree-yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

God now has his gardeners. Previously he has encouraged them to reproduce. Now he shows them all the lovely things that are there to eat so that they and their progeny may continue in life, and continue to care-take his beautiful garden. He even tells them about seeds, so they can plant new herbs and trees.

Genesis 1:31
31. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

This is an interesting and unique feature of the Hebrew version of the story. At the end of every day of creation, God looks upon it and is pleased with his handiwork.

Genesis 2:1-3
1. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

The “host of them,” when referring to the earth means all the creatures of the earth; when referring to the heavens the term means the stars and planets. In Sumerian & Babylonian mythology these were the gods and goddesses.

2. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

And of course we all know that on the final, the seventh day—the day after creating humanity to tend his garden—God rested, just as the Babylonian gods rested after humans had been created to be their servants.

It should be noted that biblical scholarship tells us that these first chapters of Genesis were most likely written in the late 7th century BCE. The parallel Sumerian and Babylonian stories date back to perhaps 2000 years before that time.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bible Study #2

Creation 101

Since humans have enquiring minds, almost all cultures have creations stories. Why are we here? How did we get here? How did things begin? What does it all mean?

Genesis 1:1-2
1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

New religions, at their start, always use cosmologies that are current and familiar to their followers, though they may expand on them later. And so it was with early Hebrew religion. The writers of the sacred texts used the basics of Middle Eastern, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Persian cosmology—in short, every religious concept to which they’d been exposed over centuries had helped form their world view and thus figured into their writings.

In the Hebrew scriptures, the word used for “the deep” was the Akkadian/Semitic word
tehom, meaning abyss or deep. It refers to the great deep of the primordial waters, referred to in Babylonian mythology as the goddess Tiamat and in the Sumerian stories as the goddess Nammu (also called Nanna), and Egyptian mythology as Nun/Nunet. We can gain a better understanding of the Tehom, the Deep, by looking at its mythological roots: both Tiamat and Nammu were looked upon as the Primeval Sea that gave birth to the first gods, including the sky god and the earth goddess. Nun and Nunet were part of the original Ogdoad—the eight deities who symbolize outer space, the primordial darkness, air/invisibility, and the primordial waters—which represent the “beginning state” from which the rest of the world was later formed.

The first verse of Genesis is merely a statement of what is to come; the rest of the story follows in the subsequent verses. The second verse begins this process by telling us how things were before this creation started: It was dark and nothing was formed; all that existed was the Deep, the Tehom, Tiamat, Nammu, Nun. The Tehom was the primal state—the great, undifferentiated Sea of Being, the Void that is not empty, but full of potentialities.

Genesis 1:2
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Within that primal Void, that sea of being, a movement occurs, and that movement is the awakening of that Sea of Being into Consciousness, a Consciousness that will soon, and intentionally, call other beings into existence.

The Original Oneness has become Two–the first separation—and the Two will eventually become the Many.

As with the Egyptian Nun and Naunet, the Babylonian Tiamat had a partner: she was the salty waters; her partner, Absu, (means abyss) was the sweet waters. They mingled their waters and thus engendered the first gods.

Genesis 1:3.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

With Consciousness comes Awareness....

In many old mystical traditions, the Cosmos is breathed into being on the Divine Exhalation, and out of being on the Divine Inhalation, of the great divine creative power we call God. This Great Power breathes in and out, expands and contracts, creates and destroys. As the Great Breath spirals outward, its movement creates vibration, and thus sound. The Sound is Tone; the Tone becomes the Word. The Word is uttered—“Let their be light,” and the Word, creating light, creates the world. (1)

Genesis 1: 4.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

This is the second separation of the Primal Oneness. When consciousness gives rise to awareness, things can be perceived, differentiated, evaluated—and thus Cosmos created from Chaos, because creation is, essentially, creating order, or cosmos (which means patterned or ordered world) out of chaos.

Genesis 1:5
5. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

With this verse the writer informs us that the cycle of time has been launched, and the very first vibrations/emanations/variations of the Word have been given names.

Genesis 1:6-7
6. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

This is the third separation. What was previously one big chaotic watery “abyss” is now separated into the above and below. In ancient Babylonian myth it was believed that the earth floated on a vast sea of water; this sea was the “waters below” and the source of springs and rivers. The heavens were the “waters above.”

In the Babylonian stories Tiamat and Absu had an “intermediary” called Mummu (or Mommu), the god of mist. He was said to be the son of Tiamat and Anu, god of the heavens. As intermediary Mummu was the “mist” (moist air) which separated the sea of the sky—the waters above—from Tiamat and Absu—the waters below.

Mummu was also said to be a craftsman god, a god of technical skills; in other words, a “maker” type of god. Some scholars see him, along with Tiamat and Absu, as part of the original Babylonian Trinity.

So with Mummu, mist and craftsman god, we now have both the space made for further creation to take place— just as God’s separation of the waters and establishment of an Above and a Below formed a space for his work of creation to continue—and the emergence of one with skills to do the further creating, a role performed by God himself in the Hebrew story.

Genesis 1:8
8. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

The word “firmament” has been taken to mean sky, and one can see why this word was used, as the sky does indeed seem to divide the above and below. Our English word firmament is a translation of the Hebrew, raqiya, meaning wide expanse, or raqa, which means to pound or stretch something into a wide expanse. In Mesopotamian cosmology, the sky was thought of as a dome or high vault that covered the flat earth as it floated on the sea of the “waters below.” On the other side of the sky/firmament were the “waters above.”

Picture, if you will, floating in the depths of a great sea, a flat-bottomed half-sphere covered with a dome.

Genesis 1:9-10
9. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. 10. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

The major preliminary essential elements of consciousness, awareness, time, and the directions of up and down being taken care of, attention is now turned to how to turn the watery space into a habitable place. This is, once again, a separation—the fourth one. The waters under the heavens—the ancient primal sea—are separated from part of the planet’s surface so that the land beneath that water can emerge, dry out, and become fit for habitation.

In the Babylonian stories, the primeval mother Tiamat, after giving birth to the first gods, was disturbed by all the noise they made—all those further “movements and separations.” This ultimately led to Tiamat being slain by her grandson Marduk, who makes order from the chaos that was Tiamat by creating the world—earth and sky—from the various parts of her body.

“He sliced her in half like a fish for drying: Half of her he put up to roof the sky, drew a bolt across and made a guard to hold it. Her waters he arranged so they could not escape.” (2)

Here we see Marduk, in the Babylonian myth, creating a firmament from half of Tiamat’s body, to hold back the “waters above.”

1. McArthur, Margie, Wisdom of the Elements. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1994.
2. Dalley, Stephanie, ed. and trans. Myths from Mesopotamia. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.