When God began to create the heavens and the earth—the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters—God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night.
There was evening and there was morning: the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)
… And so our Story begins.
And with it, the controversy: how long did it take God to form the Earth? How old is our planet? In North America, there are whole museums dedicated to proving that creation closely follows the Genesis account, and that the Earth is significantly younger than most geologists would claim (10,000 years vs roughly 4.5 billion). The debate goes on and on (if you want to read a poignant account of it, check out A.J. Jacobs’ Year of Living Biblically).
But the troubles with Genesis don’t end there.
Over the years, scholars have become aware of other ancient near eastern “creation stories” that bare troubling similarities to Genesis, and these similarities have given rise to troubling questions:
* What do these other stories do to the claim of the Bible’s uniqueness?
* Is Genesis plagiarized?
… And so on.
Without getting into too many details, there are multiple stories that have remarkable similarities to Genesis, including the same sequence of days in creation, the same association and rhythm of light and darkness, etc; there are other stories of floods (not to mention Hammurabi’s Code, which has a lot of similarities to the 10 Commandments).
Broadly speaking there are two extreme responses to these facts: either you throw the Bible (and in particular, Genesis) as myth and irrelevant, or you try to intellectually justify and “conquer” the other myths as somehow inferior or “stolen” from Genesis.
As a person of faith, I can’t do the former; as a thinking human, I can’t do the latter. Bluntly, it’s difficult to be intellectually honest and say that those other stories ripped off Genesis (and not vice-versa).
So where does that leave me?
But what if there was another way to look at Genesis? A way that “liberates” the text from having to be utterly unique?
What if this approach to Genesis is also intrinsically related to what Genesis may actually be trying to tell us?
Hint: It’s all about YHWH.
The best way to understand things at this point is to understand that Genesis isn’t written in a vacuum: it’s written (and still read) in a culture where everyone has an origin story…
Who started this whole thing off? Zeus? Marduk? Geology? It’s almost like a “my dad can beat up your dad situation”, and into the mix comes this people (the Jews) with a story that says, “Well we have a God too—in fact just one—but that’s all we’re going to need.” They seem to look at the cultures around them and say, “We agree with you on the basics of the story: stuff surely got created and put here, but what we are disagreeing with is simply the who behind the what.”
What’s more, the folks who wrote Genesis weren’t newspaper people, historians, or journalists.
They were God-people.
Priests, prophets, spiritual leaders.
They were consumed with this God—this YHWH—they’d encountered, and they wanted to explain the world in terms of who He was/is.
Some people say that in God’s eyes there’s really only ever one sin, and it’s idolatry (we’ll here more about this in Exodus), and Genesis seems to start the story off in a similar way. Genesis is saying, in a sense, you have to get this one thing right: there’s God… Just. One. God. He’s the One who did all this.
Now this is saying plenty.
Genesis may not be so much interested in the details of creation, but it’s highly interested in the author. Indeed, a lot of the details in Genesis can be found in other origin stories of the ancient near east, except for one small detail:
Can we solve the debate of the age of the earth? Did Adam have a belly button? Was there a serpent?
Ultimately, I don’t know, but I know there was a God…
And somehow He is a creator, and He made a planet that was good, and then He made human beings…
And they were VERY good…
Next up: Genesis B (or the Great Challenge of Humanity)