Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Lost World of Genesis 1

I remember as a sophomore transferring to Fresno Pacific College, a Christian college in Fresno CA. I went there expecting it to be like summer camp all year long. I remember now my shock when, in my first course on the ancient world, I read the Enuma Elish and discovered that other civilizations had stories of creation that were similar, yet different from the Bible. Before this time I lived in a bubble that the only creation story ever told was the Biblical one.

Through study I've come to realize there are multiple creation stories from the Ancient Near East and, because humans are curious, each culture has sought to explain the world and humanity's place in it.

I recently finished the book, The Lost World of Genesis 1 by John H. Walton. In it, he seeks to unpack the creation story of the Bible while placing it in the context of creation narratives from the nations around the Israelites at that time. Walton argues the original hearers of Genesis 1 would have understood the creation story in a vastly different way than we do today and we would do well to step back and consider this point of view.

Walton presents a case the creation story is one of purpose, rather than material creation. That the questions the Israelites were asking were more about how things work and function rather than how God made something from nothing. The ancient Israelites assumed God created, it's just they were more concerned with function and purpose. He concludes his book with something I had never thought of before, the Day 7 section in Genesis 1 would have sounded similar to other stories' temple passages; which would mean the creation story is about God creating and dwelling in his temple. And that on Day 7, when the text says, "God rested," the image is God sitting in his temple ready to rule.

I've spent a lot of time in the Bible and this was the first time I'd heard Walton's point of view. I found it intriguing and made me want to study more.