Session 2: Genesis & the Creation Stories
By the end of this session you should be able to:
speak about the Old Testament's varied approaches to creation in the original contexts of the different texts, and in the contemporary world;
understand and outline the similarities and differences between the Creation Stories and other similar ANE legends
reflect upon the implications of the Bible's teaching on Creation for today's Church and society
begin to be able to reflect upon the doctrine of creation and its implications for different spiritualities.
Begin your preparation for this session with a time of prayer, asking God to open the scriptures to you in a new way and to reveal something new from these familiar Creation stories.
In this session we will explore the two creation stories contained in Genesis 1-3. These stories fall into the genre of Foundational Myth/Legend. This does not mean that they are 'fairy stories'. This genre description in the Hebrew Bible/OT is used to describe a type of writing that is more like the parables of Jesus in the New Testament. The stories are not meant to be understood literally but to be explored to find the multiple layers of meaning which convey truth at a deeper level. Attempting to understand them as historical fact is unhelpful. We need to look at how they relate to history but not to read them as such, as John Collins (2004) notes: “In the modern world there is often a tendency to equate truth with historical fact. This tendency may be naïve and unsophisticated but it is widespread and we cannot ignore it. If we are to arrive at a more sophisticated conception of biblical truth we must first clarify the complex ways in which these books relate to history.” (p10).
We will see, as we progress through the material in this session, how the writers of these stories took familiar myths of the day and transformed them into a powerful new understanding of a non-mythological God who cares deeply for all creation.
Genesis and Enuma Elish
Read Genesis Chapters 1-3 and then watch the video in the right hand column.
The ANE myth known as 'Enuma Elish' is certainly evident in the first Genesis creation story. The transformation of what would have been a very familiar story would have had a powerful impact on the people of the time, one which we as 21st Century people, usually miss.
Make a note of the differences between 'Enuma Elish' and the first Creation Story in Genesis based on Hayes' description in the lecture
(NB. you do not need to read the texts themselves).
What might you say to someone who asked whether God actually created the world in 6 days and if Adam and Eve actually existed? What do you think the first Creation Story is trying to tell us about God?
Make a note of your thoughts in your reflective journal.
The Concept of Sin & Satan
Hayes has some interesting things to say about the concept of sin and the figure of Satan in Genesis. She explores this in the next lecture along with another ANE myth, the Epic of Gilgamesh.
The idea that God created the world as good is a familiar one. However, the idea that the story of Adam and Eve is not about sin but rather about mortality and moral freedom is not so familiar. Like many biblical scholars Hayes contends that this story is “etiological rather than prescriptive or normative” (2012, p49) in other words it is a story about the cause of mortality and of how the conditions of human life came to be rather than being about a “state of utter and unredeemed sinfulness”.
Furthermore the idea that Satan (as understood by Christian theology) is not present in the Hebrew Bible can be a startling one. We will explore this further when we look at the Writings and particularly the book of Job. It makes quite a difference to interpretations of this story. The importance for the readers is not the serpent but rather the effect of eating the fruit, which is to say that humans become like divine beings, realising they have choice and that the end of this is mortality.
Take a moment to reflect on these ideas. How do you feel about this and what implications do you think it has for our theology as Christians? Make a note of your thoughts in your reflective learning journal.
The Epic of Gilagamesh
As we come to the end of this session we move onto the Flood Story in Genesis and its similarities and differences not only to the 'Epic of Gilgamesh' but also to another ANE myth the 'Epic of Atrahasis'. Unlike the familiar myths of the ANE, the biblical writers contend that God is not only consistent and faithful (rather than capricious) but also that God cares deeply for all created things and because of this humans too must care for everything, including each other, if they are to offer true worship to God. This was a new concept in its original context. The ideas contained in these early chapters of Genesis will reappear continually throughout the Old Testament.
Download and read the two documents in the Resources section 'Genesis and Gilgamesh' & 'Genesis & Atrahasis'. What are the similarities and differences between the ANE myth 'Epic of Gilgamesh' and the second Creation story of the Hebrew Bible/OT? What do you think the writers of the latter were trying to convey in the differences?
Reflect on what you have learned in this session. What do you think the writers of the two Creation Stories, the story of Cain and Abel and the Flood story wanted to convey to us about the nature of God?
Make a note of your thoughts in your reflective learning journal.
Spotlight on Doctrine
We start our creeds with the words 'I believe in God ..... Creator of heaven and earth'. What does this mean to you? Has its meaning changed in any way as a result of this session? In the section at the bottom of the page you will find some additional resources. Have a look particularly at the Ecochurch website and make notes on what you think about the theology expressed here. When we come to the Psalms later in the module we will pick this doctrinal theme up again.
Spotlight on Spirituality
Franciscan spirituality is partcularly concerned with creation as is much Celtic Spirituality. St Francis believed that all of God's creatures were equal, calling them 'brother and sister' even the sun and the moon. Have a look at his beautiful Canticle of the Sun which you can find here. Perhaps you might like to use it as a prayer to end this session.
Spend some time prayerfully thinking about what you have discovered in this session. Below, in the Resources section, you will find a second timeline which is in narrative format. Download it and keep it handy along with the Simple Timeline as you progress through the module.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, all things come from you:
from you come our life, this world and all that we have and are.
Teach us to love and respect your creation and give glory to you.
Blessed are you, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen
Something Practical To Do
Listen carefully to the words of the service in church this Sunday. Where and how is God the Creator mentioned and described?
If you're in a church building, look around that too - is there any visible evidence of our belief in God as Creator?
Share some of what you have found on the discussion board in the Forum.