Genesis on Man [commentary, draft blog]

The updated version of this essay is available in the menu at the top of the page,under “Revelation.”

   Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is easily among the ten or so greatest books possessed by mankind. As with the book of Revelation, and scripture generally, more so than other books, the reading of the text unfolds anew each time we take up the work, so that comment is inexhaustible, yet always insufficient. Even while we are dependent upon the stewards of the text for access to the original language, Genesis in English may be the most influential of all books, so that some understanding is required for the study of man and history, having now set the principles of Western Civilization. Having then recently attended a course of taped classes, and needing to come up with a term paper, I will write an essay as best able. For, As Steven Rowe professor at Grand Valley, would say, “no impression without expression.” We learn better by trying to write, regardless of deficiency.

   Abraham, with Melchizedek, swears by “God Most High, the maker of heaven and earth (14:19; 22; 12:1).” Genesis is unique, or nearly so, in presenting the transcendent God, above and beyond anything in heaven or on earth. The same is God, directing Christians, Israel and Islam. Genesis tells the history of Israel from the beginning, through Noah, to the distinction from the rest of mankind of Israel as the twelve tribes of the sons of Jacob. It is entirely possible that Moses, writing Genesis, retained an oral teaching of the Creation from Abraham, who may have had this from a source common with the Gilgamesh tradition of Babylon, Ur and Erech, even passed on from those who spoke to Noah, only 292 years prior to the birth of Abraham. Written Hebrew seems to come after the captivity in Egypt, related to Arabic and Egyptian alphabet and script, but the story of the flood does not come from Egypt (Plato, Timeaus 22c). Spoken Hebrew is from Eber, the son of Shem, prior to the division of languages after the flood, and so it may be original language, at least from Noah.

I. Chapter One

  Leo Strauss writes: The first account (of creation) ends with man; the second account begins with man.”[Note 1]. So in considering Genesis on man, we may approach the account of the creation. The second account, in Chapters 2-3, is a drawing out of 1:26: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” That is, the story of Eden is an explanation of what it means that man is made in the image and likeness of God, drawing out the account of the male and female, leading up to the account of how man became “like one of us, knowing good and evil.”

   The first chapter leads up to the distinction of man among the beings. Its summary is the work of reading and commentary. Strauss writes:

“The clue to the first chapter seems to be the fact that the account of the creation consists of two main parts…” “The first part begins with light, the second with the sun,…” “Only on the third and sixth days were there two acts of creation.” (p.11)… The creatures of the fourth to sixth days are “able to separate themselves from their places…” “The principle of the second half, the fourth to sixth day, is local motion. It is for this reason and for this important reason that the vegetative world precedes the sun; the vegetative world lacks local motion.”

                                                           On the Interpretation of Genesis, p. 11

   Except that the green world precedes the sun, the order of the creation is astonishingly like the account we have from modern science. The author knows that the birds and fish are as if creatures of a different day, and the same day as the creeping things, just as we distinguish the age of the dinosaurs from that of the mammals. As has been noted, the first three chapters set something like the places to be inhabited by the beings created on the fourth through sixth days, vegetation too making something like a garden [Note 2]. The Fourth day makes the Sun, moon and stars, which move, and then on the fifth day, it is beings which change their courses. Then on the sixth day, in the second speaking, man. Strauss draws out this teaching:

Local motion is separation of a higher order, …to be set off against a background” of what is not moving…Local motion is followed by life. Life too must be understood as a form of separation…animals can change not only their places, but also their courses. From this it follows that the being created last, namely man, is characterized by the fact that he is a creature which is separated in the highest degree; man is the only being created in the image of God…finally, a being which can separate itself from its way, the right way (p.11-12). Man “can move or change his place to the highest degree. But this privilege, this liberty, freedom, is also a great danger. Man is the most ambiguous creature; hence man is not called good, just as heaven is not called good…(p. 17).

   As Jung too notes, there is a medieval commentary which notices that unlike the other days of creation, on the second day, the text does not say that God “saw that it was good (Maimonides, Guide, II. 50, p. 353″ Similarly, on the sixth day, after the creation of the animals and man, it does not say that God saw that it was good, but says that he saw the whole was “very good.” Heaven, it is said, or “sky,” is incomplete, as is man, the one to be completed by the ascent or redemption of man.

II. The First Sentence

   Maimonides explains that the correct translation of the first sentence is: “In the origin, God created what is high and what is low” (Guide, p. 352). “En Archae” is the Greek written by John for In the beginning when he repeats the opening of the Bible (John 1:1). An archae is a ruling principle or first principle. The word “Baro” is used uniquely of Gods’s creating. Barashis Elohim Baro’…Is the Hebrew, “In  the Beginning, God created…” It is said that heaven is demoted as the focus of interest, but it is quite possible, we think, that the account of heaven is simply set aside, turning to the earth, which was “without form and void.” Augustine, too, notes that the coming into being of the angels, assumed by the text to exist, is not described, unless it is included in the light created on the first day (City of God, XI.9). The first sentence may be a chapter summary rather than an act of creation without a word. It is indicated that this book, like other ancient books, was titled later, not by the author, so that the first sentences functioned as a title. The text does not decide the question later introduced (Sacks, The Lion and the Ass, p. ), of creation “out of nothing.” What exists when God speaks first is the formless earth and the wind of God moving on the face of the deep.” We imagine sea, but what the earth as formless is becomes clear as the waters are separated and the dry land appears. Water is not created, but separated out. There is also motion or “energy,” even before light. “Saw,” or seeing, and “good,” too, are not brought to be with the light, but must be assumed to just ” be.” Sacks note too that evening and morning are not brought to be, but simply result from the creation of “day,” or, what we call “light” and its separation from “darkness” or “night.” The heaven and earth of the first sentence, the earth that is formless, cannot be the same as the  sky and earth of the second day, as dry land has not yet been separated out. Earth in the first sentence might mean the whole visible world that we distinguish from the intelligible, not the planet, which appeared not even as round to the view of the writer, nor even the ground beneath the sky. Is it possible that he did not see that days depend upon sun, or are caused by the sun rising? Did he think there are waters above because rain falls, as when the windows of the deep are opened? Could the author have seen the sun as rather inhabiting than causing the day? But, it seems, there must also be space and time, which may as well be permanent or eternal, as Aristotle teaches, so far as Genesis is concerned. It surely does not say that time itself was created, introducing the contradiction of a time before time. The six days of the creation might from another view be seen as ongoing, as light too is even now still being created, ontological precedence being set in in a temporal articulation. There is also “face” and “the deep.” “Word,” too, is in or before the beginning, and the trinity is hence said to be present in the first three sentences of scripture. It does not say otherwise what the creation is “out of,” but that it is “by his word (Psalm; Note 3]” When Jesus turns water into wine, he need not begin with nothing. When he heals the blind man, he uses clay. From the image of God in man, one suggestion would be “out of himself,” even as Eve springs from the rib of man.

III.

Evening

Note 1 “On the Interpretation of Genesis,” p. 17.

Note 2 The New American Bible, Reading Guide.

Note 3 There is no scriptural teaching of creation “out of nothing.” The closest is Maccabees 7:28 …God did not make them out of things that existed.” Hebrews 11: 1-3 “By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.”

Bibliography

The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Oxford University Press, 1973, 1977.

The New American Bible. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.

Anastaplo, George. Class at the Clearing in Wisconsin, 1990.

Augustine. The City of God.

Maimonides, Moses. Guide of the Perplexed. Translated by Shlomo Pines. Chicago: University of Chicago APress, 1963.

Keller, Werner. The Bible As History. NY: William Morrow and Company, 1956.

Sacks, Robert. The Lion and the Ass. Interpretation.

Strauss, Leo. On the Interpretation of Genesis.

________. Athens and Jerusalem: Some Preliminary Reflections. In Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy. Edited by Thomas Pangle. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

_____________. Progress or return? The Contemporary Crisis.

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