Sunday, September 14, 2014

The E creation story (cont.)

In this post I will continue the discussion of the first creation account or the E creation story.

Six Days of Creation and Shabbat by Bracha Lavee

As I mentioned last time the E story is very concerned with the measurement of time. All creative acts are divided into six days of evening and morning as follows:

  1. Light, division of light and darkness
  2. The firmament/heaven, division of waters
  3. Gathering of waters/dry land, plant life
  4. Sun, moon and stars
  5. Sea life and fowls
  6. Animals, man
There are interesting, non-linear concepts in some of these actions. For example on the first day Elohim divides the light from the darkness and names them night and day. Then on the forth day he creates the two great lights and states one of their purposes is to divide light from darkness. Similarly he creates plants before these great lights that plants depend so much on.

In the E story, creation is accomplished by divine speech. While a few other verbs are also employed such as dividing, and setting and making, it is clear the main acts are simply statements. Elohim declares and then it is so. There is no sense of God getting his hands dirty in the process.

Throughout the account Elohim names things immediately after creation. This is paired with his dividing of things. Throughout the Torah (Five books of Moses) this idea of separating things and properly naming them is a recurring theme. Particularly it is a holy practice to separate the sacred from the profane. In the E story Elohim separates the light from the darkness then the waters below the firmament from the waters above. He also later appoints the sun and moon to divide light and darkness. He names day, night, heaven, earth, and the sea. The E story does not have him naming any plants, animals, or even humans. There is also no creation of the dry land. It is merely uncovered and made to appear.

One of the unique features of the E story is the dividing of the waters. The waters are placed below and above the firmament/heaven. This clearly relates an ancient view of the blue vault of Heaven being water. This massive force of chaos held at bay by Elohim's dividing power was an awesome reminder of the constant need for God. The general theme of God holding back the chaotic waters is a recurring theme in scripture.

Into this firmament between the waters is placed the sun and moon and stars. It is clear this was a small cosmos that is described as these objects are below the chaotic waters above. They are given their particular functions of defining calendar times which was essential for an agrarian society as well as liturgical needs.

Life is created in stages with higher orders coming later. Plant life begins the process, then after a break to make the cosmos, Elohim returns to make the sea creatures and birds, followed the next day by land animals and finally man. This makes five distinct classes of living things.


Plant life is referred to as having seed in itself. This probably reflects the non sexual nature of plant reproduction. Even though some of the complex needs for cross pollination were probably known at the time of composition of this story, there is emphasis here on the self contained nature of plants.


Special blessings are pronounced after the creation of fish and birds to have them be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters. This blessing would be restated for man but oddly there is no similar blessing for land animals.

In this creation account man is clearly the crowning achievement and is formed last of all. Famously, Elohim refers to himself in the plural "Let Us make adam in Our own image." It is unclear who else is included in "us". Some fighting for a strict monotheism argue this is a plural of majesty. The name Elohim itself is plural and does not clearly appear in a singular form, however it is generally used with singular verb conjugations and singular pronouns, so this remains unique. Another idea is that this is a reference to an early belief in a divine council of Gods. Of course some Christians are happy to see this as a statement including Christ or the Trinity. Yet another possibility is that this refers to a female counterpart. This is strengthened by the creation in the likeness and image of Elohim implying this is a begetting process.

The word translated as image is also of note. It is the same word later employed for idols. The implication here is clear that man is the true form of the idol representing Elohim. Not an idol of stone or clay or wood, but living flesh. In the E story the word used here is "adam", translated as "man" in the KJV. The word is one of two words commonly used for man and often has the larger sweeping sense of "mankind" rather than an individual. This creation does not seem like a creation of a single individual but of a race. Particularly interesting is that in emphasizing that man is in the image of Elohim, he includes both male and female.

Elohim then pronounces a blessing on man giving him his charge to be fruitful and multiply and fill (there is no sense of replenish) the earth. He also assigns him a vegetarian diet. Then he declairs a vegetarian diet for all other animals as well (except fish which seem to be left out).

Throughout the process so far there is a repetitive refrain that Elohim sees his work was good. Now at the close of the sixth day he uses an intensifier for the first time and allows that the work taken as a whole is very good. It seems that the inspiring work of nature is enough to impress even God.

The account concludes with Elohim resting on the seventh day as well as blessing it and sanctifying it. This very human attribute of resting assigned here to deity allows for this account to be used as a reflection of earthly practice into heavenly spheres. Just as man toils through the week and takes one day in seven to rest, so does God. In committing to this pattern man is following the example of God and himself becoming an organizer and creator. Each week man experiances the creation of the world freshly.

There is a strong sense of poetry throughout the E story with its repetitive refrains and use of parallelism In it's sentences. While there are some subtle translation issues in the KJV, it manages to capture the striking beauty of the original quite well. It is easy to see this text providing a liturgy for sabbath worship and other sacred settings.

And so here I will leave this post. In my next post I will have a look at the J story and we will see how very different it is.

 

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