Can I construct an alternate story of the creation from the events that do not appear in the Genesis creation stories?

The creation story of the Bible in Genesis 1 begins with the verse “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”(Gen1:1-2) As for this creation story and other primeval story in Genesis 1-11, Bandstra affirms that the book of Genesis reveals the basic features of Israel’s worldview with its concepts of deity and the nature of humanity (p35). Stanley also asserts that the biblical stories of origins present concerning the nature of God, humanity, and the physical world and provide profound religious insights regardless of whether they have historical or scientific values or not (p203).

However, as Stanley suggests, most of the stories in Genesis 1-11 are mentioned only in the Hebrew Bible and some references to the origins of the universe in the Hebrew Bible have substantial differences from the Genesis stories, which implies the possibility of different sources of the creation stories of Genesis and those narrated in different places of the Hebrew Bible.

Bandstra also suggests that there are many places in the Hebrew Bible other than at the beginning of Genesis that we can find reference to divine creation, such as Psalms 33, Proverbs 8:22-31, Second Isaiah 40:12-31, in which Bandstra claims the writer uses creation for a larger points he needed to make (p36). As the most well-known example, Bandstra presents two accounts of creation in Genesis, Gen 1:1-2:4 and Gen 2:5-25, in which we can find different reference of the deity, Elohim in the former, and Yhwh Elohim in the latter, and also different order and focus of events (p37).

These differences of the creation stories in the Hebrew Bible has been explained by Documentary Hypothesis which Dr. Lester explains in his lecture of “Documentary Hypothesis A” with Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis that asserts that Torah or Pentateuch[1] is a composition of more than one literary or documentary sources: four sources of Yahwist (J), Eloist (E), Deuteronomy(D), and Priestly Writer(P).

Bandstra also presents Documentary Hypothesis as a theory that the Pentateuch was complied from four primary underlying documentary sources for the dominant explanation of the authorship and composition of the Pentateuch, that is, the acronym JEDP in their presumed chronological order (p21).

With this documentary hypothesis, Bandstra suggests that two accounts of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4 and Genesis 2:5-25 could be understood as two creation stories from two different sources; the former is from P-source (Priestly writer), and the latter from J- source (Yahwist).

Then, another question comes out,  “Does this documentary hypothesis explain other creation stories in the Hebrew Bible, such as the references of the creation in Isaiah 51:9; Job 9:4-14; Job 26:7-14; Job 38:1-11; Psalms 74:12-17; Psalms 89:8-10; Psalms 104:1-9 ?

For the first account of creation from P-source, Bandstra suggests that it is Priestly “Elohim” creation story and the first two verses describing the earth, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep,” describes the condition of precreation as “waters of chaos,”[2] which can be translated in three different ways. First, it implies an absolute beginning of the world with the verse1 as an independent statement. Second, with the two verses in a clausal relation of temporal statement followed by the main assertion, the writer focused on the condition of precreation rather than an absolute beginning. Third, like second one, the verse 1 as temporal setting, but verse 2 as background information, the main assertion comes in verse 3, “Then, God said, “Let there be light!” (p38)

Bandstra claims that the question of “which is an appropriate translation among these three?” is closely related to the question of “whether God created the world out of nothing (creation ex nihilo) or whether there was preexistent substance that God tamed and shaped into an ordered world.” (p38) Thus, Bandstra argues that on the basis of ancient literary parallels, the verse 2 can be understood to describe the universe of precreation as the “waters of chaos” with the phrase “the deep” in 1:2, which connects this story to other Middle Eastern creation stories of the Enuma Elish featuring Tiamat, Apsu, and Marduk.

Bandstra’s claim about the condition of precreation implied in the first two verses of Genesis 1 appears to be supported by the references of the creation noticed in Isaiah 51:9; Job 9:4-14; Job 26:7-14; Job 38:1-11; Psalms 74:12-17; Psalms 89:8-10; Psalms 104:1-9, which describe what happened at the time of creation as God’s ruling down the sea monsters, such as Rahab and Leviathan, ancient mythological monsters, stilling the water, and giving stability to the earth by ordering the unruly chaotic waters.

For example, in Isaiah 51:9, God is described to cut Rahab in piece and pierced the dragon, which implies God’s cosmogonic victory over the primeval chaos-dragon, Rahab (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p 979).

In Job 9:8, we can read an allusion to a combat myth of creation similar to that of Mesopotamian Tiamat and the same imagery also occurs in 9:13 with reference to Rahab (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p 701).

In Job 26:7, God stretches out Zaphon[3] over the void and hangs the earth upon nothing and 26:13, God’s hand pierced the fleeing serpent, which refers to Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1 (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p 716).

Job 38:8-11 reminds the reader of the battle of Tiamat and Marduk of Mesopotamian legend as if it was God’s victory over the sea at the time of creation (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p 727).

Psalm 74:13-15 describes the picture of the mythological creation battle where God defeated the monsters of the waters, like Leviathan, at the beginning of creation (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p 792).

Psalm 89:9-10 also describes the creative work of God in terms of a defeat of the power of chaos, such as Rahab (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p 804).

Psalm 104:7 echoes God’s victory over the watery chaos described in Psalm 74:13-15(The Harper Collins Study Bible, p 815).

Stanley also suggests that many of the creation stories in the Hebrew Bible have parallels in Mesopotamian legends, the Enuma Elish, which presents a creation story as a colossal battle among the gods against Tiamat, the goddess of the waters, who was defeated by Marduk, the chief deity of Babylon, in which Marduk created the physical world out of the body of Tiamat following the same basic order of creation as described in Genesis 1 (p 213).

In short, the source of the creation stories in the Hebrew Bible other than in the book of Genesis, which differ from those in Genesis, appears to be the Mesopotamian legend which Stanley suggest was popular in Babylon during the Exile.

Final question is “Can I construct an alternate creation story based on the events that do not appear in the Genesis creation stories?”

Stanley asserts that even with its different characters and story line of Mesopotamian legend, the similar order of creation in the two stories suggests a possibility that the writer of Genesis 1 may have known the Mesopotamian legend and got a clue to narrate a Yahwistic alternative story to give the exiled community. According to Stanley, however, by contrast to the chaotic struggles of the Mesopotamian creation story, “Genesis 1 depicts a deity who is so powerful that he can simply speak and the physical world comes to existence without any conflict; everything unfolds in a serene and orderly manner,” and “the Genesis picture of a single deity ruling unchallenged over an orderly universe and having a special concern of his creatures would have brought comfort to a group of exiles from Judah surrounded by a Babylonian culture that viewed the universe as a more chaotic and less friendly place.” (p 213-214)

Therefore, considering Stanley’s plausible comment on the specialty of the Genesis creation story compared to the Mesopotamian one, I think I cannot construct an alternate story of the creation from the events that do not appear in the Genesis creation stories, which will be filled with mythological battles of God with the watery force of chaos and thereby which would not deliver the intention of the narrator of Genesis properly.

[1] “Torah” or “Pentateuch” refers to the five books of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

[2] In the glossary, “waters of chaos” refers to “The seas conceived as monsters who challenged Yhwh’s power and authority.”

[3] In Canaanite mythology, Zaphon was a mountain in the north where gods (especially Baal) lived, like Mount Olympus in Greek literature. (The Harper Collins Study Bible, p 716).

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2 thoughts on “Can I construct an alternate story of the creation from the events that do not appear in the Genesis creation stories?”

  1. I find it helpful how you compare the stories to those in the Mesopotamian writings. You also assist readers in discovering places where the different sources in the Documentary Hypothesis are used. Thank you for your definitions at the end of the post used to explain terms the reader may be unfamiliar it demonstrates another good use of online teaching methods.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always appreciate your detailed analysis on the topics almost every week! For me the topics of the week 11 was really touch and challenging. However, you really made it!
    In addition, I love your powerful conclusion or perspective on alternative creation based on your research!
    Great job!

    Like

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