Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rightly Reading Genesis 1 - 3

Alice C. Linsley

Question number six of the Nine Meaty Questions is: "I don't read Genesis 1 and 2 as two separate creation stories, but rather chapter 2 as an expansion on the outline laid out in chapter 1.... what do you think?"

Answer: A right reading of Genesis does not require reading the first two chapters as one continuous narrative. These chapters are not a chronological account of historical events. In fact, the narrative flow of chapters 1-3 requires that Genesis 2 be read with Genesis 3, but not Genesis 1 with Genesis 2.

Further, text criticism and number symbolism suggests that Genesis 2 is older than Genesis 1. Looking at the larger picture, it becomes evident that the Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3 creation and origin accounts represent different traditions among Abraham's Afro-Asiatic people.

One reader of Just Genesis has suggested that "The second description tells it from a different point of view: God's, while the first tells it from man's view." This is certainly the case, but as no humans were present when God created the Heavens and the Earth, Genesis 1 clearly is not to be read as an historical account.

Another reader, Mairnéalach, takes this view: "The two narratives may be reconciled, but any attempt to do so in a consistent manner will also fatally damage the remaining modernistic/journalistic interpretation of Genesis. This is proper and to be desired. If one attempts to maintain the modernistic/journalistic hermeneutic, their rules of interpretation are much like Calvin ball. (This is the game that Calvin and Hobbes played together, where Calvin gets to change the rules on the fly as he wishes, so that he can win the game no matter what happens.)

I appreciate Mairnéalach's criticism of what he calls the "modernistic/journalistic" approach to reading Genesis, something quite foreign to the text itself. Genesis 1 represents an ancient religious worldview that sees the order of creation as having seven parts. Emphasis on the number seven as the achievement of Shalom/Sabbath reflects a well-developed theological understanding of Messiah's inevitable ascent (as we will see later).

The number seven is a reference to union or completion in the first creation story which says that God's creative work lasted six days and God rested on the seventh day. The number seven in association with God at rest (sabbath) portrays the concept of completion or perfection of a relationship between Master and Servant, or between Creator and Creation, or between Husband and Bride.

The seven-part order of Genesis 1 suggests the more recent (eastern Afro-Asiatic) or Babylonian influence, which attaches seven to weddings as attested by Esther 1:5-11: "And when these days were expired, the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king's palace. On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty..."

But the seven-part structure is not characteristic of the older (western Afro-Asiatic) view of the order of creation. The older system, reflected in Genesis 2 and 3, is binary. It upholds the binary distinctions of God-Man, Heaven-Earth, Male-Female, and Life-Death. These distinctions are found in Genesis 1 also, but the structure of Genesis 1 is seven-fold, not binary.

The number symbolism of Abraham's people (which has been re-interpreted in Kabbalah) points to the Triune God (1) whose Son, Jesus Christ, is the Logos (2) who by the Spirit (3) became incarnate of the Virgin Mary (5), lived on earth as a man who died (6) but, as God, rose from the dead, showing great mercy to all the world (4) and ascended as the Royal Son of God (7) who becomes the Royal Bridegroom (8) who enters the bridal chamber to consummate the marriage to his pure and spotless Bride, the Church (9) and from that union will be born a new reality, a new world (10).

Genesis 2-3 addresses the relationship of God (1) and Logos (2), a common theme among the western Afro-Asiatics. The bards of the Bambara of Uganda recite this praise of the generative power of the Logos:

The Word is total:
it cuts, excoriates
forms, modulates
perturbs, maddens
cures or directly kills
amplifies or reduces
According to intention
It excites or calms souls.

The idea of the Logos in Genesis seems strange to many because they don't think of Genesis as being about the Son of God. However, as the kinship pattern of Abraham's people reveals, they were motivated to preserve the bloodline through the mothers by an expectation that a Ruler-Priest-Savior would be born from them whose radiance would be a light to the nations. And they were right!

As linguistics, climatology, anthropology and archaeology collaboratively suggest, this expectation was spread by Afro-Asiatic ruler-priests who controlled the large water systems from west central Africa to the Indus River Valley aound 12,000 years ago. They believed that God, who desires Sabbath communion with us, accomplishes this through the Blood of His Son and eternal Priest. The expectation of this Salvation is first found in Genesis 3:15: Thus the Lord God said to the serpent... 'I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall strike at his heel.'

For Jews the Exodus is the central event of their corporate consciousness whereby God delivered them and established a special relationship with them as His own holy possession. For Christians the central event is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whereby atonement is made through the shedding of His Blood. We might argue that these events are at odds, the first locating atonement through obedience to the Law and the second locating atonement through Jesus' obedience to the Father. But in both events God is working with a specific line of Afro-Asiatic ruler-priests. It is from this line that Jesus enters the world to bring salvation to sinners according to the ancient expectation.


Agnikan said...

I would suggest that the seven-part structure contains the binary structure within itself.

In the Vedic culture, seven represents the seven 'grahas': sun, moon, mars, mercury, jupiter, venus, and saturn. (In Hebrew, the words for 'saturn, the 7th planet' and 'sabbath' are related.)

Yet, there is a binary structure here as well: the sun and the moon, the masculine and the feminine, the light and the dark, awareness and structure. Each graha can be associated with either sun or moon. Fiery mars and priestly jupiter are connected to the sun, and saturn is the son of the sun; whereas mercury is the son of the moon, and venus' watery nature connects it to the lunar sphere as well.

Alice C. Linsley said...

"I would suggest that the seven-part structure contains the binary structure within itself."

An excellent observation and I agree. In the first Gen. 1 narrative there is the distinction between the Creator and the creature, between night and day, between light and dark.

Unknown said...

"We might argue that these events are at odds, the first locating atonement through obedience to the Law and the second locating atonement through Jesus' obedience to the Father."

I think this is a common misreading of Paul. He is quite clear in Galatians 3 that the law and Christ are not opposed since the purpose of the law was to reveal Christ. For Paul works of the law are not evil, they are just the precursor to Christ. Now that Christ has come, there is no reason to return to works of the law. In fact, Paul argues specifically from the grammar of "seed" that the atonement was always located in Christ (even for Abraham).

Though, perhaps this is what you are saying and I'm just dense. :)

Alice C. Linsley said...

I agree that this is a common misreading of St Paul and of all of Scripture. The Law of Moses and the Exodus story are signs pointing to Christ. The lamb's blood on the door posts of Goshen is a sign pointing to the Blood of Jesus on the Cross.

The Bible is woven of one piece, like Jesus' robe for which the soldiers cast losts at Calvary.