Finding God in Genesis 1

Chris Brady asks the question, “What can we determine about God from the fingerprints left behind in creation?” I think this is an interesting question and would like to respond here just for the sake of room.

In my mind, contextualization is one of the best interpretive keys in questions like this. The more we know about the context into which the author presents this text the better we should be able to evaluate their intentions, assumptions, and dogmas. I see Gen 1:1–2:3 as a later recasting of Gen 2:4–25. Gen 2 is also included in the final redaction so as not to entirely supplant what was most likely an established and canonical (so to speak) version of creation. Gen 2 is more compact and makes no mention of the creation of the earth, just the development of life from the dust of the earth. The prioritization of water alludes to storm god imagery, which probably ties it firmly to a Syro-Palestinian provenance, where an explicit cosmogony is also lacking. Gen 1 includes a cosmogony based on separation that plays off of Assyro-Babylonian literary devices.

Gen 2 contains no deliberation concerning the creation of humanity, as well.  This may be interpreted as another sign of chronological priority, as the Assyro-Babylonian version of the heavenly council is more expansive regarding deliberation (as found in Gen 1) and prophetic participation (“overhearing” first, and then actual participation). I view the Israelite appropriation of that ideology as taking place around the ninth or eighth centuries when Mesopotamia and her literature began to more heavily influence Israel. That would put the composition of Gen 1 sometime after that. The traditional date puts it around the Exile, via the priestly source. While I’m not sold on the priestly source, I think the dating is probably pretty close.

Given the distinct cultural milieus from which these two text spring, they must obviously present rather divergent views on the nature of the God involved. While Gen 2 has a deity more physically involved in the creation and maintenance of humanity and the earth, Gen 1 treats creation as a product of divine fiat, for the most part. The verbs are “said,” “created,” “blessed,” and “saw,” while in Gen 2 they are “formed,” “made,” “breathed,” “planted,” “took,” and “brought.” Gen 1’s deity is a transcendent being far removed from the frailties of humanity. This squares with the universalization of God following the collapse of Jerusalem and foreign rule. I think this was not necessarily meant to be explicit in the text, but rather a subtle allusion to an updated perspective on deity, which probably followed a slow theological de-anthropomorphization.

In this capacity I believe Chris is accurate in stating, “God is simply there, his existence is assumed and essential.” I think the text was written in a time when Israel was well beyond needing or wanting a theogony or introduction to deity. The primary purpose of the text vis-à-vis the nature of deity is the presentation of a transcendent God of order whose productions are essentially good. This may or may not have served to ameliorate the despair of Israelites wondering where their God had gone, but it was most likely designed to fortify related perspectives being actively promoted by the priests and prophets. If we interpret Gen 1 as also promoting humanity’s stewardship over the earth and responsibilities toward maintaining order, it may be linked to Deuteronomistic reforms aimed at criticism of those nations which ruled in conflict with what Israel interpreted as righteous dominion. God is good and his creations are good, and so those whom he has entrusted with stewardship over the earth must be good.

That’s my view, Chris. It may or may not contribute to the discussion as you perceive it, but I appreciate the opportunity the organize some of these thoughts. Any thoughts?

3 responses to “Finding God in Genesis 1

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