Genesis 1 The Theological Polemic
The fundamental or summarized goal of exegesis and study scripture is to find the authors intent. To apply authorial (cultural, linguistics, etc) irrelevance to Scripture, due to its divine inspiration, would result in an endless number of possible meanings. To find God's meaning, we must uncover what the biblical author intended. Genesis was not written to you, but it does have a purpose for every believer who is in Christ. Like other parts of Scripture, Genesis 1 must be interpreted in terms of its historical and literary context. This creation account was given to the Israelite’s in the wilderness, after the exodus from Egypt but before the conquest of Canaan. What the message meant then to the original hearers must govern the application of what it means now to us today. The historic-artistic interpretation of Genesis 1 does justice to its literary structure and the general biblical perspective on natural events.
The concept behind the paper is to show that Genesis is primary in theological purpose, contextually ANE and meant for showcasing God as the true God. Our understanding of God’s revelation must be understood through the original written and historical context. It cannot mean something different from what it meant to the original audience.
Historical and cultural backgrounds are crucial to the correct interpretation of this narrative. What do we need to understand about the text’s background to help us interpret it accurately? What questions help us understand what Moses (and God) intended to say? How can we hear what Israel would have heard?
• What went through the Israelites’ minds as they listened to Genesis 1? What images did it raise from their background? How did the Israelites relate this narrative to what they already knew as a result of growing up in Egypt?
• How did the narrative impact their expectation for following God throughout the Sinai peninsula and into Canaan?
• How did Genesis 1 prepare the Israelites for the theology and religious activities they would encounter in Canaan, including those that came from Mesopotamia? How did Genesis 1 prepare them to represent Yahweh? How did it introduce them to their covenant responsibilities as seen in the rest of the five books of Moses?
• How did the creation account impact the general religious understanding and worldview in which the Israelites were immersed and by which they were certainly influenced as citizens of the ancient Near East? • What historical and cultural background informs our understanding? Have we assumed a modern (scientific?) context with our own experience and presuppositions as the standard? Is our understanding intended by God or assumed because of our assumptions, worldview, or prejudices?
If the original edition of Genesis was presented to Israel after their exodus from Egypt, and if it was written in an early form of the Hebrew language to people who had lived hundreds of years in Egyptian culture, then we should expect it to reflect a concept of the universe and a world-view different from ours.
We know that humans can be fallible when they interpret God’s book of nature, which is why science does not have authority over Scripture. If scientific theories genuinely disagree with the correct view of scripture, we would propose that it because the theory is incorrect. Humans are also fallible when they interpret God’s written revelation. As we see in the article on Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church, when science seems to disagree with what is set in the church, it may be because the church is wrong. There is an article that we dive into on this more thoroughly called the Harmony Approach.
However, let us get into the central theme of this paper: The Exodus plays a massive role in understanding the purpose behind Moses writing the Creation account. Hebrews had been in captivity under Egyptian rule for over 400 years, and it is because of this we get the five books of Moses. The Hebrews were taught under, lived under and were fed under the Egyptian systems, thinking, and ideologies. Israel, like much of the Old Testament records, was no hero in this situation. They had taken up practices, ideologies and much more from the Egyptians. To compound this point, I will explain why in Exodus 12:38 Scripture tells us they had livestock, plenty of it and flocks and herds of other animals BUT Israel asked Moses for food. Egypt essentially worshiped cattle and other kinds of mammals. They saw them as figures of their “gods” (we know this via Archaeology and historical analysis). In Exodus 32 we find that Israel created a golden calf that they wish to represent their version of God. In fact, they worshiped the gods of Egypt and took them with them when they left Egypt for Canaan (Josh. 24:14). When Moses is singled out by Yahweh to lead the people out of Egypt, he’s prepared for the people to ask about this God’s identity: “What is his name?” (Exod. 3:13).
This is a direct indicator that Egypt had a great toll on Israel's way of practicing religion, identity, and ideology. Refer now to Exodus 19 where God desires for Israel to be a “kingdom of priest and a holy nation” which is why He sets them apart from everyone else, every other culture and nation. They are Gods chosen nation to work through in humanity. The five books of Moses were designed to make the Hebrews a people of God through a divinely instituted culture. The location of God's people at that point is significant. In each pagan nation the gods, of which there were hundreds, permeated and dominated every aspect of life. People and their gods formed an organic whole with their land. Religion existed for the welfare of society, not primarily for the individual. The religious change was not possible; it occurred only when one nation conquered another. Even then the defeated gods were usually absorbed into the victorious pantheon. In Egypt, for example, only Egyptian gods were worshiped. That is why Moses had initially asked Pharaoh to permit the Hebrews to go three days' journey into the wilderness to worship their God; there the Egyptian gods had no power and need not be feared. Now God had created for the Hebrews a religious crisis that opened them to the new order he desired to institute. The events of Sinai could never have taken place in Goshen.
For this reason, you will see that Genesis has a strong similarity with the creation texts before its own time. The Enuma Elish, Heliopolis, and more were all written before Genesis 1 being written. Their similarity suggests that God wanted to provide Israel with a theological correction and structure to show them that He is above all else, the sole Creator and so forth. We will take a more in-depth look at this later on.
Genesis should be taken as primeval history or prehistorical narrative. Genesis 1 is "historical" in the sense of relating events that occurred. Modern historians distinguish between "history," which began with the invention of writing or the advent of city life, and "prehistory." The Genesis 1 account does not fit the markings of a parable or short lesson based allegorical teaching (like Jesus taught so many times). The literary analysis of Genesis is often seen as “too much work” by many people who want to read Genesis in a plain language and straightforward manner. We can admire their “childlike” dedication, but that was never the author's original intention with Genesis, as we will see. Its structure should also guide our interpretation of a passage. Narrators have the freedom to tell a story in their way, including its perspective, purpose, development and relevant content. The importance of this principle comes to focus in the Genesis 1 treatment of time. The dominating concepts and concerns of our century are dramatically different from those of ancient Israel.
I’ve heard some people state that Genesis was God’s argument against “deep-time evolution,” and while I oppose evolution with a great force, that is just the saying of someone who cannot express proper theological practice or say - they cannot rid themselves of their western, neo-Evangelical mindset that imposes on their English interpretation of Hebrew text.
We see that our scientific approach to the natural world seeks to quantify and measure, calculate and theorize, about the mechanism of those events. For us time is as important a dimension as space, so we automatically tend to assume that a historical account must present a strict chronological sequence. However, this is neither the historical thinking or the thinking of any ancient Hebrew. As one theologian puts it, “But the biblical writers are not bound by such concerns and constrictions. Even within an overall chronological development, they have the freedom to cluster certain events by topic. For example, Matthew's Gospel has alternating sections of narrative and teaching grouped according to the subject matter, a sort of literary club sandwich. Since Matthew did not intend to provide a strict chronological sequence for the events in Jesus' ministry, to search for it, there would be futile.” We can see that the author of Genesis 1 was using a specific structure, a literary structure, to create a framework for his writing. An examination of the phrases used by the author reveals his emphasis on the creative word: "And God said" appears eight times, in each case to begin a four-line poem. These poems form the basic structure of the narrative. (The third and seventh poems do not have the final line, "And there was evening, and there was morning," since they are combined with the fourth and eighth creative words, respectively, to link with the third and sixth days.) Although the eight poems vary in length and minor details, they have the same basic format.
We can see a simple symmetry between chaos (darkness) and order (light). This was especially prevalent in the ancient Near Eastern culture and widely spread in Egypt’s creation mythology. This will be even more clear after reading the below portion on the Egyptian creation mythology and why that is vital to understanding Genesis. However, to read more about the symmetry within Genesis and how that relates to how we read it, please read here.
Now, in another paper, we have done a linguistic commentary on the exegesis of each part of Genesis 1-2:1-6 and that is a nearly exhaustive approach of looking at the language used and the words meanings, parameters and so on. There are centuries of interpretations that we should cover in order to understand better the history of how people read Genesis through the years. This would include Second Temple, Early Rabbinic, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Medieval Jewish and Protest Reformers. Each of these periods plays a significant role in how we derive at the meaning of Genesis 1 today (ECF Footnote for more).
Here we will walk through, in a brief commentary style, the parts of Genesis 1 and pinpoint various things to support the thesis that Genesis is being used as Gods defense against other ANE gods and the calling of Israel back to Himself.
As we have shown, Genesis begins with prehistory (Primeval Age), and it will continue into the mainstream of history with the Patriarchal Age, which is one we pointed out in Exodus. The Creation account is just nearly 50 verses in sum within Genesis. The focus is the creation of humankind, laying out a genealogy for the coming Savior - Jesus Christ. The author of Genesis is genealogically hunting down the “chosen seed of Israel’s race” or to say, the chosen generations of the chosen people - Jews.
Genesis contains within it at least 12 literary and theological themes that we will briefly look at. These themes were meant to set apart Israel from the rest of the world and even today, set us apart from the other worldviews of today. These themes are: (1) God - The Creator of the entire universe, no other god compares to Him. He is the sole source of humanity and all creation. He is the supreme and sovereign Lord who will bring about salvation to this world that has fallen.
(2) Worship - that is doxology, He calls Israel to worship Him and set aside other false gods. This is a reoccurring theme in the Bible.
(3) Order - God is, logically, a God of order. He sets things that were once chaotic into order. He brings about the “rightness” of the universe, and it penetrates our souls.
(4) Sin/Guilt/Turning Away - Sin is what grieves the Lord we serve, and when His people turn from Him toward other things, He always calls them back as any good Shepherd would do.
(5) Sacrifice - God, is not one manipulated by sacrifice. He requires us to sacrifice as the ANE Hebrews were called to do. However, we are called, like them, to sacrifice in different ways. For example, ANE Egypt would often sacrifice humans before young lamb or cattle. God calls that out and turns the tables to set Israel apart. (6) Providence - God always provides what Israel needs and what we need today. Jesus reflects this promise and attribute of God in the New Testament. He is the bread of life; He is the source of life.
(7) Forgiving Grace - No matter how many times Israel turned from God, He provided grace to ensure the coming of His salvation. He was slow, gracious and patient with all humanity.
(8) Marriage - God created marriage. He created male and female. He speaks against adultery, pederasty, prostitution, fertility cults and so much more. He provides the correct and sure way for humanity to flourish in marriage, family, and reproduction.
(9) Work - Man is created to work. God set out a natural process that need to be cultivated, controlled and maintained by man. He depicts this using anthropomorphism stating that He worked (we know God doesn't work or get weary).
(10) Justice of God - Sin requires payment to the perfect God. He requires Israel to pay for the sins as we must pay for ours. The bridge that was once too big to cross has been mended by the person of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
(11) Covenant - God desires a relationship with His people. He sets up various covenants throughout Scripture which all lead up to the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.
(12) The Seed - Abram, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah. David, Solomon to Jesus. This seed is a traceable thread throughout Scripture that is represented in many ways in many books. It is a key to understanding and seeing Gods eternal purpose in Scripture.
These themes, among some others, of course, are crucial to understanding Biblical Theology. We can trace a thread of hope throughout Genesis to its fruition in Revelation. We must be rigorous in our exegesis and approach to Scripture in order to understand God as God intended.
Each ANE culture had their versions of these themes, and each of these various themes they tried to hijack from God would fall short of the right and correct way that God lays out for Israel after their captivity. Most of the material, if not all in some way that we find in Genesis 1 (to 11) refers to and parallels pagan accounts of primeval history. Genesis turns those pagan accounts backward and shows their error by stating the right, correct and actual attributes of our created world.
The study of the ancient world is a key, vital and rewarding experience that every single believer should take the time to do. This ancient world is the world that God chose to show Himself in, work in and develop His eternal purposes. If anyone attempts to remove this from the standard of exegesis, they, disqualify any attempt at rendering Genesis or other books of the Old Testament. Paul, Luke, and others all are quoted using the Old Testament culture even when it was not the Bible itself. The book of Enoch, the book of jashar and so forth are all sources the New Testament writers used to ensure their accurate view of the ancient times. The writer of Genesis was not focused on 21-century issues, but rather the issues pressing Israel of that time. We have shown this in the early stages of this paper that Israel was held captive physically and spiritually. Their issues were the issues that God was addressing. He was not addressing the issues of whether or not science was compatible with Scripture, whether or not “yom” means 24 hour literal days, and so forth. These are all relatively recent arguments that have arisen in the science ages, and while they are essential they are not essential nor the focus of the original authorial intent.
Genesis, written in the backdrop of a polytheistic society, exposes the humanmade religions of idolatry for what they are - false. The word “myth” today usually means “not real,” but in ANE the word mythology had a much different meaning. For those who lived in the ANE culture, mythology was the center point of their deepest realities. (Conrad Hyres, “the Narrative Form of Genesis 1: Cosmogonic, Yes; Scientific, No”; Tremper Longman III “The Lost World of the Flood”).
Let us take a peek at the similarities between the ANE cosmogony legends of their time and the one we find within Genesis: Gilgamesh Epic: The Gilgamesh Epic was familiar in the biblical world: copies have been found at Megiddo, Emar, Northern Anatolia, and Nineveh. It shares many motifs and ideas (such as the Flood) with other ancient Near Eastern texts. In the Epic, the gods create Enkidu, who runs wild with the animals in the open country, as a companion for Gilgamesh. There are particularly interesting similarities between the Garden of Eden story in Genesis and the story of Enkidu’s movement from nature to culture and civilization. In both stories, a woman is responsible for the transition of a man who had once eaten and drunk with the animals to a state of estrangement from nature. Once Enkidu is rejected by the animal world, the woman Shamhat gives him clothing and teaches him to drink beer and eat bread—all technological developments that separate humans from animals. The other similarities can be seen in the creation account, the flood account, and humanities falling. So we have a pagan view of (1) Creation (2) Flood (3) Humanity. Now this being written well before Genesis is to show that this type of cosmogony is being imprinted into humanity and we will see how this shapes Israel directly within their captivity of Egypt. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest writing we, as a world, have in the world. It was written around 2200BC which sets up the position that it directed many influences in many different cultures. The Epic of Atrahasis: This epic shows that gods no longer wanted to do any work, so they created humanity. It also shows and depicts a flood occurring because one of the gods got fed up with humanity wanted to vanquish them. This was written around 1900BC. The Enuma Elish: Here, again, we see that before Genesis we have an account of humanity coming into existence to work for gods. Under King Hammurabi (1792BC) known for his famous code of law, one of the earliest in all of history, Babylon had become the worlds most influential power. Someone raised a valid question or objection about these on the topic of Genesis being a polemic: “Israel was held captive by Egypt, not Babylon.” To briefly interact with that objection I will state two things. The first being that these first epics are the most influential of their kind and the fact that the highest human powers held them in that day we know that they would be imprinted onto many people. Second, Egypt had its versions that parallel these and Genesis which are Heliopolis, Memphis, and Hermopolis which we will take a direct look at to compound further the notion that Genesis was Gods direct answer and defense against pagan systems.
First I want to address the concerns of those days for not only Israel but also reflective of the epics that we have discussed. Our modern agenda portrays concern over: Did the flood cover Mt. Everest? Was Adam a Neanderthal? Have they found the Ark? How long are the days of Genesis 1? Non-focused, non-essential issues. These are peripheral issues that Genesis not only does not directly address because the intention was never focused on 21st century thought, but it does not need to focus on such things because Genesis (along with the whole Bible) is focused on directing our eyes back to God. The focus in Genesis was: Who is Yahweh? What about these other gods? Is God with us in exile? How can we please Yahweh? Are we God’s chosen people? What is our purpose in Yahweh?
This is essential to understanding Genesis and the Old Testament as a whole. This is difficult for many people who cannot separate themselves from today's view or vantage point on topics. The fact is that God has attributes and characteristics shown in Genesis which apply directly to today because His transcending time, but the written Genesis had an original purpose with authorial intent. We are not forcing ANE culture into the text because that is logically incoherent knowing that is it already an ANE text.
Now anyone who has taken an ordinary theological course or read any theological textbooks will know what about to explain but for those who haven’t we have things called Literary Genres (types) in the books of the Old and New Testament. These help us understand and appreciate the authorial intent behind books and letters of the Bible. Some of them are: Allegory, Encomium, Ode, Apocalypse, Epic, Parable, Battle report, Epithalamion, Parody, Beatitude, Fantasy, Poetry, Bios, Genealogy, Prayer, Blazon, Gospel, Primeval narrative, Blessing, Hymn, Prophecy, Combat story, Idyll, Proverb, Covenant, Inventory, Psalm, Creed, Itinerary, Riddle, Curse, Lament, Romance, Law code, Satire, Diatribe, Lawsuit, Soliloquy, Discourse, Lyric Tragedy, Doxology, Monologue, Travelogue, Drama, Myth, Treaty, Elegy, Narrative, Wisdom and more.
Understanding these figurative language devices can be complicated for some. One of the most common uses is observational speech, which tends to incorporate plenty from the above list. This is how revelation is usually written down by people within Scripture. Ironically, I do mean revelation in general and the book of revelation. The speaker or writer may refer to something in the way it was commonly perceived (though we now know it to be scientifically inaccurate), without correcting the common (inaccurate) perception. Instead, the perception merely is used to teach an important truth to make a point that does not depend on scientific precision. There are hundreds of examples of this within scripture but here are just a few: The Book of Revelation describes Jesus as having a sword coming out of his mouth to strike down the nations (19:15). Jesus said that he is the bread of life (J 6:48), and whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life (6:54), and that may sound familiar because the Roman Catholic Church takes that extremely literally and that is how you derive at the false doctrine of transubstantiation. These things are not literal, though they reflect the literal. Jesus and the sword in His mouth is the destructive power of His truth. The bread of life is the saving power of His death and resurrection.
Taking a little further look into observational speech, we see that in James 1 he says, “the sun rises with its scorching heat,” and we do not see God correcting his inaccurate statement. They believed the sun rose because that is what they observed. The point was made without scientific precision.
1 Samuel 2 and Psalms 104 and 75 reflect this observational and cultural understanding. They saw that the earth was held up by pillars and was more of a flat disk rather than a globe. God did not interject and create scientifically accurate writing through them. The point was made that God himself established the universe and he governs it.
Therefore, to repeat, Genesis was written nearly 3,000 years ago by Moses, in Hebrew and to a group of Israelite’s coming out of captivity from Egypt. To understand it plainly, one must read it first in its original language (because plain reading cannot be done by translation/interpretation) and try to understand it in relation to the original readers. Boyd and Eddy point out the question “Do we accept the plainest meaning of the Bible? alternatively, do we insist on reinterpretation in light of the prevailing opinion of science?” The most understandable meaning of the Bible to whom? We must start with the most understandable meaning to the original readers.
The task of interpretation moves from (1) determination of genre too (2) studying the text to (3) exploring context to (4) working on content to (5) determining the main point to (6) application. The application begins with the teachers or writers themselves, before moving to the application for the audience. Though it challenges our mental ambiguity (that low voice that complains, “Why should Bible study be work?”), this is far and away the best method to approach God’s word.
Wenham, Genesis 1–15, l. Longman and Walton also express the point well: Even though the Bible is written for us, it is not written to us. The revelation it provides can equip us to know God, his plan, and his purposes, and therefore to participate with him in the world; we face today. However, it was not written with our world in mind. In its context, it is not communicated in our language; it is not addressed to our culture; it does not anticipate the questions about the world and its operations that stem from our modern situations and issues. (For more on the importance of reading by genre, see Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002); Leland Reyken, A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014); Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2011); and Michael J. Gorman, Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009).
So with a lot of this being established, we have to encounter what the ANE Hebrews encountered which was the Egyptian captivity and the Egyptian systems of gods. We noted before that when someone is taken over, ruled over or conquered their religion begins to adapt to those who are in authority. We see this happen throughout the Old Testament with Baal and other gods.
The Pyramid Texts contain the earliest known cosmogonic expressions of the Egyptians. (5) Priests of the temple in Heliopolis recorded these hieroglyphic texts inside the pyramids of Unis, Teti, Pepi I, Merenre I, Pepi II (6) (kings of Dynasties 5 and 6, ca. 2375-2184 BC) (7) From these texts comes the knowledge of the Heliopolitan cosmogony. In Heliopolis, nine gods constitute the Great Ennead. (8) Atum (9) functions as the creator god from whom the other eight gods originate. Pyramid Text 1655 lists the gods of the Great Ennead and acknowledges Atum as the father of the other eight. It reads, “O you Great Ennead which is on Ōn (10) (Heliopolis), (namely) Atum, Shu, Tefēnet, Gēb, Nūt, Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys; O you children of Atum, extend his goodwill to his child in your name of Nine Bows.” (11) Atum arises first from the primordial waters (personified as Nun) from which also emerges the primeval hill. (12) He takes his stand on the primeval hill and begins his work of creation. Not having a consort, he masturbates to bring forth other gods to assist him in creation. Pyramid Text 1248 graphically describes this event. “Atum evolved growing ithyphallic, in Heliopolis. He put his penis in his grasp that he might make orgasm with it, and the two siblings were born—Shu and Tefnut.” (13) However, Pyramid Texts 1652 and 1653 describe the event without erotic language. “Atum Scarab! When you became high, as the high ground, when you rose, as the benben in the Phoenix Enclosure in Heliopolis, you sneezed Shu; you spat Tefnut.” (14) From his emission or his spittle, Shu and Tefnut originate who deify air and moisture respectively. Then, Shu and Tefnut copulate and produce Geb, the earth, and Nut, the sky. Geb and Nut, in turn, produce five offspring: Osiris, Isis, Horus the Elder, Set, and Nephthys. (15) However, Horus the Elder does not become a member of the Great Ennead. Instead, he, along with Thot, Maat, Anubis, and other deities not identified, constitute the Little Ennead. (16)
The Shabaka Stone (17) contains the famous Memphite Theology. Carved onto a black granite slab by order of king Shabaka (716-702 BC) (18) of the 25th Dynasty, this stone was to preserve the writing of a worm-eaten document. (19) Sadly, the stone later suffered severe damage. The names of Shabaka and the god Set were intentionally chiseled out, and the stone was used to grind grain. (20) The Memphite theologians borrowed the Great Ennead of Heliopolis. (21) Ptah replaced Atum as the creator god, but Atum did not disappear from the new theology. According to Mercer, He “became the heart (understanding) and tongue (word) of ‘Ptah the Great,’ and in turn, Ptah was the heart and tongue of the Ennead [sic]...Ptah (that is, Atum) was the Ennead in emanation and manifestation. Thus, the other eight deities of the Memphite ennead were merely Ptah himself in manifestation.” (22) Line 55 of the Shabaka Stone supports Mercer’s assertion and reveals that Ptah creates by divine word. It says, “His (Ptah’s) Ennead is before him as teeth and lips. They are the semen and the hands of Atum. For the Ennead of Atum came into being through his semen and his fingers. However, the Ennead is the teeth and lips in this mouth which pronounced the name of everything, from which Shu and Tefnut came forth, and which gave birth to the Ennead.” In this text, Ptah’s creation by word is contrasted with Atum’s creation by masturbation, and Ptah’s method is shown to be the real cause behind Atum’s method of creation. The Memphite Theology does not portray Ptah as using magic to call the world into being. “The divine creator is not imagined as a magician reciting his spells; he is seen as one who first conceived in his mind that which should be created to form the world, and then brought it into being by pronouncing the necessary command for it to be.”
In the city of Hermopolis, the cosmogony of the Ogdoad arose. The Ogdoad of Hermopolis consists of four gods and their respective consorts: Nun and Naunet, Keku and Kauket, Hehu and Hauhet, Amun and Amaunet. Each of the four goddesses receives her name from the feminine form of the name of her male counterpart. (25) These deities represent the four conditions present at the beginning of Egyptian creation. Nun and Naunet personify the primeval waters. Nun embodied the primeval ocean, and Naunet, his consort, referred to the counter-heaven lying under the primeval ocean. (26) Keku and Kauket personify the darkness which attended the primordial state. Hehu and Hauhet personify the boundlessness and formlessness of the primordial condition. Amun and Amaunet present some difficulty in ascertaining their precise meaning. Brandon suggested that ‘Amun’ comes from the root which means ‘hidden.’ (27) Although Amun became identified with the sun god, Rē, during the Middle Kingdom, he was originally known as the god of air and wind. (28) One can see an association between air and wind and the idea of ‘hidden’ or ‘unseen.’ Thus, Amun and Amaunet personify the hidden air and wind that attended the primordial state. (29) Frankfort comments on Amun’s role and explains the function of the Ogdoad. He states, “Amon could, therefore, be conceived in later times as the dynamic element of the chaos, the mainspring of creation, the breath of life in dead matter. But this is not the original conception, which simply, by means of the Ogdoad, made the chaos more specific, more apt to be understood. On the Isle of Flames the Eight mysteriously made the sun-god come forth from the waters, and therewith their function was fulfilled.” (30)
There is clearly a correlation between the Egyptian material and the biblical account. We would expect this if Israel did indeed have a history in Egypt as the Old Testament claims. The significance is powerful. Understanding the biblical allusions to Egyptian mythology greatly enhances our understanding of the biblical text, including its theological perspective, and the worldview that Moses portrays with his account. The biblical similarities with and allusions to Egyptian creation accounts, however, ultimately serve to highlight the theological differences between Moses and the Egyptians. Genesis 1 challenges the theological suppositions Israel had learned in Egypt and would subsequently face with new neighbors.
It is extremely important now that we narrow down the view that Genesis is, in fact, a divine response to the Egyptian hold on Israel. As mentioned above, Ptah creates the world by divine word in the Memphite Theology. This forms a unique parallel between Genesis 1:1—2:3 and Egyptian cosmology. “While the doctrine of creation in response to the divine command is widespread in Egyptian literature, it is not to be found in Babylonian cosmologies (Hoffmeier, Thoughts on Genesis). This sign shows that Israel would have been familiar with a divine word based cosmogony. As Khnum creates man on his potter’s wheel, Yahweh-Elohim creates man by forming him from the earth. Both the Egyptian and the Hebrew texts use the phrase “breath of life” to describe the life-giving force that the deity infused into the nostrils of the clay figure. The Egyptian reliefs usually portray two gods involved in the creation of man. One creates the man, and the other put the breath of life, represented by the ankh, into the nostrils. In the Hebrew tradition, Yahweh-Elohim performs both functions, an implicit polemic against ancient Egyptian mythology.
While the Egyptians personified the elements of nature, the Hebrews saw their God as distinct from the creation. The elements of the primordial universe await the command of the Creator rather than acting with independent volition. Furthermore, Atum-Re (creator-god and sun-god respectively) evolved/created himself out of the pre-existent water. By Contrast, Yahweh is eternally pre-existent, is distinct from the primeval water, and did not create himself.
The people who lived in the ancient Near East all shared similar ideas concerning how the world came into existence. Although the ancients shared many views in common with one another, differences existed among them as well. In Babylon, creation results from a bloody battle of the gods. Marduk slays Tiamat and splits her in two forming the heaven. However, in Egyptian creation, no violent struggle exists among the gods. Hebrew creation introduces another difference. Only one God exists who is distinct from his creation.
It is not surprising to note that Moses (assuming he penned Genesis) has such a solid understanding of Egyptian cosmogony considering he was in fact raised in their houses. This is a profound subtly that God orchestrated in the life of Moses for the purpose of Israel.
Beyond a doubt, we’ve established a strong foundation for the context and cultural authorial intent of Genesis, and now we can take a look at what polemics are being used in Genesis against the other ANE cultural gods that Yahweh opposes and wants to rid Israel from being imprinted on. Note, this is not an exhaustive list of each defense or polemic.
(1) God’s creation of light on day one before the creation of the luminaries on day four forms a polemic against Atum-Re, the sun god. This shows that the source of light does not originate with the sun or the moon (i.e., Re, the sun-god or Thoth, the moon-god), but with the Hebrew God who is distinct from the light and the creation.
(2) Keen enough the author does not name the sun and the moon. He simply refers to them as the ‘greater light’ and the ‘lesser light.’ Which are accompanied by “asah” which means to “fashion, form of”; By not naming the sun and the moon, he further distances them from the small gods attributed to them in Egypt.
The polemical texture seen in the Genesis creation accounts proves that the author saw a need for his audience to understand that Yahweh, and not the Egyptian gods, is the one true God and Creator of the world. For example, a major thread of the Exodus narrative concerns the battle between Yahweh, and the Egyptian gods (Pharaoh viewed himself being the sun-god incarnate). In the context of the killing of the first-born in Egypt Yahweh declares in Exodus 12:12, “against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments.” During the birth of Israel as a nation, the Hebrews saw the Egyptian gods, not the Babylonian, as opposing Yahweh. Therefore, a creation polemic that establishes Yahweh as the creator in place of the Egyptian gods seems more plausible than one that opposes the Babylonian gods.
The question arises as to why there is a presence of two creation stories in Genesis; this may result from the need of the Hebrews to refute the two Egyptian creation traditions, for example, the tradition of how the cosmos came into being, and the tradition of how humans and animals came into being. One creation story would not suffice to argue against the views in Egypt since the Egyptians saw the creation of the universe and the creation of humans in two distinct ways, for example, creation by a divine word, and creation by forming. In order to sufficiently argue against both, two creation accounts were needed to effectively defend Yahweh and bring Israel’s understanding to a climax.
Yahweh-Elohim is shown to be superior to the gods of Egypt. He creates by divine word, yet remains transcendent. Unlike Ptah, he does not have to embody the creation to command it; neither does he require assistance from another god or demurring. He simply speaks and/or acts, and the creation is completed. He also creates by forming man out of the earth. Unlike Khnum, he does not require the aid of a consort. He creates the man and breathes life into him. Thus, through the two creation accounts, Yahweh-Elohim demonstrates his ability to perform all the creative acts of the Egyptian gods.
The evidence has shown the use of Egyptian creation imagery within the Genesis creation accounts. However, rather than discrediting the Genesis creation accounts as a direct borrowing of Egyptian beliefs, the evidence shows that the author or possessor of the word possessed a Egyptian knowledge beliefs and argued against those concepts that were contrary to truth.Genesis in just two short chapters reiterates the mission and glory of the Yahweh, who declares to the world, “I ALONE AM GOD.” This thought, command, and proclamation is the centerfold for all Old Testament theology and should be the center focus for how Israel encountered the world around them. We’ve seen the context, the purpose and the meaning of Genesis in a mildly exhaustive historical analysis but we cannot leave off here.
In Acts 17, where Paul faces a polytheistic, idolatrous system in Athens and wants to tell them about the Lord Jesus, he begins to build a communication bridge by using the Athenians’ belief system. He tells them that their “unknown god” is the sovereign creator of the universe and that their poets have unknowingly referred to him in their reflections (vv. 22–31). For the sake of argument, Paul assumes their poetic understanding that all men are God’s “offspring,” but this does not mean he would call all people “sons and daughters of God” in the same way he uses the phrase in Galatians where he says that believers in Christ are “children of God” (Gal. 3:26). He merely uses similar terminology to gain a hearing and lead the Athenian crowd to the true God. Similarly, Moses starts with the Egyptian perception of the universe and then vigorously challenges their theology. By pointing out significant parallels with Egyptian thought in the previous chapter, we are not arguing that Moses merely borrowed his account of creation from Egypt. The magnitude of the distinctions discredits any such suggestion. We will see that in most cases, the biblical writer uses common motifs to demonstrate the stark differences in the Hebrew presentation of God. In other words, the considerable differences show that Genesis is not copying but recasting the events of creation to argue strongly for a different theology. While it is, therefore, a polemic (an argument disputing a particular theological understanding), it is not merely a polemic. Moses goes well beyond arguing against Egyptian deities and religious perceptions; he also presents a positive theology that reflects the truth about Elohim-Yahweh, the true God.
This paper is still working and researching to continually show the truth in the thesis that God gave us Genesis to show His glory, His attributes, and character that transcends time. That Genesis was written as a polemic against Egyptian thought and cosmogony to return Israel to their set-apartness in Yahweh the One true God. To counteract the growing influence of polytheism and ANE cultural cosmogony. To showcase that Yahweh is the supreme and Israel will follow a monotheistic cosmogony.
—— Credits and Citations (a growing list): Raymond Oliver Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Translated into English by R. O. Faulkner: Supplement of Hieroglyphic Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 247.
Ibid., 238, 46.
James P. Allen, “Cosmologies,” in The Context of Scripture: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World, ed. William W. Hallo, vol. 1. 3 vols. (New York: Brill, 1997), 7.
E. A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Religion: Ideas of the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt (New York: Gramercy Books, 1959), 45.
Samuel A. B. Mercer, The Religion of Ancient Egypt (London: Luzac & Co., 1949), 276-77.
John Wilson dates the inscription to 700 BC, but notes that the “linguistic, philological, and geopolitical evidence inconclusive in support of its derivation from an original text more than two thousand years older.” John Albert Wilson, “Egyptian Myths, Tales, and Mortuary Texts,” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts: Relating to the Old Testament, ed. James Bennett Pritchard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 4.
Shaw, ed., Oxford History Ancient Egypt, 357, 482.
James Henry Breasted, “The Philosophy of a Memphite Priest,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 39 (1901): 40-41.
Robert A. Armour, God and Myths of Ancient Egypt (Cairo, Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press, 1986), 122.
Mercer, Religion of Ancient Egypt, 279.
Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, vol. 1, 3 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 54.
Brandon, Creation Legends, 38.
Ions, Egyptian Mythology, 35.
Siegfried Morenz, Egyptian Religion, trans. Ann E. Keep (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973), 175.
John Albert Wilson, “The Nature of the Universe,” in Before Philosophy, the Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East, ed. H. Frankfort (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1949), 61.
Brandon, Creation Legends, 46.
Mercer, Religion of Ancient Egypt, 157.
In describing Amun’s role in the creation, Brandon wrote, “It would, therefore, seem reasonable to suppose that, if Amun did personify wind, he was conceived as such moving across Nun, in the beginning, to stir it into activity—to cause such eddies and convolutions in it, that from its depths the primeval hill began to emerge.” Brandon, Creation Legends, 47.
Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society & Nature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), 155.
See A. H. Sayce, The Religion of Ancient Egypt, 2d ed., Gifford Lectures (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1913), 29, for more discussion concerning the contradictions within Egyptian religion.
See Brandon, Creation Legends, 15, for a fuller discussion.
The three main Egyptian cosmogonies do not address the creation of humans or animals except for the brief mention of man being created from the tears of the sun-god, Re. Brandon, Creation Legends, 55-6.
Gordon, “Khnum and El,” 203.
Barbara Watterson, Gods of Ancient Egypt (Godalming, Surrey: Bramley Books Limited, 1996), 191.
Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), 64.
Morenz, Egyptian Religion, 161-66.
Erik Iversen, “The Cosmology of the Shabaka Text,” in Studies in Egyptology: Presented to Miriam Lichtheim, ed. Sarah Israelit-Groll, vol. 1. 2 vols. (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, 1990), 489-90.
Allen, “The Celestial Realm,” 124.
Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 45.
Yahuda, The Accuracy of the Bible, 146-7. Hoffmeier also comments on the “image of God” parallel. An Egyptian wisdom treatise from the 10th Dynasty, Merikare, states that man is the “snnw of the creator-god. Snnw is derived from the word meaning ‘second,’ hence ‘likeness,’ ‘image,’ and it is frequently written with the statue for the determinative.” Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 47. The type of determinative that follows a word is important since it helps to specify the word’s meaning. Mark and Bill Manley Collier, How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teach Yourself (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 5.
Gordon, “Khnum and El,” 204.
R.T. Rundle Clark, Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt: With 18 Plates, 40 Line Drawings, a Chart of Religious Symbols, and a Map (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1959), 35.
Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 43. Henri Frankfort, H. A. Groenewegen-Frankfort, and John Albert Wilson, Before Philosophy: The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man; an Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1949), 61.
Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 42-44.
John Albert Wilson, “The Nature of the Universe,” in Before Philosophy, ed. H. Frankfort (Baltimore: 1946), 61.
Morenz, Egyptian Religion, 175.
Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 42-44.
The Hebrew expression <yh!l)a$ j^Wr in Genesis 1:2 is best understood as ‘mighty wind’ or ‘wind of God.’ Orlinsky has shown that j^Wr began to be translated as ‘spirit’ instead of ‘wind’ as a result of Hellenistic influence. Furthermore, he has demonstrated that translating רוּחַ as ‘wind’ is supported within the context of Genesis. Harry M. Orlinsky, “The Plain Meaning of Rah in Gen. 1.2,” Jewish Quarterly Review 48 (1957): 180-81.
Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 44.
Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Waco: Word Books, Publisher, 1987), xlvii.
James Hoffmeier provides substantial arguments in support of Egyptian elements in the birth narrative of Moses. He also mentions that Egypt often educated princes from vassal states who would one day become vassal kings to Egypt. See James K Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 135-63.
Omar Zuhdi, “Pharaoh's Daughter & Her Adopted Hebrew 'Son',” KMT A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt 14, no. 4 (2003): 48-50.
Watterson, Gods of Ancient Egypt, 191.
Gordon, “Khnum and El,” 206.
Foster R. McCurley, Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith: Scriptural Transformations(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983).