Re: [asa] A few literal problems in Genesis

From: Ted Davis <tdavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Tue Mar 11 2008 - 12:59:19 EDT

The question Jon raises about the fourth day of creation (sun & moon to make
the day & night, with day & night already there from day one) is a very old
one--and an excellent one, exactly the right question IMO to focus on with
the hexameron. The patristic writers were also puzzled by this, and for
that reason quite a few of them (I don't have a list of names here, but
George Murphy or someone else probably could provide some leading names)
distinguished the first 3 days from the next 3 days for interpretive
purposes. In the US in the early 19th century, Benjamin Silliman and others
did likewise, for the same reason. It's a huge puzzle on any literal or
quasi-literal approach, in which the "days" are understood as sequential,
which most "concordist" approaches assume.

I don't mean to imply here that no solutions exist within such an approach.
One can always say, as Calvin did (and some of his modern followers follow
him in this), that God created a special light on day one that functioned
until the sun & moon appeared. It had to be like the sun--i.e., it had to
be directional, in order to produce day & night on the earth--but it wasn't
the sun itself in Calvin's opinion. That's probably the "simplest" solution
within such an approach, though obviously it (as all interpretations do)
makes a leap or two beyond the text itself.

My own view on this is as follows.

The "framework" view of Genesis makes perfect sense of this otherwise
puzzling feature. Indeed, the framework view probably exists mostly for
this specific reason: there are parallels between the first triad (days 1-3)
and the second (4-6), with God creating "kingdoms" and filling each of them
with "rulers," as the sun & moon are called on the fourth day. This is a
non-sequential understanding of the "days," in which (interestingly) each
day is in fact a literal, 24-hour day of the ordinary variety, within the
story; but the story as a whole has a literary structure that strongly
implies that the length of each "day" is not part of what the story is
actually about, so that it doesn't matter how "long" or "short" each day is.
 What matters is not the duration of sequence of the events, but the
relationships (God, nature, and humanity) and the purposeful design of the
whole shebbang. Go read Henri Blocher, In the Beginning, for a lovely
exposition of this view.

Furthermore, this view can easily be coupled with the (separate) view that
the hexameron is an ANE creation story--that is, it is not intended to be
historical in the modern sense of that word. Rather, it takes the form of
an existing literary genre, namely a creation myth. Therefore, the literary
elements of the story are not the message themselves, but rather they are
the vehicle carrying the message. To see the message, then, we would need
to compare the Hebrew story with other ANE creation stories. Conrad Hyers
does this to great effect in the two articles he published in PSCF many
years ago. To find them, search the web version of PSCF on our web site for
his name.

Finally, if Genesis one is an ANE creation myth that was specifically
intended to teach monotheism and combat both polytheism and pantheism (as
Hyers asserts, correctly in my view), then it's not at all hard to
understand another puzzling feature of the fourth day: why are the sun and
moon not even named? The Hebrews had words for them, used elsewhere in the
Bible but not here. Why not? Answer: they were gods in the ANE, and
Hebrews weren't even going to dignifiy those gods by naming the objects
directly. Rather, they are merely "the greater light" and "the lesser
light," both of them, just like the "stars also" which are added almost as
an afterthought, are simply creatures. Period. Just visible lights in the
heavens, placed there by the invisible creator. Polytheism thereby
deliberately insulted.

That's my two cents. Or three.

Ted

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Received on Tue Mar 11 13:01:19 2008

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