The Creation According to Genesis 1

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As many of you know, my book Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate: Being Honest to the Text, Its Author, and His Beliefs—Not Ours has been accepted for publication and should hopefully be out in the Winter. One of the goals of this project is to present an unbiased, objective, and culturally-contextualized reading of Genesis 1—being as honest as possible to the text and the beliefs and worldview expressed therein, and not the beliefs that later readers hold about the text.

UPDATE: Book is now available on publishers website:

Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate

After discussing this project and the worldview expressed in Genesis 1 with one of my students, he painted this, which I feel wonderfully captures the world that the author of Genesis 1 perceived and experienced, and thus the world which the god of Genesis 1 creates!

The Creation According to Genesis 1

Even though the painting is not yet finished—he is still working on it—I wanted to share it with my readers to get their general impressions.

I have written extensively on Genesis 1, but as a review of what the author of this text has the creator deity create:

  1. The domed barrier—Hebrew raqî‘a (traditionally translated as the ‘firmament’ or ‘vault’)—which God creates to separate the waters, so that we now have the waters above and the waters below. This domed barrier is then called “the sky” (Gen 1:6-8). This is illustrated above by the domed shaped transparent ‘bowel.’ For more, see my Genesis 1:6-8—Life Inside a Water Bubble.
  2. The waters below are then commanded to collect together into one place (Gen 1:9)—nicely shown above. Our author probably even had the Mediterranean sea in mind.
  3. Earth, defined by the text as dry habitable land (yabbashah)—never the planet—is then commanded to emerge from the now tamed waters below (Gen 1:9-10). For more see my Genesis 1:9-10—God Creates the Material Substance Earth, Not the Planet!
  4. And finally the luminaries are created and placed within or upon the sky, that is the domed barrier holding back the waters above (Gen 1:14).

I also think having a 3-dimensional illustration does a better job representing the creation of Genesis 1 than, say, the illustration I have on the sidebar, which I’m going to replace with this one.

The illustration also complements my verbal textual demonstration in chapter 1 of this book and does a nice job providing a visual re-presentation of the creation of the world as perceived and experienced by the author of Genesis 1.

What are your thoughts?

22 thoughts on “The Creation According to Genesis 1

  1. As a Christian, I find that chart embarrassing. If the ancient Israelites and Judahites had an understanding of cosmology, geology, and biology thousands of years ahead of their time, where is the evidence for it? Israelite technology was not at a higher level than that of surrounding cultures, as far as we know. There’s no indication that the Israelites knew the earth went around the sun, rather than the other way around. Given that, why should anyone be impressed by a couple of isolated verses that appear to indicate the earth is hanging in empty space? There’s no indication that I’m aware of that the concern with washings had anything to do with disease.

    My favorite one is about man actually being made out of dust. If the point of Genesis 2 was scientific accuracy it would have done better to show Adam being molded out of water. And of course all the elements in the human body are found in the crust of the earth. That’s where food comes from. How else would they get inside the human body? I’d be more impressed if there was a verse that said the elements came from stars.

  2. That’s a nice clear picture that you paint with those scriptures. I like the translation(s) you’ve used for the scripture quotations; they seem very accurate when I compare them to literal translations. Just wanted to note that I don’t have “Ps[alms] 8:27-28” in my Bible — maybe you meant “Pr[overbs] 8:27-28”?

  3. this is not relevant to this post but i need to understand something.

    muslim apologists use jewish apologetic literature in trying to prove that yhwh doesn’t need human sacrifices in order to get appeased.

    but then what about jephta’s daughter?

    what material on here has dealt with yhwhs requirement of human sacrifice?

  4. Interesting, I guess it’s a good thing I saved the comment in a text file :-) I’ll repost it here, then. I think it’s still timely enough. It was a general reply to your reply to my points about Bible cosmology.
    —-
    Thanks for considering my comments. There’s definitely something to be said for sticking to the Genesis 1 text, even on a purely artistic level, which is that it gives you a nice, simple image. The more complex “Biblical Earth” images can look rather comical because they cram everything from the OT into one illustration. By contrast, I think it suits a serious book to use a more dignified image. And of course the more relevant point, as you said, is that your book is focused on the first chapter of the Bible only.

    “But originally, the idea of a new moon was conceptualized as a newly recreated moon!”

    Yes, the ancients believed that the sun and moon could die, or weaken and need to be revived — typically they thought this happened for the moon every lunar month and for the sun every year at the winter solstice. But aside from those times of death and rebirth, each day’s sun and moon were believed to be the same entities from the previous day. Some writings, such as from the Sumerians, explicitly stated that the sun was traveling through the underworld on its way back to the east horizon. The closest to this thought in the Bible (that I know of) is Eccl. 1:5: “The sun rises and the sun sets; panting, it returns to its place where it rises.”

    “Job 37:18 refers to it as being ‘molten glass’ and that is the image I conveyed to my student — even though it looks more like Ezekiel’s or Exodus’ blue sapphire.”

    Ah, I see. You might already realize this, but let me just mention for any readers that the verse in Job is talking about metal, not glass. Out of the translations on BibleHub, only the KJV and derived versions use the word “glass”, and that is as part of the old term “looking glass”, that is, a mirror. Ancient mirrors were of course just flat pieces of metal, and the best way to produce such a flat piece of metal was by pouring it in liquid form, hence the use of the word “molten” in some translations. So the writer of Job was actually referring to opaque but possibly reflective metal. I’m not sure if this actually differs from what you had in mind from the expression “molten glass”.

    “Once God creates the domed barrier, what lies outside of that? Well the text doesn’t tell us, but I assumed the waters below and above just continued on — thus the illustration of that.”

    Yes, I suppose the ancients imagined that the waters were essentially infinite, although the creation of earth (dry land) seems to imply that there is more land/soil submerged in the chaos waters that God separated, which is why I think the image from Job of (what my Bible calls) “socket pedestals” sunk into underlying earth was probably consistent with the beliefs of the writer of Genesis 1. But as you say, the foundations of the earth are not directly mentioned in Genesis 1, and I appreciate your desire to stick to the text.

    “Something that we’re going to try in the photo-shopped version…”

    You may find that Photoshop is not really capable of altering the painting as far as you’d like without degrading image quality, but that’s just a friendly warning from someone who’s spent a lot of time in the computer graphics world. You might get better results from a 3D rendering since it would allow tweaking of various properties (“Let’s make the sky metallic, now let’s try glassy, etc.”) and rendering from different angles. It could then optionally be filtered to look like a painting, or even painted over afterwards, for a more “traditional media” look. But it depends how much effort you feel it’s worth.

    1. KW,

      I’ve been rewriting some of the parts of my manuscript discussing Genesis’ raqi‘a, aided by the attention you draw above to Job 37:18. This in turn has made me rethink my translations. Here is how my footnote on raqi‘a now stands in my manuscript. Finally, I am quite happy with this.

      My translation of raqi‘a as a solid “domed expanse” may seem alarming at first, but it is the clearest image available for expressing what the Hebrew invokes. The verb form of raqi‘a means “to beat out” or “to hammer out” and is attested with respect to hammering out metal plates or bowls (e.g., Exֹod 39:3; Jer 10:9), thus a domed or concaved shape. More specifically the verb raqa‘ is used in Job 37:18 to speak of Yahweh “hammering out thinly the firmament, hard like the reflective surface of poured metal.” And Psalm 19 further supports the idea that the raqi‘a was seen as a manifestation of Yahweh’s handiwork or craftsmanship (19:1). We should further note that both Genesis 1:6-8’s use of raqi‘a and Job 37:18’s use of raqa‘ conceptualize the sky as a hard or solid thinly hammered out metallic-like domed surface, likened to the reflective substance of poured metal. Other references to the domed shaped raqi‘a or sky occur in Isa 40:22 and Job 22:14, as well as Deut 4:32 which envisions the skies touching the earth on each end (cf. Ps 8:27–28). In addition to these, there are other biblical passages that also attempt to describe this raqi‘a. In Ezekiel 1:22, for example, the raqi‘a is described “like the sight of awe-inspiring crystal” or perhaps ice, and is strong enough to support Yahweh’s throne which rests upon it (Ezek 10:1; Exod 24:10). Likewise in Exodus 24:10 this raqi‘a is described “like a smooth-paved work of sapphire, and like the substance of the skies in regard to brightness.” And in Job 37:18, as we have already seen, it is spoken of as looking like a poured metallic mirror of some sort. All of these textual traditions support the view that the Israelites conceptualized the sky—that is the raqi‘a of Genesis 1—as a solid crystal or metallic-like domed expanse of a sapphire hue, no doubt reflecting the color of the waters above which this solid crystalline domed expanse supported. Additionally, the primeval waters are depicted as occupying the space above this raqi‘a or sky elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Ps 148:4), and it was because of this solid barrier’s openings that the waters above pour down and flood the earth in the Priestly writer’s flood narrative (see Gen 7:11; 8:2). Indeed, rain, snow, and hail were all believed to be kept in storehouses above the raqi‘a which had “windows” to allow them in. And the birds of Gen 1:20 are said to fly in front of the raqi‘a in the open air, not in this solid domed expanse.

  5. If you were going to have two or three illustrations total, another option would be to show some of the process of creation according to Genesis 1. It might assist the reader in understanding the “water bubble” concept if they first see an earlier, more chaotic state of the world while God is pushing the waters back and bringing up the land (especially a version with no luminaries yet). Technically, if you got the rights, you could probably even use existing artwork to illustrate this, like Ivan Aivazovsky’s “Creation of the World”, but I realize it’s probably not worth the expense. (P.S., I have another comment on this article held in a spam-stopper queue waiting to be approved.)

    1. I’ve thought about that. It might be too late to get something like that going now. Sorry about my stop-spam plugin. I don’t know why it always flags you, but at present there is nothing there. I did approve you yesterday, but no comment was associated with it.

  6. I like the illustation. For me the crux is the seperation of waters above and below the earth. I don’t think adding too many details will make the message stronger. What might make the message stronger is one or two illustrations based on the views of other ancient Mesopotamians. This would show that the writers of Genesis 1 are very much a part of the abcient world.

    I’m looking forward to your book.

    1. Thanks Robert,

      If I do decide to use this illustration in chapter 1 (still waiting to see what it looks like after photoshop), in the context of my verbal argument it will appear as such:

      Thus, far from presenting God creating Earth, a spherical planet orbiting a sun in one of many galaxies in infinite space (none of whose ideas existed to the author of this text), the text of Genesis presents its god forming the substance earth, that is per our text dry, habitable, flat land from an initial formless, vacuous, and desolate piece of “earth” which now rests on the waters below and is encased within a finite area of space, itself enclosed and defined by a solid domed barrier called the sky, which further functions to hold back the primordial waters above. In short, what the god of Genesis 1 creates is this:

      The Creation according to Genesis 1

      not this!

      Satellite photo of Earth

      In other words, our author’s presentation and imagination of how God created the material stuff of his world was shaped by his own subjective and culturally defined perceptions and beliefs about his world. These beliefs were deduced from what ancient man (mis)perceived on an empirical level: rain fell from water which existed above the skies; whereas natural springs, deltas, and flooding led to the belief that the earth “floated” on and was supported by waters that existed below the earth, that is below the dry ground beneath their feet. These beliefs, which for all intents and purposes functioned as “truths” for our author and his culture, were then legitimated by presenting the creator deity creating the world as the author himself perceived it to be! In the end, what the god of Genesis 1:1–10 creates miraculously conforms to ancient Near Eastern man’s perceptions and beliefs about the world, and not what we today know the world, and the larger cosmos, to be.

      Thus any modern day Creationist who professes belief in the creation account of Genesis is just being plain ignorant about what this text actual says and does not say, as well as being disingenuous toward the text and the beliefs of its author. This again exemplifies the problem at hand as well as our modern educational malaise concerning the literature of the Bible. No so-called Creationist believes the creation account in Genesis 1, but rather feigns belief out of ignorance about the text and the beliefs, messages, and worldview expressed therein. . .

  7. Just wanted to add, I recognize that you probably want to focus on the information given in Genesis 1, rather than trying to harmonize every single scripture in the OT on the subject of cosmology, which probably isn’t possible anyway. From my standpoint, it would be logical if the author of Genesis 1 also believed in at least some of the details that are given in other scriptures, so I believe that those could be considered to be elaborations on the Genesis writer’s ancient worldview, but I understand that strictly adhering to the Genesis 1 text would preclude depicting these additional details.

  8. That’s a nice painting. It seems that it actually depicts the Mediterranean area from the point of view of Israel? I’m hesitant to recommend any large-scale changes to a painting that’s already well-along, but I guess I would just have a few questions. A lot of this is simply collecting my comments from the past articles on this subject (e.g. http://contradictionsinthebible.com/genesis-1-waters-above-firmament/#comment-2301). A few of these comments also apply to the usual pictures of the flat Earth model that we see on the Internet, none of which have fully satisfied me.

    – Didn’t the Israelites believe that the highest mountains connected with, and maybe supported, the sky? E.g. Exodus 24:9, where Moses and company meet with God by climbing Mt. Sinai and finding him seated on what may be the firmament, or Job 26:11, which references the “pillars of heaven”.

    – Where did the luminaries go when they slipped under the horizon? Did the ancients believe they were orbiting the inside of a sphere (Jg. 5:20)? If so, then would you want to depict one of the luminaries going below the land at the edge of the world, making its way under the earth to start its travels in the sky again from the other side? It seems that no “Biblical Earth” depictions ever show this, for some reason, but otherwise I don’t know where the ancients thought the sun, moon and stars went when they were not in the sky.

    – Currently the water of the sea is apparently the base of the bubble, but if the ancients understood that the sea had a bottom (not far-fetched since they had to avoid *hitting* the bottom when they sailed in shallow water), then they probably conceived of the entire sea as being supported by *more* land. This underlying land was probably sunk down (Job 38:6’s “sockets”) into some land which is permanently a part of the greet deeps so that it can’t slosh around (Ps. 104:5, “cannot be moved”).

    – Often these recreations attempt to depict the floodgates, the windows in the firmament that God could open and pour water through (Job 38:37), though I don’t know if you consider that an important enough detail to include. God may have used the clouds as sieves to disperse a stream of water into rainfall (as explained by John Kesler here: http://contradictionsinthebible.com/genesis-god-creates-dry-habitable-land-planet-earth/#comment-2561) or he may sometimes have watered the mountains directly (Ps. 104:10, 13) to let streams run down them.

    – Some verses depict the firmament as a hard barrier made of stone, and possibly opaque blue stone at that, whereas the painting seems to depict it more as the top of a water bubble. See Ex. 24:10 (“pavement of sapphire”), Job 22:14 (“walks on the vault of heaven”), and Ezek. 1:22, 25, 26 (the ‘ice barrier’ and the ‘sapphire throne’). Unfortunately a stone firmament would interfere with this “external, 3D” depiction of the earth unless it was a cutaway view.

    – Are you interested in depicting God’s throne sitting on top of the firmament? See again Ex. 24:10, Job 22:14, and Ezek. 1:22, 25, 26, as well as Ps. 2:4 (“sits in the heavens”), 11:4 (“throne is in heaven”), 29:10 (“sits upon the flood”), 104:3 (“laying the beams of His palace on the waters above”), Isa. 66:1 (“the earth is my footstool”). See this recreation, which includes the divine dwelling: http://cbc.prairiebluffs.org/cbcwp-content/uploads/2015/03/3-2-3-tiers.jpg.

    Of course all of this is contingent on what details you choose to bring out in chapter 1 of your book. More importantly, not all of these details can probably be elegantly depicted in one painting without it being a chaotic jumble. Just throwing this material out there since I wanted to review and collect past comments on this subject.

    1. KW,

      I appreciate your detailed comments. They’re all excellent points. Let me see if I can respond to them. At present, we are thinking about using this illustration in the book, but are going to photo-shop it now to get a sharper image and modify things that can still be modified—such as the placement of the luminaries. So your suggestions are very welcomed!

      First, let me say that while I am familiar with other Near Eastern/Biblical illustrations on the internet and realize that in comparison there are things “missing” from this illustration, one of my primary goals was to produce an illustration that delimited itself to the text of Genesis 1 only—since this is the focus of my book. So pillars that support the earth, Sheol, God’s throne seat, windows in the raqî‘a, etc. are not going to be illustrated here. I wanted it to be a strict visual depiction of the creation as described in Genesis 1:6-14. Now, having said that, I am very interested from my readers how well or not they think this illustration accomplishes that.

      Second, the difficult part about this task, and you’ve hinted at this in your comments, is what do you do with things that the text of Genesis 1 is silent about? So what happens to the sun and moon as they course through the heavens along this solid domed barrier? Obviously Genesis 1 is silent about that, whether or not there are other biblical passages that might answer this question or that can be used to answer it. You probably know more about this than I do. So even if we found a passage elsewhere in this corpus of literature that suggested that the Israelites conceived of a sphere of some sort and thought the moon for instance fell under the earth, I’m not sure I would want to impose that idea onto this textual re-presentation. Albeit, I like the idea. But originally, the idea of a new moon was conceptualized as a newly recreated moon! But I think that idea is much much older than our Israelites.

      With some things, however, it was necessary to consult other texts, such as the illustration of the raqî‘a, which I understand the Israelites understanding as a solid domed or vaulted barrier or support. Job 37:18 refers to it as being “molten glass” and that is the image I conveyed to my student—even though it looks more like Ezekiel’s or Exodus’ blue sapphire.

      Another issue that came into play was the waters below. Again, I’m not going to pull from other texts on this matter, but when we were visualizing the text of Genesis we had to ask: did our author think that the primordial waters went on and on infinitely? Again, the text is silent on that matter but I made a conscious choice to respond in the affirmative on this matter. Once God creates the domed barrier, what lies outside of that? Well the text doesn’t tell us, but I assumed the waters below and above just continued on—thus the illustration of that. Something that we’re going to try in the photo-shopped version is to de-emphasize the bottom ridge of the “bowel” to see if we can get some continuity between the waters below inside the bowel and the waters below outside of it. Another thing: I wouldn’t mind seeing some of the mountains come into direct contact with the raqî‘a, so as to support the sky as other texts mention. What my student did, however, was to totally encase the earth with water all around. We might be able to extend one side of these mountains so that they look as if they are supporting the raqî‘a.

      And yes, you’re right. It was my student’s idea to capture the perspective of the Mediterranean sea looking out from Israel. I like this very much. So the far end of the sea, what we should see on the horizon is the waters below meeting the waters above.

      I hope this sort of clarified what my intentions were. To be honest, when I was first shown the painting I wasn’t too overwhelmed. But I have come to like it very much. In the photo-shopped version we’re also going to try to diminish the painting effect and make it look more realistic. As always, I am very appreciative of your comments and suggestions.

      Cheers,
      Steven

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