#1. Was earth created from preexistent matter OR nothing? (Gen 1:1-10; Is 45:18 vs Heb 11:3)?


Hebrews 11:3 is often invoked as a proof text for the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. While some may wish to debate this reading, since the verse can be read as an abstract statement about faith, literally,

“not from that which is visible did the things that are seen come into being,”

I shall nevertheless treat it as if it did proclaim this doctrine. For this allows us the occasion to examine in detail the contradictory beliefs about the creation of the world as presented by the author of Genesis 1, and to learn something about this ancient text, its author, and the historical and literary contexts in which it was written. This first entry will also double as a general background to the two contradictory creation accounts in the opening chapters of Genesis (Contradictions #2-7).

We might initially acknowledge that these differing beliefs about creation should not come as a shock or alarm. After all, we’re talking about two texts that were written in drastically different historical eras and under drastically different religious convictions and cultural influences. In fact, approximately 800 years separate these two compositions and the unique beliefs that each one expresses—beliefs that were shaped by cultural, geopolitical, religious, and even literary influences unique to these two different time periods. Our goal, as modern readers of these ancient texts, is to understand the beliefs proclaimed in these two texts each on their own terms and from within their own unique historical and literary worlds—and not to impose later beliefs onto earlier texts, nor distort the beliefs of an earlier text so that they conform to beliefs and perceptions held by later readers. So with that in mind let’s take a closer look, first culturally then textually, at the opening verses of Genesis 1.1

Genesis 1:1–2—Not a Creation Ex Nihilo

Despite strong traditional and often authoritative interpretative claims that were formed centuries after the text of Genesis 1 was written, this ancient Near Eastern text does not depict a creatio ex nihilo, that is a creation out of nothing. The Hebrew text is clear on this point and recognized by all biblical scholars. Rather, what the text of Genesis 1:2 informs us is that when God began to create, earth—that is the material substance earth; the Hebrew ’eretz (earth) never means the planet Earth—already existed as a desolate, formless, uninhabitable waste—in the Hebrew original, a tohu wabohu—which was immersed in a dark surging watery abyss (tehom). This is the initial primordial state of creation that the creator deity inherits so to speak, and it is a prominent cultural feature of other ancient Near Eastern creation myths, from Egypt to Mesopotamia.

Moreover, as we shall see, there are specific theological reasons for why the author of Genesis 1 composed a creation account where the creator deity creates dry, habitable, life-supporting earth (vv. 9-10) from this primordial unformed, desolate earth mass (v. 2). And these reasons were also shaped by this author’s cultural and literary contexts, as well as by the specific historical circumstances in which this author and his audience found themselves. And our author’s theological argument—his message—should not go ignored or be interpreted away simply because it does not conform to our beliefs and views about the nature of the world and its origins, or to those alluded to in Hebrews 11:3. Rather, our task is to be honest to this ancient text and its author by faithfully reproducing its author’s beliefs and worldview—not those of readers living eight-hundred years later!

Both creation accounts in the book of Genesis (see #2-6) not only belong to the larger historical world of the ancient Near East that produced them, but they are also part and parcel to a specific literary genre that was widely disseminated throughout this ancient landscape. In other words, the creation accounts of Genesis 1:1-2:3 and 2:4b-3:24 display the influences of older Near Eastern literary traditions, beliefs, and perspectives about the origins of the sky, earth, and mankind. This knowledge was revealed to us in part through the archaeological discoveries of the late 19th century.

In the latter half of the 19th century, archaeologists digging around the ancient site of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, found the literary remains of Ashurbanipal’s library. The Assyrian king, who reigned from 669 to 627 BCE, was somewhat of an antiquarian; he had his scribes collect and copy any existing texts that could be found. The tablets discovered at Nineveh were the remains of Ashurbanipal’s library and contained copies of much earlier Babylonian texts, going as far back as 2000 BCE! What startled linguists working on these cuneiform tablets in the 1870s was the mention of a great flood, a creation, and other themes and stories that were similarly present in the narratives of Genesis 1-11. For the first time, scholars and theologians alike realized that stories such as the flood, creation, an original mythic paradise with a primordial pair and a tree of life were not unique to the Bible, but were in fact part and parcel to a larger literary and cultural matrix from which the biblical authors freely drew.2

Up until this discovery, in other words, it was commonplace among theologians to regard the creation account(s) of Genesis as unique, divinely inspired, and in more fundamentalist circles even historical. With the discovery of other creation myths, however, informed readers were now able to see that the creation accounts in the book of Genesis belonged to a larger literary matrix, whose ideas and perspectives about the nature of the world and its origins were shared throughout the ancient Mediterranean world.

The old Babylonian creation account, the Enuma Elish, for example, which predates the Genesis accounts by roughly a millennium, exhibits many parallels, both structurally and thematically, to the younger creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:3. Even noting its highly mythological content and polytheistic nature, the Babylonian Enuma Elish narrates the creation of the sky, earth, and mankind in similar terms to those of Genesis 1:1-2:3 and more shockingly in the same order. For example, the creator deity initially subdues and conquers an original state of watery chaos personified as the goddess Tiamat, and then proceeds to divide her in two, that is separate the primordial waters into the waters above and the waters below, which are then kept apart by the creation of the sky, similar to Genesis 1:6-8.3 Next, the abode of the gods are attributed to the heavens together with the creation of the luminaries, stars, sun, and moon, to divide the years into months and days—indeed to create our 7-day week! The creation of the earth, that is dry habitable land, from the waters below then occurs, and finally mankind is created. Lastly, like the ending of Genesis 1:1-2:3, the Enuma Elish also ends by assigning rest for the god(s), and both texts speak of a divine counsel of some sort (Gen 1:26).

Biblical scholars now realize that this older mythic narrative served as a template for the 6th century author of Genesis 1:1-2:3, the Priestly writer. In other words, Genesis 1:1-2:3 was not a free composition of its author. This author obviously had literary precursors, one of which was the old Babylonian creation account the Enuma Elish, which the Israelites would have come into direct contact with during their captivity in Babylon in the 6th century BCE—not surprisingly the same time period in which the Priestly scroll was written!

Yet it needs to be stressed that it was less the direct influence of an older text that shaped the ideas and beliefs of the creation account in Genesis 1, and more so the worldview and beliefs of a shared cultural heritage that extended throughout the larger Mediterranean basin. That is to say, the similarities between the Enuma Elish and Genesis 1:1-2:3 represent shared cultural perspectives and beliefs about the nature of the world and its origins. The Israelite scribes inherited these cultural perspectives and beliefs, adopted them, and freely modified them to suit their own purposes and monotheistic religious convictions. Many of the ideas and beliefs about the origin of the world expressed above in the Enuma Elish, and, as we shall see, similarly in the creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:3, were also present in other creation myths from the ancient Near East. Nearly every surviving creation account from Egypt, for example, presents an original preexisting state of darkness, watery chaos, and a yet unformed landmass prior to creation. This is especially so in the case of the Egyptian cosmogony from Hermopolis, whose primordial state prior to creation is near identical to that presented in Genesis 1:2. Personified as preexisting gods, this particular cosmogony speaks of a primeval darkness, a primordial formless earth mass, and the primordial surging waters, through whose separation earth and heaven were formed and named.

Thus, one of the ideas that the author of Genesis 1 inherited from his larger cultural and literary world was that the creation of the earth and the skies, of ordered life in general, was the result of separating light from primordial darkness (1:4), of separating a primordial surging water mass (tehom) into the waters above and the waters below (1:6-7) to form a space in its midst (1:6), wherein the heavens were named (1:8) and the luminaries by which the cosmos progressed in an orderly fashion were created (1:14), and finally by forming habitable land from a primordial formless and empty (tohu wabohu) earth mass and separating it out from the waters below and naming it “earth” (1:9).

In general terms, then, the authors and cultures that produced these ancient Near Eastern creation myths, Genesis 1 included, did not conceive of creation as an act of creating matter, but an act of creating order, form, purpose, and most importantly a habitable land or earth with tamed and separated waters out of an initial primeval state of surging untamed waters, darkness, and a yet to be named, formed, life-sustaining earth. Thus, whether speaking of the Babylonian Enuma Elish, Egyptian cosmogonies, or Genesis 1, the emphasis falls on presenting the creation of habitable life-sustaining earth from an initial state of formlessness, desolation, darkness, and untamed waters. This is accomplished through the creator deity’s act of separating the initial primordial matter, assigning functions or setting boundaries to the separated elements, and naming or calling into existence each component of the world, as they were perceived by the peoples and cultures of the ancient Near East. The idea of the creation of matter out of nothing was simply not a perspective adopted by the cultures of the ancient Near East, the Israelites included. The closest thing we have to the idea of creation out of nothing are a couple of Egyptian creation myths that pose a single creator deity as the origin of life, and from whose body, sky, earth, and water emerge. The idea that the world originated through the creation of matter from nothing simply did not exist. Such an idea, moreover, would not only have been inconceivable to the peoples and cultures of this ancient landscape, but inferior to the views they did hold about the creation of the habitable world.

That is to say, our ancient Near Eastern forerunners, biblical scribes included, deemed that the creation of an orderly world, of a habitable land with tamed and separated waters and a sky that provided light, order, and signs for the measurement of days, months, years, and even holy festivals from an initial state of darkness, untamed waters, and unformed earth was a more powerful statement to make about the creator deity. More significantly, the act of creating order from disorder, light from darkness, form from formlessness answered the specific concerns ancient peoples of the Near East had living in, as they perceived it, a hostile world with forces that regularly needed to be controlled. So presenting a creator deity who could, and did in fact, tame the forces of nature, subdue darkness, control the seas, create life from bareness, form from formlessness—in short, habitable life-bearing land from earth that originally was or had become desolate (see below)—was a direct result of how these ancient peoples perceived the world they lived in and the forces that acted upon it. This was the message behind such creation stories. The creator deity had full control over the destructive forces that continually threatened life, order, and the goodness of the earth. Most significantly, as we will see below, the ability of Yahweh to subdue chaos, form light from darkness, create fertile and habitable earth from formless uninhabitable and desolate earth also had a very significant and immediate meaning to the historical audience for which Genesis 1:1-2:3 was composed.

But besides these culturally shared beliefs about the nature of the world and its origin, there are sound textual data that support the idea that our biblical scribe did not compose a creation account depicting the creator deity creating the earth and the skies out of nothing. For the text itself clearly makes the opposite claim.

First, as many Hebraists have noted, Genesis 1:1 opens with a temporal clause. This is a complex grammatical topic, but simplified, the way in which the first word has come to be vocalized, indeed the first letter (ב) implies that grammatically the word is in the construct state. Thus, a literal translation of Genesis’ first word, bere’shit, is “in the beginning of.” This is exactly what we find as the proper understanding of bere’shit when this same word appears elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. So, for example, the Hebrew of Jeremiah 27:1, bere’shit mamelekhet yihoyaqim, is properly translated: “In the beginning of the kingdom of Jehoiakim.” But the grammatical problem in Genesis 1:1 is that bere’shit is not followed by a noun but rather a verb: bere’shit bara’ ’elohim. Thus a literal rendering of the first three words of Genesis 1:1 is impossible: “In the beginning of God created.” Thus many modern translations have sought to capture the temporal aspect in the opening word of the book of Genesis by rendering the Hebrew: “In the beginning of God’s creating…” or “In the beginning when God created…” or even “When God began to create…”

The idea that creation narratives commenced with a temporal clause that indicated when the creator deity began his creative act is also attested in other ancient Near Eastern creation myths. The Enuma Elish opens with a temporal clause which doubles as the text’s title: “When on high the heavens had not yet been named, nor earth below pronounced by name…” Likewise, Genesis’ second creation account also begins with a temporal clause: “In the day when god Yahweh made earth and skies…” (2:4b).

Another interesting parallel between the Enuma Elish’s opening statement and that of Genesis 1:1 is the reference to an earth that has not yet been named—that is, not yet been created or called into existence. The rhetorical problem is: by what name do you call the primordial matter before that matter is named and created as earth? Although using the word “earth,” the Enuma Elish responds by alluding to the primordial matter that will become earth: “when earth was not yet named.” Genesis 1:1 similarly reproduces this idea but employs a different literary technique: referencing the earth that will be (1:9) as tohu wabohu, without form and void (1:2). What is implied may be articulated as such: “In the beginning when God created the skies and the earth, and that which would become earth was without form and void…” And indeed this reading is supported by the text itself, since it is only in verses 9-10 that dry habitable land is created and named “earth” for the first time! So if earth proper per our text was not created nor named until the 3rd day, then that which existed prior to earth’s creation—that is dry habitable land per the definition of our text (v. 10)—must have been none other than a formless, nameless mass of desolate “earth” for lack of a better word (v. 2). Earth, then, has a very specific meaning in this creation narrative. It is dry, habitable, life-bearing land (1:10). And this, our text informs us, was created from a preexisting wet, formless, waste of non-life-supporting matter or “earth” (1:2).

This is the proper message conveyed in Genesis 1:1-10, and once again it depicts the creator deity in his most powerful and omnipotent role—creating dry, habitable, life-sustaining earth, with tamed and separated seas, by subduing and shaping an initial formless chaotic mass of desolate “earth” and water. This is how the ancient Israelites perceived their world and its origins, not out of nothing—a statement that would have been vacuous to them—but rather through the subduing of the forces of the seas, of destruction, of chaos, of bareness, etc. Thus similar to the Enuma Elish, Genesis 1:1 must also be seen as a temporal clause doubling as the text’s title: “In the beginning when God created the skies and the earth, and the [yet to be created and named] earth was formless and desolate…”

Thus not only is the idea of preexistent matter part and parcel to the mindset and worldview of the ancient Near East, but the syntax and grammar of Genesis’ opening sentence strongly support the fact that the Israelites also depicted their creator deity in a role of subduing, separating, and creating the very components of the world from a preexistent state of formless, desolate matter.

Second, the precise meaning of the verb bara’ also highlights the creative act as one of separating. There are three verbs used in the two creation accounts of Genesis to speak of making or creating: bara’ “to create,” ‘asah, “to make,” and yatsar “to form.” The verb bara’, at least in the context of Genesis 1, connotes the act of creating by means of separating out, or distinguishing. The skies and the earth, we are told, only come into existence by separating them out from the preexistent primordial matter, by setting their boundaries, and by naming them. Thus, it is not until verse 9 that the earth, that is dry land, is created at the moment when it is separated out and distinguished from the waters below: “And God called the land ‘earth’” (1:10). Likewise, the skies (shamayim), that is the waters above, only come into existence through an act of separating, subduing, and partitioning them off from the waters below, both of which were originally part of the primordial deep (tehom). What is therefore implied in Genesis’ opening statement is that the skies and the earth came into existence through a creative act of separating them out from primordial matter—exactly how many Egyptian cosmogonies also begin.

Third and most significantly is the fact that the text itself explicitly asserts that neither the skies nor the earth were created ex nihilo! For the text, and more so the message of its author, clearly depict the creation of the earth proper from a formless, desolate, and void (tohu wabohu) pre-defined earth mass, and the skies from an original watery chaos (tehom). That is, both the creation of the skies (shamayim) in verses 6-8 and the creation of the earth (’eretz) in verses 9-10 do not occur from nothing!

Per our text, earth proper is “dry land,” the material life-supporting substance earth, which does not get created until verses 9-10, when the creator deity himself calls it into existence through an act of separating, defining, and naming it. Furthermore, it is not created out of nothing. For again, per our text, this earth which only comes into existence in verses 9-10 was created from an initial formless, undefined, desolate “earth” that was originally submerged in the surging deep (1:2). Why this author explicitly presents the creation of earth from this initial state of tohu wabohu will be addressed below. In any event, the text is quite clear: earth, that is dry life-sustaining land (v. 10), was not created from nothing; it was fashioned from an uninhabitable, desolate earth mass (v. 2).

Much of the confusion, or plain inaccuracy, behind modern claims of the earth’s creation out of nothing not only arise from a misunderstanding of Genesis 1:2 and a lack of knowledge about its author’s culturally conditioned beliefs and worldview, but also in thinking that the Hebrew word for earth (’eretz) means the planet Earth. The text and its cultural context nowhere support this modern assumption. Rather, what is created is dry life-bearing land, the earth below one’s feet, formed from desolate, undefined, primordial “earth.” So, according to the beliefs and ideas represented in this ancient text, there is no creation of the planet Earth imagined here! Such an idea would have been utterly inconceivable to our author’s culturally conditioned perception of his world.

Likewise, neither the text nor its author presents the creation of the skies out of nothing. For what is to become the skies or the heavens (shamayim) is the firmament, the raqi‘a, which God creates in order to separate the initial primordial teeming waters into the waters above and the waters below. I suppose one could argue that the text does present the creator deity making this raqi‘a out of nothing (1:7), but not in the sense that there was nothing preexistent prior to its creation. For again the text clearly states that this raqi‘a, which was conceptualized by the ancient Israelites as a solid transparent barrier holding back the waters above, was created as a tool for the deity to separate and keep separate these initial primordial untamed waters, half of which are now held above this barrier. It is this barrier or raqi‘a that gets named “the skies,” and its primary function was to keep back the waters above, thus in effect giving the sky its blue color.

Finally, a grave theological problem is unavoidably created when one wrongly imposes later theological claims of creatio ex nihilo onto the text of Genesis 1:1-10—a text, as we have seen, which clearly states otherwise. Since the creation of earth in verses 9-10 happens through the shaping and naming of an initial formless preexisting “earth” and the creation of the skies in verses 6-8 happens as a direct result of subduing and dividing the primordial untamed waters, what happens when later readers impose erroneous theological claims of creatio ex nihilo onto this ancient text is that we are now forced to conclude that God was unable to create the earth and skies out of nothing, since the text does not present the creation of shamayim nor the creation of ’eretz out of nothing! This absurd conclusion is unavoidable when such later ideas and beliefs are imposed onto this ancient text. For, if it was the deity’s original intention to create the skies and the earth out of nothing—or let’s put this more accurately—if it was the original intention of the biblical scribe to present his god creating the skies and the earth out of nothing, then why did he not do this?

In other words, in imposing an erroneous theological assertion of creation from nothing onto this ancient text what you end up with as the creator deity’s alleged first act of creating matter out of nothing is the creation of a formless, meaningless, lifeless, and desolate “earth” covered by a surging watery abyss surrounded in bleak darkness—all of which then needed to be re-created! Not a flattering portrait of a creator deity, and certainly not what our author intended. This translates to presenting a creator deity that textually didn’t, and theologically couldn’t, create the earth and the skies ex nihilo! Because according to this imposed reading, the earth and skies proper need to now be created a second time from the matter that this deity supposedly created in verse 2! An absurd conclusion drawn when one erroneously imposes modern assertions onto an ancient text whose real message is ignored, neglected, or interpreted away.

Last but certainly not least, as mentioned earlier the composition of a creation account displaying a deity that could force a formless and desolate state (tohu wabohu) into habitable life-bearing land had a direct significance for the audience of Genesis 1:1-2:3. It’s time we took a look at this.

Before God commences the act of creating the habitable world, the author of Genesis 1 informs us that what was to become earth existed in a state of formlessness and desolation—a tohu wabohu in Hebrew. This image was not only shaped by the ideas and beliefs shared throughout the ancient Near Eastern world, but it was equally influenced by the specific historical circumstance of the author and his audience—at least how he and his audience perceived it. The rare Hebrew expression tohu wabohu or tohu alone and the image it invoked were unique to the literature of the 6th century BCE. That is, we only find this image and this vocabulary in other texts from the 6th century BCE, and specifically to depict the historical crisis so often alluded to in these texts. Paying attention to these textual details allows us to see more clearly what the author of Genesis 1:1-2:3 hoped to convey through his creation account, and more importantly to whom!

In the aftermath of the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians in the earlier 6th century BCE and the desolation of its land and the turning of fruitful fields into wildernesses, the author of Jeremiah professes: “I looked on the earth and behold, it was formless and desolate (tohu wabohu), and to the heavens, and they had no light” (Jer 4:23). The image put forth here is remarkably similar, if not the same, to that of Genesis 1:2: the earth is depicted in a state of formlessness and desolation, a tohu wabohu. Is this then a vision of the primordial state of creation as depicted in Genesis 1:2? Not quite. Although the prophet does borrow the image of decreation, it is here used to depict the harsh realities and outcome of the Babylonian destruction of the land of Judah and its people in 587 BCE. In other words, the language and image that Jeremiah and other exilic writers of the 6th century used to portray the utter annihilation of the land of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians, who decimated its land, burnt Jerusalem and Yahweh’s temple to the ground, and left the land barren and covered in ashes, was the same language and image used to describe the preexistent state of creation—tohu wabohu.

In fact, references to Judah specifically, and the earth in general, as a tohu wabohu, a wasteland, a barren, sterile, and desolate wilderness, were typical exilic and post-exilic descriptions of the aftermath of the Babylonian destruction as they laid siege to the land and utterly destroyed and burnt everything they encountered, from cities to fields. Thus in another text from the prophetic tradition of the late 6th century BCE, the author of deutero-Isaiah, attempting to console the exilic community, has Yahweh utter these words:

For thus says Yahweh, he who created (bara’) the heavens, the very god who formed (yatsar) the earth and made (‘asah) it, who himself established it: “He did not create (bara’) it a desolation (tohu), but formed (yatsar) it to be habitable” (Is 45:18).

Not only do we see this author having Yahweh proclaim that he did not create earth a tohu—against modern claims that Genesis 1:2 presents Yahweh creating earth as a tohu out of nothing, but more importantly the allusion to (re)creation is more apparent here than in Jeremiah’s text. At core it is a message of hope to the exilic community that Yahweh will turn Judah from a tohu wabohu—that is, the wasteland left after the Babylonian destruction—back into habitable life-bearing earth.

The point that I’m trying to make is that this specific vocabulary and imagery are unique to the exilic literature of the 6th century BCE and reflect these authors’ reality, or at least how they perceived their reality—as a desolation, a wasteland. In like manner, the author of Genesis 1 is also expressing the same idea in his creation account, and to the same audience and for the same purpose! In this case, the tohu wabohu of Genesis 1:2 serves a dual purpose: on the cosmic level it describes the primordial desolate and formless “earth” which the creator deity eventually forms into habitable life-sustaining land; and on the historic plain it describes the state of desolation and waste wrought by the Babylonian aftermath of 587 BCE. If this is so, then the Priestly creation account, like the Isaiah passage above, is an expression of the very hopes and reality of an exilic community and how this community perceived its own condition. It is an affirmative message: that as God had created a habitable earth from a preexistent formless waste (tohu wabohu), so too he can, and will, reestablish the land of Judah as habitable from its current condition of desolation and barrenness: “He did not create it a desolation (tohu), but formed it to be habitable.” The message and image reaffirm to this exilic community, the goodness and holiness in the created order of the world despite their current plight living in tohu!

Additionally, we notice that the author of Isaiah 45:18 has Yahweh explicitly declare that he did not create earth as a tohu or in a state of tohu! This also clearly speaks against later readers who, ignoring the text and its author’s theological message, impose their own beliefs of creatio ex nihilo onto the ancient text of Genesis 1. This is why creation from nothing meant nothing. What the Israelites sought to portray was a deity powerful enough to make, to convert, a desolate, formless, barren wasteland into a fertile, habitable, life-sustaining land. Both Genesis 1:1-10 and these passages from the prophetic tradition accomplish this, and I might add marvelously well.

These then are the beliefs and views of the author of Genesis 1. And as the above clearly demonstrates, they were shaped by cultural, literary, and specific historical contexts and circumstances. Thus later readers who are ignorant of the literary and historical contexts of Genesis 1 often draw erroneous conclusions about this text, since one now believes, out of ignorance (i.e., lack of cultural, historical, and literary knowledge), something about the text which the text in fact does not claim! Indeed modern interpretive agendas that claim God created a tohu wabohu earth out of nothing in Genesis 1:2 not only completely destroy our author’s message of hope to his historical audience, but they also display a blasphemous disdain for his theological argument: that God can, and did at creation, create life-sustaining earth from a barren, desolate, uninhabitable earth mass. Thus throughout the forthcoming entries in this book, our goal will be to understand these ancient texts on their own terms and in their own historical and literary contexts—and not on the terms of later readers.

Finally, we need to note that later interpretive communities and readers of the text of Genesis 1:1-2, such as the author of Hebrews, projected onto this ancient text their own beliefs about the nature of the world and its origins. Thus Hebrews 11:3 illuminates the beliefs and views of its author and his culture, rather than the beliefs and views of the author of Genesis 1. This is a common characteristic of all interpretive traditions: they tell us more about the beliefs of their readers than those of the authors of these ancient texts. We will revisit these later interpretive strategies in countless other entries, not withholding other contradictions between New Testament writers and ancient Israelite scribes, such as other variant beliefs about creation (see #9-10).


  1. The following is excerpted in part from my Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate: Being Honest to the Text, Its Author, and His Beliefs (Wipf & Stock, 2016),  p. 7-18.
  2. There are a number of good anthologies. For example: Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation (University of Chicago, 1951); James Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East: Volume I. An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton University, 1958); S. H. Hooke, Middle Eastern Mythology: From the Assyrians to the Hebrews (Penguin, 1963); S. Brandon, Creation Legends of the Ancient Near East. London (Hodder & Stoughton, 1963); Michael Coogan, Stories from Ancient Canaan (Westminister, 1978); and Victor Matthews and Don Benjamin, Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East (Paulist Press, 2006).
  3. Unknown to many modern readers, the Bible also preserves an Israelite version of this mythic tale wherein Yahweh slays the primordial water-serpent Leviathan, or in some versions Rahab, as the first act of creation. See contradiction #8.

5 thoughts on “#1. Was earth created from preexistent matter OR nothing? (Gen 1:1-10; Is 45:18 vs Heb 11:3)?

  1. As an aside, the first movement of Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation” is a musical depiction of the chaos that exists before God creates the world. To my ears it evokes turbulent waters. I have no idea what Haydn believed the chaos was, but he considered that even the chaos was ruled by God.

    Then listen to the next movement. What happens after God says “Let there be light” is one of my favorite musical moments.

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