A Fresh Look at Genesis One (ii)

In part (i), I suggested the current Genesis chapter 1 was as an earlier version of what’s now the first creation story with Genesis 2:1-3 added. These three verses are stylistically different, as might be expected if written by a different hand. For example, three structural phrases, repeated over and over in chapter 1, suddenly disappear. These are (i) “God said”, (ii) “God saw that it was good” and (iii) “there was evening and morning, the (whichever) day”. 

I also suggested that in chapter 1, rather than six, there are eight stages in the creative process, each of which is introduced by the words, “God said”. These are – 

Why did eight ‘stages’ become six ‘days’?

The Exodus (while allowing for its greatly exaggerated description) is the key event in the story of Israel. There is reason, however, for suggesting that of similar, or even greater importance, was the Exile of the 6th century BCE, when its citizens were taken away to Babylon, its capital city Jerusalem was razed to the ground, and the Temple of its God destroyed. Israel was in danger (in a deadly ‘foretaste’ of the Nazi horror) of disappearing from history, unless some means was found for its preservation and eventual restoration.

The exiled Israelites would’ve been under pressure to become ‘assimilated’ – to ‘accept the inevitable’ and adopt the language, culture and religion of the nation in which they were now a vulnerable minority. The task facing their leaders was to major on what could keep them bound together in a desirably and uniquely special way. There was their inspiring exodus story (if liberated once, they could be liberated again). There was also their monotheism, and their rituals of circumcision and (of publicly visible importance) sabbath observance! They needed to rediscover, and revitalise, all these fundamental constituents of their national story. Here was an answer to Psalm 34’s question, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

The priestly group among them, revisited and revised what soon became the final version of Genesis, and the other first five books of the Hebrew Bible. In an earlier tradition (Deuteronomy 5:15), the observance of the sabbath had been linked to the Exodus : “You shall remember you were a slave in Egypt, and Yahweh brought you out of there .. therefore Yahweh commanded you to observe the Sabbath”. Now, however, it was given even greater pride of place, and therefore of importance, by becoming, in an extended first creation story, the new climax – no longer the creation of the first humans, but God’s people-defining establishment of the sabbath day of rest. 

So it may well be, that the original creation account dealt only with the eight ‘stages’ mentioned above, and that it was re-written to turn these into six ‘days’, in order to now lead up to the climactic seventh, sabbath day. Such are the possibilities which make Genesis, and indeed the Pentateuch, to me anyway, endlessly fascinating.

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