Barry Newman's Blog

November 14, 2010

Science and Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 (part XIII)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:14 pm

Genesis 2: 1-3 – Day 7 (continued)

What of the fact that there is no reference to “so there was evening and there was morning the seventh day”?  It has been argued that because there is no such clause the seventh day has no end.  God’s seventh day is ongoing.  Alternatively, while not dispatching with this idea altogether it could be that it would be very odd to conclude with such a clause since in so doing it might beg the question of what happened on the eight day.  Our question with which we began this discussion could be regarded as odd in that what has been depicted in Days 1 to 6 has been God’s creative activity with Day 7 being introduced primarily to indicate that that creativity activity has now been completed and hence God has now ceased from such activity.  That creative activity is not ongoing.  There is no need to herald a Day 8 by introducing “and there was an evening and a morning …”.  This is not to deny that after a fashion Day 7 is ongoing but it is in the sense that no creative active of the like of that referred to in Days 1 to 6 occurs again.  It is also not to deny that much is made theologically of the seventh day in later Biblical material. 

Indeed 2: 3 already anticipates some of this theology by stating that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy”.  That something is blessed by God indicates that it is of considerable value. In 1: 22 God blesses the water dwellers and the birds and in 1: 28 God blesses mankind and in both cases this blessing relates to the objects of the blessing being fruitful and multiplying.  In the case of the seventh day, God’s blessing would indicate how highly valued it is and in its case the blessing is to be understood in terms of its being made holy. The reason why it is blessed however is clearly stated to be because on the seventh day God ceased from “all the work of creating which he had done”.  It is not within the purpose of this work to further elaborate upon the theological significance of the seventh day and its being made holy as that unfolds in later Biblical material.

Is there anything special about the notion of “seven” in the surrounding cultures? Walton (Genesis, pp. 151 – 155) refers to a Sumerian account where the dedication ceremonies associated with the construction of a temple lasted seven days, Ugaritic literature in which it is stated that “Baal takes seven days to construct his sanctuary” and Babylonian literature where reference is made to an annual ceremony in which on the seventh day a god takes his place in his temple.  While it may well be that there are overtones of such mythology in the Genesis account, there are substantial differences.  In comparison with the first two mythological accounts, God creates in six days.  His creative activity is all over by the end of the sixth day.  The seventh day is not a day of construction.  The Babylonian account is similar to the Genesis account in that it is on the seventh day that the god takes his place in his temple, just as it could be argued that a later understanding of the Genesis account has God settling down in his creation.  However even here the significant difference is that God does not reside (in Genesis) in an earthly temple nor does he reside repeatedly.  He needs no such temple and if settling down in the cosmos is the appropriate imagery that should come to mind he has taken his place in the cosmos once and for all time or at least until he folds up the cosmos.

Walton argues strongly for the notion that somewhat similarly to her neighbours, Israel has the notion of God inhabiting and being “enthroned” within the cosmos, later the tabernacle and later still Solomon’s temple, as his “temple”, thereby coming into his rest at the same time as taking charge of his world (see Genesis, 147-154).  The Biblical material he refers to includes, Psalm 78: 69; 104: 2-4; 132: 13, 14, Isaiah 66: 1, Ezekiel 47: 1 and texts from Genesis 2 and Exodus 39 and 40.  However he admits that with respect to the Genesis passage under discussion “the contextual and lexical data offer no explicit information concerning the concept of God taking up his repose in his cosmic temple.”  He builds his case on later Biblical material.  My view is that Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 is relatively free but not entirely free from such overtones, probably intentionally so.

Walton does make an interesting observation in terms of what the seven day account does for Israel’s life. Towards the end of his discussion on cultural similarities he states, “We can therefore conclude that the seven day cycle gave Israel a foundation for their calendar that operated independently of all the objects and functions of the created world (i.e. the cycles of the moon or sun; seasons) and linked them to a recognition of God and his role” (Genesis, p. 157).

So there we have Days 1 to 7.  What are we to make of this Genesis account as a piece of literature albeit that it is found in the Bible?  What is it essentially attempting to say? What do we make of it in the light of modern scientific understandings?


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