Friday, March 8, 2013

A Vicarious Creation, or Why Yahweh is Among Us

Credulous at best, your desire to believe in angels in the hearts of men.
Pull your head on out your hippy haze and give a listen.
Shouldn't have to say it all again.
The universe is hostile. so Impersonal. devour to survive.
So it is. So it's always been.
Tool -- "Vicarious"

I've been thinking a lot lately, particularly about the proper place of narrative in relation to truth. In many ways, this is a cumulative post of past experiences that haven't made their way to you at this point, but in another way this post is meant more as a summation.

Genesis has been a bit of a hot topic lately, especially with my friends. A great deal of them are conservative Christians and, for many of them, the issue of inerrancy and Genesis has been a splitting headache of a problem. I think this problem should be addressed, so here goes my hat being tossed into the ring.

The stories in Genesis builds heavily off Ancient Near Eastern creation myths, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and others. In fact, it seems to assume certain similarities between them: water, creation from dry land, the sequence of days, etc.

However, I would argue that the writers of Genesis weren't interested in simply copying or rehashing the same themes. If Genesis was written during the Babylonian exile, then Israel would've been bathed in the material and national propaganda of the time, in the same way Americans are.

But, instead of leaving it as such, I think Genesis is far more subversive than that, and has a demythologizing effect on such myths. Questions of origin and salvation aren't of interest to the writers. Instead, they are more focused on the physical creation and what it means to be human and to be made in the likeness of Yahweh. Rather than completely disregard their culture, the remnant seemed quite content to speak in the same type of language and appeal to the same rhetorical devices such as "rest" after a conflict has been resolved and secured (Gen 1:31-2:3) and the use of repeating formula according to Gordon Wenham.

Also, 2:4 has a standard rhetorical introduction with "in the day that Yahweh-God made the earth and the heavens." Peter Van Seters says this is similar to our modern use of "once upon a time." The plural ("Let us make mankind") contains a hint of a divine council or heavenly court. This resembles a Babylonian myth about how the king was a special creation of the gods, all of whom were called upon to contribute attributes and qualities that would equip him to rule (Van Peters). 

Once upon a time, Yahweh created the earth and the heavens.

In many ways, we get quite hung up on myth, seeing it as false. Or, that Yahweh wouldn't tell a story that way. Jesus was quite fond of parables and seemed at ease speaking cryptically, just as a passing example. Or, Icarus flying into the heavens and falling to earth contains profound principles that teach us regardless if the story is historical. Consistency and chronology are not important to myths (Van Peters).

The term "adam" is used in a new sense to include both male and female. This new creature is made in the image and likeness of God, the climax of the first creation story. Instead of creation being hostile and horrific, mankind will have dominion over it via the command of Yahweh.

For myself, I think myth is a profound and powerful method of conveying truth. The principles of the creation story stand as Yahweh being sovereign, powerful, emotive, loving and willing to come among us. In many ways, this looks into the future as well as states a present fact:

Yahweh is loving and powerful, we (male and female) are in His likeness and He has welcomed himself among us.

--Nick

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