Only a Low Level of Creative Imagination is Required to Explain the Origin of The Creation Stories in Genesis
The level of mental sophistication required to explain the origin of naive and simplistic concepts in Genesis like the idea that the basic stuff involved in creation were “darkness, water, wind, light and earth,” as well as “believing in the magical power of words,” “dividing the ingredients in two,” “making do with whatʼs at hand,” and, “things created as they appeared”—is equal to the level of mental sophistication of a young child. In fact the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics conducted a study during the 1980s on the mental sophistication of children and discovered that almost one-half of children aged ten years and younger in the United States and other countries believe the earth is flat. And those who say it is round picture “round” as a giant pancake or a curved sky covering a flat ground. One in four thirteen-year olds also believes the earth is flat.
All ancient recipes for creation begin with the simplest of ingredients because the ancient mind was unaware of the complex differences between things and could only conceive of such differences in the broadest of categories, such as distinguishing between “earth, wind, water, light and darkness.” Such were the “elements” of creation. Hence, according to ancient Egyptian tales of creation, nothing existed in the beginning except a waste of “waters,” also known as “the deep.” Greek tales speak of “earth, murky night, briny deep.” Babylonian tales speak of “waters.” Some ancient Sumerian tales spoke not of water, but of another basic ingredient, a mountain of “earth” that existed in the beginning. Phoenician/Canaanite tales speak of “the beginning of all things” as “a windy air and a black chaos which embraced the air and generated a watery mixture, and from this sprang all the seed of creation.” The Hebrew tale in the book of Genesis has the “spirit of God” (the literal Hebrew word for “spirit” also meant “wind or breath”) moving on the surface of “waters” with “light” and “earth” to follow.
A Belief In the Magical Power of Words
Many ancient tales of creation, not just the Hebrew one, attributed supernatural power to a godʼs “word,” i.e., simply “say the magic word” and things instantly appear, disappear, or are transformed. According to the Egyptian Book of the Dead every act of creation represented a thought of Temu and its expression in “words.” A host of Egyptian creation myths agreed that the agency of creation was the godʼs “word.” The pre-Babylonian civilization of Sumeria believed that all things existed and were created by the “word” of Enki. In fact, they viewed the “word” of all their gods as a definite and real thing—a divine entity or agent. Even Sumerian personal names reflected their belief in the power of the “word,” including names like, “The word of the wise one is eternal,” “His word is true,” and, “The word which he spoke shakes the heavens.” After the Sumerians came the Babylonians and their creation tale, Enuma Elish (nicknamed by scholars, the “Babylonian Genesis”), which began, “When Heaven had not been named, Firm ground had not been called by name…when no name had been named.” The Hebrew tale arose out of that same milieu.
Added to the ancient belief in the “magic” of “naming” things, was also the belief that the “word” of a ruler or king must be obeyed, and the gods were believed to rule over nature much like kings were believed to rule over their fellow men, i.e., by “divine right.” Therefore, whatever a god said, was “done” in nature. A fragment from Sumeria states, “Thy word upon the sea has been projected and returns not [void].” The Babylonian Enuma Elish, states, “May I [Lord Marduk, the Babylonian creator], through the utterance of my mouth determine the destines…Whatever I create shall remain unaltered, The command of my lips shall not return [void], it shall not be changed.” Compare the Hebrew usage of the same phrase in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my [the Lordʼs] word be which goeth up from my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, For it shall have done that which I desired.”
Divide The Ingredients in Two
It was a common feature of early Greek cosmological beliefs, which they shared with those of the Near East and elsewhere, that in the beginning all was fused together in an undifferentiated mass. The initial act in the making of the world, whether accomplished by the fiat of a creator or by other means, was a separation or division. As the Hebrew myth has it, “God divided the light from the darkness…and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament.”—W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, Vol. I, (Cambridge Univ. Press: 1962)
Ancient tales of creation often involved a division of primeval stuff into two equal halves—like cracking a cosmic egg in two and making “heaven” out of the top half and “earth” out of the bottom half. A Sumerian tale of creation has heaven and earth arise from a celestial mountain split in two. In Egyptian tales a god and goddess are pulled apart: “Shu, the uplifter, raised Nut (a water goddess) on high. She formed the firmament, which is arched over Seb, the god of the earth, who lies prostrate beneath her…In the darkness are beheld the stars which sparkle upon Nutʼs body.” The Egyptians also employed the less mythologized concept of a celestial dome (above which lies “the heavenly ocean”). In the Babylonian Enuma Elish, a water goddess is split in two by the creator to form upper and lower bodies of water, the upper half also becoming a “heavenly dome” that held back vast celestial waters. The Hebrew tale in Genesis has the creator make “a firmament in the midst [middle] of the waters, that it may divide…the water which was below the firmament from the water which was above the firmament.” Both the Babylonian and Hebrew tales continue with the “earth” being created in the lower half of the recently divided waters.
It is interesting to note that the Father of Protestantism, Martin Luther, was adamant that the Bible spoke of waters lying above the moon, the sun, and the stars. He countered the views of astronomers of his day with the words of Scripture:
“Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters… We Christians must be different from the philosophers [astronomers] in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity; with our understanding.” Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, Vol. 1, Lutherʼs Works, Concordia Pub. House, 1958
Also, a Hebrew psalm referred to “waters above the sun, moon, and stars”:
“Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him stars of light! Praise Him highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens!” Psalm 148:3-4
Furthermore, when the book of Genesis described a “flood” that covered the whole world, and reduced the world to its pre-creation watery beginning, the story states that the “flood gates of the sky” were “opened.” Neither did the author of that fable suppose that all the water above the firmament fell to earth, but that the “flood gates” had to be “shut” to stop more water from falling, and the creator had to promise not to flood the earth again with such waters. So, the Bible agrees with Luther that “the waters above the firmament” remained “up there”–and this agrees completely with ancient tales of creation in which the world arose from a division of waters which encompass creation still, and which the creator keeps at bay, having prepared a place in the “midst of such waters” for the earth.
Make Do With Whatʼs At Hand, Like a Potter Might
Ancient creation accounts never explain where the first “waters,” or “earth,” or “darkness,” came from. Nor do the various creators make everything “out of nothing.” They often have to resort to creating plants, animals and human beings out of the earth or from parts of divine beings. Sometimes this includes molding creatures like a sculptor molds images out of clay—then imparting some magic to them. The Hebrew tale of creation in Genesis is no exception. It does not say where the water and the darkness came from “in the beginning.” Neither does it say that the “earth” was created out of nothing, but simply that “the dry land appeared” after the creator “gathered together the waters into one place.” Moreover, the Hebrew creator does not create vegetation and living creatures out of nothing but has “the earth” sprout vegetation, and “the earth” bring forth living creatures. Nor does the Hebrew creator make man out of nothing, but, “formed man from the dust of the earth.” Then “blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being,” kind of like blowing on a clay sculpture to magically bring it to life. Neither was the divine “breath of life” shared only with man, for the same phrase is used in regard to every living creature that the earth brought forth, “all in whose nostrils was the breath of life.” (Gen. 7:21,22)
In the Babylonian tale, Enuma Elish, the creator of heaven and earth, Marduk, is called “the god of the good breath [of life],” and he creates man from something divine, the blood of a diety. So there is a “divine connection” between man and the gods. (Sort of like the Hebrew tale where man is created in the “image” of the divine creator and brought to life by divine breath.) Alternate creation accounts from ancient Babylon have mankind springing up from the ground, or created from the flesh and blood of a god mixed with clay, or even fashioned by the chief Babylonian god with the help of a divine “potter”—not unlike the Genesis account of man being “formed [molded] from the dust of the ground.”
A Creation Story & Cosmology Based on Appearances
Another factor most ancient tales of creation share is that living things do not evolve from one another but are each made separately in the form in which the author already was most familiar. Plants and animals are described as having been created in the forms in which they appeared in the authorʼs own day. In a similar fashion, the earth was described as being created in the form in which it appeared to the ancient mind, which was “flat.” The earth appeared to be the flat and firm foundation of creation, while the sun, moon, and stars appeared to be relatively smaller than the earth and less solidly “set” in creation since they moved across the sky, hence even their creation came after the earthʼs—like light bulbs screwed into itʼs ceiling. And such objects might even “fall to earth.” (Some of the tiny bright lights in the sky were referred to as “wandering stars,” since they did not move in unison with the rest—though much later mankind discovered that those “wanderers” were not “stars” at all, but planets) And the earth appeared to lie beneath a vast dome stretched out above it. The ancient mind focused on the most basic of elements and the most basic of appearances when it came to its creation stories.
Likewise, alternating periods of “day and night” were perceived by ancient earth dwellers as constituting the rhythm of the whole cosmos. The Hebrews even divided their cosmic creation account into “mornings and evenings,” “nights and days.” But today astronomers recognize the earth as merely one of a class of objects that spins on its axis and circles stars, with many other objects out there, each having their own “days and nights” of differing durations. There may even be a planet somewhere that spins so slowly on its axis that one side of the planet experiences perpetual “day” while the other side experiences perpetual “night.”
Lastly, every one of the “six days” of creation in the Hebrew tale is devoted to creating things for the earth alone, or creating plants and animals to fill it. When the sun, moon, and stars are created, it is merely to light the earth below, and for signs and seasons on earth. Even on the first day of creation when the Hebrew creator made “light,” it was so He could set up “days and nights” for the earth. How earth-centered is that? Or how naively based on appearances as seen from earth?
For further examples see https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/11/holy-heavens-of-hebrews.html