Pentateuch is considered to be the most important part in the Old Testament. It recorded the account of creation, the fall of man, the Law Code as well as the experience of the Ancient Israel. Among them Genesis is the first book recorded incidents happened from the creation of the world to Joseph’s time. In chapter one to eleven, the origin of the world and human race are introduced and in chapter twelve onwards are the stories of the Ancestors. In this passage, we will concentrate in discussing the theology of chapter one to eleven which contained much valuable and important message for the readers who were probably
Israelites in post-exilic period (which would be discussed later). In order to understand the text it is important to have some knowledge about the background of the readers as the author should compose his work under their background so that they may understand easily. Hence brief introduction of the background of Ancient Israelites and Genesis as well as its authorship would be given before we go into discussing its theology. The discussion will be within four topics —(a) Yahweh has supreme authority and power, (b) Man—as image of God, (c) Mankind’s failure and God’s reaction and (d) Creation—a continuing process. B) Background of Canaanites’ Religion and Ancient Israelites Both Biblical record and archeological evidence showed that beside the Israelites, there were many other people living in Palestine.
They included Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Amorites, Canaanites, Girga*censored*es and Jebusites. In this passage, they are all regarded as Canaanites. Basically, the Canaanites’ religions are polytheistic. They believed in many gods in many different levels including those national god, functional gods and family gods or ancestors. In the following paragraphs, a brief introduction of Canaanites’ eligions would be given as a background for the studies of religion of ancient Israelites. Religion in Ancient Near East Although the gods they worshipped were different, tribes in Ancient Near East did have similar although not exactly the same doctrines. As mentioned above, their religions are polytheistic. Each god in their religion had different function and statues. They had different characters and might fight among themselves. We are going to discuss the religion in Canaan and Babylon as examples. One point must be noted is that the functions of the gods in Canaan are closely related to natural phenomena .
For example, Baal Hadad was known as the thunder god who was responsible for raining. Other examples included El Elyon who was known as the sun god , Yamm who was the god of the sea and Mot who was the god of death . Some of the gods were related to daily life. For instant, Anath was the goddess of war and Astarte was known as the goddess of love and fertility and also of war. Another function of Baal was related to fertility. The Canaanites always explained natural phenomena using myths. The alternation of the seasons and the death and renewal of vegetation were believed to be explained through the following myth.
When Baal had his temple built, he sent a message to the god of death Mot in which he threatened Mot’s life. After that there was a struggle between Mot and Baal and Baal was killed in the battle. After some times Baal’s sister Anath went down to the underworld and defeated Mot. Baal was resurrected from death and returned to his power to bring about raining to the Earth. The Canaanites believed that the death and resurrection of Baal happened every year. The defeat of Baal indicated the death of vegetation due to winter frosts or summer drought. The resurrection of Baal revealed the vegetation grew because of annual r seasonal flooding. In this myth, one could easily observe that other that a thunder god, Baal was also a god of fertility.
In the sight of the people in Ancient Near East, men were just the slaves of gods. For instance, in Babylon, people believed that mankind was created only because of the laziness of gods. The gods created men so that they could take over their work and serve them. The gods needed the sacrifice of men. However, due to the noise and din of men, Enlil, the King of the lands wanted to destroy men. Another god Ea brought about deliverance to Atrahasis in a series of plagues. Finally, Enlil sent a flood and gain Ea warned Atrahasis who made a ship to save himself later. The Gilgamesh Epic had another record of the flood story. When the gods sent a flood to the Earth, Ea warned Utanapishtim in Shuruppak and Utanapishtim built a ship to save himself and his family, together with all sorts of animals. The rain and storm continued up to the seventh day.
The story told that the gods became hungry without sacrifice and repent for their decision. Utanapishtim sent out respectively a dove, a swallow and finally a raven. When the raven did not returned which indicated that the flood was gone, Utanapishtim went out and made sacrifice. The gods then gather around him immediately indicated that they really needed the sacrifice from men. The flood story was very popular in the ancient Near East. One interesting point must be noted was that the record in the Gilgamesh was in a large extent similar to that in the Biblical account. We will go back to the story in Section E. The Canaanites, as usual, using myth to explain the origin of the world. In the creation story of Canaanites’ religion , the sea god Yam got the approval of El to attack Baal.
However, Baal victor over Yam and seized his royal power. Sea was thought to be evil in the sight of Babylonians, Canaanites as well as Israelites. We could find examples in the Old Testament describing the struggle between Yahweh and the sea, for instance, Ps 77 : 16 – 19 and also Isa 27 : 1. One of the creation myth stated that El was drunk during creation and so some deaf, blind and disabled people was created. The Canaanites might use this kind of myth to explain the imperfection of human being. Background of Ancient Israelites When one read through the Old Testament, the text seems to tell us that Israelites were descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who worshipped Yahweh as their God.
Gen 12 : 1 stated that Yahweh told Abraham to leave his own country to where He would show him. It was strange that Abraham would know the name “Yahweh” in Haran in the North East of Canaan. There was no archeological fact showing that the name Yahweh was known in Haran, Ur as well as Canaan. The Biblical text also showed that God appeared to Abraham was not using the name “Yahweh”. For instant, in Ex. 6: 3 we find “To Abraham, Isaac and Jacob I appeared as El Shaddai”, a general name of gods, El, was used. Living among the Canaanites, Abraham himself was no doubt full of their concept in religion. As mentioned above, the Canaanites were polytheistic and there was no idea about monotheistic, Abraham himself would not be exceptional. His religious practices, for example, in making the covenant with God in Gen 15, Abraham split the animals down the middle was a common practice of the Canaanites when they made a covenant with their gods.
Moreover, when Yahweh told Abraham to have his son sacrificed, he did not bargain with God since sacrificing sons was common in Canaanites’ religion. As we read through the Bible from Judges to Kings, we may find that the Israelites would turn away from Yahweh and worshipped other gods easily. It ould be strange if the concept of monotheism has been well developed. For instant, when a believer turned away from God nowadays, usually he would just believe in himself or simply not believe any religion. Cases in which believers turned to believe in religions which are polytheistic were not frequent. The point was that once the idea of monotheism was fully developed, turning to worship gods like Baal, Asherah etc would mean to have a complete change in the concept of belief. It would not be so easy to change one’s concept that has been developed since his childhood. However, it would be easily to explain the fact f Israelites turning away from God easily in Judges if their concept of religion were still polytheistic and Yahweh was only one of the god they worshipped.
In such a hypothesis it was logical that they worshipped gods such as Baal and Astarte who were god of fertility in Canaanite religion. The idea of polytheism of the Israelites before the exile could be clearly seen in Psalms, for example, in Ps 82 we found that Yahweh was giving judgement in the divine assembly, which was similar to El Elyon to rule over other gods in Canaanites religion. In Deu 32: 8 – 9, the text described Israel was Yahweh’s portion when he Most High (El Elyon) distributed the land among his sons. The king Manasseh had his son sacrificed through fire and built up image of Asherah (2 Kgs 21 :1ff). All these show that before exile the Israelites’ mind was full of concept of Canaanites religions that are polytheistic. (C) Background of Genesis and Yahwists The origin and authorship of the Pentateuch has been discussed over past few centuries. Many scholars had different point of views and no final conclusion has been made. In this section, the writer is not attempting to argue and compare the reasons proposed by different scholars in this issue but to give is own viewpoint and reasons supporting for the sake of convenient in the discussion of the theology of Genesis in the later part of this passage. As we read through Pentateuch, the books seem to telling its readers that there are one and only one God ruling over the Earth. In other word, they are presenting a religion that is monotheistic.
As we mentioned before, the Israelites had no idea about monotheism before the exile or at least till the late pre-exilic period. It would be strange that such a monotheistic material was widely accepted and being kept if it was written in the period of monarchy during which eople were full of idea of polytheism. Rolf Rendtorff rejected the idea of the traditional source criticism (JEDP) but he regarded the Pentateuch as basically the composition of Deuteronomists together with some priestly contribution. Erhard Blum views the priestly material as a correction of certain part of the Deuteronomistic theology. Unlike Rendtorff, he accepted the possibilities of some stories as tradition before the period of monarchy. Blum then drew a conclusion that the Pentateuch was a postexilic compromise between the thought of Deuteronomists and Priestly Reformers. In Leviticus and Numbers, the holiness nd uniqueness of God were stressed. The Israelites did not have such ideas until the return from exile in Ezra and Nehemiah’s time.
Together with the monotheism presented in the books mentioned above, the writer supports the viewpoint of Rendtorff and Blum that the Pentateuch we have now was actually finished in postexilic period. However, concerning about the authorship the writer has different viewpoint. In Genesis, we found many stories that are similar to those in religions of Ancient Near East, for example, the creation story and the flooding story (we will investigate in more detail in later part f the passage). However, in Deuteronomy no elements from Canaanites religion can be found whereas the identity of the Israelites as Yahweh’s chosen one was stressed. Moreover, direct warning to Israelites was used when explaining the laws and urging them to observe the law instead of using stories. Deuteronomy and Genesis is quite different literally and the way the witness was made, the writer agrees to the point of view of Van Seters that “Yahwist “did exist and participate in the composition of the Pentateuch.
Among the five books, Genesis to a large extend was the witness of the Yahwists. One strong vidence showing that the Pentateuch was a post-exilic composition was that some story in Genesis is similar to Babylonia stories but with modification. The flooding story is one of the examples. The author and readers should know nothing about Babylonia culture till the exile. The implication was that its composition should not be earlier than the exilic period. In conclusion, the writers believed that the witness in Genesis was done by Yahwists which was later composite in the book Genesis we have today by some redactors. Nevertheless, the book as well as the witness itself should not be earlier than he late pre-exilic period after the discovery of Deuteronomy law in Josiah’s time. The theology of Genesis discuss below is based on this hypothesis. (D) Purpose of Genesis Under the background of polytheism, people living in ancient Near East, including Israelites believed that each nation had her own national god.
To the people of Judah, their national god was Yahweh (Deu 32: 8-9). Wars between nations were understood as the struggle between the national gods. Under the hypothesis of Pentateuch being exilic or post-exilic composition, ideas such as Yahweh was defeated by gods of Babylon and that Yahweh was powerless in rotecting them would by all means appear in the mind of the Israelites. In this circumstance, gods in Persia and their religions, which to the Israelites seems more powerful would be much attractive to them. In fact, in Nehemiah we can find Jews married wives from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab and their children even knew nothing about language of Judah. One of the priest even married the daughter of their enemy Sanballat the Horonites (Ne 13: 28). Marrying foreign wives and teaching children foreign language revealed invasion by foreign culture and religion. The author of Genesis tried to give a correct understanding of Yahweh o the Israelites at that time. The authority and power of God over the whole world could be seen in the witness. Moreover, attitude of God towards human being was also presented which differed to those in Canaanites and Babylonia religions.
The explanation of man’s suffering due to human’s sin was also introduced. The message was clear — the poor experience of Israelites of being exiled was due to their sin but not that God was powerless. Furthermore, God’s grace came upon usually following the punishment giving a hope to the post-exilic Israelites that God would never forsake them. Finally, the purposes f creation and the process were also described in Genesis 1 – 11. (E) Yahweh has Supreme Authority As we have discussed above, the religion in Canaan was polytheistic and different gods had different function in their concept. Monotheism began to develop in Exilic and Post-exilic period. As monotheism was a new idea towards the audience, the author has used many stories and myths that were well known to present his idea. Sometimes myths from Canaanites or Babylonia religions with modification have been applied. In some occasion, we found that the story told in Genesis was speaking again some concept in
Canaanites or Babylonia religions, the creation story was one of the examples. We have seen in Section B that in Canaanites religion, there was struggle between Baal and Yam in the creation story. It seemed to tell us that Yam had power comparable to the creator Baal. The implication was that although Baal was the creator, he did not seize supreme power. However, in Genesis 1: 2, we found “a divine wind sweeping over the waters”. When one read through chapter one, one could find that God did divided the waters under the vault and above the vault, made the water under heaven to become a single mass and created ifferent kinds of animals and plants living in waters, we could hardly find an evidence to show that waters was directly created by God. However, the main different from Baal’s creation story was that God did have power over the water. Instead of a struggle with the waters, God’s wind sweeping over the waters which revealed His supreme power.
The text seemed to tell us that the waters were actually co-exist with God before the world was created. One may doubt that should the waters created by God. However, in the concept of the readers at that time, the sea represent evil which existed before creation and hence the story resented in such a way could be easily accepted and understood by the Israelites at that time. The writer believes that the author was trying to stress the supreme power over the waters as against Baal’s story. The waters were actually under God’s rule and control. Another point must be noted is that in the creation story in Genesis, we could find that God caused plants to grow, which revealed that fertility was in the hands of God. The sun, the moon and the stars were just creation of God and were not gods as presented in Canaanites religion. Throughout the creation, all kind of creature was made by God’s word.