Bible as Lit – Sick_Boy – May 10

WELCOME TO BIBLECHAT!

The purpose of this thread is to talk about the Bible and other religious texts, taken as literary and cultural artifacts rather than from the point of view of their value as truly divine-inspired works. To put it in comfortable list form:

God doesn’t exist / Islam is the light / Christ is King: I don’t care. You have the rest of LF to tell people that atheists are dumb, or to Deal With It. This thread is for the texts themselves. They are interesting works when studied in terms of symbology, structure or social function. Your religious views are your own, but don’t feel the need to shitpost about them here.

The Church is Evil / a Force of Good: See above. I give no fuck about the Church in this thread except when it pertains to the Bible itself; such cases may include interpolations, different translations, the choice of the Alexandrian Canon over the traditinal Hewbrew Canon, texts considered apocriphal, the pairing of books in the Hewbrew Canon, and so on.

Is this just about the Bible? Hell no. If you know about the Q’ran, or the Popol Vuh or other sacred texts and want to post about them, go ahead. I just named the thread Biblechat bacause it’s catchier than “religiously significant textschat”

The Bible is silly, look at all these fragments, they are funny: We all know about all those fragments. You can post about them if you have anything to say other than “lol this is terrible death to all religious people”.

Since this is the beggining of the thread I feel there’s only one way to kick it off:

Genesis 1

Now, I’ll probably follow this up with Genesis 2 and 3, but let’s take it from the top. Genesis 1 is a book of great interest in literary and cultural terms, for it shows a cognitive leap when compared to other creation myths, including older ones included in the bible itself. Genesis 1 is historically posterior to Genesis 2, and it’s theorized that it coalesced at some point when the people of Israel were in Babylon, working as a counterpoint to local religion in order to combat the loss of adherents to the jewish faith. You see, the traditional Yawheh was not a warrior-god, and indeed his attributes and stories pale when compared to babylonian myths: there are no great battles between divinities, no adventures of any sort; in fact, Yawheh was more closely related to an artisan god than a supreme divinity (artisan gods, while usually playing a role close to mankind, tend to be secondary within polytheistic pantheons).

Enter Genesis 1. The God described in it is much more abstract than most gods, for it is not animalized or anthropomophic in any way: he is a purely spiritual being, and the leap from “animal spirit” or a more “human” god to the abstract constuct found in Genesis 1 shows a major development in cognitive sophistication. Also contributing is ex nihilo creation: in most creation myths the world and everything in it is created using a prime material, but God (he’s not called Yawheh in this chapter, making him even more abstract) creates from nothing, for he is Omnipotent: an attribute not found in other contemporary religions. This also explains why Genesis 1 is not a cosmogony: there is no agon, no conflict; another difference from many other creation myths. It does have parallels to other creation myths, however.

Let’s dive in:

“1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 Now the earth was [a] formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

The first verse synthesises all that will be elaborated upon in the chapter. God is seen without any physical characteristics, merely a “spirit”. Now, here the parallels with other Creation Myths start to appear: the idea of Chaos, of a “formless and empty” earth is present, for instance, in Greek myths. Creation myths often are the passage from Chaos to Order. The presence of waters is significant: symbolically, water represents potential; the potential for life and the potential for death reside within its polysemic nature. So while god does create Ex Nihilo later in the chapter, the potential for Creation is already there when he is introduced to the reader. The matter of where did the primordial waters come from is a hotly debated one among scholars.

“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”

God’s first act of creation is Light: symbol of order and reason. Now, we will see that the act of creation is systematic, and that there is an instrumental order: God first creates (or modifies) the things needed for later creation, and the first step is the introduction of order. Now, there are some significant details in this passage, chiefly the means of creation. God creates using language. I cannot underestimate the importance of this notion, the idea that language is more than a way to communicate, that it, in fact, creates. Most creation myths involve some sort of physical act like sculpture or molding; in this respect, Genesis 1 is different in its abstraction. It is a more evolved creation then the one seen in Genesis 2. Also of note is the systematic method of creation, which will be repeated in the chapter. The structure goes Enunciation – Realization – Verification – Naming. God checks before moving ahead: he creates in a rational, orderly manner. As the myth takes place in an Illo Tempore, the “days” are not literal, but a way to show the passage of an amount of time.

6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

Now, God is not creating here: his work is still at a phase of bringing order rather than creating. As for the “water above it”, on Hewbrew cosmology waters surrounded Earth, with the “above” ones placed beyond the celestial dome. Note that the Enunciation – Realization – Verification – Naming structure remains in place. It’s methodical, and it also a handy mnemonic tool for memorization. Now that things are in order, the true creation begins:

“11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.”

Again, there is a systematic order here: vegetation is needed to support further creation, so it must be created first. Also, the intuition of Man is present here before it’s actually created, as the order (seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it) reflects the utility of the plants for mankind, with the most useful last.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

The same foreshadowing of Man appears here, as only man can “mark seasons and days and years” using the sun and the stars. It was of the utmost importance to show the Sun and Moon as god’s creations, for the Hewbrew people were exposed to a variety of Sun Gods and Moon Gods; being explicit in this matter helped to neutralize the pull of foregin religions on a people being threatened by complete assimilation.

” 20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.”

In the creation of animals, as in the mention of “seeds” when narrating the creation of vegetation one can see the intention of creating a self-perpetuating system that would not require God’s intervention, but rather than would grow and work on its own (“Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”). Birds and fish are lumped together because they are the closest animals to the waters above and below, so in a way both are “water animals” rather than land animals.

“24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.”

Here animals are also grouped according to their relationship to Man: animals useful to man, and animals dangerous to man. This world is being created for Man; which contradicts the views expressed in Genesis 2.

“26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, [b] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”

This is the big one. The use of majestatic plural “our” gives the occasion a greater reverence and shows that the following act of creation is different than the rest. The role of Man is also expressed: to rule. This also contradicts the role of man in Genesis two, which is not to rule but to nurture. As God is all spirit, man is not physically like God; they are created in his image because they have a spiritual component, which is not mentioned in the creation of animals. Also of note is the simultaneous creation of Man and Woman. Here Woman is not a deviation or derivative of Man, but an equal. This is extremely rare in creation myths, as Woman is usually relegated to a secondary role, if not a destructive one (think Pandora) to justify and cement the patriarchal society. In this respect Genesis 1 may well be the most gender-equal creation myth.

“28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.”

The role of Man as lord of creation is expounded upon here. As an aside, note that God gives Man and Woman trees and fruit for food, as he does for the animals, but he does not mention that they may eat other beasts. If taken literally, this passage tells us that Man is naturally a vegetarian. But then again he did give Man lordship over animals, so it’s a bit of a moot point.

The chapter ends with the final verification: another sign of God’s systematic, rational method. God in Genesis 1 creates like an engineer, building each new creation on the last, checking before moving on, designing a system that will sustain itself and grow.

As a whole, Genesis 1 is the result of a very evolved culture in terms of abstract thought, and that sets it apart from pretty much every other Creation Myth. In order to compare it to more archaic traditions, one has only to turn the page: Genesis 2 is much more in line with the general characteristics of original myths.

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