Creation Myth

By guest author J.M.

If you ask a random person on the street what they think about Genesis chapter 1 you’re likely to get one of two responses. Either they believe it is an extremely literal historical account of how God created everything in six days, napping on the seventh; or they think it’s all a fanciful myth with no truth to it. I would like to propose another position. One based on genre.

A common misconception with the Bible is that it was written in the genre of a history book. This is believed by many, both Christians and non-Christians. This is not true. It contains history but is not a history book. Rather, the Bible is composed of numerous types of genre. The Old Testament alone contains narrative, lament poetry, pessimistic wisdom literature, parables, and steaming love poetry, to name just a few. Genesis 1 is no exception. It is not written in the genre of a history book, it is written in the genre of a myth.

Now before some of you attempt to lynch me or others start cheering, please hear me out. Myth here is used in the scholarly sense. By myth genre I refer to a story of the god or gods with no implication of whether or not the story is true. Now, as a Christian I firmly believe that Genesis 1 is a true story of the one true God creating all of creation. But even though I believe it is truth it is still written in a specific genre. You must understand the genre to know how to read it. After all you don’t want to take a modern proverb as a medical textbook, otherwise you’d eat apples when your appendix starts to hurt instead of going to the doctor and having him cut the sucker out.

I believe Genesis 1 was written to convey the truth that God created all creation. But it is also presented in such as way as to serve another purpose. And that is to serve as a polemic against the gods that the surrounding nations worshiped (a common use of the myth genre in the ancient Near East). In other words, it’s a way of saying “My God is bigger and better than all of your gods combined! Nah, nah, nah, boo, boo!” (But with much more decorum than that.)

 

Within this theory of Genesis 1 there are two trains of thought. One is that it is written in a way to say that God is better than the Egyptian gods. For example, the Egyptians viewed creation as a daily occurrence. Each day’s beginning (rising of the sun) and ending (setting of sun) represents creation with the gods continually working to make it happen. It was a never ending cycle, the gods never truly rested.

A depiction of the Egyptian gods holding together creation.
Move along folks. He’s just holding up the heavens. Honest!

Genesis 1 shows the God of the Bible as better than the Egyptian gods because he takes his time in creation, merely has to speak for it to occur, and…he stops.

The second train of thought is that it may also be a polemic against the Mesopotamian gods. One of the reasons for this is that the Mesopotamian gods created humanity to be their slaves, to do all the work so the gods could spend their days sunbathing on the beach and drinking fancy drinks with umbrellas in them.

The god Shamash sitting on a beach (notice the water at his feet).
One of his attendants is fetching him a fresh umbrella drink.

Genesis 1 stands in sharp contrast to this because the God of the Bible did not create humanity as slaves, but instead he created them to rule with authority (Gen 1.28).

Now all of these issues are much greater than those two short paragraphs could even begin to explain. I’ve only given you a small taste of what may really be going on in Genesis 1.

So what’s the point? Read the bible with an eye on the genre. You may be surprised how understanding genre explains away a lot of problems and perceived contradictions. (Such as perceived contradictions between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.)

Now, with this information some might be tempted to say, “Ha! Genesis 1 is a myth, which means it’s not true. I now have biblical proof against all those annoying creationist Christians! Booyah!” Um…no. Even if you want to write off Genesis 1 you must deal with Genesis 2. Genesis 2 is written not as a myth genre, but more in lines with the style of a history book, and it clearly states that God created everything.

Some of you may ask if, based on this, God did create in six days. My answer… possibly. God may have created the whole of the universe in six days. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. But if I find out some day that God created it in an instant or over a length of time greater than six days my faith will not be shaken.

30 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *