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What Is Creation? Subtle Insights from Genesis 1 Concerning the Order of the World MICHAEL WELKER To begin, let us look at how today’s general dictionaries understand the word ‘‘creation.’’ They define creation as ‘‘nature,’’ the ‘‘world,’’ or a vaguely conceived ‘‘totality,’’ provided that it is understood as dependent or having been brought about by higher powers. These motifs of being ‘‘brought about’’ or ‘‘dependent’’ persist regardless whether that creation (creatura) is attributed to one god or multiple gods, or even other more primary, manifestly superior or otherworldly, supernatural powers or authorities. However, even the activity of bringing about such a ‘‘whole,’’ the world or nature is described as ‘‘creation’’ (creatio). And yet the concluding ideas and concepts about this act of ‘‘bringing about,’’ and that which has been generated, remain mostly opaque. These ‘‘final thoughts’’ circulate in myths and sagas, and in almost indecipherable cosmological theories.1 For some time now in our Western cultures, these ideas have been drawn together and reduced to a very abstract and meager conception, that of a primal cause or of ‘‘being caused,’’ a conception behind which one can neither venture nor inquire: God is ‘‘the ground of all being,’’ ‘‘the all-determining reality,’’ ‘‘the ultimate point of reference,’’ and so on. These overly simplistic theistic ideas lead many among us to equally simplistic questions and concerns such as, ‘‘How can such an omnipotent and good God allow suffering?’’ In contrast to this, however, we find a much more subtle picture painted by the so-called Priestly Creation narrative in Genesis 1, the most important classical text among the Bible’s Creation stories. Probably composed during the Babylonian exile around the year 550 BCE (586–538), this text picks up and processes significantly older Creation myths 59 60  texts and commentaries from the Ancient Near East. It is a classic on the topic of ‘‘Creation’’—a topic that we also find treated in Genesis 2, various Psalms, and in texts of the wisdom traditions. When we thematize the apparent inconsistencies of Genesis 1, it becomes strikingly clear that this biblical Creation narrative actually contains a very nuanced understanding of reality, which should be illuminating and challenging not only for the theological but also for the scientific mind. Let us start with the first of these seeming inconsistencies, which can appear in the tension between Genesis 1:3–5 and Genesis 1:14ff. On the one hand, we read in verses 3–5 that ‘‘God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.’’2 On the other hand, we discover verses 14–19 thematizing the creation of heavenly bodies that are themselves tasked with separating day and night. How can God create light without involving the sun and stars? Why does the separation of day and night occur twice? Is this achieved directly by God, or are the heavenly bodies supposed to divide day and night? While such questions seem to offer clever objections to the supposed naiveté of a text unable to express its own ideas, they actually fail to perceive the subtle understanding of reality being developed here. The Priestly Creation narrative operates with two temporal systems, the first being the days of God, and the second being the days of this world that are set in rhythm by heavenly bodies. Referring to the work of the great Jewish scholar Benno Jacob, the influential Heidelberg Old Testament scholar Claus Westermann, and other colleagues, the Zurich Old Testament scholar Odil Hannes Steck has shown that two perspectives on reality and two time systems must be distinguished here.3 God thus creates brightness, transparency, and light from the very beginning. In the divine activity of creating, God acts in this brightness.4 The light of God, the light in which God creates, rests, and is alive and effective, is not simply identical with the light in which human beings and other creatures live. They stand, though, in analogy to each other. This analogical relation is what makes it possible at all for there to be knowledge of God and of creation under the conditions of earthly existence. Likewise , the separation of light from darkness, carried out by God in the first work of Creation, is far from simply identical with...


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