Digression 3 The Intention And Context Of Genesis 1-3
Moses' Intention In Genesis
Let’s remember that under inspiration, Moses wrote Genesis, presumably
during the 40 years wandering. He therefore wrote it in a context- of
explaining things to Israel as they stumbled through that wilderness,
wondering who they were, where they came from, where they were headed-
and which of the myths about 'beginnings' they heard from the surrounding
peoples were in fact true. The Israelites, for example, encountered the Kenites [Heb. Qeni],
a wandering, nomadic tribe whom nobody wanted much to do with as they
were perceived to be cursed (Gen. 15:19; Num. 24:21,22). Gen. 4
explains why they were like this- they were the descendants of Cain [Heb. Qayin], who was punished with an unsettled existence because of his sin.
This approach explains why there are so many links within
the Pentateuch- e.g. the Spirit “flutters” over the waters in Gen. 1:2,
just as God like an eagle [a symbol of the Spirit] “flutters” over Israel
in bringing about their creation as a nation (Dt. 32:1). The point is,
what God did at creation, He can do at any time. As He made the waters
“swarm” in Gen. 1:20, so He made the waters of the Nile “swarm” with frogs
(Ex. 7:28) in order to save His people from a no-hope, chaotic, disordered,
hopeless situation. The lights were to be for signs, for fixed times (seasons
AV), for days and for years. The Hebrew word for ‘seasons’ doesn't refer
to the climate or the weather. It is the word used for the religious festivals
which God commanded Israel in the wilderness - therefore the creation
record was in the context of Israel understanding that the lights in Heaven
are there for Israel to know when to keep the feasts which Moses had commanded
them. The command to subject the animals in Eden [the land promised to
Abraham?] corresponds to later commands to subject the tribes living in
the land (Gen. 1:28 = Num. 32:22,29; Josh. 18:1). The “fear and dread”
of humans which fell on the animals after the flood is clearly linkable
with the “fear and dread” which was to come upon the inhabitants of Canaan
due to the Israelites (Gen. 9:2 = Dt. 1:21; 3:8; 11:25). When Moses “finished
the work” of the tabernacle (Ex. 40:33), there is clear allusion to God
‘finishing the work’ of creation (Gen. 2:2). As God walked in the garden
of Eden (Gen. 3:8), so He would walk in the midst of the camp of Israel
in the wilderness (Dt. 23:15). The whole phrase “Behold I have given you…”
(Gen. 1:28) occurs later when the Priests are told what God has given
them (Ex. 31:6; Lev. 6:10; Num. 18:8,21; Dt. 11:14). The reference to
Cain as the builder of cities in Canaan (Gen. 4:17) was to pave the way
for Moses’ later commands to Israel to destroy those cities. Moses records
the braggart song of Lamech, uttered in the presence of his wives, as
a warning as to what had happened as civilization developed in the very
same area that Israel were now to colonize and build a society within-
the warning being that as any society develops, there arises increased
temptation to demand retribution for the slightest offence, and to assert
oneself rather than trust in God (Gen. 4:17-26). And obviously the sanctification
of the 7th day was based upon God’s ‘resting’ on the 7th day in the Genesis
record. The later command not to covet what looks good is very much rooted
in a warning not to commit Eve’s sin of seeing the fruit and yielding
to temptation (Ex. 20:17 = Gen. 3:6).
The repeated references to the “journeys” of the people in the wilderness
had as their basis the description of Abraham taking his journey through
the desert to the promised land (Gen. 13:3); the very same two Hebrew
words in italics recur in the command to Israel to now ‘take their journey’
(Dt. 10:11), following in the steps of their father Abraham. As Abraham
was commanded to "be perfect" (Gen. 17:1), so Israel were told:
"You [after the pattern of father Abraham] shall be perfect
with the Lord" (Dt. 19:13). Moses’ books were helping the wilderness
generation to see where they were coming from historically. Passages like
Gen. 12:6 now take on special relevance: "The Canaanites were then
in the land". Moses was saying this as his people were about to enter
a Canaan likewise occupied by Canaanites. He was bidding the people see
their connection with their father Abraham, who then lived with Canaanites
also in the same land. Gen. 15:1 introduces us to Abraham as a man who
had God as his "shield"; and Dt. 33:29 concludes the Pentateuch
by saying that Israel as a nation should be happy because they
have Yahweh as their "shield".
The flood myths give basically two reasons for the cause of the flood-
the world was overpopulating [especially according to the Enuma Elis],
and there was a battle between the gods which resulted in earth being
flooded. Moses' explanation was radically different- the population
growth was a result of God's blessing, and the flood came because of
human sin. And, no cosmic battle which resulted in earth's inhabitants
suffering because of it. Time and again, the surrounding myths sought
to minimize sin, whereas Moses' record highlights it. Sadly, Jewish
interpretations went the same way as the flood myths, with the Book of
Enoch likewise attributing the flood and all human suffering to an
Angelic revolt. Time and again, the difference between Moses' account
of history and the surrounding myths is seen in the fact that Moses
emphasizes human sin. There was a common ancient Near East belief in
Azazel as a desert demon who looked like a goat. Perhaps Moses wished
to address this idea when he called the scapegoat of the day of
Atonement ritual "Azazel" and sent the goat into the desert (Lev.
16:21)- as if to say 'Now for you, Israel, no belief in that Azazel-
the Azazel for us is simply a literal goat, bearing our sins in symbol,
which we let loose into the desert' (1). Again and again, Moses sought
to refocus his people on the practical, the literal, the concrete, and
away from the myths which surrounded them. And yet he does this by
alluding to those myths, so as to alert Israel to the fact that the
new, inspired record which he was writing was fully aware of the myths
God's people were being assailed with. This would explain the
similarity of expressions between some of the myths and the Genesis
record- e.g. "The Lord smelled the pleasing odour" (Gen. 8:21) is very
similar to the Gilgamesh Epic, 9.159-160: "The gods smelled the odour,
the sweet odour". The Biblical record is one of hard human reality,
undiluted with the fantastic or mythical: "The central figures of the
Bible saga are not, as in so many hero-tales, merged in or amalgamated
with persons belonging to mere mythology; the data regarding their
lives have not been interwoven with stories of the gods. Here all the
glorification is dedicated solely to the God who brings about the
events. The human being... is portrayed in all his untransfigured
humanity" (2). The whole account of Moses in the bulrushes- Moses'
history of himself, his autobiography- is full of reference to the
story of how King Sargon of Akkad was born in hiding, placed in a
stream in a reed box sealed with pitch, found and raised by a gardener,
and then noticed by the goddess Ishtar who loved him and enthroned him
(3). The parallels with Moses are clear, but note the mythical element
in the pagan tale- the baby was found by a goddess. The Biblical record
replaces that with a real, concrete, human situation- the daughter of
Pharaoh king of Egypt noticed Moses and adopted him.
The people were frightened by the "giants" they met in the
land of Canaan (Num. 13:33), likely connecting them with superhuman beings.
These nephilim [LXX gigantes] had their origin explained
by Moses in Genesis 6- the righteous seed intermarried with the wicked,
and their offspring were these nephilim, mighty men of the world.
Note in passing how Ez. 32:27 LXX uses this same word gigantes
to describe pagan warriors who died- no hint that they were superhuman
or Angels. We speak more of this in section 5-3.
According to Jewish traditions (as reflected in 1 Enoch and the Book
of Jubilees), the supposedly sinful Angels ("the Watchers")
morally corrupted human beings in the lead up to the flood by teaching
them to do evil, astrology, weapon making and the use of cosmetics (1
Enoch 7-8, 69; 10; 21.7-10; 64-65; 69; Jub. 5:16-11; 8:3). Yet the Genesis
record simply states that the descendants of Cain started to do all those
things, their wickedness increased, and so they were punished through
the flood (Gen. 4:20-22). Constantly in the Jewish Apocryphal writings
there is a shifting of blame from humanity to Angelic beings. Umberto
Cassuto was one of 20th century Judaism's most erudite and painstakingly
detailed Bible students. He demonstrated at length that the Canaanites
believed there were various gods and demons responsible for the various
events on earth, and that the Torah picks up these terms and applies them
to God and His [all righteous] Angels. The examples he cites include the
term "the most high God" (Gen. 14:18-20), "creator of heaven
and earth" (Gen. 14:19,22), and the idea of supernatural demons coming
to earth and wrestling with men (Gen. 32:29,31). These ideas and terms
are used in the Torah and applied by Moses to God's Angels, and to God
Himself. Cassuto went on to show that this kind of deconstruction of pagan
myths about demons and 'Satan' is common throughout the Bible- e.g. the
references to Israel's God Yahweh 'riding on the clouds' (Ps. 104:3; 147:8;
Is. 5:6; Joel 2:2) are an allusion to how the surrounding peoples thought
that Baal rode upon the clouds; the "morning stars" were understood
as independent deities, but Job 38:7 stresses that they are in fact Yahweh's
ministers. He pays special attention to the reference to the sons of God
and daughters of men in Gen. 6, demonstrating that the "giants"
are mortal, they were to die at best after 120 years; and they
were on earth not in Heaven. Thus the Canaanite myths, which
ironically later Judaism re-adopted, were deconstructed by Moses. He summarizes
Moses' intention in the Genesis 6 passage as being to teach Israel: "Do
not believe the gentile myths concerning men of divine origin who became
immortal. This is untrue, for in the end all men must die, because they,
too, are flesh... you must realize that they were only "on earth",
and "on earth" they remained, and did not become gods, and they
did not ascend to Heaven, but remained among those who dwell below, upon
earth... the intention of the section is to contradict the pagan legends
regarding the giants" (4).
significant that the various Mesopotamian legends about a flood all
speak of there being conflict between the divinities before the
decision to flood the earth was taken; and then quarrels and
recriminations between them after it. The Biblical record has none of
this- the one true God brought the flood upon the earth by His
sovereign will, and He lifted the flood. In the legends, the hero of
the flood [cp. Noah] is exalted to Divine status, whereas in the
Biblical record Noah not only remains human, but is described as going
off and getting drunk. Throughout pagan legends, the Divine-human
boundary is often blurred- gods get cast down to earth and become men,
whilst men get exalted to 'Heaven' and godhood. This gave rise to the
idea of 'angels that sinned' and were cast down to earth. But in the
Biblical record, the Divine-human boundary is set very clearly- the one
God of Israel is so far exalted above humanity, His ways are
not ours etc. (Is. 55:8), that there can be no possibility of this
happening. The exception of course was in the Son of God, the Lord
Jesus Christ- but even He was born as a genuine human upon earth, and
[contrary to Trinitarian theology] He was no Divine comet who landed
upon earth for 33 years. The whole idea of the Divinity and personal
pre-existence of Jesus Christ is simply not Biblical.
Mesopotamian legends speak of the flood being sent to stop man
destroying Enlil's "rest" by his noise. The Mesopotamian gods sought
for a "ceasing from toil", "rest from labour"- identical ideas to the
Hebrew concept of shabbat. This was why, it was claimed, the
gods first created man and put him to work in their garden- so that
they could "rest" (5). This background is alluded to in the way that
Genesis speaks of man being cast out of tending the garden of
Eden as a punishment- scarcely something the gods would wish if man was
there to save them working there. God speaks of Him giving man a shabbat
as a rest for man from his labour. And the flood, although it was
Divine judgment, ultimately worked out as a blessing of 'rest' for man
in that the 'world' was cleansed from sin. Thus 'Noah' was given that
name, meaning 'rest', "because this child will bring us relief from all
our hard work" (Gen. 5:29 G.N.B.). Adam's work in Eden wasn't onerous;
his work when cast out of the garden was hard. The wrong ideas are
clearly alluded to and often reversed- in order to show that a loving
God created the world for humanity, for our benefit and blessing- and
not to toil for the gods in order to save them the effort. The 'rest'
so sought by the Mesopotamian gods was actually intended by the one
true God as His gift to humanity.
The Biblical account
of the flood gives details which are imaginable, earthly realities;
there is nothing of the grossly exaggerated and other-worldly which
there is in the pagan flood legends. Thus the Biblical dimensions for
the ark are realistic, whereas the boat mentioned in the Babylonian
legend recorded by Berossus was supposedly about one kilometre long and
half a kilometre wide. Noah was 600 years old according to the Biblical
record, whereas Ziusudra, the Mesopotamian equivalent of Noah, was
supposedly 36,000 years old at the time of the flood.
Babylonian Epic Of Creation (6.82) claims that after Marduk's victory,
he set his bow in the sky and it became a constellation. He also
supposedly used his bow to shoot arrows at the clouds which caused the
deluge. "So, too, the pagan Arabs related of one of their gods that
after discharging arrows from his bow, he set his bow in the cloud"
(6). These myths are alluded to and corrected by the statement that
God's bow is simply the rainbow (Gen. 9:13), a purely natural
phenomenon which is merely an optical feature and certainly not a
literal bow of any god. Yahweh's bow, the rainbow, is a symbol of His
grace and love towards His creatures. The later Old Testament
repeatedly uses the idea of the true God shooting His arrows as a
figure of His judgment of His enemies and salvation of His people (Hab.
3:9,11; Zech. 9:14; Ps. 38:2; 64:8; 77:17; 144:6; Job 6:4; Lam. 2:4;
3:12). The whole mythical, pagan idea of a god having a literal bow and
arrows is thereby deconstructed. The question arises, however, as to
why Moses is alluding to Babylonian myths which were current only
centuries after his time. My response is threefold. Firstly, God could
have inspired Moses to speak in terms which would later take on
relevance to the myths which God foresaw would arise. Secondly, the
Babylonian myths may well have developed from myths which were current
in Moses' time. A third possibility is that the Pentateuch was
re-written under Divine inspiration whilst Judah were in captivity in
Babylon, and the historical accounts presented in such a way as to have
relevance to the Marduk worship and other Babylonian mythology which
surrounded God's people in Babylonian captivity. I have given further
evidence for this possibility elsewhere (7).
Here are some other examples of the Biblical record of the flood deconstructing pagan mythology:
The Gilgamesh Epic specifically records that Utnapistim gave the
workmen wine to drink whilst they built the ark (Tablet 9, lines
72-73). The Biblical account appears to consciously contradict this by
stating that Noah was the first to make wine- and he did this after the flood (Gen. 9:20).
The Mesopotamian myths speak of how the hero of the flood (cp. Noah in
the Biblical account) was raised to divine, immortal status. Gen. 9:29
comments simply upon Noah: "And he died".
- The myths all
emphasize how depleted humanity after the flood started to re-grow in
size by miraculous means- the Atrahasis Epic claims that magic
incantations of the god Ea over 14 lumps of clay gave birth to many new
humans after the flood; the Greek flood tradition asserts that
Deucalion threw stones which turned into men. The Biblical record
states simply and realistically how the population re-grew through
explained in the above section concerning the flood how Moses' words in
Genesis deconstruct later Babylonian myths. Perhaps the clearest case
of this is in the record of Babel. The Babylonian myths boasted of the
building of the city of Babylon and its tower / ziggurat. The tower of
Babel was built in a plain (Gen. 11:2); and both Strabo and Herodotus
mention that Babylon was built in a wide plain. The record of the tower
being built with bricks is so similar to the Babylonian Epic Of Creation,
Tablet 6, lines 58-61, which held that "For a year [the gods] made
bricks" to build the ziggurat of Babylon. Their myths claimed that
after the deluge, humanity came to Babylon and the Anunnaki deities,
who had supported Marduk in his battle, built the city. But Gen. 11:5
labours that it was "the sons of men" who built Babel. Cassuto
describes the Genesis record as "a kind of satire on what appeared to
be a thing of beauty and glory in the eyes of the Babylonians" (6). The
phrase "city and tower" is so often found in Babylonian writings with
reference to Babylon; but the phrase is used of Babel in Gen. 11:4. The
temple of Marduk in Babylon had a sanctuary, the Esagila- "the house
whose head is in heaven" and a tower called Etemenanki, "the house of
the foundation of heaven and earth". Marduk supposedly lived on the
seventh storey. The Babylonian inscriptions speak of the ziggurat tower
as having its top in Heaven. The Genesis record deconstructs all this.
The tower of Babel was built by sinful men and not gods; the one true God came down to view the tower- its top did not
reach to Heaven, and there is a powerful word play on the word Babylon,
meaning 'the gate of Heaven' in their language, and yet 'Babel', the
equivalent Hebrew word, means 'confusion'. What the Babylonians thought
was so great was in God's eyes and those of His people the Hebrews
simply confusion and failure. The Genesis record goes on to show how
that it was Abraham who had a great name made for himself (Gen. 12:2),
whereas the Babel builders failed in their desire to make a permanent
name for themselves. God's intention that mankind should spread out and
fill the earth after the flood did eventually triumph over the builders
of Babel-Babylon who tried to thwart it. Zeph. 3:9-11 allude to the
Babel record- at the time of Judah's restoration from Babylon, it was
God's intention to undo the effects of Babel and "change the speech of
the peoples to a pure [united] speech, that all of them may call on the
name of the Lord and serve Him with one accord. From beyond the rivers
of Ethiopia my suppliants, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall
bring my offering". Those dispersed would then gather as one, i.e.
Babel would be reversed.
The Law Of Moses
the Torah, we see the same pattern- of allusion to surrounding beliefs
in order to show Yahweh's supremacy. The nations surrounding Israel had
legal codes which defined the punishment for breaking certain laws.
Yahweh's law featured this, but it also in places lacks any stated
penalty for disobedience. The commands to not covet in the heart are
obvious examples. This reflects God's perspective- that sin is an
internal matter, in the heart, and will meet with Divine judgment at a
later date even though humans will not judge such matters as legal
disobedience. And there are other significant differences between
Moses' law and the legal codes of the surrounding nations. Thus these
codes often held that certain physical, sacred places could be entered
and provide even murderers with freedom from judgment. The Torah allows
this in some cases, but not in the case of deliberate murder. Thus when
Joab grabs the horns of the altar, thinking he therefore couldn't be
slain for his sin, he is dragged away and slain (1 Kings 2:28). This
would've read strangely to many of the surrounding peoples. Hammurabi's
laws had a sliding scale of punishment according to the social status
of the person who had been harmed by misbehaviour- if a rich man struck
out the eye of a 'commoner', he had to pay less compensation than if he
did so to a person of higher status. The Torah reflects the immense
value placed by God upon the human person; for such distinctions are
totally absent in it.
It has been widely noted that many
elements of the ten commandments are to be found in the legislation of
Mesopotamia. Thus there are references to the Sabbath being kept as a
monthly festival; and later "the name Shabattu was applied by the
Babylonians and Assyrians to the day of the full moon, the fifteenth of
the month, which was especially dedicated to the worship of the
moon-god... the days of the full moon were considered days of ill
luck... the Israelite sabbath was instituted, it seems, in antithesis
to the Mesopotamian system" (9). Thus most pagan festivals of the time
were begun by the lighting of a candle in the home; but a candle was
not to be kindled on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:3). Yahweh blessed
the Sabbath (Ex. 20:11). Work was not to be done so as to rest and
remember God's creative grace; whereas in pagan thought, work wasn't
done because 'Sabbath' was an unlucky day on which it was best to do as
little as possible in case some 'Satan' figure struck. Such belief was
being deconstructed in the Sabbath law. The Mosaic 10 Commandments
included the unique commandment not to covet / lust. This was unknown
in any Mesopotamian legal code- because obviously it's impossible to
know what a person is thinking within themselves, and so impossible to
judge or punish it. But God's law introduced the whole idea that sin /
transgression of law is ultimately internal, and this will be judged by
the one true God.
We can easily imagine how the people of Israel were prone to be confused
by all the mythology they had encountered in their surrounding world.
Being illiterate and having no inspired record from their God as to how
to understand the past, they relied on dimly recalled traditions passed
down. Hence Moses was inspired to write the Pentateuch. It is full- as
so much of Scripture is- of allusion to the surrounding religious ideas-
not because it in any sense depends upon them, but because it seeks to
allude to and correct them. And further, the Torah labours how
the one true God is so far superior to all the other gods whom Israel
were tempted to believe in. In contrast with Near Eastern mythology, which
had men as the lackeys of the gods to keep them supplied with food, the
God of Genesis makes man and woman in His own image and gives them responsibility
for His creation.
Divine commands about the tabernacle likewise allude to the ideas of
the surrounding nations, and yet bring out significant differences. In
the same way as the Babylonians believed that the temple of Marduk in
Babylon was a reflection of the Heavenly temple, so the tabernacle was
also a reflection of the pattern of Yahweh's Heavenly temple. The
Canaanites spoke of their god El as living in a tent- just as Yahweh
dwelt in a tent. The Ugaritic epic of King Keret speaks of how "The
gods proceed to their tents, the family of El to their tabernacles"
(Tablet 2 D, 5, 31-33). El's tabernacle was thought to be constructed
of boards- just as Yahweh's tabernacle was. Both had a veil, just as
the Moslem shrine in Mecca has one. But there were significant
differences. The Canaanite legends speak of the gods building their
temples themselves; Cassuto points out that the very terms used about
Bezaleel's skill and talent in building the tabernacle are used in
Canaanite legends about the skill and talent of the gods in supposedly
building their own temples. Perhaps the Exodus record so labours the
point that Moses and the Israelites built Yahweh's tabernacle is in
order to highlight the difference between the one true God and the
pagan gods, who had to build their own tabernacles.
Ugaritic poems speak of the furniture in Baal's heavenly temple, and
it's very similar to that in the Most Holy Place. But the poems
especially focus upon Baal's bed and chests of drawers for his
clothing. These are noticeably absent in Yahweh's tabernacle furniture.
The pagan god tabernacles all feature some kind of throne, upon which
the god visibly sits. The cherubim of the Israelite tabernacle are
similar to the Mesopotamian karibu, cherubim, upon which
their gods sat. Phoenician and Egyptian art uncovered by archaeologists
shows they believed in cherubim very similar in form to those described
in Ezekiel's visions of Yahweh's cherubim. The throne of Yahweh was the
ark, covered by the cherubim. There, above the blood spattered lid of
the ark (or "mercy seat"), supported by the cherubim, the pagan mind
expected to see Israel's God enthroned. The similarities to the pagan
shrines were intentional- to set up this expectation. But there was
nothing there. It was, to their eyes, an empty throne- just as God
appears to be absent to so many people today. There was no visible
image resting upon the wings of the cherubim, nothing on the throne /
lid of the ark but the blood of atonement (which pointed forward to
that of God's Son). The ark is called both the throne of God and also
His footstool (Ps. 94:5; 132:7,8; 1 Chron. 28:2). Above or sitting upon
the cherubim, the pagan mind expected to see Israel's God. But there
was (to their eyes) an empty throne. Yahweh had to be believed in by
faith. And His supreme manifestation was through the blood of
sacrifice. Cassuto gives evidence that the Egyptians and Hittites
placed their covenant contracts in a box beneath the throne of their
gods; and the tables of the covenant were likewise placed beneath the
throne of Yahweh. This similarity begged the comparison yet stronger-
Israel's God was not seated there. He had to be believed in
by faith. Such a concept of faith in an invisible god was quite foreign
to the pagan mind; and yet the whole tabernacle plan was designed to
have enough points of contact with the pagan tabernacles in order to
elicit this point in very powerful form: the one true God is invisible
and must be believed in.
The same point is taught by how Yahweh had a "table". The Mesopotamian gods likewise had a table (passuru)
upon which food was placed as a meal for the god (as in Is. 65:11). But
the beakers, cups and vessels on Yahweh's table remained empty (Ex.
25:29); the wine was poured out onto the sacrifices and vaporized; the
priests ate the shewbread. There was no pretence that Yahweh was a
hungry god who needed to be fed by His worshippers. To the pagan mind,
this would've meant that if He didn't eat, He wasn't actually around
nor powerful. Again, the difference and similarities were intentional,
in order to point up the need for faith in the power and
existence of Yahweh. Most of the surrounding tabernacles featured quite
a lot of noise- especially incantations and spoken formulas regarding
the holiness of the god and shrine. There were few spoken words in the
Mosaic rituals; "Holy to the Lord" was written upon the
forehead of the High Priest rather than stated by incantations (Ex.
28:36). We could maybe go so far as to say that we see here the
exaltation of God's written word, with all the faith and understanding which this requires, as opposed to the incantations of other worship systems.
The stars in particular were thought to be in control of human destiny
but the Genesis record emphasizes that they are merely lights created
by God with no independent influence, therefore, upon human life on earth.
The sun, the moon and the stars were all worshipped as gods in the Middle
East but in Genesis 1 they are simply created things made by God. Genesis
1 is based around the number 7- and the practical issue of the creation
record was that Israel were to remember the seventh day as Sabbath. Yet
this was a purposefully critical commentary upon the Babylonian views.
"According to one Babylonian tradition, the seventh, fourteenth,
nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth days of each month were regarded
as unlucky: Genesis however, declares the seventh day of every week to
be holy, a day of rest consecrated to God (2:1-3)" (10).
Thus we see the way God's word deconstructs error without as it were
primitively confronting it in a 'I am right, your ideas are wrong and
pitiful' kind of way. I find this bears the stamp of the Divine and the
ultimately credible. Cassuto has a very fine comment upon this, made in
the context of his view that Genesis 6 is deconstructing Canaanite legends
about sinful gods, demons and giants: "The answer contradicts the
pagan myths, but without direct polemic. This is the way of the Torah:
even when her purpose is to oppose the notions of the gentiles, she does
not derogate, by stooping to controversy, from her ingrained majesty and
splendour. She states her views, and by inference other ideas are rejected"
(11). This has bearing on why the Lord Jesus didn't in so many words state
that 'demons' don't exist; rather by His miracles did He demonstrate "by
inference" that they have no effective power or existence. More on
this in section 4-12.
The closer we look at the Pentateuch, the more we see the huge emphasis
placed by Moses upon deconstructing the wrong views about Satan and presenting
Yahweh as omnipotent, and the ultimate source of both good and evil in
the lives of His people. Thus in the prayer of the first fruits recorded
in Dt. 26:5-11 we have the Hebrew verb "to give" repeated seven
times. The first and last three usages of it refer to what God has 'given'
to Israel; but the centrepiece reference is to Israel being 'given
hard bondage' in Egypt (Dt. 26:6). Thus Yahweh is presented as the ultimate
giver- of both good and evil.
so time and again we find that the local pagan myths about Satan are
alluded to and deconstructed by Moses. It has been observed that the
Passover ritual of smearing the blood of the sacrifice on the doorposts
was very similar to what Bedouin tribes have been doing in the Middle
East for millennia- they smear the blood on their tent poles and tent
entrances when they erect a new home or tent, in order to keep 'satan'
figures away (12). But the Exodus record is at pains to point out that
the 'Destroyer' was one of Yahweh's Angels; and thus it was ultimately
Yahweh Himself who slew the firstborn in those homes without the daubed
blood. Again- yet again- we see a pagan idea concerning 'satan' being
taken up and reinterpreted in light of the fact that the 'satan'
figures don't really exist, and God is the ultimate and unrivalled
source of disaster. Ex. 21:6 speaks of bringing a slave "to God", i.e.
to the door post of the home, and nailing his ear to it. "God" is
paralleled with the door post. R.E. Clements notes that this alludes to
the ancient pagan practice whereby "a household god would have been
kept by the threshold of a house to guard it" (13). Moses is attacking
this idea- by saying that God, Israel's God, is the One there- and not
the household gods which those around Israel believed were there. The
Pentateuch in similar vein uses the term 'to see the face of God',
usually translated as 'to come into God's presence' (Ex. 23:16); this
was a pagan term used at the time to describe seeing an image of a god
(14). But as we noted when discussing the tabernacle, Israel were being
taught that their God had no image, but all the same, they could come
into His presence.
Genesis 1-3 In Context
The early chapters of Genesis were intended as the seed bed from which
Israel would understand that they had grown. The nature of the record
of creation was therefore primarily for their benefit. The lesson for
us likewise must be- that what God did at creation, He can in essence
do in our lives and experiences too. The record of Gen. 1-3 especially
opens up in a new way when viewed from this angle. Difficult parts of
the account seem to fall into place. Gen. 2:5 says that the creation account
explains how God created "every plant of the field before it was
in the earth / eretz / land [promised to Abraham]". Quite
simply, the plants Israel knew had been made by God and somehow transplanted
or moved into the land, just as one does when developing a garden. It
was Moses' understanding that on entering the land, God would be planting
Israel there (Ex. 15:17; Num. 24:6), just as God had planted in Eden (Gen.
2:8 s.w.). And when we read that Eve was "the mother of all living"
(Gen. 3:20), this was in its primary application explaining to the Israelites
in the wilderness where they ultimately originated from. Israel were to
trace their first origins and parents back not merely to Abraham, but
to Adam and Eve. Num. 35:3 [Heb.] uses the term to describe the "all
living" of the congregation of Israel; indeed, that Hebrew word translated
"living" is translated "congregation", with reference
to the congregation of Israel (Ps. 68:10; 74:19). Note how the Hebrew
idea of 'all living' repeatedly occurs in the account of the flood (Gen.
6:19; 8:1,17 etc.)- which we will later suggest was a flood local to the
area which the Israelites knew and which had been ultimately promised
to Abraham. "All living" things which were taken into the ark
therefore needn't refer to literally every living thing which lives upon
the planet, but rather to those species which lived in the flooded area,
the earth / land / eretz promised to Abraham. I've explained
elsewhere that the garden of Eden can be understood as the land promised
to Abraham, perhaps specifically being located around Jerusalem, the intended
geographical focus for God's people; and that the term eretz
can be used to describe the land promised to Abraham rather than the whole
In fact the whole record of Adam and Eve in Eden is alluded to multiple
times in Moses' law. As they were given a command not to eat, so Israel
were asked not to eat certain things. As there was a snake who was there
in the 'land' of Eden, so there was the equivalent amongst Israel- the
false teachers, the tribes who remained, etc., the "serpents of the
dust" (Dt. 32:24- an evident allusion to the language of the snake
in Eden). As Adam and Eve were to "be fruitful and multiply"
in the land / Garden of Eden (Gen. 1:28), so Noah and his sons were to
do just the same in the same land after the flood (Gen. 9:7); and the
children of Abraham were promised that they would do likewise in the very
same land (Gen. 35:11). The descriptions of the promised land, covered
with good trees, whose fruit could be freely eaten, were reminiscent of
the descriptions of Eden. Israel were to enter that land and tend it,
as Adam should've done; they were to learn the lesson of Adam and Eve's
failure in their possession of Eden. But as Eve lusted after the fruit,
so Israel lusted after the fruits of Egypt. As Adam and Eve failed to
"subdue" the garden of Eden (Gen. 1:28), so Israel failed to
fully "subdue" [s.w.] the tribes of the land (Num. 32:22). They
subdued a few local to them; but they never really rose up to the reality
of being able to have the whole land area promised to Abraham subjected
to them. And so Lev. 26 and Dt. 28 promised a curse to come upon the land
[of Eden / Israel] for their failure within it, just as happened to Adam
and Eve; and of course ultimately they were driven out of the land just
as Israel's very first parents had been. As the eretz / earth
/ land was initially "without form and void", so the same term
is used of the land of Israel after the people had been driven out of
it (Jer. 4:23). As thorns and thistles came up in the land [and those
plants are unknown in some parts of the planet], so they did again when
Israel were driven from their land (Gen. 3:18; Hos. 10:8). As Adam was
punished by returning to dust, so Israel would be destroyed by dust (Dt.
Cassuto, as one of Judaism's most painstakingly detailed expositors of
the Torah, has observed that the entities referred to in Genesis 1-3,
such as the serpent, the cherubim etc., are spoken of in such a way
that implies that Israel were familiar with the ideas. Cassuto notes
the use of the definite article- the cherubim, the
flaming sword- when talking about things which have not been mentioned
earlier in the record. He concludes that therefore these things "were
already known to the Israelites. The implies that their story had been
recounted in some ancient composition current among the people" (15).
The intention of Genesis was therefore to define these ideas correctly,
to explain to Israel the truth about the things of which they had heard
in very rambling and incorrect form in the various legends and epic
stories they had encountered in Egypt and amongst the Canaanite tribes.
Thus the description of the fruit as "pleasant to the sight" (Gen. 2:9)
is found in the Gilgamesh epic about the trees in the garden of the
gods. But that myth is alluded to, and Israel are told what really happened in the garden.
can be no question that the Genesis record presents the serpent as a
literal animal, the most cunning "of all the beasts of the field which
the Lord God had made" (Gen. 3:1). This is highly significant- for many
of the creation myths feature some kind of serpent, but always as some
entity far more than a literal animal. The myths tend to present the
serpent as a dragon figure, similar in appearance to the Biblical
cherubim. Some cherubim-like figures uncovered in Egypt are in fact
winged cobras (16). But the Genesis record clearly differentiates
between the serpent and the cherubim. "Serpents figure in various
Ancient Near Eastern myths in a demonic way" (17). The Sumerian god
Ningishzida [meaning 'Lord of the tree'] was portrayed as a serpent
(18). But the Genesis record is insistent that the truth is different,
and that for the Bible believer, the serpent was a snake, not a god,
not a cosmic dragon nor a demon, but a literal "beast of the field"
created by the one God just as all the other animals were created.
The Israelite Epic
It's been suggested that the Canaanites and Egyptians were fond of epic
poems and stories, those of Gilgamesh and the conflict between the gods
Baal and Mot being examples. Cassuto analyzed these at length and
compared them against the Pentateuch. He noted many examples of similar
wordings and phrasings punctuating both the Pentateuch and the pagan
epics- e.g. "he lifted up his eyes and saw", "he lifted up his voice
and said", "and afterwards [person X] came" (19) . The point seems to
be that Moses wrote the Pentateuch to be as it were the Israelite
epic- and Israel's Divinely inspired epic deconstructed all the other
Gentile ones, very often at the points where they speak of cosmic
conflict between the gods, or 'satan' figures.
(1) For more on this see P.D. Hanson, "Rebellion in Heaven: Azazel
and Euhemeristic Heroes", Journal of Biblical Literature
Vol. 96 (1977) pp. 195-233.
(2) Martin Buber, Moses (Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1947) p. 17.
(3) See Martin Buber, Moses (Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1947) p. 34.
(4) Umberto Cassuto, Biblical And Oriental Studies (Jerusalem:
Magnes Press, 1973) Vol. 1 pp. 21-28.
(5) Joseph Campbell, The Masks Of God: Vol. 3, Occidental Mythology (New York: Viking Arkana, 1991) p. 103.
(6) Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary On The Book Of Genesis (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1992) Vol. 2 p. 136.
(7) In Bible Lives Chapter 11.
(8) Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary On The Book Of Genesis (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1992) Vol. 2 p. 227.
(9) Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary On The Book Of Exodus (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1997) p. 244.
(10) Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary Genesis 1-15,
(Waco TX: Word Books) Vol. 1 p. 49.
(11) Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary On The Book Of Genesis (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1992) Vol. 2 p. 24.
(12) Roland De Vaux, Studies In Old Testament Sacrifice (Cardiff:
University of Wales Press, 1961) p. 7.
(13) R.E. Clements, Exodus (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1972) p. 133.
(14) Clements, ibid., p. 152.
(15) Umberto Cassuto, Biblical And Oriental Studies (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1975) Vol. 2 p. 104.
(16) Bernard F. Batto, Slaying the Dragon, Mythmaking in the Biblical Tradition (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster / John Knox Press, 1992) p. 60.
(17) J. R. Porter, The Illustrated Guide to the Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) p. 29.
(18) John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews & Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary To The Old Testament (Downers Gove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000) p. 32.
(19) Umberto Cassuto, 'The Israelite Epic', reprinted in his Biblical And Oriental Studies (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1975) Vol. 2 pp. 69-109.