Course on the Pentateuch – Exegesis of Genesis 1:9-16 – (The Third Day of Creation)

Marduks_strid_med_TiamatAnd God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.

The theme of God which places a boundary to the chaotic impetuosity of the waters is a common motive both in the Enuma Elish and in the Ugaritic texts. In Enuma Elish, Marduk – the father of the gods – kills Tiamat and creates the heaven and the earth with the pieces of his body. For the historian Berossus, Tiamat was called Thalatte. From this last word derives the term Thalassa, i.e. the sea. It is a clear indication for the identification between the chaos monster killed by Marduk and the sea. This identification is present in the Bible, where the sea often symbolizes the primordial chaos  (cf. Especially Job 38:8-11 but also Psalm 104:6-9; Proverbs 8:29).

However it is not simple to find exact parallels between the Bible and the myths of the antiquity, especially in these early chapters of Genesis. However, it is undeniable that the symbolism is the same, because the sea is a universal symbol that indicates something treacherous, inscrutable, menacing. And this is the starting point to fully understand the verses of the third day of creation.

We have to imagine the cosmos as it was portrayed by ancient cosmographers. Before the creation the land was a kind of big island surrounded by a boundless ocean. The creative act of God was to bring out the dry land, collecting the water in a place intended specifically for them. The dry land was called yabbashah and the waters yam, i.e. the sea. The human habitat consists mainly of these two environments – i.e. yabbashah and yan – clearly separated from God. When these two elements return to blur, the world comes back to the chaotic condition prior to creation. So the waters of the Flood (Genesis 6-8) and the Red Sea (Exodus 14) are to be symbolically understood.Yabbashah  Yabbashah is the land submerged by the flood’s waters; yabbashah is the way opened by Lord in the midst of the Red Sea’s waters, etc.

In addition to the sea monsters’ imagine  tamed by some divinity to create the world, theseIraq,_babilonia,_regno_di_nabucodonosor_II,_rivestimento_delle_mura_in_mattonelle_invetriate,_leone,_604-562_ac_ca._01 verses emphasize another important symbolic theme clearly present in other religions: Mother Earth. From the text of Genesis it is clear that the land – in Hebrew Adamah – shares the creative power of God. Indeed, God does not create the vegetation, but says the earth bring forth the vegetation (in Hebrew there is the verb yatsa’ at the hiphil). It is almost an invitation to mother earth, so that it could play its semi-divine role.
Coating the walls of Babylon, with glazed tiles under Nebuchadnezzar II (634-562 BC) –
The refrain after its kind – in Hebrew leminò – is one of the linguistic devices used by the author of this creation’s account. The scholars believe that the author of the first creation’s account belonged to the priestly class returned from Babylon, at the end of the exile. So this people settled in Judea together with the remaining population in Judea who was not deported by Nebuchadnezzar II in 587 BC Another indication of this style is the verb to separate – in Hebrew badal at the hiphil – so present in these first verses of the account of creation. In fact, the priestly class in exile was influenced by the cosmopolitan culture of Babylon. Form the ancient babylonian cosmography the Jews drew part of the linguistic features present in the chapter 1 of Genesis.

Simone Venturini


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