Rabbit Reads Book Group: Culture Making, Week Three

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Welcome to Week 3 of The Rabbit Reads Book Group: Culture Making. This week, we’re looking at Chapters 6-8, which call us to consider God’s good gifts of culture and the ways in which He continues to invite us into His creative work. What does the creation story in Genesis tell us about the nature of creation? What does all this mean for us as creators and cultivators? Join us in the comments section or in the forum with your thoughts.

In the beginning, before there were names for anything, there was chaos.

Apsu (freshwater) and Tiamat (salt sea) mingled and begat children, gods. The gods begat other gods. These gods rebelled; Marduk, chief among them, clove Tiamat in two and her corpse became the sky and the earth. When the younger gods tired of menial service, they begged for a race of slaves to wait upon them. In answer, humans were made to do the gods’ bidding and build their temples. The gods warred, humans served. Chaos.

But this is not the God we know.

This is not the God in whose image we are created, in whose likeness we also create.

No, our God hovered over the waters—salt and fresh. Our God tamed the chaos, ordered it and filled it with life. Our God created the dry land not by tearing asunder but by drawing together.

He planted a garden. He made our first parents not to serve Him, but to serve the ground, to work alongside Him to tend the garden, to make of the whole world a garden.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It was formless and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Holy Spirit of God hovered over the waters to bring order out of chaos.

Who are Apsu and Tiamat of Babylonian legend? They are nothing, unnamed in the Hebrew narrative. Not gods. At most they are sea monsters, created by the one true God.

Nowhere in all of ancient mythology has any other deity given away authority like this. No god but ours has ever given us His own nature. No god but ours has ever invited us to create.

Laure Hittle

Who is our God? The one who made heaven and earth, who ordered it and filled it, who made us in His likeness and called us good, who exalted us to a place of co-laboring with Him, who submitted to Adam the authority to name the creatures. And in ancient cosmology, nothing exists without a name and a function. In one sense, Adam created the zebra, the howler monkey, the toucan, the moth. God was their origin; He invented their being from formless emptiness, by a word. And then with a word He gave authority to humankind, who, with a word, told these creatures who they were. “Whatever the man called the creature, that was its name.”

Nowhere in all of ancient mythology has any other deity given away authority like this. No god but ours has ever given us His own nature. No god but ours has ever invited us to create.

***

Who are we? Where did we come from? How did the world get this way? These are questions that all humans wrestle with. Archaeology, as Crouch says, cannot tell us what makes humans distinctive, or when and how that happened (119). But we need to make meaning of the world. We need to make sense of our place in it, and of the powerful forces which we cannot control.

Like us, ancient Israel dwelled amidst a wider culture with widely varying beliefs. They had been powerless cogs in the great machine of Egypt and now sat at the crossroads of the known world. They were familiar with Egyptian wisdom literature, with the mythologies of the surrounding nations, with the household gods inherited from Ur and Canaan. They had learned to condemn and critique—and to copy and consume. The writer of Genesis wrote with this backdrop, and in a deeply literary and slyly subversive manner he took those old tropes, those motifs of darkness and chaos and humankind’s place in the cosmos, and made them to serve the One God.

By both word and silence, the writer of Genesis deftly unmakes Babylonian cosmology, dethroning Marduk and exalting the One God, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Laure Hittle

The writer describes God dividing the spheres of the world into inhabitable planes, and then filling them with life. Light from darkness: Days. Water above from water below: Sky. Waters from waters below: Sea and land. And then, the explosion of life: Luminaries, creeping creepers, animals, humans.

Luminaries? Yes, luminaries. For this writer, the sun, the moon, and all the stars are no deities, dictating men’s and women’s fates. They serve us and mark the seasons. They govern the day and the night, but not us. And again, they are not even named. There can be no mistaking what lights the author means, but he will not give them names which to the surrounding culture indicate personhood and power. He means to ascribe all glory to God. And he does this with a subtlety that is so easy to miss if we lack the cultural language to hear it, and so hard to miss if we grew up hearing stories of Apsu, Tiamat, Marduk, and the sun and moon in their glory. By both word and silence, the writer of Genesis deftly unmakes Babylonian cosmology, dethroning Marduk and exalting the One God, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Perhaps what I love the most about this writer’s work is that unlike Babylon’s creation myth, the Enuma Elish, Genesis was not written in poetry. And yet, the Biblical creation account is not written in prose either. It is a challenging and exhilarating melding of prose and poetry that exists nowhere else in scripture. It may be that the writer of Genesis, seeking both to tell a true account and a beautiful one, started with prose in mind and took flights along the way. But in my mind, he saw that the old art forms could not contain the grandeur of God’s creative work any more than the highest heavens could contain Him, and he set out to mimic his creator—to not only set down the facts in an orderly fashion, but to extravagantly create a new art form along the way.

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Did something stand out to you in this week’s reading? Share it in the comments.

You’ll find more discussion questions and opportunity for reflection in the Rabbit Room forum. And if you’re new to this reading group, click here for the first post in this series.


3 Comments

  1. Matthew Cyr

    @matthewcyr

    “Nowhere in all of ancient mythology has any other deity given away authority like this. No god but ours has ever given us His own nature. No god but ours has ever invited us to create.”
    That’s amazing and I don’t think I had ever really looked at it before. Thank you Laure!

    Reading this, it occurred to me how often the pagan origin-myths have everything being brought from chaos to order by slaying the creator/progenitor : Marduk slays Tiamat and makes earth and sky out of her; Odin does the same to Ymir, Cronus overthrows and slays his father Uranus before being overthrown in his turn by Zeus. Are all these the result of wishful thinking on the Enemy’s part – the one who wants to overthrow the One True God? He’s sown this explanation all over the world for his benighted captives – “what you came from is chaos, and you make things better by rising up and rebelling and creating a new order, making the world as you want it to be.” I can only imagine what effect that origin story has on the heart that believes it so deeply they don’t even realize they live out of it. Or I guess I don’t have to imagine, our culture is living it out.

  2. Prisca

    @prisca

    Thanks for a great article, giving new insights into the Creation account – the lack of names for the sun, moon and stars particularly struck me!
    What else ran through my mind is how the pagan origins put death as the start of life – it’s so violent, the idea that the sky and earth come from a body torn in two. It struck me that we should analyse our own modern ‘myths’ with a similarly critical eye. Evolution tells the same story, that our life now is the result of death.
    Matthew Cyr, maybe it is not ‘wishful thinking’ – maybe this is the story the enemy tells himself, his belief is that he can win, that he can overthrow true Authority. Maybe it is the wish of all our hearts, without Christ’s love.

  3. Miss Mary

    @missmary

    I had never noticed that the sun and moon were not named. Like you said it is so easy to miss if it isn’t part of our culture to ascribe importance to names, and it is obvious what “greater and lesser” mean. Seeing it now though in the culture of what would be the “normal” story they were used to hearing….leaving those out would be like telling the story of the three little pigs to kids now except rewrite so there are no pigs in it. They would be waiting for all the lesser gods to come into it all along the way and they just don’t…they aren’t there at all. It is quite shocking and a totally different story from anything heard before.

    I have also never heard about the prose/poetry hybrid form thing before. I don’t think I had ever heard any comments on HOW it was written at all. I am completely intrigued by this and if I had brainpower to learn Hebrew just to see how this worked, I would (but don’t count on that any time soon).

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