§ 1. The purpose of the Torah in this section is to teach us that the whole world and all that it contains were created by the word of the One God, according to His will, which operates without restraint. It is thus opposed to the concepts current among the peoples of the ancient East who were Israel’s neighbors; and in some respects it is also in conflict with certain ideas that had already found their way into the ranks of our people. The language, however, is tranquil, undisturbed by polemic or dispute; the controversial note is heard indirectly, as it were, through the deliberate, quiet utterances of Scripture, which sets the opposing views at naught by silence or by subtle hint.
§ 2. All kinds of wondrous stories about the creation of the world were wide-spread throughout the lands of the East, and many of them assumed a literary form in epic poems or other compositions. In the course of our exposition we shall have repeated occasion to refer to a number of matters found in these sources and to translate several verses from their texts. Here it will suffice to indicate briefly their general character.
They began, as a rule, with a theogony, that is, with the origin of the gods, the genealogy of the deities who preceded the birth of the world and mankind; and they told of the antagonism between this god and that god, of frictions that arose from these clashes of will, and of mighty wars that were waged by the gods. They connected the genesis of the world with the genesis of the gods and with the hostilities and wars between them; and they identified the different parts of the universe with given deities or with certain parts of their bodies. Even the elect few among the nations, the thinkers who for a time attained to loftier concepts than those normally held in their environment, men like Amenhotep IV the Egyptian king who attributed the entire creation to one of the gods, the sun-god Aten—and his predecessors (the discoveries of recent years prove that he was not the first to hold this doctrine), even they pictured this god to themselves as but one of the gods, be he the very greatest, as a deity linked to nature and identifiable with one of its component parts. Then came the Torah and soared aloft, as on eagles’ wings, above all these notions. Not many gods but One God; not theogony, for a god has no family tree; not wars nor strife nor the clash of wills, but only One Will, which rules over everything, without the slightest let or hindrance; not a deity associated with nature and identified with it wholly or in part, but a God who stands absolutely above nature, and outside of it, and nature and all its constituent elements, even the sun and all the other entities, be they never so exalted, are only His creatures, made according to His will.
§ 3. Among the Israelites, too, there existed, prior to the Biblical account, narrative poems about the creation and the beginning of the world’s history. Although these poems have not come down to us, having perished in the course of time, evidence of their existence is to be found both in this section and in other parts of Scripture. Frequently the prophets and the Bible poets allude to matters appertaining directly or indirectly to the creation of the world that are not mentioned in our section at all, for example, the story of Rahab, the prince of the sea, who rose up in revolt against God, and in the end God subdued him and slew him (see below, on i 9); but the brevity of these references leaves the impression that the authors were touching on topics that were well-known to the people they addressed. At times the Scriptural allusions closely resemble what we are told in the legends of the non-Israelites; yet it is difficult to imagine that these particular myths influenced them directly. Generally speaking, it is inconceivable that the prophets and poets of Israel intended to seek support for their views in the pagan mythological works, which they undoubtedly detested and abominated; nor is it thinkable that they mentioned the heathen legends as something that the Israelites knew and accepted.
Furthermore, whilst these allusions show certain resemblances quite striking, at times to the sagas of the Gentiles, they also exhibit distinct differences: the actions credited to the various deities in the pagan literature are attributed in the Hebrew Scriptures to the God of Israel, and are portrayed in a form more in keeping with Israel’s religious conscience. It follows that we have to assume the existence of intermediate links in the chain of development, which bridged the gap between the poems of the non-Israelites and the myths alluded to in the Bible. It seems that the intermediaries between the heathen peoples and Israel were the groups of Sages, the exponents of international ‘Wisdom’, who, it is known, were prone to obscure the religious elements peculiar to each individual nation. It may confidently be surmised that the said links included epic poems of Israel, Israelite cycles in which the ancient Eastern tradition took on a form that was generally in harmony with the national spirit of Israel and its religious convictions. I have dealt at length with this subject in my Hebrew essay on ‘The Epic Poetry of Israel’, which appeared in Keneseth, dedicated to H. N. Bialik, Vol. viii, 1943; I shall not, therefore, repeat what I have written there. Here I shall refer only to matters that concern our section as a whole, and in the course of my annotations on the individual verses, I shall mention the points that have a bearing on those verses in particular. Allusions to the creation-story that are unrelated to our section are found, for instance, in Job xxxviii 4-7:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
There is a clear indication here of a tradition concerning the creation of the earth on a bright morning, whilst the stars and God’s angels sang a paean. Undoubtedly, the author of the book of Job did not fabricate these details. Nor did he invent such concepts or terms as lay the foundations, measurements, line, bases, cornerstone. Similarly, we read in Isaiah xl 12, 21–22:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in.
The two passages probably derive from a common poetic source. It may be noted in regard to the root ? yasadh [‘lay the foundations’], which occurs in both texts in relation to the earth, that it is used a number of times in the Bible in this sense, although it does not appear in our section at all. The same applies to the verb ? nata [‘stretch out’] in connection with the heavens, which is found in Isaiah ibid., and in another passage of Job (ix 8); this word, too, occurs frequently in Scripture but not in our section. At times, moreover, both expressions to lay the foundations of the earth and to stretch out the heavens are found in juxtaposition. It cannot, therefore, be doubted that we have here an ancient literary tradition, and apparently this tradition has its roots in Israel’s epic poetry. There are also other literary characteristics that appear to belong to the vocabulary and phraseology of the ancient poetic tradition regarding the creation, and serve to prove the existence of such a poetic tradition among the Israelites: for instance, the expression spread forth the earth; the simile of a tent-curtain, or some synonym thereof, employed in connection with the stretching out of the heavens; the figure of chambers or upper chambers, signifying the heavens in relation to the earth beneath them; the verb ? hameqare [‘who hast laid the beams’] in Psa. civ 3, which corresponds to an Akkadian expression (see below, on verse 6); the root ? kun [‘establish’] followed by the words ? bal yimmot or bal timmot [‘shall not be moved’]; the verb holel in the sense of created; the adverb ? terem [‘not yet’] or the conjunction beterem [‘before’], used with reference to the pre-creation period (a similar usage is also common in non-Israelite writings), and many more examples of this kind.
As far as our own section is concerned, a poetic construction like ? ? hayetho ’eres [‘beasts of the earth’] (i 24) next to the corresponding prose form hayyath ha’ares (i 25, 30); or verses with poetic rhythm like i 27:
So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them.
and a number of other poetic features, which we shall discuss in the course of our exposition, also point to a poetic tradition among the Israelites anterior to the Book of Genesis. The metre of the verse, So God created man . . .tetrameter, which is also found in other verses of our section, is the most usual in the epic poetry of the Eastern peoples of antiquity, and was probably employed to a large extent in the epic poetry of Israel, too. There is no necessity to assume that the Torah took these verses verbatim from an earlier epic poem. Admittedly this is possible; but it is simpler to suppose that wherever, in the course of the Biblical story, which is mainly in prose, the special importance of the subject led to an exaltation of style approaching the level of poetry, the thought took on of its own accord, as it were, an aspect conforming to the traditional pattern of narrative poetry an aspect, at all events, that was in keeping with ancient poetic tradition.
§ 4. Although the epic poetry of Israel gave the traditional material, as has been stated, a form that was generally in harmony with the spirit and conscience of the nation, it nevertheless retained certain elements in which echoes of their origin in a foreign environment could still be heard. The saga, for example, of the revolt of ‘the lord of the sea’ against God belonged to this category. The same applies to the reference in Job xxxviii 7, to the morning stars that sang and to the sons of God who shouted for joy when God laid the cornerstone of the earth. It is not surprising, therefore, that the attitude of the Torah to these elements was not sympathetic. The prophets and the Biblical poets, who were accustomed to clothe their ideas in poetic garb and to elucidate them with the help of similes, and generally to employ the familiar devices of poesy, were not, to be sure, deterred from using what they found to hand in Israel’s epic poetry. But the Torah, which is not written in verse but in prose, and employs as a rule simple, not figurative, language, and weighs every word scrupulously, was careful not to introduce ingredients that were not completely in accord with its doctrines. Nay more, whenever necessary it voiced, in its own subtle way, its objection in principle to concepts suggestive of an alien spirit as, for instance, the myth of the revolt of the sea against its Creator (see below on i 6, 9, 14–15, 21).
Nevertheless, the Torah did not refrain from taking over other components of Israel’s poetic tradition, in so far as these did not militate against its spirit. We have already seen above that here and there the style of our section assumes an elevated poetic form, and that it is precisely the metre of epic poetry that is reflected in some of its sentences. This applies also to the content of the story, which has likewise absorbed certain elements of Israel’s ancient poetry. The truth that the Torah wished to convey in this section, to wit, that the world in its entirety was created by the word of the One God, could not be stated in abstract terms, simply as a theoretical concept. Semitic thought avoids general statements. Particularly in the case of a book like ours, which was not intended for the thinkers and the elect few only, but for the people as a whole, including also its common folk, it was proper that its ideas should be embodied in the language of concrete description. Hence, the Torah made use of the concrete traditions that found expression in the ‘Wisdom’ literature and in the ancient heroic poetry of Israel, and drew from them material for its structure. Choosing only what it deemed worthy, it refined and purified the selected matter, and moulded the entire narrative to a pattern of its own a pattern befitting its purpose and educational aim. In the light of this hypothesis, the parallels between our section and the traditions current in the ancient Orient become perfectly clear.
§ 5. The structure of our section is based on a system of numerical harmony. Not only is the number seven fundamental to its main theme, but it also serves to determine many of its details. Both to the Israelites and to the Gentiles, in the East and also in the West but especially in the East it was the number of perfection and the basis of ordered arrangement; and particular importance attached to it in the symbolism of numbers. The work of the Creator, which is marked by absolute perfection and flawless systematic orderliness, is distributed over seven days: six days of labour and a seventh day set aside for the enjoyment of the completed task. On the significance and use of the number seven see the works I have listed in Tarbiz, xiii, p. 207, notes 31 32, and my remarks ibid., pp. 206–207 [Hebrew], as well as the examples that I have cited there from Akkadian and Ugaritic literature, which prove that a series of seven consecutive days was considered a perfect period [unit of time] in which to develop an important work, the action lasting six days and reaching its conclusion and outcome on the seventh day. Possibly the Torah perceives in the importance attributed to the number seven by non-Israelites a kind of indistinct echo of the story of creation.
It is worth noting in this connection that in the case of actions lasting the above-mentioned length of time, it was customary to divide the six days of labour into three pairs, and to relate the story somewhat as follows: on the first day and on the second suchand- such a work was done; so, too, on the third day and on the fourth that work was done; likewise on the fifth day and on the sixth the same work was done. Thereafter, when the work had been completed on the sixth day, came the seventh day, a day of conclusion and change of situation (see the Akkadian and Ugaritic examples that I quote ibid.). In our section the division of the days is, as we shall see later, rather different, to wit, two series of three days each. But the prevailing pattern is implicit in the rabbinic saying: ‘It (the Sabbath day) has no partner: there is the first of the Sabbath [i. e. week], the second of the Sabbath; the third, the fourth, the fifth, the eve of the Sabbath; but the Sabbath itself remains unpaired’ (Bereshith Rabba, xi 8; for the different readings and parallels see Theodor’s edition).
In view of the importance ascribed to the number seven generally, and particularly in the story of Creation, this number occurs again and again in the structure of our section. The following details are deserving of note:
(a). After the introductory verse (i 1), the section is divided into seven paragraphs, each of which appertains to one of the seven days. An obvious indication of this division is to be seen in the recurring sentence, And there was evening and there was morning, such-and-such a day. Hence the Masoretes were right in placing an open paragraph [i. e. one that begins on a new line] after each of these verses. Other ways of dividing the section suggested by some modern scholars are unsatisfactory.
(b-d). Each of the three nouns that occur in the first verse and express the basic concepts of the section, viz God [ Elohim] heavens [ shamayim], earth [eres], are repeated in the section a given number of times that is a multiple of seven: thus the name of God occurs thirty-five times, that is, five times seven (on the fact that the Divine Name, in one of its forms, occurs seventy times in the first four chapters, see below); earth is found twentyone times, that is, three times seven; similarly heavens (or firmament, raqia?) appears twenty-one times.
(e). The ten sayings with which, according to the Talmud, the world was created (Aboth v 1; in B. Rosh Hashana 32a and B. Megilla 21b only nine of them are enumerated, the one in i 29, apparently, being omitted)that is, the ten utterances of God beginning with the words, and. . . said are clearly divisible into two groups: the first group contains seven Divine fiats enjoining the creation of the creatures, to wit, ‘Let there be light’, ‘Let there be a firmament’, ‘Let the waters be gathered together’, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation’, ‘Let there be lights’, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms’, ‘Let the earth bring forth’; the second group comprises three pronouncements that emphasize God’s concern for man’s welfare (three being the number of emphasis), namely, ‘Let us make man’ (not a command but an expression of the will to create man), ‘Be fruitful and multiply’, ‘Behold I have given unto you every plant yielding seed’. Thus we have here, too, a series of seven corresponding dicta.
(f ). The terms light and day are found, in all, seven times in the first paragraph, and there are seven references to light in the fourth paragraph.
(g). Water is mentioned seven times in the course of paragraphs two and three.
(h). In the fifth and sixth paragraphs forms of the word ? hayya [rendered ‘living’ or ‘beasts’] occur seven times.
(i). The expression it was good appears seven times (the seventh time very good).
(j). The first verse has seven words.
(k). The second verse contains fourteen words twice seven.
(1). In the seventh paragraph, which deals with the seventh day, there occur the following three consecutive sentences (three for emphasis), each of which consists of seven words and contains in the middle the expression the seventh day:
And on ? God finished His work which He had
done, and He rested on ? from all His work which
He had done.
So God blessed ? and hallowed it.
(m). The words in the seventh paragraph total thirty-five five times seven. To suppose that all this is a mere coincidence is not possible.
§ 6. This numerical symmetry is, as it were, the golden thread that binds together all the parts of the section and serves as a convincing proof of its unity against the view of those—and they comprise the majority of modern commentators—who consider that our section is not a unity but was formed by the fusion of two different accounts, or as the result of the adaptation and elaboration of a shorter earlier version. According to the prevailing view, the division of the work of creation in the original text differed from that found in the present recension, eight—or ten—creative acts, or seven days of work (man being formed on the seventh), or some other scheme being envisaged; only in the last redaction, it is assumed, was the division into six days of work introduced and the idea of the Sabbath added. The final edition is attributed by most scholars to the source P; the different theories concerning the source of the first version need not detain us here. I have already dealt with this matter fully in the second part of my essay, ‘La creazione del mondo nella Genesi’ (the creation of the world according to the Book of Genesis), published in Annuario di studi ebraici, Vol. i (1934) pp. 47–49. The reader who wishes to delve more deeply into the subject will find there the requisite details as well as a bibliography; here a summary account of the position must suffice. Following are the main arguments advanced by the scholars referred to:
(1). Internal contradictions: the existence of day and night before the creation of the luminaries; the presence of plants before the sun came into being.
(2). Signs of inconsistency and the absence of a unified system in the phrasing and formulation of the account: sometimes the expression and it was so is used, sometimes a different wording; on most of the days we are told it was good, but not on the second day; the acts of creation are described in different ways (at times God issues an order and His order is carried out; at other times it is He who creates or makes; on other occasions still He commands the elements to form the creatures).
(3). The distribution of the acts of creation over six days is not balanced, for the works of the first three days do not properly correspond to those of the last three days. Thus we have: 1. Light 2. Heavens 3. Earth (including vegetation) and sea 4. Luminaries 5. Fish and birds 6. Living creatures on land, and man
(4). The use of antiquated words and concepts. Not one of these contentions, however, is tenable in the face of critical examination. On the problem of the existence of day and night and plant-life before the formation of the luminaries, see below on i 14. With reference to the variations in phrasing and formulation, I have shown (in Tarbiz, xiii, pp. 205–206, sec. 2, [Hebrew], and subsequently in Keneseth, dedicated to the memory of H. N. Bialik, viii, pp. 126–127, sec. 15 [Hebrew]) that, in contrast to the style of epic poetry, which is prone to word-for-word repetition, it is a basic principle of Biblical narrative prose not to repeat a statement in identical terms; with fine artistic sense, the narrator likes to alter the wording or to shorten it or to change the order of the words when reverting to any subject (except when dealing with technical matters like the work of the Tabernacle, the sacrifices of the princes, or the genealogies). Concerning the expressions and it was so and that it was good, see below the detailed annotations on the verses where they occur or are omitted. As for the three different ways of describing the acts of creation, it should be noted, firstly, that, quite apart from the point made previously regarding the characteristics of narrative prose style, these linguistic variations could serve to prove the existence of different versions only if it had been possible to employ each type of wording in all instances; in such circumstances the choice of one mode of expression in preference to the other two could be construed as typical of a given recension. Actually, this is not the case. In regard to the light, which was but an immaterial phenomenon so long as it was independent of the luminaries, neither the second nor the third form of wording was applicable, and so the Bible had necessarily to use the first form. Similarly, in respect of the gathering of the water into one place, which represents only movement and not the creation of a new element, the first mode of expression had, perforce, to be chosen. Furthermore, the three ways of portraying the creative process cannot be considered of equal value. On the contrary, that which God creates or makes is of a higher order than what is formed by the elemental forces of nature. Bearing all this in mind, we cannot but conclude that throughout the section the three different modes of expression are used according to a systematic plan. When referring to non-material things, such as the creation of light or the gathering of the waters, the first mode, as stated, is inevitably chosen. In depicting the fashioning of new material entities, the second or third type of phrasing, according to the category of creation, is employed. Thus the second type—to wit, the creation or making by God—serves for the highest forms of being, namely, the firmament, the luminaries and man (there is a difference of degree even between making and creating, as we shall see later on verses 2–3); the combined second and third forms of expression are used for living creatures (fifth and sixth days); the third by itself is applied to plant-life. As to the distribution of the acts of creation over six days and the culmination of the process on the seventh day, reference to the ancient examples of similar schemes in the literatures of the East, to which I alluded above (at the beginning of § 3), will suffice to convince us at once that there are no grounds whatsoever for attributing the division adopted in our text to a later redaction. Regarding the parallelism between the first three days and the last three days, it will be clear from my commentary that only the version before us provides a completely harmonious balance, viz: 1. Light 2. Sea and Heaven 3. Earth (with its plants) 4. Luminaries 5. Fish and Fowl 6. Land creatures and Man In so far as the archaic expressions and concepts are concerned, they are fully explained by our hypothesis regarding the Israelite tradition of epic poetry that antedated the Torah account.