Last week an email from a friend spurred me on to write a few thoughts about Gen. 1:1 and whether or not creation therein described as ex nihilo. There was enough encouragement in the comments for me to think about the topic some more and take up my digital pen today.
But first a few comments. One of the reasons I have not written more about this here is because I am keenly aware of so much that has already been written that I have either not read or don’t remember. And what can I add to the conversation? Well, I have always argued that this is a place for my thoughts, no matter how scattered and disorganized (or poorly researched) rather than a place for my research (although I do have some of my work available at the appropriate pages, see Targum Lamentations and Targum Ruth above). So, with that and Natalie Goldberg’s injunction to simply write in mind I will get this train of thought started down the tracks.
I grew up in a home and church with very literal readings of Gen. 1-2. As I entered college and began taking courses with faculty such as Gary Rendsburg I began to realize just how many ways there were to read the Bible and Genesis specifically. Now of course I knew the challenges to a traditional reading of Genesis from earlier days than college, I remember being in 4th or 5th grade and having a heated discussion about dinosaurs, for example. But what Rendsburg helped me to see was that reading Genesis was not an either/or supposition. And we also don’t have to resort to the silly “it’s myth but it is still true” charade.1
I suggest that we read the Bible “literarily.” I don’t know if I have coined the use of this term or if I picked it up from someone else, but I do need to define how I use it. Reading the Bible literarily means understanding what kind of literature each element of the Bible (and it can change chapter to chapter and verse to verse) is employing. Is it poetry? Then we should try and understand what is characteristic of ancient Hebrew poetry and read it accordingly. Is it presenting history? Then we need to consider what historical writings of the period consisted of and read those texts with that in mind.
Thus we are acknowledging that the Bible is literature, literary works that reflect the culture, language, and milieu in which they were created. That does not mean that those of faith cannot still read these texts as containing the word of God, but, as the rabbis have said, the language of Torah is the language of man.2 In order to understand the content, let alone the intent, we must understand the language, and that is not simply vocabulary and grammar.
I think this will suffice for an introduction to how I read the Bible and where my comments on Gen. 1-3 are coming from. Tomorrow I will delve into Genesis 1 with a discussion of what it is not saying.