PHILADELPHIA SEMINAR ON CHRISTIAN ORIGINS
Volume 11 (1973-74)
Creation -- Images Old and New
Co-Chairs: Patrick Henry (Swarthmore College), Donald Winslow (Philadelphia Divinity School)
Recording Secretary: Robert V. Hotchkiss
Corresponding Secretary: Peter G. Maurer
Jerome McBride, The Argument of Creation from Uncreated Matter: Tertullian and Hermogenes
Judah Goldin, Genesis 1 in Rabbinic Interpretations
Donald Winslow, Competing Concepts of Creation in Greek Patristic Exegesis and Thought
Robert Wright, Genesis 1 in the Intertestamental Literature
Panel Discussion, Patristic and Modern Cosmologies
Topic for 1973-1974, Creation -- Images Old and New.
Meeting of September 25, 1973; 7 pm, Philadelphia Divinity School Library.
The initial session of the 1973-74 Seminar was convened by co-chairman Patrick Henry. After customary introductions and announcements, the Seminar heard a presentation by Jerome McBride of St. Louis University.
The Argument of Creation from Uncreated Matter: Tertullian and Hermogenes
The list of important materials relevant to Genesis 1 include roughly a millennia of texts and social, historical, and cultural details, from the Timaeus of Plato to the hexaemeral literature of Basil and Ambrose. At the turn of the 3d century C.E., the principles of the beginning were hotly contested by the many religious groups, Jewish apologists had insisted on the priority of Moses to Greek thinkers and thought, and Christian apologists were quick to pick up this argument, often with considerable ingenuity. At one time, Augustine even claimed that Plato had been living in Egypt with Jeremiah, and got from him the basic material for the Timaeus.
Against the speculations of the Timaeus were posited the words of 2 Macc 7.28, “Observe heaven and earth, consider all that is in them, and acknowledge that God made them out of what did not exist, and that mankind comes into being in the same way.” Though the rabbis and the church fathers were roughly circumscribed by this outlook, their own speculations ranged widely. There were several major themes:
1) God is creator of all. Timaeus 28C speaks of “the father and maker of this universe,” a phrase not uncommon in Christian apologetic. However, Plato's four ideal forms were eternal and uncreated; only sensible and visible things were created. Ideas, like God, are ungenerated. Theophilus states the usual Christian argument clearly when he writes, “If God is uncreated, and matter is uncreated, God is no longer, for the Platonists, the creator of all things” (Ad Autolycus 2.4). Dionysius of Alexandria argues that if any matter or Idea is, like God, unborn, then unbegottenness is a genus which would be superior to the species, even to God. An attempt at compromise comes from the Pseudo-Clementines, where it is argued that God created the pairs of opposites, but from the beginning was the one and only God (Hom 15.1).
2) God the artist. If God is the creator of all, including matter, what did he have to work with? Philo and the rabbis insist strongly that God needed nothing to work with but his own word, and to suggest otherwise is a denigration of divinity (De Opfic Mundi 6.23; Pirke Avoth 5.1; Gen. Rabbah). The problem for Jewish and Christian exegetes was to maintain the self-sufficiency of God in spite of the view of the Timaeus that creation took place within the receptacle of formless matter, Theophilus: “How can it be surprising, if God made the cosmos out of underlying matter? For when a craftsman has received his material from someone, he makes out of it whatever he wants; but the power of God is shown by this, that he makes whatever he wants out of nothing” (Ad Autol. 2.4).
3) The condition of matter. Is matter eternal and/or corporeal, or was there no matter at all in the act of creation? Many of the fathers believed that Plato taught that matter was uncreated; e.g. Theophilus, Athenagoras, Tertullian, Origen. Augustine, Basil, and Gregory also refer to this position. They follow Philo in holding that God created matter first, and then followed with the full extent of physical creation, Theophilus refers to Gen 1.2 (“the earth was invisible and unfinished”), stating: “These are the first teachings which the divine scripture gives. It indicates that the matter from which God made and fashioned the world was in a way created, having been made by God” (Ad Autol. 2.10).
4) Creation and the Logos. Justin could be adduced as evidence for a theory of preexistent matter (cf Apol 1.10.2), but his famous passage about the creation from the substratum also serves to introduce the problem of whether God created alone or with an agent: “By means of a Logos of God, the whole world was born from a substrate about which Moses has previously spoken” (Apol 1.59.4-5). Tertullian uses the word frequently, and saw it as a means of correlating redemption with the doctrine of creation. It was difficult for Christians to regard God as a logos. The Logos is both the divine consciousness and the creative power and energy to which we owe creation.
5) Anthropology and morality. Irenaeus accuses the gnostics of making necessity a god. Turtullian argues that if God were constrained in any manner, it would be better for him not to create at all. Many fathers bind together very closely the goodness of the creator, the goodness of his creation and the responsibility of the creature: the Logos who called man out of nothing would be the same Logos who rescues man from sin.
Tertullian and Hermogenes
Against Hermogenes was probably written between 204 and 207, perhaps while Hermogenes was living at Antioch. Tertullian appears to have based his arguments on a lost treatise of Theophilus, as well as on some of the ideas contained in a monograph on Platonic philosophy by Albinus. From Tertullian's work, we can determine Hermogenes' thought on five basic points, as well as see something of Tertullian's refutation of them.
1) Hermogenes argues that God created the world from unborn matter by regulating the motion of matter. This argument is not unusual in middle Platonism.
2) Hermogenes further argues that matter is neither corporeal nor incorporeal. If matter were corporeal, we could not explain its incorporeal motion; if it were incorporeal, it would be impossible that bodies were created out of it. According to Tertullian, this theory contradicts the view that matter has a corporeal part from which all bodies are created, whereas the unordered motion was its incorporeal part. Neither Hermogenes nor Tertullian gives any argument as to why motion should be incorporeal -- this is a dogma of Middle Platonism,
3) Hermogenes argues that matter is neither good nor evil, and that both good and evil come forth from matter. This idea does not seem to have contemporary support, unless it is derived from the doctrine of middle Platonism that matter is eternal.
4) Hermogenes regards the motion of matter as having existed from all time and being intrinsic within matter. Tertullian sees a paradox in the working out of this view: Hermogenes described the intrinsic motion before creation as both “commotion” and “slowness” (43.1). The former is traditional Platonism, the latter seems to be in line with Hermogenes' suggestion that matter waited for and desired to be ordered by God (42.1). The intrinsic motion of matter may give some insight into another paradox of Hermogenes: he says that evil took its origin from matter (2.4), while at the same time claiming that matter itself was neither good nor evil. August Neander resolves the paradox this way: evil consists in the chaotic condition of matter, a condition which did not totally disappear following the act of creation. Evil, for Hermogenes, thus originated in the irregular motion of unwanted matter.
5) Hermogenes describes God's action upon matter in a way quite different from traditional middle Platonism: “It is not by pervading matter that he makes the world,...but merely by appearing to it and approaching it” (49.2). He feels that the earth mentioned in Genesis 1 must have been pre-existent, uncreated matter, described in Gen 1.2 as invisible and unfinished, which is in accord with the attributes of uncreated matter. Tertullian objects strongly, largely because of his opponent's notion of matter. Instead of holding that matter is coequal with God (eternity=divinity), Tertullian believes that Scripture presents the proof that it is not materia that exists in principio, but rather sofia. The equation of sofia (Proverbs 8) with logos, often attributed first to Justin (Dial 62), shows the influence of middle Platonism in identifying the form with the thoughts of God. In making the Wisdom of Prov 8.22 the materia for God to use in creation, Tertullian shows the strong influence of Theophilus and Albinus. Tertullian spends seven chapters (23-29) arguing that the earth of Genesis 1 is not the materia of Hermogenes. Then he turns to Gen 1.2 and argues that God staked out the elements of the universe in rough fashion, and then brought it to perfection (29). As for the act of creation, Tertullian insists that the God who created by mind, wisdom, powers understanding, spirit, and might would have had no need for such attributes had he only to “appear and approach” uncreated matter.
Tertullian closes his treatise with a choice piece of polemic and invective, in which he accuses Hermogenes of painting a self-portrait in his description of Matter confused, unordered, and obtuse. It would be in error, however, to consider that Tertullian has presented the normative third century exegesis of Genesis 1, in contrast to Hermogenes' aberrant one. It would probably be better to consider this treatise of Tertullian as another complex chapter within the millennium of Platonic speculation on the act of creation.
During the discussion that followed the presentation, it was suggested that to consider Tertullian's work as simply another Platonic speculation is to underestimate the importance of the specific Jewish and Christian input into these speculations. Over the years, there developed three views of interpretation regarding the Timaeus:
1) That the world was always there, with no beginning, eternally dependent on the Craftsman for structure and form only. This view, as presented by Plotinus and the neo-Platonists, does not speculate on the sources of form and matter.
2) That matter is an ultimate, but had a beginning, God fashioned a formal universe out of formless matter. This is the view of Proclus, Plutarch, Atticus.
3) That God created the universe out of nothing. This view is difficult to document outside of Judaism and Christianity. Perhaps the only pagan reference to this interpretation is in Lactantius' Div. Inst. 2, where Cicero is quoted as combating such a view. Tertullian remains wholly within this peculiarly Jewish-Christian viewpoint, while it may seem that Heracleon overlooks its logical inevitability for Christians.
It is perhaps an oversimplification to argue that Tertullian's concern for creation from nothing is mainly to preserve the transcendence of God. Middle Platonism was greatly concerned for divine transcendence, but saw quite clearly that a God who creates from nothing could be less transcendent than one who uses pre-existent matter. Hermogenes took the Aristotelian doctrine of relations quite seriously and insisted that for God to be eternally Lord, there had to be eternal matter for him to be lord over. Tertullian dismissed this view as nonsense. Many Christians were convinced that the doctrine of creation from nothing was necessary to preserve God's omnipotence, rather than his transcendence, and saw this question of omnipotence as a differentiator between Christian and pagan. Galan attacked the Christians for this view, but when the Christians appropriated Platonism, it became a moot question.
It was suggested that a doctrine of creation from nothing is necessary to Tertullian's eschatology. Only a universe which was not eternal could be totally destroyed at the end. However, only impermanent matter could be so destroyed, since the Kingdom is eternal, and will survive the eschaton. In order to overcome what appear to be rather large difficulties here, Christians such as Tertullian appear to be falling back on distinctions which are more Stoic than Platonic: that matter is not necessarily corporeal, and that after the eschaton, souls will still remain with some sort of non-material corporeality. In this, Tertullian is following the example of Paul.
The doctrine of creation from nothing becomes extremely important in speaking of anthropology. In terms of evil and sin, the doctrine enables God to be considered completely out of the world in which people experience evil, and yet be sufficiently powerful to refashion and recreate this evil world into a perfect one. There can be no non-redeemable structure or individual, since God did it all from nothing to begin with.
The Seminar considered briefly whether social, ecclesiastical, or cultic factors may be tied in with the doctrine of creation from nothing. Factors such as the male dominance of the church or the idea of the church as the present paradise with its daily and weekly ritual. On this, no conclusions could be given, but such factors should probably be considered more than is usually the case.
Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary
Topic for 1973-1974, Creation -- Images Old and New
Meeting of 20 November 1973; Franklin Room, University of Pennsylvania
The second session of the 1973-74 Seminar was convened by co-chairman Donald Winslow. After customary introductions and announcements, the Seminar heard a presentation by Judah Goldin of the University of Pennsylvania.
Genesis One in Rabbinic Interpretation
The best source for information on rabbinic teaching about Genesis 1 is, of course, the Genesis Rabba: the edition is by Theodor and Alback. Supplemental material may be found in the Yalkut Shimeoni (1st edition, 16th century) and the Midrash Ha-Gadol (ed. Margolioth). Midrashim are not treatises, but are compilations of midrashic interpretations of the biblical texts, collections of the teaching of individuals of different generations on individual words and verses of the text. Because of their atomistic nature, it is difficult to categorize the interpretations according to their sources, or to make generalizations which will reflect adequately the variety of the original. We may, however, risk making three observations on the rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 1, based on the Genesis Rabba.
1. In the midrashim, there is a tendency to put what is of fundamental significance for the history of Israel into the very fabric of creation. This tendency is not at all unique to Judaism. Some examples: 1) The midrash on Gen l.l, “In the beginning,” interprets it as though it were made clear by Prov 8.30, “I was with him as a nursling, and I was his delight.” For the rabbis, Wisdom was obviously Torah, so that the Holy One looked into the Torah and saw how to create the world. There seems to be no embarrassment at the use of such a homiletical device to teach the significance of Torah by projecting it back to the beginnings of creation. 2) The rabbis taught that six things preceded the creation of the world. Two were made before the creation: the Torah and the Throne of Glory (i.e. God is King of the universe from the beginning). Four others were contemplated by God before creation: the patriarchs, Israel, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. This way, the whole national history of the Jews is put within the body of the creation. 3) The rabbis taught that the creation of “lights in the firmament of the heavens to....be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years” (Gen 1.14) indicates that the Sabbaths, the appointed seasons (pilgrimage festivals), the new moons, and the new year were appointed from the first. Thus, the Jewish calendar has become cosmic. History, in other words, has been given a meta-historical significance, and thereby what one does and teaches is not simply thrust into nature, but derives as it were from nature. The rabbis saw nothing parochial in this.
2. By means of their interpretation of these verses, the rabbis employed midrashim as an opportunity to draw lines between the permissible and the forbidden in metaphysical speculation. For instance, it is suggested that the creation account begins with a beth because the shape of the letter, closed on three sides, indicates that questions are not to be asked concerning what is above, below, or before creation; only what is after. Likewise, the rabbis quote from a non-canonical source (Sirach 3.22-23) to show that one should not investigate or explore that which is too wonderful or too difficult. The rabbis appeared to be in great fear of speculation which might lead to heresy. Some examples: 1) The rabbis were in terror of dualism, which attracted many Jews since monotheism seems to engender a problem as to the source of good and evil. In line with this, the rabbis were willing to admit that the angels may have been created on the 2d day (with the sky) or the 5th day (with the flying creatures), but never on the 1st day, since this would raise the complication of assistants in creation, and diminish the singularity of God. 2) The rabbis feared the idea that God used pre-existent materials to create. A conversation between Gamaliel and a philosopher is cited to show that God made it all. The 2nd century is too early to expect talk of ex nihilo creation. 3) The rabbis were afraid of the notion that God created a cursed universe, which would imply an inferior universe made by an inferior God. This, they say, is why the account of creation does not begin with aleph, the beginning of the alphabet. This is the first letter in arirah, curse, and could not be used here. 4) The rabbis were concerned to demonstrate that God created without any exertion whatsoever (i.e. he said), as a distinction between God and any other builder. It is difficult for us now to understand why there was such a concern over this, although of course they would wish to emphasize that what he does is super-human. 5) The rabbis were afraid that there might be an inconsistency between parts of scripture. The problem was not one of confusion in chronology, but of the possibility that the unity of the one spirit might be compromised. Ingenious methods are used to explain the creation of light on the 1st day but the sources of light on the 4th; or the creation of male and female humankind together in Genesis 1 and of man first in Genesis 2.
3. It is obvious that the rabbis were projecting their own time into the Genesis text. Not being antiquarians, they were convinced that the Genesis text was addressing itself to them. Anachronism is therefore inescapable. They drew on everything they knew to explain the various verses: the science of their day, including magic; superstitions; mythological elements (the sun cools off by dipping through a pool each night); doctrine (on the Sabbath God did not stop rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked); legends about the sages; and events which occurred in their own circle. All these are used to illustrate the text and theme of creation; all these are what makes the midrashic material so very interesting.
During the discussion following the presentation, various members of the Seminar contributed comments on aspects of the rabbinic treatment of Genesis 1: 1) The rabbis’ insistence on keeping the angels out of the initial day of creation was considered by Turtullian (Contra Praxeas 19) as anti-Christian. It is not at all clear, however, that this is what the rabbis had in mind. The idea within Judaism of a demiurge as agent of creation goes back at least to Philo and is later referred to by the Cabbalistic sources, but is rejected wholly by the rabbis in their age of intellectual turmoil. It may be that there were sectarians we do not know about who had expanded the “Let us create” of Gen 1.26 into something quite offensive to the defenders of the unity of God, and also quite outside of the Christian tradition. 2) The idea of God's creating without any exertion whatsoever does not seem to derive from the Aristotelian doctrine of divine imperturbability. At this distance, it seems impossible to determine the locus of this rabbinic concern. 3) Of primary concern to the rabbis was the idea of Torah. This concept seems to have shaped the process of canon, when during the exilic period the practice of thinking of scripture in terms of a hexateuch was abandoned in order to isolate the pentateuch -- the Torah -- as the essence of emerging exilic Judaism. Originally, Torah seems to have had three meanings: a) instruction; b) oracle; c) the book of the Torah of Moses. By the beginnings of the rise of rabbinic Judaism, Torah meant: a) the Torah of Moses; i.e. the book; hence, b) the Law; hence, c) the Law and its oral interpretation. Since the Law was a living thing, it could not exist without contemporary interpretation. Thus, Torah was teaching, hence, d) the whole of that which is written, including what was earlier clearly differentiated as Wisdom. This identification of Wisdom with Torah had been completed by the 3d century B.C.E., and is expressed in Sirach without defense or argument. (However, Gentile wisdom is not Torah.) The rabbis said that all knowledge was given to Moses at Sinai. Even the newest ideas, since they were also known to Moses, are Torah. An idea which cannot be traced to Moses breaks the continuity of Torah as the totality of knowledge.
Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary
Topic for 1973-74: Creation -- Images Old and New
Meeting of January 22, 1974, Philadelphia Divinity School Library.
The third session of the 1973-74 Seminar was convened by co-chairman Patrick Henry. Following customary introductions and announcements, the Seminar heard a presentation by Donald Winslow of the Philadelphia Divinity School.
Competing Concepts of Creation in Greek Patristic Exegesis and Thought
Greek patristic thought offers many models of creation. An overview of them indicates several things:
1) On a purely descriptive level, although the models are contradictory of each other, there appears to be no articulated contradiction between the various Christian models. Consequently, the source for the variance must lie outside the descriptive content.
2) Within the traditional descriptions, the trend is to avoid exegesis as such. Instead of elucidating the text, the models fit the fairly sparse imagery of Genesis 1 into a cosmo-theological pattern.
3) In this literature, creation is not so much a developing doctrine as it is an integral part of some other kind of argumentation, usually concerned with anthropology or soteriology.
4) Creation is hardly ever considered in and of itself, but is almost always creation-and-fall, leading to a discussion of incarnation and redemption.
We will consider three familiar models of creation which are competitive when placed next to each other, but whose basic arguments are elsewhere than in the description. Perhaps it will be possible to ask some questions of these models which could reveal where the more basic competition really lies.
Origen: For Origen, creation is a post-lapsarian event; i.e. after the fall. The cosmic intelligences which exist co-eternally in the cosmic pleroma with God became bored, turned away from their source of being, and fell into disruption. This disrupting act of free will converted unity into multiplicity. The creation of Genesis 1 was a loving act on the part of God to prevent the falling intelligences from falling too far. They were stabilized on various levels (from angels to frogs). The creation was primarily therapeutic, and was one of a continuing succession of creations. Material creation is temporary, and ceases to exist when the beings return to their places, restored to their fullness in the pleroma and intimacy with God.
Athanasius: For Athanasius, creation is pre-lapsarian; he believes it happened just the way the scriptures say it did. Athanasius sees an unbridgeable gap between the creator and the creature, the eternal and time, the absolute and the contingent, the invisible and the visible. The only way to bridge this gap is by means of the implantation of the image of the Logos on contingent created beings, who are intended to be immortal humankind. All this is done without necessity and ex nihilo; the creation has an ever present penchant for dissolution and return to non-existence. Creation is wholly contingent upon God; all the data of creation is parallel to the data of divine providence. The cross, the symbol of the redemptive event, is the cure for the creation. Note that while for Origen, creation is part of the salvific process, for Athanasius creation itself is saved.
Gregory of Nazianzus: Gregory has a threefold pre-lapsarian ex nihilo creation. He does not speculate exegetically on the event of creation, but intrudes a series of events into the account (in chronological order):
1) A spiritual creation: the angelic-noetic-rational is created to be intimate with and have kinship to God.
2) A material creation: a stranger, alien to God, but not inherently evil; esthetic, sensible, the opposite of the first creation.
3) Humankind: a synthesis of the first two creations, with the unique addition of a direct implantation of the rational soul by God, within which is the image of God. Man, a dynamic relationship between body and soul, is but an immature creation, although he has a built in purpose and potential for the whole man. The fall, which originates in the 1st creation, breaks up the synthesis and turns man into a battlefield of the spiritual and the material. Salvation is not to restore man to his original purpose, which was immature, but to assist him toward his eschatological maturity.
These three descriptions of models of creation do not lead us to the depth of their differences, which seem to be on another level than the exegetical. In these models, we should look for “hidden agendas,” in terms of which we should ask: Is the description of God as creator and the cosmos as created incidental to, dependent upon or derivative of a particular theologian's thought as a whole? There seems to be no Greek father for whom the doctrine of creation is central and formative to the balance of his “system.” Athanasius, for instance, did not develop his view of Logos or of man from the assertion of an ex nihilo creation. Rather, the ex nihilo creation was a necessary, yet derivative, result of his placing the Logos on the divine and uncreated side of the creator/creature abyss (as opposed to Arius). But the placement of the treatment of creation in a derivative and dogmatically contingent context is itself an oversimplification, since there are also anthropological soteriological, Christological, and theological factors involved in addition to the psychological, sociological and political factors.
To get at the core of the fathers' use of the models of creation, it is necessary to ask of these models the right questions. I would suggest three such questions as a beginning:
1) The soteriological question: e.g. Is salvation a restoration to pre-lapsarian or pre-creational existence, or a growth toward a higher state?
2) The question of God: Whether God is infinitely beyond or intimately bound to creation; and who is it who creates? (Origen says the Father, Athanasius the Logos, and Gregory the Trinity.)
3) The anthropological question: Since creation-fall is the predominant emphasis, most of our questions are about the fall of man. What is the present state of fallen man? Is it natural or unnatural? What part of man is fallen and in need of therapy?
These and similar questions carry us beyond description, to analysis in context and eventually to the author's understanding of God, who created heaven and earth.
Discussion During the discussion following the presentation, several of the members wondered whether the questions as stated were complete enough to give us an understanding of the real issues involved. The three questions all deal with controversies among Christians, and leave open the possibility that the models are influenced by dialogue with those outside the Christian community. In the case of the three models cited, there seems to be little outside dialogue, although it should not be discounted completely. There are specific refutations of (not dialogue with) non-Christian theories, especially the emanationist theories dealing with the eternality of the cosmos, as well as the stock refutations of idolatry. Athanasius, however, does deal with specific arguments of Plato and of Marcion on small points. Origen, of the three, was probably most in contact with the wider universe of non-Christian discourse. In order to speak within this thought world, he practically needed to posit a post-lapsarian creation.
Some other fathers who dealt with Genesis 1, however, had more specific and non-Christian opponents in mind. Tertullian's dialogue with Hermogenes has already been treated (PSCO 11.1). Augustine, in Civ Dei 11, deals directly with Porphyry and the neo-Platonists, using Genesis 1 as a starting point to explicate the nature of the soul.
The Seminar also considered whether the fathers were really so reluctant to enter into dialogue with scripture at the creation account that it is necessary to search for a “hidden agenda.” A brief review appears to indicate that there was really little exegesis as such, even for Athanasius, who saw the account as being historically accurate. In dealing with creation, the fathers did not seem to feel it important to cite scripture as their authority, leading us to believe that their real concern was elsewhere. Even Augustine, who brings the text into play immediately, quickly leaves it behind in his arguments on the nature of eternity.
Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary
Topic for 1973-74: Creation -- Images Old and New
Meeting of March 5, 1974, Ely Room, Bryn Mawr College.
The fourth session of the 1971-74 Seminar was convened by co-chairman Patrick Henry. Howard Kee introduced a special guest, Dennis Nineham, resident scholar at Bryn Mawr, and Warden of Keble College, Oxford. Members of the Seminar were presented copies of a paper by Robert Wright of Temple University, which was the topic of discussion for the evening. Those desiring copies of this paper, with notes and bibliography, should contact Dr. Wright.
Genesis One in the Intertestamental Literature
There are at least 76 passages in the literature between the testaments which reflect the creation narrative of Genesis, chapter 1. This literature includes those Jewish writings which are not included in the Hebrew Bible, and which are generally identified by the titles of Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Dead Sea Scrolls. The limits of the material will be those set by Charles in APOT plus the Qumran literature. The passages selected for this study relate in some way to Genesis 1, and are not merely those referring to the creator, or creation motifs.
Part One: Genesis Hermeneutic
1. Recapitulations of Genesis 1, clearly identified by comparing the order and events with the Genesis account: generally, the writers see two purposes for creation -- God's glory and man's benefit, although if “man” includes only Israel, this raises the question of why Israel did not possess creation. Most of the writers also expand on Genesis, in an attempt to answer problems not treated in the original.
1.1 Jub 2.1-17, the longest and most detailed of the recapitulations, follows the order of Genesis closely, with a number of additions. The author understands the creation of the heavens, earth, and waters to be part of the 1st day's activity.
1.2 4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 6.38-54, somewhat shorter than Jubilees, faces the question of “If the world was created for Israel's sake, why does she not possess it?” (6.59). There are no major omissions, and only a few expansions.
1.3 2 Enoch 27.1 - 30.18, extant in 2 Slavonic versions, contains much embroidery on the text of Genesis: islands, circles of heavenly orbits, troops of flaming angels, signs of the zodiac, and many dislocations. It is an altogether disjointed account. In several passages, the Genesis pattern is not explicit, but can be found only by attempting to superimpose a 6 day pattern on each example.
1.4 Pr Azar 35-60 contains an evident Genesis pattern, with some realignment and additions, and no mention of the Sabbath. Heavens and angels were created on the 1st day.
1.5 Qumran War Scroll, 1QM 10.11-16, retains the order of Genesis 1, with expansions and additions and some freedoms. The entire “domain of spirits and dominion of the holy ones” is created on the 1st day.
1.6 Qumran Hodayot, 1QH 1.6-10, follows the same arrangement as the previous text, with a definite division of heavenly and earthly creations.
1.7 Qumran Psalms Scroll, 11Qps\a/Creat, is a fragment of a hymn to the creator, and seems to begin to follow the pattern seen above.
1.8 1QH 13.7b-9, 14-15, is a very sketchy account, but seems to follow the pattern of creation hymns already seen.
2. Interpretations of the purpose of creation; a series of passages which reflect on the beneficiaries of creation:
2.1 Creation for God's glory: 1QH 10.12 and 1QH 1.9-10 speak explicitly of this intent in creation. In 4 Ezra 6.48 and Sir 18.1, reflection upon creation prompts men to praise God. Bel 5; Bar 3.32-35; 4 Ezra 6.1, 6; and 1QH 1.8, 13-15 link creation with the lordship or uniqueness of God.
2.2 Creation for man's benefit: several places describe the benefit of man as the purpose of it all: 4 Ezra 6.46 and 2 Apoc Bar 14.8. This is often expressed as man's dominance over, or administration of, creation Sir 17.1-2; 14is 9,1-3; 1QS 3.17-18; 1QH 1.15-16.
2.3 In several places, the world is created for Israel, not for the nations: As Mos 1.12; 4 Ezra 7.11.
2.4 A further restriction on the beneficiaries of creation is found where creation is only for the righteous: 2 Apoc Bar 21.24; 15.7. This restriction creates something of a dilemma, since Israel, or the righteous of Israel, are obviously not in charge: 2 Apoc Bar 14.19; 4 Ezra 5.28-29; 6.55-59. The only answer given is an apocalyptic one: 4 Ezra 8.1.
3. Expansions upon Genesis; nearly every rehearsal of Genesis has its own special addition, expansion, or commentary:
3.1 The plan of creation was made prior to its execution; perhaps a reflection on the greatness of God: 1QS 3.15; 1QH 197-8p 19; 4 Ezra 3.6.
3.2 Observations on the manner of creation God spoke: 1QH 1.20; 11Qps\a/Creat 4; 2 Apoc Bar 14.17; 21.4; 4 Ezra 3.4. God nodded: 2 Apoc Bar 21.5; 48.8. God's lack of raw materials is cited in Wis 11.17 and 2 Apoc Bar 21.4, but with no hint of an ex nihilo doctrine. Several passages describe the order in creation: Sir 16.26-27; Pr Man 2.
3.3 The creation of the spirits on the first day, a recurrent addition to the Genesis account: Jub 2.2; 1QM 10.11-12; 11Qps\a/Creat 5; 1QH 13.8 (and 1.8-9).
3.4 A new creation at the flood and the exodus: Jub 5-12 (ambiguous); Wis 19.6. This is not merely an apocalyptic or eschatological reference.
3.5 Creation is used as a time marker, the point from which time is variously calculated, often with the other terminus as the new creation: 4 Ezra 10.46; 14.48; As Mos 1.2; 10.12; Jub 1.29; 4.26.
In varying degrees, the rehearsals of creation in this literature reflect the events and the order of the Genesis account, either consciously or not. There does seem to be another structural model influencing the accounts -- a binary model in which the creation of the heavenly phenomena precedes the earthly. The collection of passages appears to have 3 concerns: (1) The authors reinforce their praise of the creator. (2) The authors use the material to carry their special interpretations of the nature of man and the problems of his existence. (3) There are problems for which they cannot find the answers, particularly in the divergence between Israel's inheritance of creation and its inability to possess it. This unfulfilled creation can be completed only in terms of apocalyptic -- the new creation.
Part Two: Genesis Apocalyptic
Some of the intertestamental writers who saw the approach of the eschaton were informed of what to expect by their reading of Genesis.
1. The term new creation (to renew the creation) is most commonly a time marker to designate the commencement of the eschatological age. This renewal of creation marks the beginning of, and is the conceptual carrier for the whole coming age. History is measured from one creation to the other: 2 Apoc Bar 32.6; 4 Ezra 7.75; 1 Enoch 72.1; Jub 1.29. The continuity between creations gives the reassurance that the end was planned from the beginning: 4 Ezra 6.6; 7.70; 2 Apoc Bar 57.2.
2. The end of the age will be a restoration of the Genesis creation, although not in any lengthy process (the exception is 4 Ezra 7.30). It will be a return to paradise: 4 Ezra 7.123; T Levi 18.10-11; 4 Ezra 8.52; 2 Enoch 8.9.
3. The limitations of the first creation will be removed, leaving an enduring and sinless world: 2 Apoc Bar 85.10.; 74.2; 4 Ezra 7.123; 6.27-28; 1 Enoch 91.16-17; Jub 4.26. Thus, the eschaton will be like it was in the beginning -- young, fresh, vital, good, righteous, incorruptible. What was good in the creation will return. What infiltrated and corrupted creation will be eliminated.
There are in this material interesting implications for further examination: (1) Why are the creation motifs used? Why mythologies behind Genesis are transmitted as functional images? (2) What do these speculations mean for understanding the cosmology of the writers? (3) What are the writers' models of history -- linear, cyclical, monocircular, spiral? (4) What are the implications for Salvation History -- is judgment and repayment within or beyond history? (5) What solutions other than apocalyptic are available for the dilemma of Israel's failure to possess her inheritance? (6) Is Gunkel's Urzeit wird Endzeit to be pushed further? (7) Where do creation motifs go in rabbinic, NT, and patristic literature? (8) How do speculations on Genesis and creation develop in Gnosticism and Jewish mysticism?
Following the presentation, Dennis Nineham led the Seminar in a discussion and response. The Seminar expressed its gratitude for the compilation of materials, which should prove quite useful. Noted were the presence of parallels to NT material, the occurrence of the usual philosophical questions (predestination, the possibility of pre-existent material, etc.), along with a striking lack of reference or allusion to the imago Dei of Gen 1.26. However, the Seminar seemed to feel a certain incompleteness in the material, not in that it is not a fair reflection of the use of Genesis 1 in the intertestamental period, but that the intertestamental writers appear to have moved beyond Genesis l, and were reflecting some other tradition as well. There seems to be a constantly recurring mention of spirits, angels, heirarchies, etc.; far more than would seem to arise merely from the mention of heavenly counsel in Gen 1.26.
The path from Genesis 1 to the intertestamental period is hardly a direct one, and we are seeing at least second or third generation interpretation, reflecting the possibility of a parallel tradition which reached the writers in a far different form than that available to the writers of Genesis 1. Perhaps this other tradition is reflected canonically in the beginning of Genesis 6. The intertestamental writers, especially the apocaliptists, seemed drawn to the fuller creation myths, in an effort to express their hopes for a new creation.
The traditional Egyptian and Babylonian creation myths were used to show the establishment and maintenance of order in the universe. The apocalypticists, on the other hand, were attempting to stress the regaining of order at the end time. For this, the Genesis 6 story was more useful, dealing as it does with the disordering of creation by humankind. As history and theology moved toward apocalyptic, what became more important were the passages concerning the beginnings of the disorder, rather than order. The cosmological concerns of Genesis 1 did not speak directly to the theological concerns of the people of the intertestamental period. When they are used at all, they become the carriers of other, more relevant ideas. The concern with order as such does not appear to have been renewed until the time of Tertullian, who revived the exegesis of Genesis 1.
Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary
Topic for 1973-74: Creation -- Images Old and New
Meeting of April 23, 1974, Bond Hall, Swarthmore College.
The final meeting of the 1973-74 Seminar was convened by co-chairman Patrick Henry of Swarthmore College. Other members of the evening's panel were introduced, all members of the faculty at Swarthmore College: Olexa-Myron Bilaniuk, Department of Physics, and Hugh M. Lacey, Department of Philosophy. These three scholars contributed toward a panel discussion of
Patristic and Modern Cosmologies.
In the first seminar of this season, a passage from 2 Mac 7.28 was cited: “Observe heaven and earth, consider all that is in them, and acknowledge that God made them out of what did not exist, and that mankind comes into being in the same way.” This passage outlines the 3 basic concerns which have characterized the use we have seen of Genesis 1: creation, the cosmos, and anthropology. The studies in this year's seminar also have shown repeatedly that the fathers, the rabbis, and the intertestamental writers all tended to use Genesis 1 as a pretext, rather than as a text for genuine exegesis. The biblical text was worked into preformed cosmological patterns and used as a springboard for opening other discussions.
In terms of creation, we saw the text used to begin discussions on the transcendence and omnipotence of God, and whether or not God used pre-existent matter. Regarding the cosmos, we saw the order in the universe used as evidence of divine concern for man, as well as the basis for a prediction of the coming age. Also, the text was used to attempt to determine the function of the world itself -- as a home, a school, or a prison for mankind. In terms of anthropology, the text started discussions on the nature of the fall and its place in divine history (post- or pre-lapsarian, single or triple), as well as on the origins of evil.
Considering that the text of Genesis 1 was not used as the basis for creation theologies, the question is raised as to the place of the cosmological mythologies in this speculation. If the vastness of the cosmos, the changeability of the stars, and the possible inevitability of the collapse of the universe had been known to the church fathers, would theology have been fundamentally different? The same question may be turned around: To what extent is modern astrophysics as much bound to use mythological language as were the church fathers?
Kenneth F. Weaver, in “The Incredible Universe” [National Geographic 145.5 (May, 1974)], shows that modern astrophysics is at least in part still preoccupied with the 3 concerns of 2 Maccabees: creation and order (big bang vs. continuous creation theories), the cosmos (life cycle of a star, the eschaton in terms of ultimate collapse), and anthropology (mankind's relationship to an age-old universe).
The scope of what the scientist investigates is far too vast for any person to comprehend, both in its macrocosm and its microcosm. For this reason, the physicist relies on models to classify and organize his experience into something which can be managed. Thus, a physicist speaks not of “reality,” but of his model of reality, and his observations of the model in conjunction with other observable phenomena. These observations concern what matter does, and not what it is, and normally avoid the question of why things occur (considering instead the questions of when, where, how, etc.). Any model has its limitations (e.g. the map as a model of the globe, in which both edges of the map signify the same point), and the ultimate test of the usability of a model is its success in predicting future physical events. A model which appears to pass this test may then be used in terms of cosmology; i.e. it can be projected backwards in time in order to determine origins. In doing this, it is necessary to make certain assumptions: that physical laws were always the same, and that the same laws hold throughout the universe.
A recent example of such cosmological retrodiction can be found in the applications of Hubbel's law of the expanding universe. Reversed, it points to a time when everything was together (an atom primitif) and the “big bang” occurred. This model has come in conflict with the “continuous creation” theory, which implies no such primal compression. In the last 5 years, tests of residual radiation have tended to prove the expanding universe model, to the detriment of its rival. A variation on the model is the pulsating universe theory, wherein the universe does not escape its own gravity, but sooner or later draws itself back together, only to explode' again.
Scientists who have strayed beyond the confines of the physical sciences into ideology have had difficulty with some of the modern models. Hubbel's theory, for instance, requires a beginning of everything -- an ideological stumbling block for some. However, ideology must not be the scientist's concern. Scientists ought not to attempt to explain everything, but should confine themselves to constructing models in order to make predictions. They cannot ask of their methodology where it all came from, or why.
Hugh M. Lacey:
Creation myths are primarily concerned with the issues of the relationships between God and the universe, God and man, and man and the universe. The myths seek the answers in terms of the origins of man and the universe, following the presupposition that to know the origin of something is to know its nature. There is something of this presupposition shared by those modern scientific cosmologies which are sufficiently all-encompassing to include the biological origin of humankind. However, those modern scientific cosmologies which are founded essentially in physics would seem to lack this factor. An overriding presupposition for these cosmologies is the idea that the present illuminates the past, rather than the other way around.
The laws of physics, descriptive as they are, enable us both to predict and to retrodict. However, retrodiction is probably the more hazardous. Given any presently occurring phenomenon, it is compatible with the laws of physics that it could have been brought about by a range of alternative past phenomena; whereas predictions are more likely to be univocal. The expansion of knowledge about the universe never completely removes the hazard from retrodiction, leading us always to be more skeptical about retrodictive claims.
As scientific cosmology now retrodicts, there is nothing to imply that the universe as presently comprehended by us has or has not a beginning. But, if there should have been such a beginning, and we could learn from retrodiction about its original state, this would give no indication of the source of this primal state -- whether it was always there, or was the product of a previous phase of the universe. Scientific cosmologies cannot be rivals to creation myths, which deal with the relationship between God and the universe.
Clearly, however, scientific cosmologies can rival a creation myth's account of the origin of humankind. Genesis gives an interesting account of the relationship between man and the universe, encompassing both dependence and control. Modern cosmologies can be compatible with such a view, and can deepen and enrich our understanding of this dual relationship. Understanding our origins can illumine the potential of our future.
Following the presentation, the Seminar discussed some of the issues which had been raised. On the question of whether it would have made a difference to the church fathers if the true vastness of the universe had been known to them, opinions varied. In terms of the tools of language given to modern science (e.g. calculus) which were unavailable to the church fathers, and in terms of the postulated regularity of the cosmos implicit in the expanding universe model, it would seem that the fathers would indeed be unable to maintain their views in the face of modern knowledge. Their view necessitated a primal chaos, without any form or regularity. On the other hand, the question of man's place in the universe appears to be untouched by modern scientific cosmologies, since it depends on other models or myths than those of the physical sciences. Some modern cosmologies would be quite suitable for the fathers: Origen would have been quite at home with the theory of the pulsating universe, with world upon world upon world.
It was noted that the methodology given of physics -- using a model to describe what occurs because the actual event is beyond comprehension, could be one of the classical definitions of the function of mythology. Indeed, the model carries on many of the functions of the myth, but with perhaps a firmer foundation in physical reality. In spite of scientific cosmologies, man still looks for the ultimate reason for himself and his universe in his ideology, and receives his answers by faith. With a little work, ideologies can be made to fit in with almost any cosmological model.
Following the Seminar meeting, the members adjourned to a reception at the home of Dr. Theodore Friend, the president of Swarthmore College.
Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary