Gary Rendsberg - Genesis 1

At Ed Babinski's recommendation, I got on to some of The Teaching Company's excellent Religion courses. They have a host of courses on some wonderful topics. I figured I would start at the start and so downloaded Dr Gary Rendsberg's (Rutgers) Book of Genesis 24 lecture course.

In this course, Rendsberg recommends and uses the New JPS Translation of Genesis. The text of this newer translation is not available online (although the older 1917 version is) so forgive me if I refer to it but do not quote from it, as I am in China and it isn't easy to come by here.

Rendsberg notes that,
The first thing we notice about Genesis 1 is that, contrary to what most people might assume or believe, the world is not created ex nihilo, that is, “out of nothing.”
By using the JPS translation, he makes the assertion that according to the syntax of the Hebrew text, Genesis 1:1 is actually a dependant clause, dependant on Gen 1:2-3. That is the earth is in a state of preexistent matter and then God creates the world. He asserts that creation ex nihilo is a later theological development that was then read back into the Hebrew text, but which is not supported by the Hebrew text.

Of course he said a lot more, but I thought this is of note to those of us previously of the Christian tradition.


es said...

Whack, whack, whack. {groan}

It's just an ancient book of MYTHS, everyone. Can we move on now?


Anonymous said...

This is true. I learned this while studying Rashi. Rashi is a Rabbi best known for his literalist interpretations on the Torah. Of the four creation accounts in the accepted canon none of them support creation from nothing. I seem to recall one of the books of Maccabees first giving rise to this idea.

I supose a process theological type view would not have any problem with this.

John W. Loftus said...

You might want to see what I recently wrote and read the comments as well here.

Anonymous said...

I just taught a series at my church on the creation myths of Ancient Israel using the JPS translation, both for its accuracy and for the relative unfamiliarity of its language in Christian settings. The primary imagery it conveys is, as you say, not creation ex nihlo (a much, much later development), but a movement from chaos to order. I may turn my notes from that teaching series into a blog post at some later point, but I certainly won't take up valuable comment space here by breaking down all of the mythic and poetic images in the text. I will, however, type in the text of the first five verses of the JPS translation, as I imagine that, much like yourself, most readers here do not have access to it.

1 When God began to create heaven and earth - 2 the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water - 3 God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.

To the anonymous commenter let me say simply that not only does process theology have no problem with this, but that process theology rests on the type of thinking reflected in this creation myth. It is almost a recapturing of this ancient understanding of the ongoing and prgressive nature of creation; the continual shaping of chaos into order.

To es, let me say that anyone who says that a myth is just a myth fails to understand to enduring power of mythos. That is like saying that a song is just a song, a poem is just a poem, a story is just a story, a painting is just a painting. Each of these modes of communication, at their best (and this enduring myth is one of the best examples of mythology), communicates on a deep level our shared experience of life. Myths - good myths - speak to us profoundly, and communicate deep - if not factual, historical, or scientific - truths.

The Torah is both a collection of myths and a mythic retelling of remembered history (it is not monolithic in structure, and neither is the rest of the Tanakh, or the Christian New Testament), and that is no small thing. To say that this, then, is just a myth is to participate in the greatest error of Western modernity - a failure to appreciate what Karen Armstrong calls the distinction between Mythos and Logos. Logos teaches us the factual, and as such is valuable, but by itself devoid of meaning. Mythos is concerned with meaning, and meaning is at least as important as literal-historical truth-value.

But I'm sure you've heard more than enough from me on this subject. Beating a dead horse and all.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Contrary to popular opinion, there exists more than one accurate translation of Genesis 1:1-2:

A. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was unformed and void.” [1]

B. “When God began to create the heavens and the earth -- the earth being unformed and void.” [2]

C. “At the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, the earth was unformed and void.”

D. “At the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, when the earth was unformed and void.” [3]

Notice that none of these translations state, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth ‘out of nothing.’” Rather, “In the beginning” only means “at the commencement of time, in the remotest past that the human mind can conceive, God created the heavens and the earth.” How God did that is depicted in the verses that follow Genesis 1:1-2. [4]

For instance Genesis states that heaven was formed on the second day of Creation “in the midst of the water.” And the earth was called forth on the third day from the watery “deep.” But what was this primordial “water” from which (or in which) heaven and earth were created? Nought but primordial Apsu and Tiamat, their waters commingling as a single body (Enuma Elish)! Because it was agreed among all the Hebrew’s neighbors that vast primeval “waters” existed “in the beginning”:

“At the beginning the world was a waste of water called Nu, and it was the abode of the Great Father. He was Nu, for he was the deep...and Ra bade the earth and
the heavens to rise out of the waste of water.”
-- Creation Myth of the Sun Worshippers (Egyptian) [5]

“Nothing existed except the vast mass of Celestial Waters.”
-- The Book of Knowing How Ra Came Into Being (Egyptian) [6]

“In the beginning there existed neither heaven nor earth, and nothing existed except the boundless mass, of primeval water which was shrouded in darkness.”
-- Another Telling of the Origin of the Gods (Egyptian) [7]

“Sing the sacred race of immortals...who sprang from Earth and starry Heaven, and murky Night, whom the briny Deep nourished...In truth then foremost sprang
-- Selections from Hesiod’s Theogony (Greek) [8]

“The beginning of all things was a...windy air...and a chaos, turbid and black...destitute of form. But when this wind became enamored of its own first
principles (the chaos), an intimate union (commingling) took place...(and) from its embrace with the wind was generated Ilus (Mud)...the putrefaction of a watery mixture, And from this sprang all the seed of creation and the generation of the universe.”
-- A Phoenician (Canaanite) Creation Myth [9]

Eusebius of Caesarea quoted Philo Byblius on the ancient Phoenician cosmogony, “As the beginning of all things he assumes (i.e., Philo Byblius) a dark and windy air or a blowing of dark air and a marshy, dark chaos.” [10]

One cannot fail to see how much the Hebrew creation story owes to its neighbors’ conception of “primordial waters.” However, the Hebrew God, unlike the rest, is not portrayed as being born of those waters. Instead, He is with them in the beginning, commanding them. No doubt the beginning of all things did appear both “watery and chaotic” to ancient minds, but by placing one God at the forefront of creation the Hebrews were proclaiming to the nations around them that their God ruled those waters, unchallenged, right from the beginning.

[1] New American Standard Bible translation (New York: J.A.Holman Co.,
[2] The Torah: AMC.
[3] Translations C. & D. are suggested by U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the
Book of Genesis, Vol. I, trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press,
[4] Ibid., p. 20.
[5] Raymond Van Over, ed., Songs: Creation Myths From Around World (New York: The New American Library, Inc., 1980), p. 256.
[6] Ibid., p. 277.
[7] Ibid., p. 278.
[8] Ibid., p. 198.
[9] Ibid., p. 181.

es said...

Actually I do appreciate myths, sandalstraps, very much. I have read many, from many cultures, and I agree that they tell us much about people's beliefs, dreams, fears, and so forth - both specific people and cultures at specific time periods as well as generally, about humankind.

What irks me is when people try to force reality to fit those ancient myths so that they can confirm their belief in a mythical being.

Pedro said...

What you are saying is really nothing new for a Christian, its called the "Gap Theory", between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 there may be an unspecified amount of time. Many call Genesis 1:2 a "recreation" of the heavens and the earth.

Troy Waller said...

Ah of course, the GAP THEORY. Who could forget the GAP THEORY.

Perhaps you could elaborate on that a bit more and share the reasons why this theory has some textual or literary validity rather than how it suits those with an ex nihilo creation belief?

So 3 creation narratives then? Gen 1:1, Gen 1:2-2:3, Gen 2:4-.

Busy, busy, busy...

Badger3k said...

Maybe it's a minor point, but I thought a lot of torrents are, well, technically illegal, and since you buy the Teaching Company lectures, isn't saying you downloaded it with a link to a torrent saying you stole it? I may not be up to date on current laws, but isn't that a little unwise?

Troy Waller said...


Let he who is without sin frack off. ;p

Back to the point of the post...

Anonymous said...

Unlike all other accounts however, the biblical account states no geneology or nativity for God, but rather a cooperation or directing of other "gods" in the creative process of ogranizing order from chaos. Therefore, it is as complete an overreach to state that the biblcal cration accounts are simply recostituted Gilgamesh as it is to say that they do not have anything to do with the then prevailing world view as to the shape of creation.

Rather than profer up gods theognoy Genesis begins to make understood the plural nature of the cooperative process of the "gods" in their working with the premordial "waters". The concept of creation by faith implies that these materials to whom God "spoke" had within their existance an innate intelligence by which they responded (i.e. God said, let their be light, and it was so, comes before the creation of the starts, sun, etc.) Verse 26, let US make man in our image, refers contextually not to the placement of man upon the earth so much as it speaks to the cooperation of beings so that in mortality man would become in the physical image of the Creator.

Now, this is the point where evangelical christianty has originated the concept of ex nihlo creation, to differentiate the spicies of man from the species of God, and is in fact something the bible opposes.

Therefore, this debate is more aptly described as a discussion of the hijacking of orthodoxy by evangelicals and has really nothing to do with the atheist versus christian debate, which is the declared point of this board, i.e. to discredit the validity of christianity by relegating its foundation to myths.


phlipper merlin said...

King James Version Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Phoenician Canaanite Genesis 1:1
In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.
(In the beginning the Gods created the heavens and the earth?)

El = God
Ohim = plural like adding an S to an english word. car cars.

Genesis 1:28
Elohim said, come let US make man in OUR image after OUR likeness.

Genesis 3
Man has become as one of US. Having the knowledge of good and evil.

Who is Elohim talking to? Who is US? who is OUR? The Gods?

King James - Genesis 1:2
And the earth was without form and void.

Phoenician Canaanite Genesis 1:2
And the earth BECAME a waste and a desolation. (tohu vohu)

Genesis 9:1
to Noah after everyone was wiped out after the flood, Go forth unto the world now and REPLENISH the earth.

Genesis 1:28
to Adam and Eve, multiply and REPLENISH the earth.

Jeremiah in a vision saw the earth as beautiful then it BECAME a waste and a desolation.
God gave him a vision and the earth was tohu vohu.

Why would Adam and Eve be told to REPLENISH the earth? Earth became a waste and a desolation? Was God RE-Creating all over again? Are we the first cycle of man on the earth after billions of years or just one of the many in the Supreme Being's infinity? Maybe many cycles of man have been re-plenished.

was MAN was already here on earth, originally created by The Supreme Being. and then... the Gods said "come on let's go make HIM in OUR image according to OUR likeness" are we the off spring of the Elohim?

Are the Elohim still on earth? How long do they live? Are they the one's that are running the world? Are they the "Hidden Masters"?

Are the God's that are already here on earth going to do battle with other God's that are on their way to earth from another planet in the heavens?

Are these God's going to do battle over the ownership of man?

Are men going to beg God to die and for the mountains to fall in over them?

Who are going to be the God's of the new AGE, the Age of Aquarius?