In our Biblical Studies seminar here at St Andrews we heard yesterday from Joel Kaminsky, professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at Smith College in Northampton, MA. He spoke on an article that he is writing about the theology of the book of Genesis. This was very timely for me, as I had just taught an Elders’ Quorum class on the Creation the day before. So I was understandably very interested in what he had to say.

While in the LDS Church we have at least four accounts of the Creation to work with, non-LDS biblical scholars have only two major canonical accounts (not counting allusions in the Psalms, etc.): Gen. 1 and Gen. 2 (which most believe to have been written by two different authors following different theologies). It is significant, therefore, to see the extent of the material that scholars can get out of those two chapters in Genesis.

As the work that Prof. Kaminsky presented to us is not yet published, I will not quote from it. But I do want to briefly outline some of the ideas that were discussed in our seminar and present them as a representative example of what some biblical scholars are saying today about the material we read in Genesis.

1. There is a significant difference between the creation story presented in Gen. 1 and the story in Gen. 2. There are also significant differences between these accounts and the creation material that is found in the book of Psalms, which is more representative of the creation myths found throughout the ancient Near East — the more common myth is that the cosmos was created after the cosmic battle of the gods. The Genesis accounts don’t preserve the more ancient ideas of the rebellion of the gods, the great pre-creation battle, or the struggle of God with chaos/the waters.

2. Although later Jewish and Christian interpreters would read the idea of creation ex-nihilo (out of nothing) into the text, that is not what it actually describes. In Gen. 1, the waters and the land are not created by God, but are put in their proper places by Him. There is a division and ordering of pre-existent materials.

3. Scholars see in the plural language of passages such as Gen. 1:26 a reference to an ancient Hebrew belief in a plurality of gods. Some would describe such passages as having reference to the Divine Council that planned the Creation. Many scholars are now of the belief that the religion of ancient Israel should more correctly be classified as monolatry (worship of one God, while acknowledging other gods) rather than monotheism.

4. Whereas some of the other ancient Near Eastern religious traditions (see Enuma Elish) see humans as having been created to be slaves to the gods, the Genesis account presents the first man and woman as having the potential to become god-like. It is largely recognized that the Serpent who beguiled Eve was, at least in part, telling the truth when he said that eating of the tree would make the human couple like God. When they ate the fruit, they didn’t die, but became like God, knowing good from evil.

These are just a few of the more significant (for my purposes) of the many ideas discussed at the seminar. I am grateful to Prof. Kaminsky for his insightful theological commentary on Genesis and for bringing his ideas all the way here to St Andrews to be discussed in our forum.

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