About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


Beauty and Diversity of Biblical Cosmogonies

For centuries even millennia, western religious tradition (Judeo-Christianity) has been stricken by a particularly vicious form of anthropocentrism. Religion and theology were viewed from solely human or human-divine perspective and both human and divine were separated from the rest of environment.
     In the last decade, both in Europe as well as in North America, we have witnessed an emergence of a new theological stream called “ecological hermeneutics” and often abbreviated as “eco-hermeneutics”. It attempts to correct this egotistic anthropocentrism of western religious tradition by re-reading ancient religious texts paying special attention to ancient integration or religion and environment.
     This year via our Lenten Lectures we want to participate in this new theological development and discourse.

On this slide four main modes (metaphors) are used to talk about creation in the Ancient Near East. All these models (metaphors) reflect human experiences with creating, generating and organizing activities. Creation stories are modeled on the observed natural or societal processes of creation.
Biological creation happens by the means of growing, germinating, hatching from an egg, or through sexual activity of different kind.
The name for the Industrial category is not derived from modern industry but from the original Latin meaning “diligent effort” “skilled work”. Under this category, creation is compared to skilled work, for instance the work of an metallurgist, or a potter.
Military creation is modeled on combat, the vanquishing, conquering and organizing (reorganizing) of the domain of the conquered enemy. A classical example is known among student of religion under its German name as Chaoskampf - "War (with forces) of Chaos". World of order (Cosmos) is created by conquering and reorganising disorder (Chaos). 
Linguistic (autocratic) creation is derived from an experience with political/monarchic models of government. In developing or developed societies the rule and authority is exercised by means of the word (kings or priests ruled by giving commands, bureaucratic societies create written rules and laws)
With each category in this list we proceed from the most organic to higher societal models (requiring higher levels of societal organization)

The most widely known creation story is probably the one recorded in the first chapters of Genesis right at the beginning of the Jewish and Christian Bible.
     For more than a century it has been known that the creation narrative in Genesis consists of two independent creation stories (Creation in 6 days and Creation in the Garden). It is even possible that the first creation story (creation is six days) contains in its first two verses a third creation story - a classical example of Chaoskampf (overcoming the Chaos in the form of the formless void and the dark bottomless deep).
      The creation of the world in 7 days (six days of work and the seventh day of rest) has strong liturgical features (repetitive formulas).
      The creation of Adam in the Garden has strong features of industrial creation - Adam is shaped from dust and the verb used has a manufacturing, a pottery-making background.
This industrial metaphor of creation is nicely and more fully expressed in several other biblical passages and has a close parallel in Egyptian iconography and mythology (Egyptian royalty was viewed as created on the potter’s wheel by the god Khmun).
Similar motif appears also in the New Testament and with the development of new technology is utilized even in post-biblical gnostic literature.

Indeed biblical creation stories are not limited to the first two chapters of Genesis, nor they are limited to the Old Testament. On this slide we present some well expressed examples of Creation Stories from different parts of the New Testament.
This is my attempt at a graphic rendition of Ancient Near East Cosmology (world view) recreating it from different biblical fragments (quotations - many more exist, which are not included). This world view was fluent, contained substantial inconsistencies and logical contradictions yet represented a widely shared narrative.  

Now I would like to concentrate on two less known biblical cosmogonies (creation stories) one from Psalm 104 and one from the book of Job.

The whole of Psalm 104 is one great poetic creation story with many mythical references and a cosmology which closely corresponds to the preceding slide.
I would also like to highlight a special feature of many of these ANE creation stories which consists of a continuous divine care for creation, especially animals. The God of these creation stories is certainly not a god of deists, this god almost resembles underlying and sustaining principle of life. Especially in Psalm 104:27-30 God shares many characteristics which are in our modern discourse associated with the principles of biological evolution.

Now Cosmogony from the book of Job:
Another extensive and exquisite creation story of the Hebrew Bible is preserved right towards the end of the book of Job (Job 38 and 39). The Omnipotence and omniscience of God is being demonstrated with the help of an extensive rendition of a creation story.
     This Creation Story (just like the rest of the book of Job) is adorned with many beautiful poetic metaphors (many of them are archaic and mythical in their origins). And again in Job 38:39-39:4 we can observe the continuous gentle, even moving care of God for creation. Just as almost all ancient deities had their special sacred animals or plants, in this early monotheism (not yet alienated to nature) all creatures enjoy this special relationship - the list in Job or in Psalm 104 is almost certainly Pars Pro Toto.
Here is our summary: Although Ancient Near Eastern Cosmogonies (Creation Stories) were anthropocentric in their origins, their nature and their intentions (composed by humans, using human experience as a source for metaphors, and composed to inform human religion and worldview) they preserved some deep and important insights.
     Ancient cosmology clearly expressed a notion that the habitable world (in its form of a bubble positioned in between the split primordial waters) was a limited, closed environment. The Cosmos (realm of order) was just a small space surrounded on all sides with threatening waters of Chaos. It was clear that human action should promote order and avoid introducing elements of chaos. God (or the heads of the pantheons) was/were the ultimate protector/s against the flood and the keeper of the floodgates of Chaos. Existential recognition and general awareness of the fact that the world ecosystem is not limitless is only slowly reaching the minds of modern people.
     Further, from the theological point of view - creation stories even in their monotheistic biblical reworking make it clear that God is not separated from the universe; to the contrary, God remains intrinsically engaged in this world. Again, theology is only slowly recognizing the wisdom of these ancient texts, that our relatively recent philosophical separation of God from nature is artificial, idolatrous and harmful for our faith and our environment. All of nature is the collection of God’s sacred animals and plants. Thoughtless harming of any of creatures is like shooting Artemis’ deer in her sacred forest.

No comments: