Why Genesis 1 was written

Not that I have all the answers, of course.

I thought I’d reproduce a summary of my current thoughts on the issue that I formulated in an interesting comment exchange under a post on another site.

I asked what sort of question the authors of Genesis 1 etiology intended to answer:

[1] why the world exists,
[2] how it got made, or
[3] both.

One commenter (whose opinion I highly respect) essentially agreed with me that the answer is [3], but added that Genesis 1 only answered [1] by implication of its primary goal of answering who is responsible, namely YHWH. I have sympathy for this, but I explained why I wrote [1] as I did.

I think Genesis 1 primarily attempts to answer the question of why everything is here as it is by instructing the Israelites/Jews that YHWH tamed chaos in order to subjugate and commission creation for His purposes. Things work as they do (=are “functional” in Walton’s terms) because it was He who intended the sun to shine, the fish to inhabit the ocean, man to hold dominion over nature, etc. The reason the world works as it does is because it was intended to work that way (“God saw that it was good”). There is certainly a strong element of the “who” answer intimately integrated into this, but I think another key aspect of Genesis 1 is a worldview shift toward the common Judeo-Christian belief that the chaos we see in our world is somewhat apparent rather than real.

What I mean is that God is in control of all creation and does not have to periodically journey to Jotunheim to grapple with his mortal enemies the frost giants—the frost giants are well under His jurisdiction. As I explained before, the gods of the ANE are typically not supreme rulers (although they are sometimes called this): they are simply the forces who are in a unique position to keep order in the universe, a responsibility they frequently shirk and indeed often circumvent by their own or other gods’ reckless actions. In contrast with the dualism of gods vs. forces of chaos (often including other gods) seen in so many other world cultures, Genesis 1 describes a deity who is supreme over nature and not in eternal competition with it. YHWH is pictured elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible in continuing contention with chaos and other insurgents, but He settles these incidents from a position of authority rather than as a merely marginally stronger force.

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