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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

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Commentary on Genesis

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1.1–2.3 :

Creation in seven days. The book of Genesis—and thus the Bible itself—opens with an account of creation that is extraordinary for its austerity. Other ancient Near Eastern evocations of God's (or the gods') world‐ordering activity, including many in the Bible itself (e.g., Ps. 104 ), provide high drama and graphic description of the events and their protagonists (even the LORD). Gen. 1.1–2.3 , however, is utterly devoid of sensory detail. This eerie abstract‐ness, combined with the highly schematic and formulaic structure of the narrative, conveys a sense of the awe‐inspiring majesty and inviolable sovereignty of the God on whom the narrative is unswervingly focused. This narrative is structured by a pattern of seven days, six in which God accomplishes all His creative labors, and one in which He rests in regal repose, blessing and hallowing that climactic day. The correlations between things created on the various days exhibit a high degree of symmetry (diagram, below). The first three days describe the creation of generalities or domains; the next three chronicle the creation of the specifics or the inhabitants of the domains in the same order. Creation comes to its culmination, however, only in the one day that has no counterpart, the Sabbath (“Shabbát” in modern Heb, or “Shábbes” in the Eastern European pronunciation), here observed by God above and not yet enjoined upon His people Israel (who first hear of it in Exodus 16 ). The organization of time into seven‐day units has become so familiar and so widespread that it is easy to forget that unlike the month (which in the Bible is lunar) and the year (which in the Bible never moves too far from its solar base), the biblical week corresponds to no astronomical event. The notion that seven signifies completeness and that things come to their fit conclusion on the seventh day did, however, have wide resonance in the ancient Near Eastern world in which Israel emerged, and that idea doubtless stands in the background of our passage. The role of the number seven in 1.1–2.3 extends, in fact, beyond the obvious division of the acts of creation into a seven‐day sequence. For example, the expression, And God saw that [something He made] was good or very good occurs seven times, but not on every day of the primordial week. Missing on the second and seventh, it appears twice on the adjacent third and sixth days ( 1.10, 12, 25, 31 ). Similarly, the word “God” occurs exactly thirty‐five times (i.e., five times seven) in our passage, and the section devoted to the seventh day ( 2.1–3 ) has exactly thirty‐five words in the Heb. The organization of the process of creation into a sequence of seven days is familiar to most readers not only from the opening of the Tanakh but also from the Sabbath commandment of the Decalogue in Exod. 20.8–11 . But we must not forget that this connection is far from universal in the Tanakh. In fact, most biblical descriptions of creation know nothing of a seven‐day sequence (e.g., Ps. 104; Prov. 8.22–31 ), and most texts about the Sabbath (including the version of the Decalogue in Deut. 5.12–15 ) make no reference to creation. The suspicion arises that 1.1–2.3 derives from a distinct school of thought, one that dates to a relatively late period in the history of Israelite religion. On the basis of these considerations, and a multitude of others, critical scholars attribute the passage to the P (for “Priestly”) source. And God does function here in ways reminiscent of a “kohen” (priest), giving blessings, for example ( 1.22, 28; 2.3; cf. Lev. 9.22–23; Num. 6.22–27 ), and consecrating the Sabbath ( 2.3; cf. Ezek. 44.24 ). The concern shown in this story forrder and clear boundaries typifies the Priestly corpus. More importantly, the creation of the world in 1.1–2.3 bears several striking resemblances to the construction of the Tabernacle mandated in Exod. chs 25–31 and executed in Exod. chs 35–40 (e.g., see Gen. 2.1–3; Exod. 39.32, 42–43 )—the prototype of the Jerusalem Temple and the focus of the priestly service of the LORD. Note that other ancient Near Eastern creation stories conclude with the construction of a temple for the creation god. In the Tanakh, the world is sometimes seen as the LORD's temple, and the Temple as a microcosm (e.g., Isa. 66.1–2 ).

1 :

A tradition over two millennia old sees 1.1 as a complete sentence: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the 11th century, the great Jewish commentator Rashi made a case that the verse functions as a temporal clause. This is, in fact,how some ancient Near Eastern creation stories begin—including the one that starts at 2.4b . Hence the translation, When God began to create heaven and earth.

2 :

This clause describes things just before the process of creation began. To modern people, the opposite of the created order is “nothing,” that is, a vacuum. To the ancients, the opposite of the created order was something much worse than “nothing.” It was an active, malevolent force we can best term “chaos.” In this verse, chaos is envisioned as a dark, undifferentiated mass of water. In 1.9 , God creates the dry land (and the Seas, which can exist only when water is bounded by dry land). But in 1.1–2.3 , water itself and darkness, too, are primordial (contrast Isa. 45.7 ). In the midrash, Bar Kappara upholds the troubling notion that the Torah shows that God created the world out of preexistent material. But other rabbis worry that acknowledging this would cause people to liken God to a king who had built his palace on a garbage dump, thus arrogantly impugning His majesty (Gen. Rab. 1.5 ). In the ancient Near East, however, to say that a deity had subdued chaos is to give him the highest praise.

3–5 :

Since the sun is not created until the fourth day ( 1.14–19 ), the light of the first three days is of a different order from what we know. A midrash teaches that when God saw the corruption of the generations of the flood and of the tower of Babel, He hid that primordial light away for the benefit of the righteous in the world‐to‐come (b. Ḥag. 12a). Other ancient Near Eastern myths similarly assume the existence of light before the creation of the luminaries.

6–8 :

The word translated expanse refers to a piece of metal that has been hammered flat. Here, the function of the sky is to separate the waters above (which fall as rain) from the subterranean waters (which rise as springs; see 7.11 ).

16 :

The sun and moon are created only on the fourth day and are not named, but referred to only as the greater light and the lesser light. This may be an implicit polemic against the worship of astral bodies (see 2 Kings 23.5 ).

21 :

A similar point can be made about the creation of the great sea monsters on the fifth day. In some ancient myths— and biblical texts as well (see Ps. 74.12–17 ; Job 26.5–14 )—creation results from the slaying of a sea monster. Isa. 27.1 uses the same word to describe the frightening sea monster that the LORD will kill at the end of time.

26–28 :

The plural construction (Let us…) most likely reflects a setting in the divine council (cf. 1 Kings 22.19–22; Isa. ch 6; Job chs 1–2 ): God the King announces the proposed course of action to His cabinet of subordinate deities, though He alone retains the power of decision. The midrash manifests considerable uneasiness with God's proposal to create something so capable of evil as human beings are. Playing on Ps. 1.6 , one midrash reports that God told his ministering angels only of “the way of the righteous” and hid from them “the way of the wicked” (Gen. Rab. 8.4 ). Another one reports that while the angels were debating the proposal among themselves, God took the matter in hand. “Why are you debating?” he asked them. “Man has already been created!” (Gen. Rab. 8.5 ). Whereas the earth and the waters (at God's command) bring forth the plants, fish, birds, and other animals ( 1.12, 20, 24 ), humankind has a different origin and a different character. In the ancient Near East, the king was often said to be the “image” of the god and thus to act with divine authority. So here, the creation of humanity in God's image and likeness carries with it a commission to rule over the animal kingdom ( 1.26b, 28b; cf. Ps. 8.4–9 ). Some have seen in that commission a license for ecological irresponsibility. The fact is, however, that the Tanakh presents humanity not as the owner of nature but as its steward, strictly accountable to its true Owner (see Lev. 25.23–24 ). This theology is one source of the important institutions of the sabbatical and jubilee years (see Exod. 23.10–11; Lev. ch 25 ). Whereas the next account of human origins (Gen. 2.4b–24 ) speaks of God's creation of one male from whom one female subsequently emerges, Gen. ch 1 seems to speak of groups of men and women created simultaneously. The division of humankind into two sexes is closely associated with the divine mandate to Be fertile and increase. In Jewish law, this is a positive commandment, although it is obligatory only on Jewish men, not women (b. Yebam. 65b).

29–30 :

Humankind, animals, and birds all seem originally meant to be neither vegetarians nor carnivores, but frugivores, eating the seeds of plants and trees.

2.1–3 :

In the Jewish liturgy, this passage serves as an introduction to the kiddush, the prayer over wine to sanctify the Sabbath that is recited just before the first meal of the holy day, on Friday night (see Exod. 20.8–11 ). It also appears in the traditional Friday evening service. The passage is characterized by the type of repetition that suggests it might have served as a liturgy already in antiquity.

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