Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath
Part of my series “A Satanist Reads the Bible,” in which I explore the Bible, Christianity, and other religions and their sacred texts through the lens of Satanism in order to reinvent religion for myself.
Earlier this year I purchased a copy of the Christian Bible as part of a broader study of religions and their sacred texts. Unlike other Satanists, I do not consider the Bible as something wholly abhorrent, false, or misleading. To the contrary, I find it to be an interesting and compelling work of great literary merit, a useful window into history and into the beliefs of a substantial subsection of humanity, and even a source of personal insight and inspiration.
There are of course many translations available, and I selected the New Revised Standard Version, the standard translation for academic studies of the Bible. It is already well known that the more commonly-cited translation, the King James Bible, is profoundly defective, and I’m not interested in exploring the text on the basis of someone else’s incompetence. I want to explore and evaluate the work on its true merits and faults, and the NRSV seems the best vehicle for that purpose.
I begin with Genesis, and the first account of the creation of the world. I’ve heard it explained by apologists who accept Creationism in an old-Earth format and who attempt to rationalize the disparity between Bible and Reality, that “we don’t know what a day is for God,” so the six days of creation could be a symbolic representation of the entire 13.7 billion years prior to the formation of Earth and the time from that point to the creation of humankind. The more likely explanation is that this book was written by people who had no way of knowing that the Earth was more than a few thousand years old and so described creation in terms of what they understood of the Sacred.
Why then give the book any consideration at all? Why attempt to learn anything of creation from those necessarily ignorant of it? The aim here is not to learn of the literal origins of the universe— we have other, better methods for that — but rather to understand how such a thing was understood in the context of the Sacred by the ancient Hebrews. To read a passage and say, “The ancient Hebrews believed this but we now know that they were wrong” is, though technically correct, boring and dismissive. It is much more interesting to say, “Given that the ancient Hebrews believed this, what else follows?¹”
Dr. Grant Hardy, an insightful expert on matters of sacred texts and an apparently devout Mormon, describes the Hebrew Bible as “a sacred text in conversation with itself… even arguing with itself” (Sacred Texts of the World, 2014). This becomes immediately apparent in the reading, and I believe that this reflects a dialectic in God’s creation, which will be a central theme of these writings. Contradictions and paradoxes abound, and while it would be trivial and even convenient to say that these indicate that the text is nonsensical and meaningless, it is more interesting to assume that there is intent and meaning in these contradictions and to then see what follows.
In the Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant argued that reason attempts to know causes of all things but cannot, and in attempting to do so it generates contradictions. If we interpret the Bible in this light, we can see the Bible in terms of an attempt to understand and convey that which is beyond language— the contradictions are not merely incidental, but rather essential to what the authors had intended to convey. We can also uncover contradictions between what the sacred texts say of God and Satan, and what Christians — even Biblical literalists— say of the same, so proving that they are often disingenuous or simply mistaken in their attempts to convince us of what they say is Truth.
The first chapter of the first book of the Bible, and the first few verses of the next², give one account of the creation of the world by God over six days. There are two differing accounts of creation in Genesis, the second immediately following the first. The NRSV even places the second account under the heading, Another Account of the Creation. The second contains the story of the creation of Adam and Eve; I’ll examine this account in another essay and turn my attention here towards the first.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Genesis 1:1–2, NRSV
The first thing I notice is the paradoxical existential status of the earth in this sentence. When God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was. It is both created and uncreated. The text does not say in this translation that the heavens and the earth were the first creations of God; nevertheless, we have things in reality, nominally other than God, that exist prior to the Creation. What are these things? Void, darkness, wind (specifically cited as originating from God), water, some boundary between water and not-water (“the face”). I assume the not-water is void, and the wind is then liminal to, mediating between, both void and water, and the void is also the created/uncreated earth.
And, of course, there is God himself³. The question “Whence came God?” is an important and substantial one, probably best suited for another essay.
The King James Version is markedly different here: instead of a wind from God, “…the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Wind from God seems abstract and poetic; for what reason does God cause a wind to blow across the face of waters and void? The Hebrew word רוח, ruach, means both “wind” and “spirit,” so both translations are sensible. In Kabbalah, the esoteric interpretation of Judaism, רוח is one of the three elements of the soul, and in Christianity, רוח, and specifically the form that appears here, רוח אלוהים, ruach Elohim, “The Spirit of God,” is one of the names for the Holy Spirit, the third aspect of the Triune God.
And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning. The first day.
Genesis 1:1–5, NRSV
I‘ll be writing later about my interpretation of the creation of the Light, and its significance in relationship to Satan the Accuser. To summarize, I see God and Satan as the thesis and antithesis of a Hegelian dialectic: God, being the only extant entity, has no way of knowing what they are, for there is no context in which that knowledge can exist. So God must deconstruct themselves into contradictory elements, God and not-God, which generate opposition and contradictions which must then be integrated as self-understanding. These divisions iterate in fractal-like manner, and this is the entirety and the purpose of creation. Satan is the first differentiation, the light of creation itself, and God is the darkness.
And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let is separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
Genesis 1:6–9, NRSV
So now we begin to get a sense of what the Bible describes as the topology of the world. From here there are some upgrades to the dome (“lights to separate the day from the night,” 14), but the rest concerns its eventual contents: “swarms of living creatures” (20) and whatnot. I have more to read, but I’m not aware of any further changes to the general topography elsewhere in the text. So we have a body of water, and submerged in that body of water a great dome which separates the waters and creates an open space which is then to be occupied by dry land, vegetation, living creatures, and people. But this is not the topology asserted by the Creationists, who, whether they assert a flat earth or a spherical one, describe it as floating in empty space as we now know the actual world to be.
Many of the verses repeat some variation of “And God saw that it was good.” So God is evaluating his work. And for what reason? We have been told that God is perfect; would a perfect God not already know the merit of his creation? No, God is uncertain, exploring and experimenting, though at no point does he reject anything that he creates. Well, not immediately anyway; there is that matter of the flood yet to come.
Then comes verse 26: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…’” So here we are, made in likeness of God. And what does that mean, exactly? That we physically resemble him? That we have minds like his? If we are like God, then God is like us, but in what ways? It seems that nothing is said on the matter; can I then assume that it is meant that we are like God in respect of what little has already been said of him? What would that imply? It is often said that God is perfect, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and yet we are none of these things.
…and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.
Genesis 1:26–28, NRSV
Given the consequences, is it possible that this whole “dominion” thing was a grievous mistake? It is clear that God does indeed become displeased with his creation at times. There is, again, that whole flood thing to consider.
This also differs markedly from the subsequent account of creation. It appears that God is here creating not just one human, but a multitude of them. Male and female only, but both in the image of God. Whence comes the Bible’s assertion that God is male? God, who in the Bible is either singular or triune but not binary, and for whom both male and female are a likeness, is male? If it is true that God is not dual, and that both male and female are in their likeness, then so must be the entire spectra between and beyond that binary. Then we are to understand male and female not as a binary, but as a polarity, and the specific mention of the creation of only male and female as a limitation of the authors’ understanding and language rather than a reflection of Truth.
God then evaluates the sum total of his creation and sees that it is, indeed, very good. And then, on the seventh day, rests. But what need has an omnipotent god to rest?
- I’m not entirely convinced that the authors of Genesis believed their creation narratives themselves. Perhaps, in transcribing their oral tradition, they were only seeking to document stories of cultural importance and symbolic value in the face of Babylonian cultural imperialism. Biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine has described how the first Genesis creation myth in particular seems to have been written in intentional contrast to Babylonian creation myths (The Old Testament, 2001). It would remain, in this case, that the writing, copying, and maintaining of books was a monumental task for ancient peoples. Regardless of how the stories were held in terms of their literal veracity, they must certainly have held great weight, so we can rephrase the question, “Given that the ancient Hebrews gave so much to document these stories and treasured them so highly, what else follows?”
- The chapter-verse divisions of the Bible were added in the Middle Ages to aid research, and are not at all sensible. It was an Englishman, Cardinal Langton, who created the contemporary chapter-verse structure, thus establishing precedent for the British causing problems for everyone by chopping things up in nonsensical ways.
- When referring to the traditional, Biblical conceptions of God and Satan, I will be using masculine pronouns. I will use the singular “they” when speaking of my own understanding, as, in that context, it makes no sense to think of either in terms of sex or gender. Anything quoted from other sources will retain the source’s pronoun usage.
Originally published at asatanistreadsthebible.com on November 17, 2018.