Bible Basics: Primeval History

Wisdom is a tree of life to those who hold fast to her, and all who hold fast to her are happy. Proverbs 3:18

Nov. 10, 2010:  Our topic was creation, or, primeval history as depicted in Genesis 1 and 2.  We tried to understand the difference between the history we study in school and what we read in Genesis.  Following Celia Brewer Marshall’s discussion on this matter (A Guide Through the Old Testament, John Knox Press) we used the German word Geschichte as a way of making the distinction.  Geschichte is not the simple facts of the past, like  who did what to whom and when, where and how.  

 This version of history is more about the  meaning of the event, its cause and effect, interpretation  and explanation.   How did the event shape us?  How did the event change the world?  So in Genesis 1 and 2 the Hebrew people are setting forth a history that expresses their understanding of the world, themselves, and God.   “Primeval” is original history and concerned with the origins of things.  How did the moon and stars come to be?  Of what stuff was the world created?  What was the order of creation and what does that say about God’s intention and God’s priorities?

We looked at the two versions of creation:  Genesis 1-2:4a and Genesis 2:4b-25.  We worked through a chart that compared them side by side.  We looked at the different names for God, with Elohim in the first story and Yahweh in the second story.  Other points of comparison were the length of time for creation, order of creation, how humans were created and how the Hebrew word ruah, or breath/wind/spirit, was used.  We talked about the two different editors and why the stories are so different. As Celia Marshall puts it, the two stories represent different traditions and were pieced together like a patchwork quilt.  The discrepancies should not bother us because the overall effect is a “mature statement of the Hebrew faith.” 

We talked about an “anthropomorphic” God, who in the second story, gets lonely, gets angry, enjoys a cool evening breeze, and who spends time walking about God’s own creation.  We discussed whether we preferred to think of God in this way, or as the remote and all powerful being of the first account who proclaimed the world into existence.  Last,we examined the two cosmologies represented.  In the first account, the universe goes from watery chaos to dry land.  In the second account it moves from parched barren earth to fertile land. 

Next, on Nov 17, we will study the Garden of Eden with its Tree of Life and Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil.