In my previous article I mentioned that “to examine critically the doctrine of inspiration, especially by a lay member of the church, is looked upon with suspicion, if not anger, by theologians. For them, the main issue is authority. By claiming the authority of the Bible based on inspiration, they actually claim authority for themselves and for their opinions regarding spiritual matters as the ones who are the ‘professionals’ in the field”. The issue of authority is both a pressing and debilitating one for the church, as shown by George Knight’s recent article “Catholic or Adventist: The Ongoing Struggle Over Authority + 9.5 Theses” presented recently at the Unity 2017 Conference in London, England. Dr. Knight says:
“Looking back at early Adventism, no one could have predicted that by mid-twentieth century Seventh-day Adventism would be the most highly structured denomination in the history of Christianity, with four levels of authority above the local congregation. The plain fact is that the earliest Adventists feared structured churches. And with good reason. That fear is nicely expressed in the October 1861 meeting that saw the establishment of the first local conference. Part of the discussion at that historic meeting had to do with developing a formal statement of belief. John Loughborough took the lead in the discussion and laid out five progressive points that nicely express the attitude of most of his audience.
- “The first step of apostasy,” he noted, “is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe.
- “The second is, to make that creed a test of fellowship.
- “The third is to try members by that creed.
- “The fourth to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed.
- “And, fifth, to commence persecution against such.”
Could it be that “The 28 Fundamental Beliefs” is nothing else than a “first step of apostasy”, a “creed, telling us what we shall believe”? When it comes to the issue of the Genesis creation, it surely looks like it since our arms are twisted into accepting the church’s views as stated in the 6th Fundamental Belief, which was modified and made more stringent at the 2015 session of the General Conference in San Antonio, TX. It states:
“God has revealed in Scripture the authentic and historical account of His creative activity. He created the universe, and in a recent six-day creation the Lord made “the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” and rested on the seventh day. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of the work He performed and completed during six literal days that together with the Sabbath constituted the same unit of time that we call a week today. The ﬁrst man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was ﬁnished it was “very good,” declaring the glory of God. (Gen. 1-2; 5; 11; Exod. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; Isa. 45:12, 18; Acts 17:24; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; 11:3; Rev. 10:6; 14:7.)”
What follows is clearly my own position, which diverges from that of the church, and is based on my right, as a Protestant, to read and interpret the Bible using my own mind. Regarding the wording of the sixth Fundamental Belief I can say that, first of all, God did not write the Genesis “authentic and historical account of His creative activity”. Genesis is written by a human author sometime in the 1st or 2nd millennium BC who does not claim to had been shown this “account” in any kind of supernatural revelation, as later prophets of the Old Testament claim. Second, the language of the 6th belief is equivocal. Did God create the whole Universe in six days? Or just our solar system? And what exactly is meant by “the heavens” in the first verse, since the heavens were created in the second day? Third, there is nothing in the text of Genesis to suggest a “recent” creation. This idea of “recent” is based on Bishop James Ussher’s calculated chronology published in his 1658 work The Annals of the World iv. This chronology was included in an authorized version of the Bible printed in 1701, and since then it has been considered as authoritative as the Bible itself. Are we to be confined to some 17th century theologian’s views? Thirdly, the Genesis narration does not say that “He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of the work He performed”. The Sabbath is lacking “an evening and a morning” like the other days, and all is said about it is that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he ceased all the work that he had been doing in creation (NET trans). Lastly, the Genesis says nothing about the “six literal days that together with the Sabbath constituted the same unit of time that we call a week today”. The seven-day week has been used by Sumerians and Babylonians long time before the author of Genesis writes about it, therefore it is no wonder why he describes the work of creation being done in the same pattern of work and rest that humans used in most of the Mesopotamian valley. There are many more things to be said, therefore, I will bring here some additional information regarding the sources that support my thesis # 6, as it reads:
Thesis 6 – The narration of Genesis does not represent a historical and factual report of Creation, but a polemic device against the mythologies of Ancient Near East, namely Sumerian, Babylonian, and Egyptian.
The Bible presents us with two creation stories, somewhat different from each other. The first story is found in Genesis 1:1 – 2:3. The second story is in Genesis 2:4 – 2:24. Have you ever wonder why are there two creations stories in Genesis, or why are they different from each other? Have you pondered upon the meaning of things such as an Earth “without form and void”, or “the face of the deep”, or “the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters”? I have been interested in the stories of creation since my adolescence, however, only recently I discovered that many studies done in the last hundred years or so make the Creation story to be easily understood, therefore I am about to share some insights of my recent search for understanding.
Fundamentalists and American evangelical believers, in general, hold to a verbal inspiration of Scriptures, therefore they believe that the Genesis creation stories should be read and understood as a literal description of how the world was created, as if in a newspaper story or a TV documentary film showing what actually happened. For some, this has been a way to counteract the liberal theologies of the 19th and 20th centuries, perceived as a threat to the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. I do not doubt the good intentions of those who sincerely believe in a literal understanding of the Creation story. However, we need to admit that the great majority of fundamentalists are uneducated and ignorant regarding science. Even those who have higher degrees and have ever held teaching positions in various evangelical institutions, rejected, from a misunderstood allegiance to the Bible, clear, documented, facts of science if they contradicted the Bible. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the retired theology professors I spoke with states that his preferred way of understanding the world is that of a “strict conformism”, meaning that he would only accept facts of science that align with a literal understanding of Genesis, otherwise they would be discarded. When I pointed to another active professor of the same institution that the Biblical writers understood the Earth as being flat and in the center of the cosmos, he admitted that. Indeed, he said, that was their understanding regarding the Earth, but “they never claimed to have been inspired by God to say that”, which begs the question: if the author of Genesis did not claim that God inspired him to render the Creation the way he did, why do we claim that he was inspired? I asked him, “what if, theoretically speaking, evolution proves to be true beyond any doubt, just like the Earth is proven now to be round, not flat as it has been believed by the writers of the Bible”? He answered, “even if evolution proves to be true, I will not accept it, because it would mean that I have to reject the Bible and its God because He lied to me in the Bible”. I told him that God did not lie to him or anyone else, since God did not write the Bible. “What if”, I asked him, ” you are just lying to yourself, since you believe that the only way to understand the Bible is your own way”? Indeed, Ellen White warned us that “as a people we are certainly in great danger, if we are not constantly guarded of considering our ideas, because long cherished, to be Bible doctrine and in every point infallible, and measuring everyone by the rule of our interpretation of Bible truth. This is our danger, and this would be the greatest evil that could ever come to us as a people.”
We ought to keep in mind that in our attempt to understand the Creation, we simply cannot look at the Genesis narrations by our 21st century understanding of the Cosmos, but we have to consider what the author had in mind, what message he wanted to convey by his text and how it was looked upon by the readers to whom it was addressed, namely the Jews coming out of the Egyptian slavery. Evidently, the Genesis author did not have a different knowledge regarding the Cosmos than what it was believed by those living at the time, as expressed in the mythologies of the Ancient Near East and especially the Egyptian cosmologies. If Moses is the writer of Genesis, as it is largely believed, it is amazing that most theologians, liberal and conservative alike, missed out on focusing on Egyptian mythology in order to realize the close parallels and also contradictions to it, as they appear not only in the first two chapters of Genesis, but throughout the Old Testament. The Genesis writer takes a clear and direct stand against the Egyptian mythology, therefore the Creation narrative is not a scientific description of how God created the world, but a literary theological polemic against the Ancient Near East mythologies and especially the Egyptian mythology.
Why did liberals and conservatives miss the “Genesis as polemic” view?
Gordon H. Johnston listed four reasons for which scholars were in the dark regarding the Egyptian mythology:
“Nearly a century ago two biblical scholars – A.H. Sayce and A.S. Yahuda – drew attention to parallels between Genesis 1 and Egyptian creation myths, which they claimed were tighter than the putative Mesopotamian parallels. However, their work fell on deaf ears for several reasons: (1) scholars’ fixation on the Mesopotamian materials, which were more widely known and accessible; (2) critical assumptions that Genesis 1 should be classified as P, dated to the exilic or postexilic period, and assigned to a Babylonian provenance; (3) failure to take seriously the biblical tradition of Hebrew origins in the land of Egypt; and (4) general lack of familiarity with the Egyptian language and literature dealing with creation.”
Indeed, after Wellhausen and his colleagues proposed the Documentary Hypothesis in the 19th and 20th centuries, the majority of liberal scholars adhered to the idea that Genesis as we have it now in our Bible, like other texts of the Old Testament, is an edited collection of various texts coming from various sources. While “many writers, one Bible” is an acceptable view of Scriptures, the Documentary Hypothesis viewed Genesis as an Exilic or post-Exilic text dated somewhere between the 3rd and the 6th centuries B.C.. This lead to a fixation of the scholars on the Babylonian mythology as the source from which the Genesis author borrowed, being known as the “Pan-Babylonian view”. As such, scholars tried to find parallels between Genesis and the Mesopotamian creation stories, especially after various clay tablets have been discovered with texts like The Epic of Gilgamesh (1872) and the Enuma elish (1875). The Egyptian mythology has been neglected almost entirely, even though various scholars studied its connections with Genesis.
On the other hand, conservative scholars missed the polemic aspect of Genesis due to their fixation on the dogmas of the biblical verbal inspiration, seen as a safe guard against the attacks on the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible coming from the liberal critics. They concentrated their efforts in dismissing the higher criticism, showing, like Gerhard F. Hasel did, that Genesis was not dependent on Mesopotamian mythology. Instead, they argued for a literal, historical interpretation as the only Biblical supported view. However, as I grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I have never heard a good explanation as to why we have two creation stories in Genesis (and other poetical references to creation in the Old Testament), which are different from each other. Also, nobody ever explained why are these stories so irrational if looked upon through our modern understanding of the world and Cosmos. Clearly, in my mind, the Genesis stories must have had something else to say rather than describing the making of our physical world in a literal sense. And so I continued to look, starting from our SDA sources, like the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) and the Adventist Theological Society (ATS).
The first articles that got my attention were Dr. Hasel’s articles “The Polemic Nature of the Genesis Cosmology” and “The Significance of Cosmology in Genesis 1 in Relation to Ancient Near Eastern Parallels” Then, I found Dr. Gordon H. Johnston’s article “Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths,”These articles in turn provided for me other sources of Egyptian scholarship which helped me to understand the background against which the author of Genesis wrote and what his intentions were, meaning, to deconstruct, if I may use this expression, the Egyptian and ANE texts in order to deny the validity and prowess of Egyptian gods and to exalt the Hebrew god, Yahve-Elohim.
The Egyptian mythology and Genesis
Many of the Genesis terms and concepts used in Genesis 1 and 2 are found in Egyptian texts dated as early as the 26th century B.C., thus predating the times of Genesis by hundreds of years (this is already a blow to the idea of Genesis as a “special revelation”, idea promoted not by the author of Genesis, but by the fundamentalist scholars). The main question I am raising in this article is not whether Genesis is myth, because I do not believe it is, but whether it is a historical narrative of how God physically created the world or, rather, it is a theological polemic against the ANE mythologies and especially the Egyptian mythology written in a mythological language. I believe it to be the latter.
The Egyptian mythology is diverse, having many variants depending on the many civil and cultic centers where preference toward certain gods was the main criteria of distinction. There are more than twelve Egyptian mythological variants, but the most important are those centered in the great cities like, Hermopolis, Thebes, Heliopolis, and Memphis. There are four main texts belonging to these cultic centers and they can be arranged by the dates of their writing, such as:
- Pyramid Texts, from the time of the Old Kingdom (ca. 2613 – 2345 B.C.)
- Coffin Texts, from the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1991 – 1786 B.C.)
- Book of the Dead, from the New Kingdom (ca. 1570 – 1220 B.C.)
- Shabaka Stone, written at the order of king Shabaka (ca. 716 – 702 B.C.) with the intention of preserving a deteriorating text dating from the time of the Old Kingdom (ca. 2494 – 2345 B.C.)
As early as 1887, A.H. Sayce observed the parallels between Genesis and the Hermopolis mythology: the deep watery chaos, the spirit that moves over across the waters, the creation of light, or the appearance of land from the waters. A.S. Yahuda also observed in 1933 – 1934 the similarities between the old Egyptian texts and the first chapters of Genesis, highlighting the influence of Egyptian texts upon the Pentateuch. In 1982, Cyrus Gordon, an evangelical Egyptologist, noted the similarities between the mythology of Thebes, where Khnum, the “potter” god, creates mankind from clay, and the second creation story in Genesis 2, 4 – 24, and in 1983 James Hoffmeier wrote an article in which he emphasized the clear parallels between the Egyptian mythology and the Genesis accounts of creation, like the Cosmos condition before the creation, the first acts of creation, and the similarities regarding the creation of man. Egyptian mythologies use various names and roles for their gods and often times there are associations between these names and roles, as there are associations between the gods and the elements of nature. The role as Creator is attributed to the main deity of a particular center of worship. Atum and Re (or Ra) are associated with the Heliopolis mythology, Ptah is the main deity at Memphis, and Khnum is the potter creator god at Thebes. However, these mythologies (except the Thebes one) present a pretty similar story, as follows.
- There is an undifferentiated chaos, a primordial ocean personified as the god Nun.
- From this ocean (Nun), the god Atum (in other versions Re, or Ptah) appears by self-creation. He is the creator of other gods and the world.
- When Atum (Re, Ptah) appears from the waters (Nun), his first manifestation is a supernatural light.
- Also from waters (Nun) appears a hill, a dry land on which Atum (Re, Ptah) will perform his creative acts.
- Atum creates the first generation of gods, personifications of elements of nature, from his saliva or semen, Ptah creates by word (the Memphite mythology says that Ptah created Re/Ra), Khnum creates at the potter’s wheel.
- The climax of creation is the creation of the Sun god Amun-Re.
- At the end of creation, which lasts one day, the creator god (Atum/Re/Ptah) rests in satisfaction.
- Every morning a new creation cycle starts at sunrise.
The purpose and space of this post does not allow going too much in depth regarding the Egyptian mythologies. It is noteworthy, however, to observe that while the humans creation is mentioned only tangentially in most Egyptian creation stories, which deal mainly with the creation of gods and the Cosmos, in the Thebes’ tradition, Khnum, the potter god, creates man from clay and his wife, goddess Heket, breathes life upon the clay silhouette, which becomes a living being.
Below is a comparison chart that shows structural parallels between the Memphite mythology and the Genesis 1 account, as noted by Gordon Johnston.
|Memphis – Shabaka Stone – Mythology||Genesis 1 Account|
|There is a pre-existing, primordial ocean, an undifferentiated watery chaos.||God is pre-existing. He creates Heavens and Earth, and Earth is a watery chaos.|
|Breath/wind (Amun) moves on the waters.||The Spirit of God moves over the waters.|
|Word of Ptah creates god Atum (light).||Word of God creates light.|
|Emergence of primordial hill “in midst of Nun”||Creation of the firmament “in the midst of the waters”.|
|Procreation of Shu (god of the sky) when Nun was raised over earth.||Creation of sky when waters were raised above the firmament.|
|Formation of heavenly ocean (Nut) by separation.||Formation of heavenly ocean when waters were separated.|
|Formation of dry ground (Geb) by separation.||Formation of dry ground when waters were gathered.|
|Earth sprouts plants, fish, birds, reptiles, animals.||Creation of plants…later fish, birds, reptiles, animals.|
|Sun created as the image of Re to rule the world.||Sun and moon created to rule the day and night.|
|Creation of gods’ statues, cult sites, food offerings.||Creation of man as divine image, food to eat, dominion.|
|Ptah completes activity and “rests” in satisfaction.||God completes activity and “rests” in satisfaction.|
As stated above, the fact that the Egyptian texts are in fact much older than the Book of Genesis, older than the Flood itself, as understood by fundamentalists who believe that the Earth is about 6000 years old and that the Flood occurred in year 2348 BC, leads us to a rather rational explanation that the Genesis author has never been given a “special revelation” of the Creation. Instead, he was aware of the previous texts and mythologies of the Ancient Near East, Egypt’s included, and engaged in a direct polemic and refutation of the polytheistic view of gods, promoting Yahve the only true God as the Creator of the world.
- Yahweh is not like the Egyptian gods, who are made of, or appear from, matter; he is pre-existent, self-sustaining, and Creator of all there is.
- Light is not a manifestation, or dependent, of a god, but it is a natural element created by God for a purpose. (I have heard fundamentalists explain that during the first three days of creation, before the sun was created, “an evening and a morning” had to do with God lighting up the world. This is a wrong, unbiblical concept, because Genesis is speaking on purpose against the idea that light comes from deity, from gods).
- There is not a struggle between Yahweh and the primordial matter, between Yahweh and Tehom, as there is a struggle between Marduk and Tiamat in the Babylonian mythology, whom Marduk kills in battle and, from her body, he makes heaven and earth. Yahweh creates matter effortlessly and creation is harmonious.
- While in the Egyptian mythology the climax of creation is the creation of the Sun in the image of Re, in Genesis the climax is the creation of man after Yahweh’s image. The Sun and the Moon are not even mentioned by name, but they are called “luminaries”, or “a greater light for the day, and a lesser light for the night”, made to help number the days, and years, and seasons.
- While in the Egyptian mythology Khnum can only make humans on the potter’s wheel and he needs his wife, Heket, to give humans the breath of life, Yahweh is superior and does it all by Himself, He is not dependent on helpers.
- While the creation cycle is repeated every day in the Egyptian mythology, in Genesis creation is described by the long established pattern of working six days and ceasing on the seventh, a cycle that does not repeat every week, because the creation of Yahweh is “very good” and complete. (The issue of the seven-day week and the Sabbath will be discussed on the next article).
In closing, there are too many parallels between the Egyptian mythology and the Genesis rendering of creation to consider them just accidental and unrelated. At the same time, there are clear differences that “speak” volumes in terms of what the Genesis author’s intentions were. These descriptions of origins, whether Egyptian or ANE mythologies, and the Genesis have nothing to tell us regarding how the physical world came into being. We know today a lot more about the Cosmos and our world than ever before. It is quite clear that the Genesis author “borrowed” from the existing stories and transformed them into stories compatible with an orthodox Yahwistic theology. He is interested in theological and ideological “right” or “wrong” of things rather than the scientific explanations of origins. Understanding his intentions and how the readers of his time understood the Genesis text help us to be balanced and be more restrained when tempted to advance scenarios of origins that are easily contradicted and discarded by modern science. We need to accept our limitations in knowledge and not pretend to know what God had never revealed. Also, we better let God defend Himself rather than defending Him with lies. Instead, let us be open to the mysteries yet to be discovered about life and the role we have in the great scheme of things.
 Knight, George R., “Catholic or Adventist: The Ongoing Struggle Over Authority + 9.5 Theses”, Online at https://adventistunity2017.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/historical-perspectives-on-ad-view-of-authority-knight.pdf
 Idem 1.
 E. G. White, “Light in God’s Word,” MS 37, 1890.
 Johnston, Gordon H. “Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths,” Bibliotheca Sacra 165, no. 2 (April-June 2008): 179.
 Hasel, Gerhard F., “The Polemical Nature of the Genesis Cosmology”, accessed online at https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/1974-2_081.pdf on 06/05/2017.
 Hasel, Gerhard F., “The Significance of the Cosmology in Genesis 1 in Relation to Ancient near Eastern Parallels”, accessed online at http://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1216&context=auss on 06/12/2017.
 Idem 5.