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Pentateuch is considered to be the most important part in the Old Testament. It

recorded the account of creation, the fall of man, the Law Code as well as the

experience of the Ancient Israel. Among them Genesis is the first book recorded

incidents happened from the creation of the world to Joseph’s time. In chapter

one to eleven, the origin of the world and human race are introduced and in

chapter twelve onwards are the stories of the Ancestors. In this passage, we

will concentrate in discussing the theology of chapter one to eleven which

contained much valuable and important message for the readers who were probably

Israelites in post-exilic period (which would be discussed later). In order to

understand the text it is important to have some knowledge about the background

of the readers as the author should compose his work under their background so

that they may understand easily. Hence brief introduction of the background of

Ancient Israelites and Genesis as well as its authorship would be given before

we go into discussing its theology. The discussion will be within four topics

—(a) Yahweh has supreme authority and power, (b) Man—as image of God, (c)

Mankind’s failure and God’s reaction and (d) Creation—a continuing process.

(B) Background of Canaanites’ Religion and Ancient Israelites Both Biblical

record and archeological evidence showed that beside the Israelites, there were

many other people living in Palestine. They included Kenites, Kenizzites,

Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Amorites, Canaanites, Girga*censored*es

and Jebusites. In this passage, they are all regarded as Canaanites. Basically,

the Canaanites’ religions are polytheistic. They believed in many gods in many

different levels including those national god, functional gods and family gods

or ancestors. In the following paragraphs, a brief introduction of Canaanites’

religions would be given as a background for the studies of religion of ancient

Israelites. Religion in Ancient Near East Although the gods they worshipped were

different, tribes in Ancient Near East did have similar although not exactly the

same doctrines. As mentioned above, their religions are polytheistic. Each god

in their religion had different function and statues. They had different

characters and might fight among themselves. We are going to discuss the

religion in Canaan and Babylon as examples. One point must be noted is that the

functions of the gods in Canaan are closely related to natural phenomena . For

example, Baal Hadad was known as the thunder god who was responsible for

raining. Other examples included El Elyon who was known as the sun god , Yamm

who was the god of the sea and Mot who was the god of death . Some of the gods

were related to daily life. For instant, Anath was the goddess of war and

Astarte was known as the goddess of love and fertility and also of war. Another

function of Baal was related to fertility. The Canaanites always explained

natural phenomena using myths. The alternation of the seasons and the death and

renewal of vegetation were believed to be explained through the following myth.

When Baal had his temple built, he sent a message to the god of death Mot in

which he threatened Mot’s life. After that there was a struggle between Mot and

Baal and Baal was killed in the battle. After some times Baal’s sister Anath

went down to the underworld and defeated Mot. Baal was resurrected from death

and returned to his power to bring about raining to the Earth. The Canaanites

believed that the death and resurrection of Baal happened every year. The defeat

of Baal indicated the death of vegetation due to winter frosts or summer

drought. The resurrection of Baal revealed the vegetation grew because of annual

or seasonal flooding. In this myth, one could easily observe that other that a

thunder god, Baal was also a god of fertility. In the sight of the people in

Ancient Near East, men were just the slaves of gods. For instance, in Babylon,

people believed that mankind was created only because of the laziness of gods .

The gods created men so that they could take over their work and serve them. The

gods needed the sacrifice of men. However, due to the noise and din of men,

Enlil, the King of the lands wanted to destroy men. Another god Ea brought about

deliverance to Atrahasis in a series of plagues. Finally, Enlil sent a flood and

again Ea warned Atrahasis who made a ship to save himself later. The Gilgamesh

Epic had another record of the flood story. When the gods sent a flood to the

Earth, Ea warned Utanapishtim in Shuruppak and Utanapishtim built a ship to save

himself and his family, together with all sorts of animals. The rain and storm

continued up to the seventh day. The story told that the gods became hungry

without sacrifice and repent for their decision. Utanapishtim sent out

respectively a dove, a swallow and finally a raven. When the raven did not

returned which indicated that the flood was gone, Utanapishtim went out and made

a sacrifice. The gods then gather around him immediately indicated that they

really needed the sacrifice from men. The flood story was very popular in the

ancient Near East. One interesting point must be noted was that the record in

the Gilgamesh was in a large extent similar to that in the Biblical account. We

will go back to the story in Section E. The Canaanites, as usual, using myth to

explain the origin of the world. In the creation story of Canaanites’ religion ,

the sea god Yam got the approval of El to attack Baal. However, Baal victor over

Yam and seized his royal power. Sea was thought to be evil in the sight of

Babylonians, Canaanites as well as Israelites. We could find examples in the Old

Testament describing the struggle between Yahweh and the sea, for instance, Ps

77 : 16 – 19 and also Isa 27 : 1. One of the creation myth stated that El was

drunk during creation and so some deaf, blind and disabled people was created.

The Canaanites might use this kind of myth to explain the imperfection of human

being. Background of Ancient Israelites When one read through the Old Testament,

the text seems to tell us that Israelites were descendants of Abraham, Isaac and

Jacob who worshipped Yahweh as their God. Gen 12 : 1 stated that Yahweh told

Abraham to leave his own country to where He would show him. It was strange that

Abraham would know the name "Yahweh" in Haran in the North East of

Canaan. There was no archeological fact showing that the name Yahweh was known

in Haran, Ur as well as Canaan. The Biblical text also showed that God appeared

to Abraham was not using the name "Yahweh". For instant, in Ex. 6: 3

we find "To Abraham, Isaac and Jacob I appeared as El Shaddai", a

general name of gods, El, was used. Living among the Canaanites, Abraham himself

was no doubt full of their concept in religion. As mentioned above, the

Canaanites were polytheistic and there was no idea about monotheistic, Abraham

himself would not be exceptional. His religious practices, for example, in

making the covenant with God in Gen 15, Abraham split the animals down the

middle was a common practice of the Canaanites when they made a covenant with

their gods. Moreover, when Yahweh told Abraham to have his son sacrificed, he

did not bargain with God since sacrificing sons was common in Canaanites’

religion. As we read through the Bible from Judges to Kings, we may find that

the Israelites would turn away from Yahweh and worshipped other gods easily. It

would be strange if the concept of monotheism has been well developed. For

instant, when a believer turned away from God nowadays, usually he would just

believe in himself or simply not believe any religion. Cases in which believers

turned to believe in religions which are polytheistic were not frequent. The

point was that once the idea of monotheism was fully developed, turning to

worship gods like Baal, Asherah etc would mean to have a complete change in the

concept of belief. It would not be so easy to change one’s concept that has been

developed since his childhood. However, it would be easily to explain the fact

of Israelites turning away from God easily in Judges if their concept of

religion were still polytheistic and Yahweh was only one of the god they

worshipped. In such a hypothesis it was logical that they worshipped gods such

as Baal and Astarte who were god of fertility in Canaanite religion. The idea of

polytheism of the Israelites before the exile could be clearly seen in Psalms,

for example, in Ps 82 we found that Yahweh was giving judgement in the divine

assembly, which was similar to El Elyon to rule over other gods in Canaanites

religion. In Deu 32: 8 – 9, the text described Israel was Yahweh’s portion when

the Most High (El Elyon) distributed the land among his sons. The king Manasseh

had his son sacrificed through fire and built up image of Asherah (2 Kgs 21

:1ff). All these show that before exile the Israelites’ mind was full of concept

of Canaanites religions that are polytheistic. (C) Background of Genesis and

Yahwists The origin and authorship of the Pentateuch has been discussed over

past few centuries. Many scholars had different point of views and no final

conclusion has been made. In this section, the writer is not attempting to argue

and compare the reasons proposed by different scholars in this issue but to give

his own viewpoint and reasons supporting for the sake of convenient in the

discussion of the theology of Genesis in the later part of this passage. As we

read through Pentateuch, the books seem to telling its readers that there are

one and only one God ruling over the Earth. In other word, they are presenting a

religion that is monotheistic. As we mentioned before, the Israelites had no

idea about monotheism before the exile or at least till the late pre-exilic

period. It would be strange that such a monotheistic material was widely

accepted and being kept if it was written in the period of monarchy during which

people were full of idea of polytheism. Rolf Rendtorff rejected the idea of the

traditional source criticism (JEDP) but he regarded the Pentateuch as basically

the composition of Deuteronomists together with some priestly contribution.

Erhard Blum views the priestly material as a correction of certain part of the

Deuteronomistic theology. Unlike Rendtorff, he accepted the possibilities of

some stories as tradition before the period of monarchy. Blum then drew a

conclusion that the Pentateuch was a postexilic compromise between the thought

of Deuteronomists and Priestly Reformers. In Leviticus and Numbers, the holiness

and uniqueness of God were stressed. The Israelites did not have such ideas

until the return from exile in Ezra and Nehemiah’s time. Together with the

monotheism presented in the books mentioned above, the writer supports the

viewpoint of Rendtorff and Blum that the Pentateuch we have now was actually

finished in postexilic period. However, concerning about the authorship the

writer has different viewpoint. In Genesis, we found many stories that are

similar to those in religions of Ancient Near East, for example, the creation

story and the flooding story (we will investigate in more detail in later part

of the passage). However, in Deuteronomy no elements from Canaanites religion

can be found whereas the identity of the Israelites as Yahweh’s chosen one was

stressed. Moreover, direct warning to Israelites was used when explaining the

laws and urging them to observe the law instead of using stories. Deuteronomy

and Genesis is quite different literally and the way the witness was made, the

writer agrees to the point of view of Van Seters that "Yahwist "did

exist and participate in the composition of the Pentateuch. Among the five

books, Genesis to a large extend was the witness of the Yahwists. One strong

evidence showing that the Pentateuch was a post-exilic composition was that some

story in Genesis is similar to Babylonia stories but with modification. The

flooding story is one of the examples. The author and readers should know

nothing about Babylonia culture till the exile. The implication was that its

composition should not be earlier than the exilic period. In conclusion, the

writers believed that the witness in Genesis was done by Yahwists which was

later composite in the book Genesis we have today by some redactors.

Nevertheless, the book as well as the witness itself should not be earlier than

the late pre-exilic period after the discovery of Deuteronomy law in Josiah’s

time. The theology of Genesis discuss below is based on this hypothesis. (D)

Purpose of Genesis Under the background of polytheism, people living in ancient

Near East, including Israelites believed that each nation had her own national

god. To the people of Judah, their national god was Yahweh (Deu 32: 8-9). Wars

between nations were understood as the struggle between the national gods. Under

the hypothesis of Pentateuch being exilic or post-exilic composition, ideas such

as Yahweh was defeated by gods of Babylon and that Yahweh was powerless in

protecting them would by all means appear in the mind of the Israelites. In this

circumstance, gods in Persia and their religions, which to the Israelites seems

more powerful would be much attractive to them. In fact, in Nehemiah we can find

Jews married wives from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab and their children even knew

nothing about language of Judah. One of the priest even married the daughter of

their enemy Sanballat the Horonites (Ne 13: 28). Marrying foreign wives and

teaching children foreign language revealed invasion by foreign culture and

religion. The author of Genesis tried to give a correct understanding of Yahweh

to the Israelites at that time. The authority and power of God over the whole

world could be seen in the witness. Moreover, attitude of God towards human

being was also presented which differed to those in Canaanites and Babylonia

religions. The explanation of man’s suffering due to human’s sin was also

introduced. The message was clear — the poor experience of Israelites of being

exiled was due to their sin but not that God was powerless. Furthermore, God’s

grace came upon usually following the punishment giving a hope to the



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