This is why Genesis was written (and Ken Ham doesn’t see it)

Bosch-Garden-Earthly-Delights-Outer-Wings-Creation-WorldIf my Facebook feed is representative of the general population at all, then I can confidently say that most of you have heard about the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye about creationism and evolution.

On this blog, I try not to get too much into issues of great contention in the church family when I don’t think it’s necessary, especially when I think it would unnecessarily prevent someone from reading this blog with a free conscience, or just mess with their head too much. But this is the one issue that I have felt the freedom to be blunt, bold, consistent, and loud about my opinion. So, I don’t have too much to add to everyone else out there that was more or less lamenting this debate more than celebrating it. Maybe I’ll have some thoughts next week coming at it from a different angle, but we’ll see.

Today, I wanted to share with you a video from the in-person portion of my Hebrew class a couple of weeks ago. To get an A in the class I have to translate, memorize, and recite a section of the Genesis 1 in the Hebrew. To help us with that, my professor made a video of him reciting it and acting out the recitation in front of us.

I’ve posted the video below and I encourage all of you, if you have time, to watch it in its entirety. I’ve also given the relevant verses in a more literal translation underneath it so you follow along.

After he was done, I remember that we all walked out of the room with our eyes wide, almost on the edge of tears, feeling like we had just been let in on something so mystical, beautiful, and powerful–like the curtain had been pulled back on the Holy of Holies. There’s just something about these words in their original language that definitely warrants their place as some of the required reading of human existence, and as a primary source of human meaning, understanding, and identity.

As he was doing it,  I felt a sense, even more, of the purpose for which Genesis was written.

I felt like I could imagine this same type of performative storytelling being done around campfires in the hill country of ancient Canaan thousands of years ago–creating and shaping a people that were slowly emerging from the gathered peoples learning to live together. As their stories merged and molded and were shaped by this deity Elohim, beauty like this emerged. I then imagined these words, a strange tale passed down generation to generation from ages past, then being offered to a hurting and exiled people in need of sustenance.

Seeing these words told and performed, I could see how they would shape a community; how they would gather a people around them and give them shared identity, meaning, and experience and knowledge of their God.

Watching this happen in the Hebrew, I think that there is little room to think that these words are at all trying to express historical or scientific things. But that is not to take away from the text, but instead to shift what its original intention was. It is merely to say that it is doing something different than history and science, and it does that different thing far more effectively and far more beautifully and powerfully then if it really was trying to talk about history or science. I hope we see an even greater truth and beauty to these words–not less. I hope you see that even when we see this text in its ancient, original way, these words still remain some of the most powerful and beautiful writings in all of humanity.

Genesis 1.1-11 (NASB)

intro || In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

day 1 || Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 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, one day.

day 2 || Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

day 3 || Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth sproutvegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kindwith seed in them”; and it was so.

[image credit: Hieronymus Bosch, “Garden of Earthly Delights” (Outer Wings: “Creation of the World”)]


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