Wondrium Series Analyzes Biblical Creation Story

jewish, christian creation story unique among genesis stories

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Most of us are familiar with the creation story found in the Bibles of the Jewish and Christian faiths. God’s creation of Heaven and Earth appear at the beginning of each. However, there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

This creation myth tells the story of Marduk, the chief god of the city of Babylon.
Photo by Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock

Among the well-known passages and stories of the Old Testament in the Bible is the creation story in the book of Genesis. The creation story provides context and gives an explanation of the origin of the universe according to the Judeo-Christian worldview. It is interesting to note that the creation story seems to have been added into the book of Genesis at a later time, revising its beginning.

What about the other components of the Biblical creation story? What do we know about them that comes from reading between the lines? In his video series Creation Stories of the Ancient World, Dr. Joseph Lam, Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, reveals several interesting facets of Genesis.

What Makes the Biblical Creation Story Unique?

Countless cultures around the world offer stories about the origins of the universe. One is the Babylonian story, known as Enuma Elish. It shares some elements of the Biblical creation story, like a state of chaos predating the formation of the heavens and the Earth.

“What is particularly distinct about this Israelite seven-day creation story is the role of a single God, Hebrew Elohim, who brings all things into existence,” Dr. Lam said. “Instead of a gendered primordial pair like in Enuma elish, in which the waters themselves have generating power, here we have a single deity that’s present above the waters, which are relegated to the background and diminished in importance.”

Additionally, although the God of the Israelites creates things by speaking them into existence, which is reminiscent of ancient Egyptian mythology, Elohim is not the parent of a series of other generations of gods that also exist. In places where other religions or mythologies may have multiple deities—the waters, the Sun, the stars, and so on—their dominion has been given to one supreme being.

Why Does the Sequence of Creation in the Bible Matter?

“The progression of creation acts over the seven days follows a very structured pattern, in which days one through three and days four through six form two distinct groups,” Dr. Lam said. “Days one through three involve acts of separation—that is, that is, taking something that is relatively disordered and producing more order by distinguishing one part of it from another.”

For example, light is separated from darkness and dry land is separated from sea.

On the other hand, days four through six involve the filling or populating of the newly ordered structures. On day four, the Moon and stars are created to fill the night sky with light. Next, on the fifth day, birds and sea creatures are created to populate the sky and the sea, respectively. Finally, on day six, all land animals including humans are created to fill the land with life.

“Another notable feature of this creation story is the place of humans in the overall picture,” Dr. Lam said. “The seven-day creation story puts humans at the center of it all, in an elevated position as the culmination of creation.”

This anthropocentric view is different from the Enuma Elish, in which humans are created as an afterthought—and whose sole purpose in life is to worship the gods. In the Jewish and Christian holy texts, humans have a little more to do.

Creation Stories of the Ancient World is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily