Exegesis of the Genesis Creation Account

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By Theresa Dwayne, Christendom College

INTRODUCTION

At the beginning of time, God created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh, according to the Genesis creation account. However, the numbers six and seven have a greater significance than meets the eye, especially the number seven. In light of this sacred number, the creation account can be seen through the liturgical eyes of temple cosmology and priestly anthropology, according to the Catholic principles of exegesis.

TEMPLE COSMOLOGY

The relationship between creation and the temple reveals that there exists a Temple cosmology, which is portrayed through imagery in Genesis and Exodus. As Jeffrey Morrow argues in his article about creation in relation to the temple, the seven days of creation parallel the seven days of the tabernacle construction in Exodus, Solomon’s construction of the temple in Jerusalem, and the construction of the temples in the ancient Near East.[1] First of all, in regards to the tabernacle construction, certain Hebrew phrases taken from the Genesis creation account are very similar to those used to describe Moses constructing the tabernacle. For example, the phrase in Genesis, “God finished the work which He had been doing …”, in Hebrew is strikingly similar to the phrase in Exodus, “When Moses had finished the work …” in Hebrew. As theologian Crispin Fletcher-Louis comments on this similarity, “Obviously, these correspondences mean that creation has its home in the liturgy of the cult and the Tabernacle is a mini cosmos”.[2] In other words, the connection between the phrases must signify something deeper, such as the manifestation of creation in the tabernacle, and the tabernacle in creation.                                                

Second of all, there is symbolism between the temple construction, the number seven, and creation. For example, Solomon’s temple took seven years to build and the seventh year is called a Sabbath in Leviticus 25: 3-7. The seven years of construction corresponds with the seven days of creation, the seventh being the Sabbath day. In addition, God rested on the seventh day at the completion of creation, just as there was rest after the seventh year when the temple was completed. Furthermore, Solomon’s name implies peace and rest. As he was called a “man of rest,” he was called to build the temple, as humanity is ultimately ordered toward divine rest in the worship of God, which is the focal point of the temple. Morrow completes this portion of the argument by noting how “the Temple’s construction was depicted as a new creation, and the Temple was seen as a microcosm of world.”[3] In other words, the construction of creation depicts the construction of a temple.

Third of all, not only Solomon’s temple, but also the temples throughout the ancient Near East have cosmic symbolism. This is portrayed by the Gudea Cylinders, which describe the construction of the temple as a ritual and parallel it to the Genesis creation account.[4] First, the temple is dedicated for seven days, as creation took place over seven days and God blessed it each day with His affirmation of each aspect of creation being good. Second, as the temple of Solomon was directed toward divine rest, so were the Near Eastern temples, placing an emphasis on the 7th day, or Sabbath. As Loren Fisher writes regarding this, “one must speak of ordering the cosmos in terms of seven even as the construction of the microcosm must be according to the sacred number.”[5] In other words, this relationship signifies that the number seven is as significant to the construction of the temple as it is to the construction of the universe.

PRIESTLY ANTHROPOLOGY

In addition to the existence of a Temple cosmology manifesting itself in the creation account, there is also a priestly anthropology, where Adam’s role in the Garden connects with the role of the temple priests. Just as there is a similarity in language use in the creation of the world and the temple, so is there also in both Adam’s and the priests’ responsibilities. Adam is commanded by God to “till” (‘bd) and “keep” (šmr) the Garden, and these same Hebrew words are used together in reference to the duties of the temple priests and the Levites in service to God.[6] Furthermore, God commands Adam to “subdue” (kavash) and to reign or “have dominion” (radah) over the creatures of the earth. These Hebrew words are also used in relation to David and Solomon’s kingship later on in the Old Testament.[7] These correspondences again can be no mere coincidence; if Adam’s tilling and keeping parallels the priests’ keeping of the temple in Numbers and Leviticus, then this points out the fact that Adam is a priest himself. Also, if Adam’s subduing and having dominion parallels David and Solomon’s kingship, then this signifies that Adam is “the first visible king over creation”.[8] Therefore, Adam is a priest-king ministering in the sanctuary of Eden.

Not only Adam’s works but also his identity portrays his priesthood and kingship. In the Near East, images of the emperor meant to symbolize authority; likewise, man being made in the image and likeness of God signifies man representing God’s authoritative figure on earth.[9] Hence, “understood against the Near Eastern background, in which the cosmos was understood as a great temple and earthly temples were often built as a representation of the cosmos, the seven days of creation can be perceived as a temple-building account.”[10] This is the case with man, as priest and king, serving this place of divine dwelling and worship, which is directed toward ultimate rest and worship with God on the Sabbath day.[11]

Also, the fact that man and woman were created on the sixth day is important in regards to priestly anthropology. Fr. Peter Kearney states in his article on the relationship between creation and liturgy that the Aaronite high priest is described in the sixth speech in Exodus, signifying that Adam is the first high priest, and that man and woman are the apex of creation, since they were created on the sixth day.[12] In addition, among God’s seven speeches given in regards to the temple is a description of the garments of the High Priest. This speech has seven repetitions of the phrase “as the Lord commanded Moses,” which is a symbol of perfection and superiority, as the high priest is head of all creation.[13] In this way, creation and the high priesthood are linked in significance by the number seven.

LITERAL MEANING OF SCRIPTURE

According to Dei Verbum, there are two parts to interpreting the literal meaning of Scripture. The first is to pay attention to what the style of conversation, narration, and feeling of the time period was at the time of the Scripture passage was written.[14] The second is to relate the passage of Scripture to the whole of Scripture and how it is part of a single unit.[15] Morrow interprets the Genesis creation account in light of liturgy, as it “presents the cosmos as one large temple, the Garden of Eden as the Holy of Holies, and the human person as made for worship.”[16] Following the first part of interpreting the literal meaning of Scripture according to Dei Verbum, he focuses on correspondences in language use between the creation account and the temple construction, and displays how the sacred author’s purpose was to use their language to draw the attention of the readers, ultimately, to the temple. Also, the Israelites would have read Genesis in light of their Exodus experience so that the connection was a lot more meaningful to them than to readers today, as they witnessed the construction of the temple. Following the second part of interpreting the literal meaning of Scripture, Morrow examines that what the sacred author intended in writing the creation account was to portray the fact that the universe IS a temple, and that man is created for worship.[17] He states the fact that “the building of a temple often accompanied creation,”[18] as he relates the liturgical theme of creation and the temple to the temples of the Ancient Near East, using the Gudea Cylinders as a source. This theme unites all creation and temples as a whole, and that all men are called to follow Adam’s priestly and kingly role.

Kearney interprets the Genesis creation account in light of the priesthood as a whole, mainly following the second part of Dei Verbum’s formula for interpreting the literal meaning of Scripture. He focuses on the significance of the number seven in regards to the link between creation and the priesthood, which carries on throughout Scripture. While referencing the seven repetitions of the phrase “as the Lord commanded Moses” as corresponding to the seven days of creation, he highlights the importance and superiority of the high priesthood as signified by the sacred number. Not only is this theme found in Exodus and Genesis, but is referred to throughout Scripture, and referenced up until the present day.[19]

CONCLUSION

The heptadic structure of the Genesis creation accounts reveals important aspects about the Scripture passage. Not only does it reveal a Temple cosmology in the sense that the creation account corresponds with the construction of the Temple, but also a priestly anthropology linking Adam’s role to that of the temple priests. Overall, these two themes are united by the sacred number seven and manifested in each other as shown in Genesis and Exodus, by means of the Catholic principles of exegesis.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bergsma, John, and Brant Pitre. A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament, vol. 1. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2018.

Paul VI. Dei Verbum. 18 November 1965. Vatican Translation: The Word of God. The Holy        See Online (accessed September 30, 2021).

Kearney, Peter J. “Creation and Liturgy: The P Redaction of Ex 25-40.” Zeitschrift fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 89, no. 3 (1977): 379-380.

Morrow, Jeffrey L. “Creation as Temple-Building and Work as Liturgy in Genesis 1-3.” Journal of the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies 2, no.1 (2009): 1-13.


[1]Jeffrey L. Morrow, “Creation as Temple-Building and Work as Liturgy in Genesis 1-3,” Journal of the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies 2, no. 1 (2009): 4, 6-7.

               

[2]Ibid., 5.

                [3]Jeffrey L. Morrow, “Creation as Temple-Building and Work as Liturgy in Genesis 1-3,” Journal of the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies 2, no. 1 (2009): 6.

               

                [4]Ibid., 7-9.

                [5]Jeffrey L. Morrow, “Creation as Temple-Building and Work as Liturgy in Genesis 1-3,” Journal of the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies 2, no. 1 (2009): 9.       

                [6]Ibid., 12. 

               

[7]John Bergsma, and Brant Pitre, A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament, vol. 1 (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2018), 98.

[8]Ibid., 98.

[9]John Bergsma, and Brant Pitre, A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament, vol. 1 (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2018), 97. 

               

                [10]Ibid., 98. 

                [11]Ibid., 98.

[12]Peter J. Kearney, “Creation and Liturgy: The P Redaction of Ex 25-40,” Zeitschrift fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 89, no. 3 (1977): 380.

[13]Ibid., 380.

                [14]Paul VI, Dei Verbum, (18, November 1965), Vatican Translation: The Word of God. The Holy See Online (accessed September 30, 2021).

               

                [15]Ibid., 9. 

                17Jeffrey L. Morrow, “Creation as Temple-Building and Work as Liturgy in Genesis 1-3,” Journal of the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies 2, no. 1 (2009): 1.

               

[17]Ibid., 4.

                [18]Ibid., 7.

[19]Peter J. Kearney, “Creation and Liturgy: The P Redaction of Ex 25-40.” Zeitschrift fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 89, no. 3 (1977): 380.