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'There Was Not a Man'
Pre-Biblical Impressions of the Bible #5: Genesis 2:1-7
The Seventh Day
“And thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
2
“And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work he had made.
3
“And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested form all he work which he had made.”
First impressions are important in the introduction to new beliefs. Two aspects of the above three passages would account for the vast level of acceptance this vision of Creation enjoyed among pagan civilizations. The first is identification with “work”. Although previous passages have suggested a more primal creator, a designer who brings a world into being through existing potentials according to a vague design perhaps grounded in some unwritten earlier creation, these passages which serve as the parting vision of Creation equate God's actions with work. For the literate class, work was regarded as a death sentence, a taboo, a thing done only be slaves for most of human civilization. So for mass appeal among common folk 2:2 and 2:3 would strike a chord not often plucked by other creation tales, especially for city dwellers and farmers, who did little traveling.
Additionally, the idea of a seven day division of the month, was not just Middle Eastern. The Hellenes and the Romans had very different schemes for the progress of immediate time, the former dividing the month into two and the latter into three. In heathen Europe, however the idea of seven day divisions of the lunar cycle went back at least 40,000 years and can be attested on tusk etchings.
The idea of seven heavens and seven heroes might be rooted in the seven day divisor of the lunar procession. The seven days were traditionally named after the sun the moon and the five nearest planets. Roman tradition adopted the seven day week in late antiquity as it was Christianized. Nordic acceptance of the seven day division of the month would carry over in the names Tuesday [Tiw], Wednesday [Wodan], Thursday [Thor] and Friday [Frig.] Germans had adopted the use of the Romanized week about 200, although not becoming Christian in general until the 600s and 700s. Wodan was equated with Hermes and Mercury, not Zeus or Jupiter.
Crucial to any pre-Christian examination of the Bible by scalds of the heroic tradition, such as Homer, Virgil, and the anonymous composer of Beowulf, would be the obvious layering of various creation narratives within Genesis. This would ease conversion by way of syncretism and might represent an early syncretic process.
4
“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God [1] made the earth and the heavens,
5
“And every plant of the field before it were in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew [2]; for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.”
For a civilized people of the Middle East and Middle Sea living upon the ruins of thousands of years of civilization, and in such later civilizations as the Mayan, Aztec and Inca, an Origin that does not account at all for a hunting and wandering state, but begins with a world designed for agriculture, would have immediate appeal. Many creation tales collected from aboriginal peoples by anthropologists in the 1800s and 1900s, would make no sense to civilized folk.
A mist rises up from the ground to water the earth. Next the creation of man is described for a second time and in much the same way as the creation of Enkidu by the Goddess, keeping in mind that clay working and pottery were generally feminine occupations in pre-Biblical times, but by late antiquity had become the domain of masculine artisans. The Lord God's creation, as a ruler, is in want of but one thing, a worker, an agent—a servant.
7
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
...
This is a more artful passage than the earlier story of Enkidu's formation. However, as in the Epic of Gilgamesh, there is no indication in this brief and potent passage of a belief that the human soul pre-dates or post-dates life on earth. In this passage, man's soul comes of his physical creation, receiving the breath of God after his material formation.
Overall, the naming of God as a ruler first and foremost would find favor with the upper class, as did Christianity in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, being introduced in Rome among the elite intellectual class, one tier below the rulers, and in the lands of the heroic bardic traditions of the Gaelic and Germanic folk, exclusively as a top-down faith imposed upon the common man by the ruling class. This is a very important element to consider in the adoption of the heathen tale of Beowulf in a Christian context, in that the poet always served the ruler his patron, his lord, even as he recited to men lower in the hierarchy. Thus the poet who composed Beowulf would have been the perfect person to Introduce Christianity to Heathen Europe in the context of one of their ancient hero tales.
“...and man became a living soul.”
...
Thus far, as this reader—primarily a novelist in this stage of the writing art—pursues this final reading of the Bible, this is the most striking passage of Creation, not an issuance into the long-extant world or a pre-existing state within nature upon it, but an event that Mary Shelly surely drew on in her Frankenstein, the creation of a sentient being for a specific purpose, in this case a steward for a fully prepared agricultural state.
...
Notes
-1. Would be suggestive to pre-Christian people of the presence of lesser divinities under the Lord God.
-2. Suggestive of pre-existing powers willed into action by the Creator
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