Monday, 26 January 2015

What does it mean to 'rest' on the seventh day of creation? Yet more evidence against the YEC distortion of Genesis

Although aimed largely at an academic audience, for the motivated, informed reader, John Walton's "Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology" will reward careful, close reading. If the reader comes away with an appreciation of the need to read Genesis not as a modern scientific description of creation, but as an account of functional origins which reflects ancient cosmogeography, that will be more than enough to rescue them from the theological sterility of YEC.

Another point which is often ignored is the powerful link between the view of cosmos as a temple, and the motif of the deity entering into his palace-temple to rule over an ordered world. John Walton's comments on the link between the cosmos-temple and divine rest deserves as wide a possible audience in our community in order to provide another means by which the error of YEC and literalism can be banished from our community. 

Day 7 (Genesis 2:1–3): Temple and Rest in Genesis

Pages 101–119 described the close interrelationship between temple and cosmos in the ancient world and also addressed the role of divine rest in relationship to both. In that chapter, we noted that the building of temples was described in cosmic terms, that the temples were described as having cosmic functions, that temples were understood as models in miniature of the cosmos and were replete with cosmic symbolism, that cosmic origins were sometimes associated with temple building, that temples were sometimes thought to represent the world, and that deities rested in temples that had been constructed for precisely this purpose. To use Levenson’s terms, the temple and the cosmos were congeneric and homologically connected. The temple was the hub of the cosmos and the rest of the deity in the temple was essential to his rule of the cosmos. 

When we consider the import of these ideas for our reading of Genesis, to evaluate the extent to which they are reflected in the cognitive environment of Israel, it is appropriate to ask, “Is there any reason to think that a temple metaphor is present in any way in the Genesis cosmology?” If it is true that there is a close association between temple and cosmos in the cognitive environment, and if there is occasionally a connection between cosmology and temple building, it would hardly be surprising to find this kind of association in Genesis 1. Furthermore, in a variety of places elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, the connection between temple and cosmos is evident, so the idea is hardly foreign to Israelite thinking. Particularly notable in this regard is Isa 66:1, which refers to a cosmos-sized temple, a connection between temple and rest, and a connection between creation and temple.
Isaiah 66:1–2

This is what the Lord says:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.

Though there is no explicit mention of a temple per se in the Genesis account, two items that are specifically mentioned help to connect the idea of temple in the ancient Near Eastern and biblical contexts: rest on the seventh day and the Garden of Eden.

Rest on the Seventh Day

The relationship between temple and rest in Israelite thinking, as exemplified in Isa 66:1, was noted above. Additional extensive comment is given by the Psalmist in Psalm 132.
Psalm 132:7–8, 13–14
Let us go to his dwelling place;let us worship at his footstool—“Arise, O Lord, and come to your resting place,you and the ark of your might.”For the Lord has chosen Zion,he has desired it for his dwelling:“This is my resting place for ever and ever;here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.”
What is the nature of divine rest in the Hebrew Bible? In the ancient Near Eastern literature, we have noted a range of activities (and inactivity) that were involved in rest: from peaceful sleep, to leisure time for entertainment and banquets, to sovereign rule. Some have interpreted the rest in Genesis 1 as representing disengagement and the enjoyment of relaxation. Thus, Levenson comments that the text “leaves us with an impression of the deity in a state of mellow euphoria, benignly fading out of the world that he has finished and pronounced to be ‘very good.’ ” It should be noted, however, that the “disengagement” form of rest in the ancient Near East is consistently based either in polytheism (e.g., social activities among and entertainment with other gods) or in the belief that the gods had humanlike needs and desires (e.g., sleep or sexual activity).

In contrast, N. Andreasen recognized the “engagement” aspect of divine rest in Genesis. The relationship between God’s rest and the world’s stability suggests that stability is assured by activity rather than inactivity.
It is curious, however, that precisely the Old Testament should make Yahweh rest and even refresh himself after his creative work, for Yahweh is not a God who would tire or retire in the face of new and extraordinarily heavy activities, or before other aggressive powers, nor is the world’s stability assured by his inactivity, but on the contrary by his activity within creation.
In fact, however, although the idea of divine rest in the ancient Near Eastern includes retirement as one possibility, other texts examined above showed rest as the freedom to rule (pp. 113–115). In the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 132 provides a key passage, in which not only is the temple identified as the resting place of Yahweh but we also find rest identified with rule, for in the temple he sits enthroned. In this sense, divine rest is not primarily an act of disengagement but an act of engagement. No other divine rest occurs in the Hebrew Bible than the rest that is associated with his presence in his temple. This, combined with the data that were presented concerning divine rest in temples in the ancient Near East, confirms that the idea of deity resting, as on the seventh day in Genesis 1, is a clear indication to the reader that a temple metaphor underlies the understanding of the deity’s status.

This connection is further substantiated by the fact that the rest takes place on the seventh day. Several examples of temple inaugurations from ancient Near Eastern literature, cited above, show that these rites took place in the course of seven days and that the deity entered the temple to take up his rest on the seventh day.163 Mark Smith, in his discussion of the motif of seven days in Genesis 1, concludes, with Hurowitz, that “creation in Genesis 1 uses the language of temple-building.” Regardless of whether Genesis 1 is understood as reflecting a temple-building account (like the building of Baal’s Temple in seven days) or a temple-inauguration account (like the temple inauguration in Gudea Cylinder B), the connection between Genesis 1 and temple imagery is confirmed.

Seven-day temple inaugurations are the norm in biblical temple-building accounts. In the account of the construction of Solomon’s temple, a seven-day dedication, to which was added a seven-day feast/banquet (2 Chr 7:9; 1 Kgs 8:65), followed the completion of construction. Levenson observes the repeated use of the number seven in the account and concludes that the account is modeled on the seven days of creation.
1 Kings 6:38b tells us that it took Solomon seven years to build his Temple. According to 1 Kings 8, he dedicated it during the Feast of Booths (Sukkot), which occurs in the seventh month (verse 2) and which, in the Deuteronomic tradition, is a festival of seven days’ duration (Deut 16:13–15).… Can the significance of the number seven in this Temple dedication be coincidence? In light of the argument on other grounds that Temple building and creation were thought to be congeneric, this is improbable. It is more likely that the construction of the Temple is presented here as a parallel to the construction of the world in seven days.
However, because the number seven occurs frequently in texts reflecting the ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment, it might be more likely that the association is the reverse—namely, that the Genesis 1 account is modeled after a temple-inauguration account. Indeed, McBride states forthrightly this same conclusion: “This day of silent divine rest is a consummation of all that has gone before because it inaugurates God’s residence within the cosmic temple.”

Once this possibility is raised, other connections to temple-inauguration accounts can be suggested. For example, in the case of Gudea’s temple inauguration, most of the ceremony was taken up with proclaiming the functions that the temple would have and installing the functionaries so that the deity could enter the temple (on the seventh day) to take up his rest, at which point it became functional. If we agree that Genesis 1 has to do with the assigning of functions (= me) to the cosmic temple, days 4–6 bear some similarity to the temple inaugurations in which the functionaries are installed in the temple and their šimati (‘decrees’) declared prior to the deity’s taking up his rest.167 In the context of a functional ontology, the deity’s entering the temple was the point at which the temple came into existence. The temple-inauguration accounts make the presence of deity in the temple central but also emphasize that the deity’s presence functioned for the benefit of the people.

All of these details resonate with the Genesis account. The ways in which the cosmic temple of Genesis 1 will function for humanity are proclaimed (and thus come into existence), and the functionaries who carry out the activities that follow are installed. Then the deity comes to rest in the temple and the temple becomes a functional structure. Like the temple-inauguration in the Gudea texts, the “furniture” and staff are installed, the fish fill the rivers, and the animals fill the land. Then the prince enters, and finally the deity takes up his rest in the throne room.

As is the case in temple construction, the mere completion of the material construction phase does not produce a functioning temple. Only when the functions are identified, the functionaries installed, and the deity has entered the temple does it begin to function. This is creation as it was understood in the ancient Near East. Even in the biblical picture of creation in Genesis 1, the manner in which the material stuff of the cosmos came into being and the time involved in this process had little significance. The amount of time is unspecified, and the manner in which the material stuff came to exist is also unspecified. Creation takes place when the cosmos/temple is made functional for its human inhabitant by means of the presence of God.

To claim that both the Bible and the ancient Near Eastern texts draw on a similar cognitive environment and describe the processes of “origins” in similar ways in no way suggests that Genesis “borrowed” from Gudea or any other piece of ancient Near Eastern literature. To insist that these similarities could only be the result of borrowing is a gross misunderstanding of appropriate methodology, something that I have attempted to make clear from the beginning of this book. Instead, the Israelites shared with the rest of the cultures of the ancient world certain basic concepts about temples, rest, and cosmos that are naturally reflected in an account such as Genesis 1. The claim is not that Genesis 1 borrows the literary form of temple-inauguration accounts but that it is informed by the same cognitive environment that can be observed in contemporary (in the broad sense of that term) temple-inauguration accounts. The fact that so much in common can be observed is evidence of the broad range of the cognitive environment. - Walton J.H. Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbruans, 2011, p 178-184