Genesis 1:1 Commentary - Peake's Commentary on the BibleGen 1:1 to Gen 2:4 a. The Priestly Story of Creation.—This section belongs to the Priestly Document (P). This is shown by the use of several of its characteristic terms, by the constant repetition of the formulæ, and by the formal arrangement. P’s interest in the origin of religious institutions is displayed in the explanation of the origin of the Sabbath. The lofty monotheism of the section is also characteristic of his theological position.
The story rests upon a much older tradition, mainly, it would seem, Babylonian in its origin. There are several striking parallels with the Babylonian creation legend. The “deep” or watery chaos (tehom) (Gen 1:12) corresponds to the Babylonian Tiamat. Darkness is over this chaos. There is a rending of sky and earth from each other, and the creation of a solid expanse or firmament which divides the upper waters from the waters of the earth, and in which the heavenly bodies are placed. There are also serious differences, due largely to the absence of the polytheistic and mythological element from the Biblical account (p. 51). Even if the Spirit of God that broods over the abyss is a remnant of mythology, yet the Hebrew account represents God as existing before the creative process begins, and as willing and controlling it, whereas in the Babylonian legend the gods come into existence during the process. Nor is there any trace of opposition between the abyss and the creative power in Genesis; though it is not said that chaos was created by God, it rather seems to have an independent existence beside Him. The Phœnician cosmogony presents striking parallels, such as the existence at first of chaos and spirit, and the egg, from which the universe was produced, which seems to be implied in the Hebrew narrative in the reference to the brooding of the Spirit. It is probable, in spite of the striking differences, that the Biblical account has its ultimate origin in the Babylonian mythology rather than that both are, as Dillmann thinks, independent developments of a primitive Semitic myth. Gunkel has argued forcibly that the work of creation was explained by analogy from the rebirth of the world in spring after the winter, or in the morning after the night, and that the phenomena depicted can have been suggested only in an alluvial country like Babylonia. But it has derived elements from other sources, especially Phœnician and possibly Egyptian. It appears to have been formed in Palestine, for the purification of the story would involve a long process, and one which would be complete only at a late point in the pre-exilic period. In its present form it is probably not earlier than the exile, and was presumably written on Babylonian soil. But it is most unlikely that the Priestly writer, belonging, as he did, to the rigid school of Ezekiel, should have borrowed consciously from Babylonian mythology.
At what time this myth reached Israel is much disputed. Some think the Hebrews brought it with them from Mesopotamia; others place it in the period known to us from the Tell el-Amarna tablets (about 1450 B.C.) when Babylonian culture exerted great influence on Western Asia and Egypt; others again think of the period of Assyrian rule over Judah. It is unlikely that the Hebrews, even if they brought the Babylonian legend with them from Mesopotamia, would preserve it through all their subsequent experiences. More probably they derived it from the Canaanites, who may have learnt it from the Babylonians in the Tell el-Amarna period (see p. 51). We can thus account for the Canaanite elements that appear to have been incorporated. Some scholars hold that the Hebrews elaborated the creation doctrine at a late period. This does not at all follow from the silence of the earlier prophets, even if, as is not unlikely, the creation passages in Amos are a later addition (pp. 551, 554). For these prophets had little occasion to speak of it. And there are references in the other literature which seem to be early. This is specially true of the creation story in Genesis 2. And in Solomon’s dedication words at the consecration of the Temple, restored by Wellhausen from the LXX (p. 298), we read “Yahweh hath set the sun in the heavens.” So also in Exo 20:11, which, even if a later addition to the Decalogue, is probably pre-exilic, we read that “in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth.” It would be strange if, when the surrounding peoples had creation narratives, Israel had none.
Whether the Priestly writer himself originated the division into six days is uncertain. It is clearly later than the enumeration of the works as eight. For in order to get eight works into six days it has been necessary to put two works on the third and two on the sixth day; and in neither case is the pair well matched; in the former we have the separation of land and water combined with the creation of vegetation, in the latter land-animals and man are created on the same day, though from the lofty position assigned to man, we should have expected his creation to have taken place on a day reserved for it. But the six days’ work and the seventh day’s rest are probably not due to the Priestly writer. The Sabbath rest for God is so anthropomorphic an idea, that P, who does not represent God as subject to human limitations and affections, must have borrowed it from an older source. Both the six days’ work and seventh day’s rest are found in Exo 20:11. If this is dependent on our passage, it yields no evidence for an earlier origin of the six days’ scheme. But although it does not occur in the Deuteronomic version of the Decalogue, the reason for the commandment substituted in Deu 5:15 probably had its origin in the humane spirit of the Deuteronomic legislation. The differences between Exo 20:11 and Gen 2:2 are also of a kind to exclude the dependence of the former on the latter. It may, therefore, be assumed that not only the division of creation into eight works but the period of six days lay ready to the author’s hand. As it is not found in the Babylonian or Phœnician cosmogonies, it seems probable that the six days’ scheme is of Israelitish origin. The eight works may have been borrowed ultimately from a foreign source.
Those who are interested in the once burning question as to the relation between this narrative and modern science should consult the very thorough discussion in Driver’s Commentary. Here it must suffice to say that the value of the narrative is not scientific but religious; that it imperils faith to insist on literal accuracy in a story which can only by unjustifiable forcing be made to yield it; that it was more in harmony with the method of inspiration to take current views and purify them so that they might be fit vehicles of religious truth than to anticipate the progress of research by revealing prematurely what men could in due time discover for themselves; and finally that even if this narrative could be harmonised with our present knowledge, we should have the task of harmonising the very different narrative in the second chapter both with the present story and with modern science, (See further p. 12.)
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Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Peake's Commentary was first published in 1919 as A Commentary on the Bible, edited by Arthur Samuel Peake, with the assistance of A. J. Grieve for the New Testament. There were 61 contributors, writing 96 articles. Its length was 1014 pages, plus 8 maps. Biblical quotation was from the Revised Version of the Bible. This edition was reprinted in 1937 with a 40-page supplement, edited by A. J. Grieve.