Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First 2 Days Of Creation. Non-Fundamentalist Bible Study.

Sometimes, we can be so angry at elements of the religious establishment for their corruption, that we can lose our objectivity; there is indeed stuff in biblical faith that is worth investigating.

Nachmanides was a Rabbi from Spain who lived from 1194 AD to 1270 AD. Jews know him as the Ramban.

In Nachmanides' commentary to the Torah, he wrote something that should take the breath away from someone living in the year 2010.

Nachmanides wrote "In the beginning, from total and absolute nothing, the Creator brought forth a substance so thin it had no corporeality, but that substanceless substance could take on form. This was the only physical creation. Now this creation was a very small point and from this all things that ever were or will be formed.... If you will merit and understand the secret of the first word, b’reshit, you will know why the Jerusalem translation is “With wisdom God created the heavens and the earth.” But our knowledge of it -is less than a drop in the vast ocean." -Nachmanides, Commentary on Genesis.

This is loooooooong before Edwin Hubble, Albert Einstein, etc. Could Nachmanides have been privy to divine information?

Gen. 1:3
וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֖ים יְהִ֣י אֹ֑ור וַֽיְהִי־ אֹֽור׃

And God said Let there be light and there was light.

Gen. 1:4
וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־ הָאֹ֖ור כִּי־ טֹ֑וב וַיַּבְדֵּ֣ל אֱלֹהִ֔ים בֵּ֥ין הָאֹ֖ור וּבֵ֥ין הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ׃

And God saw the light that it was good and God divided the light from the darkness.

Gen. 1:5
וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים לָאֹור֙ יֹ֔ום וְלַחֹ֖שֶׁךְ קָ֣רָא לָ֑יְלָה וַֽיְהִי־ עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־ בֹ֖קֶר יֹ֥ום אֶחָֽד׃

And God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Gen. 1:6
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים יְהִ֥י רָקִ֖יעַ בְּתֹ֣וךְ הַמָּ֑יִם וִיהִ֣י מַבְדִּ֔יל בֵּ֥ין מַ֖יִם לָמָֽיִם׃

And God said Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters and let it divide the waters from the waters.

Gen. 1:7
וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִים֮ אֶת־ הָרָקִיעַ֒ וַיַּבְדֵּ֗ל בֵּ֤ין הַמַּ֙יִם֙ אֲשֶׁר֙ מִתַּ֣חַת לָרָקִ֔יעַ וּבֵ֣ין הַמַּ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֖ר מֵעַ֣ל לָרָקִ֑יעַ וַֽיְהִי־ כֵֽן׃

And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament and it was so.

Gen. 1:8
וַיִּקְרָ֧א אֱלֹהִ֛ים לָֽרָקִ֖יעַ שָׁמָ֑יִם וַֽיְהִי־ עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־ בֹ֖קֶר יֹ֥ום שֵׁנִֽי׃

And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

I see this as a metaphor for the cooling down of the universe after the big bang. First there's energy, then there's the elements with the smaller mass numbers.

It would seem silly to expect God to explain twentieth century science to people from thousands of years ago when they're not ready for it. Notice, no command given to believe in a young earth or literal 24 hour Earth days.


Shilton HaSechel said...

The Ramban you quote makes extensive usage of Aristotlean and Platonic terminology

Chomer - "matter"

Tzura - "form"

Koach El hapoal - "Potential to Actual"

His use of these words shows that he is basing everything he says on the "science" (and in other places kabbala) of his times.

Any resemblance to real science is probably coincidental. (Unless you think Aristotle was privy to "divine information".)

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein said...

I honestly do not understand why anyone, observant or non-observant, religious or secular, feels the need to subscribe to a literal understanding of the creation epic(s) in Genesis.

If one believes that the Bible is divine, then certainly the notion of God speaking in human language to a 2nd-1st Millenium audience applies.

If one believes that the Bible is "divinely inspired" or purely the product of human creation, then Nuch Besser.

If one pursues a purely literal approach, then they must address the conflicts between the two creation epics, the scientific body of evidence, etc. A no win scenario (except for the zealous).

At the end of the day, the Bible contains stories and lessons that speak to the human experience and aspirations, our underdstanding of the Divine and the role of humans in the universe. It is not a book of science.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Nor of history. It had to be as comprehensible to an audience 3400 years ago as it does today. Rav JH Hertz in his famous Chumash brings the example of: In the beginning God created Monera, and Monera begat Protozoa, and Protozoa begat Flagellates, etc. Who, in the pre-microscope era, would understand that?

SJ said...

I'm not sure how similar Aristotle is to Ramban, "In the Metaphysics, however, he placed an unmoved prime mover "behind" the fixed stars. He describes this transcendent first mover as eternal and without magnitude; he says that it causes circular movement, and that is the kind of movement that is most perfect, since it has no beginning or end ("

And about Plato ... " Plato posited a basic argument in The Laws (Book X), in which he argued that motion in the world and the Cosmos was "imparted motion" that required some kind of "self-originated motion" to set it in motion and to maintain that motion.[1] Plato posited a "demiurge" of supreme wisdom and intelligence as the creator of the Cosmos in his work Timaeus. ("

I'm not an expert on Greek philosophy but neither seem to be as specific as the Ramban.

There were finite universe streams of thought in the Ramban's time, were they as specific as Ramban? I don't know. I also don't know how big Greek thought was in the Ramban's time.

SJ said...

Thank you for coming Garnel. Good point with the microscopic stuff.

Cora said...

Hi SJ :)

Thanks for inviting me to this discussion, I will be reading with great curiosity.

I'm not sure how much relevant input I can offer as I am not Jewish nor Christian, but I will try my best to mentally dust the cobwebs off my memories of Sunday/Bible school.

Science plays a paramount role in my family and so our "creation" story is the Big Bang/Evolution. I honestly don't need to read any culture's myth to understand the scientific discoveries. However, while Thadd (my eldest) and I were watching a special on Stephen Hawking who was explaining the Big Bang I told him "and that's why we believe in the Gods. Some Thing - Some One- has to be behind the creation of something so truly spectacular. There's no way it all happened by chance."

I am not interested finding out His/Hers/Their name; the action itself is sacred and powerful and that is enough for me.

The Big Bang and the progress of evolution through time is enough awe-inspiring for me that no story/myth can top it.

SJ said...

Thank you for coming Cora.

>> I am not interested finding out His/Hers/Their name; the action itself is sacred and powerful and that is enough for me.

Good point on the sacredness of creation and the process thereof; we do know His name though. ;D XD

Cora said...


I'll stick with "That Which is Un-Named" ;)

Ahavah Gayle said...

I am more inclined to think of the "waters" as dimensional barriers, though cooling of matter into plasma, liquids and solids could be indicated. Even quantum physics admits the existence of 10/11 dimensions, of which we can only see four (l,w,h, and time). So far your hypothesis can't account for items we know are outside our immediate perception of the space/time continuum. Those need to be accounted for somehow - either as pre-existing structures or as part of the big bang process.

Shalmo said...

"This is loooooooong before Edwin Hubble, Albert Einstein, etc. Could Nachmanides have been privy to divine information?"

He likely got this from the muslims of his time. There is a hadith by Imam Jaffer that explicitly states the universe was once a condensced mass of matter (somewhat like a ball) that was then exploded/expanded to create the universe. The Quran itself speaks about the universe expanding and contradicting. And all of these were in the muslim scriptures long long before Nachmanides showed up.

Besides both Maimonides and Nachimanides were well known to take in ideas from the sufi and rationalist schools the muslims had going

Shalmo said...

As for the firmament, its rather obvious you are stretching the text to conform with modern scientific data.

Anyway the creation myth in Genesis comes from the Babylonian myth of creation known as Enuma Elish. Although the story differs in specifics to that told in Genesis, the similarities in the general tone has convinced archaeologists that the Genesis account had been fundamentally derived from the Babylonian one. Some of the similarities include:

•The reference to the initial state as being a disordered chaos of water.
Genesis 1:1 refers to the “darkness” upon the face of the deep. In the Babylonian myth, in the beginning there was only Apsu, the sweet water ocean and Tiamat, the salt water ocean. In fact, archaeologists have generally acknowledged that the Hebrew word for the chaos of the waters or “the deep”, tehom, is actually derived from the Akkadian Tiamat.

•The creation of a firmament to separate the waters above from the waters below.
In Genesis 1:6-8 God is said to have created the firmament on the second day of creation. In the Babylonian myth, Marduk, son of the Ea the god of wisdom, killed Tiamat and split her into two. The upper half of Tiamat was fixed onto the sky to keep the waters above in place.

•The sequence of successive acts of creation.
In the Babylonian myth, after Tiamat was killed, the firmament was created by Marduk to separate the waters above from below. Then he created the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars. Finally man was created. This order is very closely paralleled in Genesis I where the firmament was created on the second day, the sun, moon and stars on the third day and man on the sixth day.