“This is the book [libros] of the origins of the heavens and the earth”
(Genesis 2:4 Septuagint).
Fr. Peter Little (S.J.), Sydney, Australia, wrote in 1997, regarding the Book of Origins:
How can I thank you sufficiently for that intriguing paper you sent me on the Hexämeron? It’s a beauty! I would like you to answer a couple of difficulties that spring to mind. The psalm says God made everything by his word and by the breath of his mouth: obviously referring back to Genesis. If we say Genesis is recounting God’s teaching of Adam (and Eve!), can we make the ‘and Elohim said’ that introduces each day’s action to be a kind of combination expression? As if Adam were saying ‘God told me and Eve that he’d said Let there be light and so on’. So that the ‘he said’ covers both the instruction over the six days of Adam plus the content of the instruction. But whatever slight problem is caused by the wording the solution worked out by our archaeology friend [i.e. P. J. Wiseman] – and one in line with deeper insights in patristic explanations – is a thriller. It ties in with the ultimate instruction given by the Father in and through his Word-Son in the latter’s incarnate condition. It makes a lot of sense to see the continuity in God’s determination to communicate to us the knowledge that is his so that we can live with him in communion and ultimately in face to face awareness and worshipping love.
Fr. P. Little S. J. [now deceased, RIP]
The C4th BC historian Berossus, a priest of Bel at Babylon, wrote in Greek a strange mixture of astrology and historical narratives called Babyloniaca. In this unusual collection Berossus referred to a “tablet of the series of the Heaven and the Earth” (That is, a tablet contained in a series of tablets called “The Heaven and the Earth”). Berossus also told of the Babylonians having a legend of a six day period of instruction by the god-like being, Oannes, who “for six days instructed Alorus”, the first man who reigned on earth. Berossus wrote that: “When the sun went down he [Oannes] withdrew till the next morning”.
The Babylonians knew nothing whatsoever of a creation in six days. But, as is apparent from the testimony of Berossus, they retained memory of an occasion when instruction was given during six days. And – according to Berossus – this instruction represented the original book of revelation:
“The Book of the Heaven and the Earth”
The ancient Hebrews also had a book about origins. It is what we now know as Genesis 1:1-2:4, but it too was similarly entitled “The Book of the Heavens and the Earth”. Today it is interpreted by many as indicating that the universe was created during six, twenty-four hour days. But there is also a view – based on what archaeology has revealed about ancient scribal methods – according to which the original text must have been written on a series of six tablets, and that the concept of a ‘creating process’ so to speak, that lasted for six days, may have been one quite alien to the mind of the author.
* * *
Undoubtedly, no passage of the Old Testament has been the focus of more critical attention and controversy than has been this first section of the Book of Genesis, in which are described the famous “Six Days” (Hexaëmeron, in Greek), with their “evenings” and “mornings”.
The “Six Days” are referred to again in Exodus 20.
Since the time of Christ, theologians of Jewish, Christian and Moslem belief have written detailed commentaries on this document. In fact some of history’s best scholarly minds have debated, and grappled with, the meaning and interpretation of this truly challenging passage of Scripture, with marvellous results – though not unanimous agreement.
And the debate still rages on today – especially between those who prefer a literalist interpretation of the text and those who favour a more metaphorical approach – with the typically C21st shift of emphasis away from the metaphysical plane to that of empirical science.
With so many centuries of intellectual effort behind us, and with so abundant a choice of commentaries now available, one might well ask why there is need to burden the public with yet another article on the “Six Days”. Surely every pertinent aspect of this subject must have been exhausted in debate by now.
By way of answer, I would simply say that the very fact that perfervid debate on the subject still continues might perhaps be an indication that the matter has not yet been settled to the satisfaction of contemporary scholars.
Modern debate about the “Six Days”
One area of human endeavour especially that can shed new light upon Genesis 1:1-2:4 – as indeed it has on the book as a whole – is the modern science of archaeology, principally in regard to what it reveals to us about the scribal methods of the ancient Mesopotamians. P. J. Wiseman has used this knowledge to great advantage for ascertaining the structure and composition of Genesis 1:1-2:4. To my way of thinking, Wiseman’s explanation of the structure of this crucial text is by far the most satisfactory one, serving, as it does, to break the deadlock between the literalists and the allegorists – not by destroying their most relevant arguments, but by managing to harmonise them.
Several hitherto, undisclosed truths about ancient scribal methods, that Wiseman showed provide the key to the real meaning and interpretation of the “Six Days”, had been lost to mankind when the great Mesopotamian civilizations sank into oblivion – until the advent of archaeology in the past 150 years. Wiseman, making optimum use of the data, was able to show that the ancient scribal methods that had recently been brought to light again had (not really surprisingly) been used as well in the writing of the ancient Genesis text.
It should be noted, however, that the basic truth behind the “Six Days” had not been totally lost to humanity For, as we are going to see, some of the conclusions about the “Six Days”, to which the archaeological information had led Wiseman, had already been reached by St. Augustine (c. 354-430 AD), without the help of archaeology! Wiseman in fact considered that what he himself had discovered about Genesis 1:1-2:4 was really an old truth’ a truth that has faded with the passing of time. Now, thanks to archaeology, he had been able to resurrect it. Or, as he nicely put it, his was “an attempt to restore ‘a commonplace truth to its first uncommon lustre’.”
Wiseman and the “Documentary Hypothesis”
It might well be asked: If Wiseman’s theories on the Book of Genesis are so good, how come we have never heard of him?
Wiseman’s theories are not completely unknown. The renowned scriptural scholar, Professor R.K. Harrison has enthusiastically embraced them. So has Dr. Charles Taylor, the linguist, embraced his Toledoth theory, and Martin Sieff, editor of various magazines on antiquity.
What appeals to me about Wiseman’s explanation is that it is able to meet all of the linguistic and structural idiosyncracies of Genesis 1:1-2:4 and Exodus 20. The Wiseman-inspired explanation that will be set out here will, I suggest, solve all of the above difficulties of the literalists and the allegorists. It will be able to accommodate what truly is literal from Genesis 1:1-2:4, and what has been deemed as metaphorical, without the need to drag the text into a scientific debate between the literalists and the allegorists, by shifting the ground of debate, so that these protagonists will in future be able to restrict, to the domain of science, whatever in their argument pertains to that domain. For example, the controversy about the age of the universe.
Basically, the thesis that will be presented here will be built upon the following of Wiseman’s premises:
(1) The six days, divided from each other by an evening and morning, cannot possibly refer to the time occupied by God in his act of Creation.
(2) The six days refer to time occupied in revealing to man the account of creation.
(3) God rested [literally, “ceased”] on the seventh day, not for His own sake, but for man’s sake, not because on that day (or period) the Creation of the world was finished.
Before we discuss Wiseman’s thesis in depth, however, we need to prepare the ground a bit by considering some earlier view about the meaning of the Hexaëmeron; especially certain innovative ideas of St. Augustine of Hippo that apparently influenced Wiseman in part.
“If Plato says that the wise man is the man who imitates, knows and loves this God, and that participation in this God brings man happiness, what need is there to examine the other philosophers? There are none who come nearer to us than the Platonists”.
Augustine of Hippo
Here, though essentially interested in certain points that Augustine of Hippo (C4th AD) had raised on the subject of the “Six Days”, we might however, as a preliminary, run briefly through the opinions of the earliest Judæo-Christian scholars.
But, firstly, we need to acknowledge Plato, from whom many of these scholars – and especially St. Augustine – received some degree of inspiration.
According to the early Christian writers – especially with reference to Plato’s Timæus – no other non-Christian philosopher came closer to their own thinking than Plato and his successors. Thus St. Clement of Alexandria wrote, quoting Numenius of Apamea:
“What, after all, is Plato but Moses in Attic Greek?”
St. Augustine, for his part, wrote of Plato and his followers, re their knowledge of the Supreme God:
If Plato says that the wise man is the man who imitates, knows and loves this God, and that participation in this God brings man happiness, what need is there to examine the other philosophers? There are none who come nearer to us than the Platonists.
In another work, Augustine was even more explicit: “If these men (viz. the Platonists) could have had this life over again with us …they would have become Christians, with the change of a few words and statements”.
Indeed, the early Christians were amazed to find that Plato had a conception of God which they recognized as agreeing in many respects with the teachings of their own religion. This led some of them to conclude that Plato, at the time of his journey to Egypt, must have encountered the prophet Jeremiah. But, as Augustine rightly calculated, such an encounter would have been a chronological impossibility.
In his discussion of the likeness between the Genesis account of Creation and that provided by Plato in the Timæus, St. Augustine has written:
… the book of Genesis begins with these words: ‘In the beginning God made heaven and earth. But the earth was invisible and unformed, and there was darkness over the abyss, and the spirit of God soared above the water’. Now in the Timæus, the book in which he writes about the creation of the world, Plato says that God in that work first brought together earth and fire; and it is obvious that for Plato fire takes the place of the sky, so that this statement has a certain resemblance to …‘In the beginning God made heaven and earth’. Plato goes on to say that water and air were the two intermediaries whose interposition effected the junction of those two extremes. This is supposed to be his interpretation of the biblical statement: ‘The Spirit of God soared above the water’. Now the air is also called ‘spirit’ (in the sense of ‘breath’); and so it might be thought that Plato failed to notice the normal use of the title ‘the Spirit of God’ in Scripture, and assumed that the four elements are mentioned in this passage.
Then there is Plato’s assertion that the philosopher is ‘lover of God’. Nothing shines out from the pages of Scripture more clearly than this.
From there, St. Augustine proceeded to pinpoint where he thought the convergence between Plato and Scripture became most apparent:
But what impresses me most, and almost brings me to agree that Plato cannot have been unacquainted with the sacred books, is that when the angel gave Moses the message to go and free the Hebrew people from Egypt, he received this reply, ‘I AM HE WHO IS, and you will say to the sons of Israel, “HE WHO IS has sent me to you”.’ This implies that in comparison with him who really is, because he is unchangeable, the things created changeable have no real existence. The truth Plato vigorously maintained and diligently taught. And I do not know whether it can be found anywhere in the works of Plato’s predecessors, except in that book which has the statement, ‘I AM HE WHO IS’ ….
- Alexandrian School’s Allegorical Interpretation
It was not by accident that the allegorical exegesis of the Creation found its first development at Alexandria in the Nile Delta. The Jewish theologians who had flourished there had favoured this type if interpretation.
- Philo Judæus (c. 25BC-40AD) interpreted the account of the Creation of the world, and of man and woman, in a symbolical or figurative kind of way. Philo is supposed to have taught that Creation was instantaneous and that the “Six Days” of Genesis were a device for expressing the perfection of the order to be found in the universe.
- Clement of Alexandria (c. 200 AD), influenced undoubtedly by Philo, held that all things were produced simultaneously by God and that the distinction of days was not to be taken as marking temporal succession, but rather as a method of exposition adapted to human intelligence to indicate various gradations in being.
- Origen (c. 200 AD) ridiculed the notion of a Creation in “Six Days”, asking how could it be possible to create light on the first day when the Sun, the Moon and the stars were created later (on the fourth day). Origen likewise took up the idea of simultaneous creation, which was thenceforth to occupy the attention of many exegetes. Like other Alexandrians Origen had tried to take account of the science of his day. It is noteworthy that Origen was born in Alexandria while perhaps the great astronomer, Claudius Ptolemy was still living, and that he taught in a school, that was guided by the thought of Ptolemy.
Other Alexandrians worthy of mention include:
- St. Athanasius (d. 373 AD), who held that all species had been created together and by the same command, and;
- St. Cyril (d. 444 AD) who, while sympathetic to the methods of the Alexandrian school, was somewhat more reserved in his conclusions.
- The Arabo-Persians and Maimonides
For the Moslem Persians however, and for other eastern thinkers during the Middle Ages, the general tendency was to accept the view that God created the universe during six real days:
- Al-Biruni, an Arabian scholar of the C11th AD, tells us that: “On the sixth day of Farwardin, the day of Khurdadh, is the great Nauroz, for the Persians a feast of great importance. On this day – they say – God finished the Creation, for it is the last of the six days …”.
- Moses Maimonides (d. 1204), the renowned Jewish scholar, held that the world was not eternal, that it was created by God from nothing, and in time, but that one could not proves these conclusions by reason and must accept them on faith.
AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO
St. Augustine, as we have noted above, had initially come under the influence of Plato, especially in his Timæus. Indeed, the fortuitous but seemingly evident agreement of the Timæus with some aspects of Genesis had led many of the early Christian scholars to accept a Platonist cosmology. Augustine was by far the most important of the Latin Fathers for his influence upon medieval exegesis. His explanation of the “Six Days” transcends that of every other one of the early Fathers, and had a profound influence upon the mode of interpretation. For Augustine produced a new mode of symbolic interpretation that opened up vast possibilities for future commentators to grasp the real import and significance of the Hexaëmeron.
So extensive were the Saint’s writings on the Creation account that it is difficult to summarise them. Augustine’s genius and originality were so striking that one would be ill-advised to locate him in any particular school.
“In the Beginning”
“In the Beginning” meant, according to St. Augustine, that the world could not have existed from eternity, but instead that time had a beginning. “Beyond all doubt the world was not made in time, but with time …”, he insisted. And again: “God, therefore, in His unchangeable eternity created simultaneously all things whence times were to flow …”.
“Heaven and earth”
“Heaven and earth” for Augustine included all creatures, both spiritual – indicated by the word, “heaven” – and corporeal – indicated by the word, “earth”. The creation of both is placed at the very outset. Thus St. Augustine made use of the Alexandrian notion of simultaneous creation: that, from the very first instant, everything was created.
Originally, in 398 AD, St. Augustine had accepted that the “Six Days” were real, twenty-four hour days. And rightly so, I believe (see Conclusion). But, as he developed his Theology, of the Hexaëmeron, he was no longer able to accommodate such a theory. There is no place in Augustine’s later accounts for productions that are completely new. This explains why the remainder of the verses in Genesis 1 (that is, from verse 2 onwards) do not refer to real days, or to successive intervals of time.
According to Augustine, these must be interpreted in a more subtle way.
The most original and outstanding interpretation to which Augustine turned – and this in an adapted way will be crucial for this article in general – is that in which the “Six Days” signify series of illuminations, by which God successively acquainted the angels with works that he had accomplished in one instant.
St. Albert the Great (d. 1280) on Augustine
St Albertus ‘Magnus’ attributed the teaching of simultaneous creation to Augustine, and that of successive production through the “Six Days” to the greater number of the Fathers (Gregory, Jerome, Basil, Ambrose, Denis, John Damascene, Alcuin and Strabo). His conclusion, however, is that: “Nothing appears to me to be more true than what St. Augustine says”. Again, in his Summa Theologica St. Albert, while declaring that both views are surely sound, indicates his preference for Augustine’s explanation by saying that:
The creative Word of God could not be other than instantaneous, but the revelation of that instantaneous work could only be made according to a temporal succession.
St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) on Augustine
As far back as the thirteenth century, Aquinas had pointed to the problems that the notion of creation that followed the pattern of six twenty-four hour days would cause to critical minds. If, he said, the opinion regarding successive creation is “more common, and seems superficially to be more in accord with the letter”, that of St. Augustine is “more conformed to reason and better adapted to preserve Sacred Scripture from the mockery of the infidels”; a point that Augustine himself had made.
St. Thomas appears to have favoured a simultaneous creation of things. Creation, he wrote, is the production of anything in the totality of its substance, presupposing nothing that is either uncreated or created by another. Whence it follows that no-one is capable of creating except God alone, who is the First Cause. Therefore, to show that all bodies were created immediately by God Moses said; “In the beginning God created heaven and earth”.
What essentially we take from the above is:
- Augustine’s early view that the “Six Days” were in fact real, 24-hour days, coupled with
- his major, later insight – appreciated by other great minds – that the duration of “Six Days” is not about the time taken for the act of creation, but refers to a period during which the creation was revealed to the creature.
Now such a view is perfectly compatible with what we read in our “Introductory” part about the Babylonian legend: namely, that Oannes revealed to the first man, Alorus, during a period of six real days, all that had been created. The fact that a summary of this ancient account of creation traditionally came to be written on a series of tablets will be discussed in the following chapters.
“Six Days” Account in Exodus 20
“… a simple but serious misinterpretation” of these verses has led to an assumption that both the first narrative of Genesis, and that of exodus 20, “… were intended to teach that God created the heavens and the earth and all plant, marine and animal life, as well as man, in six ‘days’ of some sort”. Because of this “false assumption”, some reject the ‘days’ of whatever length, and the narrative.
- J. Wiseman.
Commentators, seeking a key to unlock the meaning of the “Six Days”, could not have done better – according to Wiseman – than to turn to the account of the “Six Days” as given in Exodus 20:8-11. For, whilst Scripture often mentions the “Six Days”, it is significant noted Wiseman that “… the only references elsewhere to the six days of work and one of “rest” in connection with the narrative of Creation” are attached to the Commandment cited in this passage of Exodus: “Remember the Sabbath day …”.
In no other connection in the Bible are the “Six Days” mentioned.
The Sabbath Commandment requires that mankind should work for six days and rest on the seventh, because God did something for six days and ceased doing it on the seventh. It is very necessary, therefore, that we determine what God did on the six days and why He ceased on the seventh day.
In chapter 20 of the book of Exodus (8-11) we read:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, six days you shall labour, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the lord your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates;
followed immediately by the reference to Genesis 1:
… for in six days the Lord made the heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
Certainly, the impression conveyed by this passage of the six days of work and the one day of rest of the Israelites is one of ordinary days. Why then, asked Wiseman, is it that no system of interpretation reads consistently both the six days and the seventh day – that is both the whole of the first narrative of Genesis 1 and the whole of Exodus 20 (8-11)?
In answer to his own question Wiseman explained that “… a simple but serious misinterpretation” of these verses has led to an assumption that both the first narrative of Genesis, and that of exodus 20, “… were intended to teach that God created the heavens and the earth and all plant, marine and animal life, as well as man, in six ‘days’ of some sort”. Because of this “false assumption”, he said, some reject the ‘days’ of whatever length, and the narrative.
Others, as we know, deny either the literalness of the six, or else that of the seventh day; or they lengthen the sixth or the seventh day to thousands of millions of years.
Six Literal Days
None of the explanations so far given of these “days”, or of the “evenings and mornings” of Genesis 1, has been fully satisfying to critical modern minds. Could it be that over the centuries the original meaning and significance of the “Six Days” had become somewhat obscured? Was archaeology necessary to provide certain pieces for fitting together again what had become an enigmatic puzzle? Indeed Wiseman believed so, and he fully utilized the opportunity provided by this new science. Thus he thought himself able to solve the mystery of the “Six Days”, because – as he said – “… the statements made in the narrative are accepted in their natural ancient sense and setting”.
If these working days of Exodus 20 were immensely protracted periods – as had been maintained by the uniformitarian scholar, Sir William Dawson, and by other proponents of the “Geological Age Theory” – how long a period was to be assigned to the “seventh day” that God sanctified?
No one doubts that the six days of work and the seventh day of rest of Exodus 20 were just ordinary days.
- Why then should it be assumed that the seventh day is used for a period amounting to thousands of years?
- And in what sense is the present age, that has continued since creation, hallowed or sanctified?
- And can we say that God rested from creation ever since?
The great Jewish scholar and Talmudist, Louis Ginzberg, had pointed out two lines of argument frequently used by those who ascribe to the word “day” in Genesis an unlimited duration. They say:
- That the word “day” is not to be taken here in its literal meaning is evident from chapter 2:4 (of Genesis), “for the portion of time spoken of in the first chapter of Genesis as six days is spoken of in the second chapter as one day”. …But the word used in the hexaemeron is the simple noun, whereas in chapter 2:4 it is a compound of ‘the day of’ with the preposition ‘in’, which, according to the genius of the Hebrew language, makes it an adverb, and must be translated, when, at the time, after”.
The second argument they use is in reference to one of the psalms. They say:
- That the Psalm of Moses, 90:4, is decisive for the spiritual meaning. But the reference to the Psalm is inapposite; for the matter here in question is not how God regards the days of creation, but how man ought to regard them.
But, above all, the greatest defect of this theory – according to Wiseman – is that it does not deal with the six “evenings and mornings”; it either completely ignores them, or it fails to make any reasonable interpretation of them.
- Was each of them an indefinitely long night in which there was no light, for instance?
- Or, was the geological night as long – or almost as long – as was the geological ‘day’?
The words “evening and morning” seemed very unnatural, he thought, to describe such a geological night. These, and other similar questions, demanded an explanation from the “Geological Age” theorists.
By the time of the historical Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, the Sabbath had apparently lost much of its proper significance for them; for on Mount Sinai God called upon the Israelites to; “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”. The Egyptians, unlike e.g. the early Babylonians (perhaps), appear not to have observed a seventh day’s rest. And so the Israelites, who had long been enslaved in Egypt, would not have been permitted to take this traditional rest. The people were reminded, too, that in six days the Lord ‘made’ heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.
A Closer Look at the Key Hebrew Words
It is crucial here for the reader to grasp the meaning and significance of certain key words used in the above Commandment (based on Wiseman’s explanation).
Firstly, the word translated as “rested” (vayyishevot) in Genesis 2:2 simply means “ceased” or “desisted”. It does not necessarily mean the rest of relaxation: “for this, quite a different Hebrew word is used”.
The Hebrew word, melacha, is translated as “work”.
It expressly refers to ordinary work or business: in other words, “it simply means occupation. The idea of creation is not in any way inherent in it”.
The Hebrew word, ‘asah (or yasah)
Most necessary of all for a proper grasp of Wiseman’ss thesis is a clear understanding of the correct interpretation and significance of the Hebrew word, ‘asah (or yasah), which is crucial to unraveling the mystery of the first narrative of genesis. Wiseman, in fact, devoted several pages to explaining the significance of ‘asah; for he was convinced that:
… the precise meaning of this word [which commentators translate as “made”] must be understood, because the meaning of the passage which has caused so much difficulty is dependent upon the sense in which it is used in this verse” (i.e. verse 11 of Exodus 20).
This ‘asah is a very common Hebrew word which is used over 2500 times in the Old Testament. Though normally it is translated as “do” or “did”, it is important to realise that the word itself does not in any way explain what the person “did” or what was “done”. Dr. Young was quite right in saying that the original word “has great latitude of meaning and application”. Its presence indicates that some action has gone on. However, the specific type of action can be determined only by the context within which this particular verb occurs. Brown, Driver and Briggs, for instance, assign the following meanings to ‘asah:
Whilst, in other instances, it is translated as TRIM (a beard) or PREPARE.
Yet, despite the fact that the word ‘asah has such a wide application, there has been a tendency to elevate its meaning here in Exodus 20 to the equivalent of the word bara, “created”. According to Wiseman, “it necessarily means no such thing”, but simply says that God did something. And what God did on the “Six Days” can only be discovered by the context in which the word appears”.
The Root of the Problem
What ought especially to be noted is that the Hebrew word for “create” is not ‘asah, but bara. Now one thing is quite clear, said Wiseman, and that is that Exodus 20 “does not use the word ‘bara’ or create, or say that God created the heavens and the earth in six days”.
The use of the word ‘asah in the immediate context of Exodus 20 is illuminating:
Verse 9: Six days shalt thou [‘asah] all thy work.
Verse 10: In it thou shalt not [‘asah] any work.
Verse 11: For in six days the Lord [‘asah] the heaven and the earth.
It is customary for the word ‘asah in the first two verses (9 & 10) to be translated as “do”. In the crucial verse 11 the word is translated as “made”, and there is no problem with any of this.
If only the translators had had the insight to compare these verses of Exodus 20 with the first narrative of Genesis, and had asked themselves what exactly God was doing, or making [‘asah], during the “Six Days”! If only they had translated the word ‘asah in verse 11 as ‘make’, instead of ‘create’, then the difficulties that we have experienced might possibly not have arisen! We should then have asked what the Lord did/made for the “Six Days” and why He rested on the seventh day, instead of it being assumed incorrectly that during the six days God was creating the earth.
We know from Sacred Scripture that God walked with Adam and Eve in Paradise in the cool of the evening. What better chance than this was there then for God to speak about the details contained in the single act of creation! There He explained to them about what He had done. Just as Our Blessed Lord would explain the salvific things that he had done whilst walking with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus after he had re-created man in His own image and likeness (Luke 24:25-32). So God explained to Adam and Eve about cattle, and fish, and plants and trees, and sun and moon. And how they themselves had been formed from dust in special creation. And thus it came about that the marvellous tableaux were shown to our first parents in their state of original innocence, breaking down for them what was contained in the single act of God’s creation.
Or viewed somewhat differently – and as we shall discuss in more detail further on – God wrote down (or had caused to be written down) on tablets, as in a book, all the marvellous details of what was contained in the single act of creation, and thus arranged the book in order. Just as many centuries later He would have written on tablets all that Moses had been instructed to tell the sons of Israel. And when He had finished speaking and writing, detailing and arranging ‘the first library’, God ‘rested’ on the seventh day; not for Himself, but for us.
Yes, the human race had a lot to learn after it had been created …! Just as it had a lot to learn after it had been re-created.
“The Sabbath was made for man”
“Christ’s own attitude to the Sabbath is illuminating, for everything that He said about it was to the effect that should there be anything in keeping the sabbath day inconsistent with man’s true welfare in relation to the Creator, he was prepared in that respect to have it broken”.
- J. Wiseman.
What did God do on those “Six Days”, according to Scripture, and why did He cease on the seventh?
Scripture provides a direct answer to the second part of this question, by declaring that “the sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27).
From this, Wiseman concluded that the seventh day was originally introduced by God “in order that Man could rest for a day and not in order that GOD could rest for a day”. Christ’s own attitude to the Sabbath is illuminating, for everything that He said about it was to the effect that should there be anything in keeping the sabbath day inconsistent with man’s true welfare in relation to the Creator, he was prepared in that respect to have it broken. As Bengel said: “The origin and end of things must be kept in view; the blessing of the sabbath in Genesis 2:3 has regard to man”.
This answer, that God ceased for man’s sake (preferable, I think, to St. Augustine’s view that the “Six Days” constituted God’s revelation to the angels) in order that man might rest, is of assistance also in answering the first part of the question: What did God do on the “Six Days”?
As the seventh was assuredly introduces for man’s benefit, Wiseman thought it:
… only reasonable to suppose that what was done on the six days also had to do with man; and if with man, then obviously on the six days God was not creating the earth and life, because man was not in the world when these were being created.
If only, he went on to say, commentators had paused to ask themselves the further obvious question: Why were the six “evenings and mornings” introduced – for God’s sake or for man’s?, then they would quickly have drawn the right conclusion.
Instead, we have been presented with the ridiculous image of the Creator quitting His work of creating the world as the evening drew on, and re-commencing where He left off as the morning light appeared. “Is it legitimate”, asked Wiseman, “to think of God, when creating, being unable to continue because of the turning of the earth on its axis, or by its movements in relation to the sun?”
So far Wiseman considered himself to have determined that God was not creating the universe during the “Six Days”, but was instead doing something after man had already been created, and in which man was concerned. The scriptural record, he said, gives a very simple answer to the question of what God was doing in the presence of man for “six days”. God was saying something about creation. Each of the “Six Days” commences with “God said”.
Here, claimed Wiseman, was a record “of what God said to man”, as stated in verse 28: “And God said unto them”. [Obviously Wiseman intended “man” to be understood here in the generic sense, because it is apparent from the fact that God “said unto them” that woman also had been created by this time].
It is especially interesting that the Hebrew verb (vayyomer) is used in the present tense, which Wiseman translated as “God saith”. His conclusion based on the tense of this verb was that here we have “not only a statement of a command given by God in the past; it is more. It is a record of what he said to man about creation”.
Certain commentators have made heavy weather of trying to explain this verse, however. Professor Skinner, for instance, remarked that: “The occurrence of the “so” before the execution of the fiat produces a redundancy which may be concealed but it is not removed by substituting “so” for “and” in the interpretation”.
But for Wiseman it was simply “… an account of what ‘God said’ about the things God made. In other words, it is His revelation to man about His creative acts which were already completed”. Consequently this narrative is a series of statements to man about what God had done in the ages past. “It is a record of the six days occupied by God in revealing to man the story of Creation”. Scripture records what God said on the first day about the separation of light from darkness, then came the evening and the morning. The second day God said how He had made the atmosphere with its waters below and above it, and on the third day how He had caused the waters to recede so that dry land appeared. It is a narrative of what ‘God said’ to man. “There is no suggestion that the acts … of God had occupied those six days”, Wiseman maintained.
The Giving of Names
Another significant thing should be noticed. At the time when ‘God said’ to man about creation, He gave names to the things about which He spoke.
Why was this?
On the first day, for instance, he called the light day and the darkness night; on the second day, when telling about the firmament, he called it heaven, and then we read that on the third day “God called the dry land earth and the gathering of the waters He called seas” (1:10). Now, if at this stage God had not yet created man – as the proponents of a creation during six days would insist must have been the case – then was he merely talking to Himself when giving these names?
From Wiseman’s sensible interpretation we can conclude with confidence that God would have had a human audience at this stage, a ‘day-time class’, so to speak.
A name to identify a thing is not necessary to God, but it is necessary for man.
The supposition that God gave names to things, before man had been created, has been according to Wiseman “a great perplexity to all commentators. When we see that the names were given for man’s sake still another difficulty which has embarrassed many commentators disappears”.
During the daylight hours of the six successive days – each divided by an “evening” and a “morning”, when man rested – God revealed to him something new about creation; and during the first three days gave to him the names of the things He had revealed.
When at the end of the “Six Days” God finished talking with man, he instituted the seventh day as a rest day for man’s sake. It was this very tradition that the Israelites were being called upon to “remember” at Mount Sinai.
As Dillman noted: “God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, that is not later on, but just then on the seventh day”.
In the second narrative of Genesis [which according to Wiseman’s compelling explanation of the structure of the book of Genesis cannot really be described as a second account of Creation, but should be seen as Adam’s family history], we read that God talked with man, instructed Him in language, taught him to give names to things, and how to choose between good and evil.
Book of Creation
We must remember that the majority of ancient peoples generally wrote on stone or clay tablets, which necessitated the use of certain distinctive literary techniques.
One sometimes hears it said that the only reasonable way to read the Bible is to read it in the same way as we do an ordinary book; meaning that any book ought to be read in the light of the times and circumstances in which it was written. But in the case of the most ancient document that we call ‘Genesis’, to do this has not really been possible until the last century and a half, when excavation and decipherment of ancient writing had begun. Modern archaeology is what has enabled scholars to become acquainted with the literary methods prevailing throughout Mesopotamia in early times. Consequently, it has become possible only with archaeology’s advent to compare the literary construction of, say, the first Genesis narrative with other ancient methods of writing.
Despite this wonderful assistance from archaeology, however, many still choose to read Genesis 1:1-2:4, not as ancient, but as though it has been written in relatively modern times. We must remember that the majority of ancient peoples generally wrote on stone or clay tablets, which necessitated the use of certain distinctive literary techniques. For instance, the size of the tablet used depended upon the quantity of writing to be inscribed on it. If the amount of writing was only small, it could be placed comfortably on one tablet. When, however, the quantity to be inscribed was of such length that it became necessary to use more than one tablet it was customary, Wiseman explained::
(1) To assign to each series of tablets a title.
(2) To use catch-lines, so as to ensure that the tablets were read in their proper order.
(3) To add a colophon.
I have considered the significance of these literary techniques, especially the repetitious colophon, “These are the generations of …”, which seems to be the master-key to the structure of Genesis.
The presence of ancient literary techniques and scribal methods throughout the entire Genesis text had been clear confirmation to Wiseman of the great antiquity of that book, and the purity with which the text had been transmitted down through the centuries.
Yet another structural feature is clearly evident in the first narrative of Genesis. It is the use of parallelism. Anyone who reads attentively the narrative of the “Six Days” will soon begin to realise that there is something striking about its framework. Not only is it divided into six sections by the use of the words “and there was evening and there was morning”, but – as Wiseman has noted – “the sections are numbered serially from one to six”.
The whole record is fitted into a unique framework composed of words and phrases that are repeated six or more times.
If this framework is examined carefully, it will be seen that the “Six Days” fall into “two clearly parallel parts”. The events recorded in the last three days are parallel with those of the first three.
- Light 4. Lights
Separating the light from the darkness, (Sun Moon & Stars)
effecting day and night. to divide the day from the
night and for season and for days and years.
- Water and atmosphere 5. Water and atmosphere
Atmosphere separating the waters Life in the water (fish).
below from those above. Life in the atmosphere (birds).
- Land and green vegetation 6. Land and green vegetation, man
(a) Land. (a) Land animals, man.
(b) Green vegetation and trees. (b) Green vegetation and trees assigned
to animals and man.
This peculiar use of a parallelistic structure is a further indication that the first narrative of Genesis was written originally on a series of six tablets.
Wiseman explained this parallelistic framework as being “a feature frequent in the Old Testament of a balanced symmetry due to a repetition of thought expressed in almost synonymous words”.
Those best acquainted with ancient Hebrew literary methods would readily recognise this parallelistic structure as such.
The whole key to this arrangement may be seen in the words, “without form and void” (1:2). In the first three days we are told of the formation of the heavens and earth, and on the second three days of the furnishing of the void. “The formlessness takes shape or form in the narration of the first three days and the void becomes occupied and inhabited in the second three days’ narrative”.
Genesis 1:1-2:4 is in its entirely fitted into a unique framework composed of words and phrases that are repeated six or more times:
Verse Day One
- God said let … and … was.
- saw … that it was good,
- And there was evening and there was morning day one.
- God said let ….
- made ….
divided … and it was so.
- called ….
saw that it was good [LXX Version].
and there was evening and there was morning day second.
- God said let … and it was so.
- called ….
saw that it was good.
- said let … and it was so.
- God saw that it was good.
- And there was evening and there was morning day third.
- God said let … and it was so.
- made ….
- set ….
- saw that it was good.
- And there was evening and there was morning day fourth.
- God said let … and it was so [LXX Version].
- created ….
saw that it was good ….
- blessed ….
- And there was evening and there was morning day fifth.
- God said let … and it was so.
- created ….
saw that it was good.
- said let ….
- created ….
created … created …..
28 blessed ….
- said … and it was so.
- saw that it was very good.
And there was evening and there was morning day the sixth.
Apart from the repetition of these phrases, the words used are remarkably few and simple. This is all the more surprising, Wiseman believed, seeing that this is an outline of the origin of the heavens and the earth; of vegetable, marine and animal life, and also of the instruction given by God to first man.
It will be noticed, said Wiseman, that “God said” ten times (four times on the sixth day), “in this number there is a similarity to the ‘Ten Words’ (‘Decalogue’) as the Ten Commandments are called”.
From all of this we begin to conclude with Wiseman that the first narrative of Genesis, commonly called the “Creation Account”, was inscribed originally on six tablets.
Now, this series of six tablets represented today by verses 1:1-2:4 of Genesis, consists of the following components:
(a) An introduction, or superscription, namely 1:1-1:2;
(b) The special framework of the “Six Days” narrative, namely 1:3-1:31;
(c) The colophon, namely 2:1-4.
Since we have already discussed the “Six Days” framework (a) and (b), let us go on to speak about (c), that most important colophon.
The colophon, with its important literary information, was added to the writing tablets in a very distinctive manner. According to Wiseman, the colophon often contained the following information:
(1) The title or designation given to the narrative.
(2) The date of writing.
(3) The serial number of the tablet, when it formed part of a series.
(4) If part of a series of tablets, a statement whether the tablet did or did not finish the series.
(5) The name of the scribe or owner.
Now, when we turn to the colophon that is attached to the first narrative series of Genesis (2:1-4), the following is what we find:
(1) The title: “the heavens and the earth”.
(2) The date: “in the day that the Lord God [‘asah] the earth and the heavens”.
(3) That it was written on a series of tablets (numbered one to six).
(4) It states after the sixth tablet that the writing was finished.
(5) The only name appearing on this colophon is the name of the Lord God.
Let us go through each of these five points in a little more detail.
- The Title given to an ancient piece of writing was normally taken from the opening words of the first tablet. In this instance the title is “the heavens and the earth”.
In other words, this most ancient of books was called, as we noted at the beginning:
[The Book] of the Heavens and the Earth.
Typically, the title catch-line is repeated in the catch-line of the colophon: “… the heavens and the earth” (2:4), with which it forms a literary link.
- The Date. The second piece of literary information referred to is that ancient colophons often included the date when the tablets were written. The date in the Genesis 2:4 colophon was written in this fashion: “when they were created in the day that the Lord God [‘asah] the heavens and the earth”. That is the real meaning of that “day”, which has caused commentators so much perplexity, since it seems to imply to them a contradiction of the “Six Days”, by stating that ‘creation’ occupied only one day. But the date does not refer to the time when the world was created – nor to the time occupied in creating it – “but, as it states [it refers to] the day when the histories or records were finished”.
- Series. Next we saw that it was often necessary for the scribe to use a series of tablets in order to write a narrative. In Babylonia it was traditional to record the account of creation on a series of tablets, and these were numbered serially at the end of each tablet. Similarly, Wiseman noted that in the Genesis account, at the end of each of the six sections of the fist narrative series, these same serial numbers ‘one’ to ‘six’ are given. The Hebrew word used here for ‘one’, he noted, indicated that it is the first of a series, “and the article is employed in connection with ‘day sixth’ to indicate the close of a series”.
- Whether ‘Finished’. In regard to the fourth piece of information given on the colophon, scribal methods have shown that when more than one tablet was necessary in order to record a narrative, it was a custom to state on the last series of tablets that the narrative was finished, and sometimes to indicate on the earlier tablets of the same series that the narrative was not finished.
A significant example of an ancient series being unfinished occurs with the fourth tablet of the celebrated series of the Babylonian account of creation (the Enuma Elish, or “When on High”), the colophon of which reads”
Tablet 4 of ‘when on high’ [title] not finished.
Unfortunately, however, in the case of the Genesis narrative, it has been assumed that the reference to “finished” was to acts or processes of creation. But, as we now know, what was finished on the sixth day was the revelation (and recording) of the acts of creation previously performed.
In the use of the Hebrew word sabh, translated “host” (2:4) – occurring immediately after the word “finished” – Wiseman discovered yet an additional indication that Genesis 1 consisted originally of a series of tablets.
We often read of the “host of heaven”, he said, “but never of the host of the ‘heaven and earth’ or the host of earth”. Nor is the word sabh ever used of plant or animal life, or of the other created things mentioned in the first narrative of Genesis. Significantly, as Wiseman thought, sabh or “host” cannot therefore be (as is often supposed) a summary of the creation of all things, for life and humankind are not mentioned. Rather, he said, this Hebrew word translated as “host” conveys the idea of an orderly “arrangement”, or orderly collection of things, and the Greek words used in the Septuagint translation mean “to order”, or “arrange”. It is appropriate, Wiseman claimed, “to an ordered arrangement or series of tablets one to six”.
Wiseman thus gave, as his version of the overall meaning of the crucial verse (2:1) in the first colophon of Genesis:
And were finished (indicating the finish of a series of tablets) ‘the heaven and the earth’ (the title given to the “book” of six tablets) and all their arranged order.
But perhaps the strongest verification of all for the accuracy of Wiseman’s thesis, that here in Genesis 1:1-2:4 we have before us a tablet-series account describing creation, is the plain statement from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament itself:
God made this the written account (or book) of the origin of the heavens and the earth.
IT COULD HARDLY BE PUT MORE CLEARLY THAN THAT!
The failure by scholars to realize that the first narrative of Genesis is a history or account of creation, as the Septuagint so plainly states, and written in accordance with ancient literary usages, has made this colophon ending to the account of the “Six Days” more than difficult for them to explain.
Thus Professor Skinner wrote that: “This half verse is in the last degree perplexing”.
But any perplexity vanishes completely in the light of the literary methods used in early times. No longer, according to Wiseman, was there any “need of this perplexity as to the ‘descendants’ of the heavens and the earth”, for – given its proper significance of “histories” or “written account” or “book of the heavens and the earth” – its meaning is plain.
- Author. There remains the fifth and the last of the pieces of literary information usually given in the colophon – that of the name of the author or writer. Here, in the first colophon of the Genesis text, the only name mentioned is that of the Lord God. “Was there a similarity of circumstances in the revelation of the ‘Ten Words’ (‘Decalogue’) at Sinai, and the ten times repeated ‘God said’, mused Wiseman?
Duration of Creation
Throughout the entire narrative of the “Six Days” there certainly does not appear to be anything to indicate duration in regard to God’s act of creation. All we are told is that: “In the beginning God created [bara] the heavens and the earth” (1:1). Despite this, however, it is on this very point of duration that a great deal of controversy between the various schools of thought has focussed. Today we have the situation where the literalists turn to the first narrative of Genesis to support their belief in a creation lasting for six literal days; whilst the metaphorists scoff at the very idea that the “Six Days” of Genesis could have any sort of real literal meaning and significance.
With Wiseman I maintain, however, that – in relation to the “Six Days” narrative at least – this debate should bever have arisen!
The duration of creation is not an issue with respect to the “Six Days”!
Now that Wiseman has, as I believe, provided the key to the real meaning of the first narrative of Genesis, scientists of whatever persuasion ought to feel free to debate the issue of the age of the universe on scientific grounds alone.
Theologians now no longer have to be side-tracked from their pursuit of higher truths by misleading interpretations of the first narrative of Genesis.
No longer ought there to be any need as well for those interminable discussions by the literalists, on the one hand, seeking to defend the view that there could still be days with their evenings and mornings – and created light, too – before the heavenly bodies had begun to exist; or, on the other hand, the endless attempts by their opponents to ‘show’ how each of the “Six Days” can represent a specific Geological Age.
Whether Creation was gradual, or instantaneous – a question not central to this present article – the revelation and recording of that creative work could be made only according to a temporal succession, as St. Augustine had perceived. And this temporal succession of revelation to man lasted apparently for the duration of the six days that God was making the written history.
Need for a Metaphysical Overview
For as St. Augustine observes, ‘Beyond all doubt the world was not made in time, but with time’. The point is that time belongs to the created order and does not extend beyond the world. And so the primary creative act cannot take place in time.
Limitations of Empirical Science
According to the explanation of the Hexaëmeron as provided in this series, there is no need for the literalists and the metaphorists to be squabbling any longer over a presumed creation lasting for “Six Days”, because the Bible nowhere states that God created the universe during six days.
It was further noted that the door is still wide open for the scientists to debate scientific matters pertaining to Genesis – for example, the age of the universe – as long as they stick to the empirical facts, which is the proper realm of the physical sciences anyway.
Now, in this chapter, the Hexaëmeron will be considered entirely from a philosophical point of view. The purpose of this extra section will be to show the need for genuine metaphysics, to complete the explanation of Genesis 1.
In this section I shall be heavily reliant upon Professor Wolfgang Smith’s excellent book, Teilhardism and the New Religion. I take up Smith’s commentary where he discusses –in relation to Teilhard de Chardin’s version of evolution – the limits of empirical science:
… even if evolution could indeed be substantiated as a scientific theory, this still would not provide a sufficient basis upon which to challenge the traditional … doctrine of creation, let alone found a new theology. And the reasons for this insufficiency, clearly, lies in the fact that as a scientific theory the doctrine is strictly confined to the realm of phenomena: it then speaks only of things that can in some sense be empirically observed, and only insofar as they can be observed. But this obviously excludes from consideration not only God, but His creative act. Even Teilhard admits … that ‘where God is operating it is always possible for us (by remaining at a certain level) to see only the work of Nature’, and that ‘we shall never escape scientifically from the circle of natural explanations’.
Smith them proceeds to ask the relevant question:
If science is unable to penetrate beyond the level of phenomena to behold the secret working of God, how can it enlighten us on the subject? At best it can say that the phenomena do not suffice, that the pieces do not fit together into a coherent whole, and that consequently (on the strength of a certain categorical imperative) there must be something beyond the total phenomenon: a factor X, which by virtue of its transcendence remains forever unknown and unknowable. This, quite clearly, is as far as science can ever go in the direction of Theology; and one might add that today the physical sciences, at least, are already approaching that limit.
[Here Smith refers to the anthropic principle, which he considers to be “a case in point” from physical science].
I move on now to mid-way through Smith’s account of the worth of Teilhard’s view that “God cannot create except evolutively”. This section is further relevant to this article on the “Six Days”, because it quotes from St. Augustine those same two gems of his about time that were also used above:
But there is another (and far more serious) difficulty with the idea that God creates by way of evolution. For as St. Augustine observes, ‘Beyond all doubt the world was not made in time, but with time’. The point is that time belongs to the created order and does not extend beyond the world. And so the primary creative act cannot take place in time.
Evolution, on the other hand – presuming it were a fact – would naturally take place in time, says Smith. Evolution therefore could not be the primary creative act. In the words of St. Augustine: “Let them see that without the creature there cannot be time, and leave off talking nonsense”.
Let us try to understand this more clearly.
First of all there is the question: How did the world begin? The answer to this quite obviously could not be that it began with evolution. Now it appears that Teilhard de Chardin is intent upon obviating this question entirely by insisting that the world did not begin at all. “The universe is no longer endless in space alone”, he tells us. “In all its strands, it now unfolds interminably into the past, governed by a constantly active cosmogenesis”.
[Smith however, by way of answering Teilhard’s claim, points to the “latest findings of astrophysics” which, he says, directly contradict Teilhard’s belief “that the cosmos is constantly generating itself, and that this process of autogenesis extends ‘interminably into the past’.”.].
And if it be admitted that the world was created by God, says Smith, “then the fact of finite duration is alone sufficient to rule out Teilhard’s contention that ‘God cannot create except evolutively’.”
But perhaps when it comes to the later stages of creation, the idea of ‘creation by evolution’ may yet be vindicated?
To this, Smith answers:
… here another difficulty presents itself: there are in reality no ‘later stages of creation’. To quote St. Augustine once more: ‘God, therefore, in His unchangeable eternity created simultaneously all things whence times were to flow …’. The point is that the creative act, by virtue of being atemporal, does not break up into earlier and later phases. The idea of ‘before’ and ‘after’ do of course apply to the effects of this act, but not to the act itself. Multiple in its effects, and absolutely simple in its own right that is the point.
The “Six Days”
According to Smith, the act of creation may thus be viewed from two directions, as it were: from the side of the cosmos, and sub specie aeternitatis, as the Scholastics would say. This leads him to give his own, metaphorical explanation of the Hexaëmeron:
According to the first point of view, things are created in temporal sequence: first one thing, then another, and so forth. Let us observe, moreover, that this corresponds to the perspective of the first chapter of Genesis, the perspective of the hexaemeron or the ‘six days’. But let us not fail to observe, too, that in the second chapter one encounters an entirely different outlook: ‘These are the generations of the heaven and the earth, when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the heaven and the earth, and every plant of the field before it sprung up in the earth, and every herb on the ground before it grew’ (Gen. 2:4-5). Now this corresponds to the second point of view. From ‘the standpoint of eternity’ there are no longer six days, but only one. On its own ground, so to speak, the work of creation is accomplished in one absolutely simple and indivisible act. As we read in Ecclesiasticus: ‘Qui vivit in aeternum creavit omnia simul’ (‘He that liveth in eternity created all things at once’) (Ecclus. 18:1).
It is worth pointing out that this perennial teaching comes to us from a double source: it derives on the one hand from the Judeo-Christian Revelation, and also from the metaphysical traditions of mankind. For as St. Augustine has observed, the metaphysical recognition that ‘the world was not made in time, but with time’, entails the scriptural ‘omnia simul’ as a logical consequence: ‘God, therefore, in His unchangeable eternity created simultaneously all things whence times flow …’.
They were not made in temporal succession, because they were not made in time.
That is not to say that created things do not come to birth in time. To be sure, they enter the world, as it were, at some particular moment:
Each creature, in its cosmic manifestation, is thus associated with its own spatio-temporal locus: it fits somewhere into the universal network of secondary causes. But yet it is not created by these causes, nor is its being confined to that spatio-temporal locus: its roots extend beyond the cosmos into the timeless instant of the creative act. That is the veritable ‘beginning’ to which Genesis alludes when it declares: ‘In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram’.
‘… the day that the Lord God made the heaven and the earth, and every plant of the field before it sprang up in the earth, and every herb in the ground before it grew’.
Let there be no doubt about it: the creature is more – incomparably more! – than its visible manifestation. It does not coincide with the phenomenon. Even the tiniest plant that blooms for a fortnight and then is seen no more is vaster in its metaphysical roots than the entire cosmos in its visible form: for these roots extend into eternity. And how much more does this apply to man! ‘Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee’ (Jeremiah 1:5).
Here then, in the scriptural and metaphysical teaching of the ‘omnia simul’, Smith believes, “we have the definitive answer to evolutionism”. With the adoption of an authentically metaphysical standpoint, the seemingly interminable debate between the evolutionists and the so-called creationists has at last been put into perspective.
Smith has indeed managed to show, on the metaphysical level, what Wiseman had been able to show, on the empirical (archaeological) level, that the protagonists on either side of the debate have been somewhat ‘out of focus’ in their reasonings.
… it now becomes clear that both sides are in fact looking at half the picture: the outer or phenomenal half, one could say, forgetting that things have also an inner dimension, an essential core which transcends the plane of the phenomenon. From this truncated point of view, moreover, the riddle of origins becomes truly insoluble – for the simple reason that things ultimately derive, nor from the phenomenal plane, but from the side of transcendence. Likewise, they grow and unfold their potential from inside out: the essential, in other words, has primacy over the phenomenal, whatever the empiricists might think.
Metaphysics, therefore, is neither a luxury nor an idle speculation; it is there to complete the picture, and is needed if ever we are to make sense out of first origins or final ends.
One might add that its neglect in modern times is both a symptom and cause of our contemporary intellectual predicament. [Emphasis added].
Getting back to Genesis 2:5, it needs to be pointed out in this connection that the terms ‘every plant’ and ‘every herb’ admit of a symbolic interpretation that is metaphysically illuminating.
For, in marked contrast to animals, a plant exists, as it were, in two domains: above ground, namely, and beneath the earth. Now the former is evidently suggestive of the phenomenal sphere, the domain of visible manifestation; whereas the latter can be taken to refer to a transcendent realm of causes, an invisible domain wherein the seeds of living beings are to be found, and where also they incubate and begin to sprout. One thus obtains what might be termed an ‘icon’ of the perennial ontology: through the figure of a natural symbolism, Genesis 2:5 is actually speaking of profound meta-physical truths.
One should add that under this interpretation the ‘seeds’ correspond precisely to the rationes seminales of patristic doctrine: they constitute the essential reality of the creature, one could say, as it emerges directly from the primitive creative act:
To be sure, these are not physical seeds, not physical entities, in fact: they are situated ‘below ground’, after all, which is to say that they belong to a prior ontological plane. One must remember, moreover, that whereas the physical or corporeal domain is subject to the spatio-temporal condition, ‘below ground’ one can speak neither of spatial separation nor of temporal sequence in a literal sense. Here we encounter the truly primordial realm – the corona of God’s Act – where everything is still concentrated at a single point, or ‘fused’ without confusion’ as Meister Eckhart says.
Such, in brief, is the metaphysical panorama revealed to us – as in a flash – by Genesis 2:5. It is disastrous, Smith insists, for ‘theistic’ evolutionary theory (especially as espoused by Teilhard de Chardin).
And it happens that this picture is not propitious to the evolutionist. Indeed, the doctrine of evolution may henceforth be likened to a botany which supposes that plants originate abruptly at the level of the ground – as if they had neither seeds nor roots!
With or without God – if one may put it thus – what has been excluded from the evolutionists purview is nothing less than the essential thing, the ‘core of reality’, of which the visible phenomenon is merely the outward manifestation:
Furthermore, inasmuch as this essential core – the ‘ratio seminalis’ – is not subject to terrestrial time (being situated ‘below ground’ as we have said), there can be no question of evolution in this domain: the ‘ratio seminalis’ of a simian, for instance, can by no means be ‘hominized’. And finally, how can temporality be predicated of the creative act itself (as demanded by the phrase ‘God creates evolutively’)? As St. Augustine has admirably put it, ‘Let them see that without the creature there cannot be time, and leave off talking nonsense’.
“After talking with some friends on this explosive piece of exegesis, we are
wondering why it has not been disclosed more broadly”.
In 2008, a French correspondent expressed his delight upon his discovering what was the original version of my “Book of Origins” (his e-mail letter of 28 September): “I want to thank you very much for your article on the six days and the reproduction of Wiseman’s book. …. We are in a new paradigm! …”.
This was a reference to P. J. Wiseman’s book, Creation Revealed in Six Days (Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1948).
The same correspondent, upon further reflection along with his colleagues, wrote a second e-mail, now expressing his complete bewilderment at the fact that Wiseman’s “explosive piece of exegesis”, as he called it, has by no means received the publicity that it deserves; and, in regard to this, the correspondent went on to ask some intriguing questions (his e-mail of 30 September):
After talking with some friends on this explosive piece of exegesis, we are wondering why it has not been disclosed more broadly. After all it goes back to the pre-WW2! Are you aware of any recension in the specialized literature (exegesis journals or reviews)? We know very well that when some thesis is disturbing, the best way to deal with it is … to ignore it! Has any one, to your knowledge, tried to “answer” Wiseman’s arguments? We are all well aware of the mysterium iniquitatis, but even it has limits! How yourself did you come across Wiseman’s works?? Creation revealed in six days had 3 printings over 10 years and no one has ever published a commentary, favorable or not, on this remarkable piece of exegesis?? We can hardly believe that in Rome it went unnoticed! Even though your Jesuit friend, Fr. Peter Little, did not seem to know anything about it! Here we face a real mystery and we will only be too happy to share your opinion about it.
Perhaps a primary reason for the mainstream rejection of Wiseman‘s Genesis hypothesis,
including his toledôt theory that the Book of Genesis comprises a series of most ancient patriarchal histories pre-dating even Moses, is the fact that it all had to compete with the entrenched JEDP theory of the Documentary Hypothesis, according to whose false tenets
‘oral tradition’ solely was used down to about 1000 BC, when writing was then thought to have begun, and hence Genesis and the rest of the Old Testament were largely very late compilations, well after Moses (who may not even have existed anyway according to the more extreme JEDP theorists).
See also my:
Preferring P. J. Wiseman to un-wise JEDP
But, whereas the archaeological data would glaringly show up the inaccuracies of the JEDP theory (despite which many still cling to it), Wiseman’s theses, which are fully compatible with the archaeological evidence (e.g. in regard to ancient scribal methods), are real and entirely satisfying.
This is borne out in a statement by another correspondent (e-mail of 1st October, 2008):
[Wiseman’s] Toledoth theory alone is groundbreaking (as well as accepted – presumably because favourable – by the six day creation folks). When I read Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis last summer what impressed itself upon me most, despite having already devoured your own material, was the incredible explanatory power of a theory so simple. It cleared up every objection in one fell swoop no matter where it was or what it was …. I simply don’t think it’s possible for such a theory to be able to do this and be wrong when you add in the fact that it was based on and inspired by archeological evidence not “reading into” the text something one wanted to see. No one would have been able to see this !!! What Wiseman has done or started here is exactly what [pope] Pius XII was after in Divino Afflante Spiritu, to become more acquainted with the ancient East’s writing methods so as to clear up the meaning and obscurities in the text and answer the objections of the rationalist critics.
Perhaps nowhere better demonstrated is this correspondent’s correct observation of the
“incredible explanatory power” of Wiseman’s “theory so simple … clear[ing] up every objection in one fell swoop no matter where it was or what it was”, than in the case of how it is able to account for both the “six days” as well as the “one day” of Genesis 2:4, that seems completely to contradict the former notion of the “six days”.
Thus (2:4): “… in the day that the LORD God made (עֲשׂוֹת) the earth and the heavens”.
Here we are being clearly told that a particular work of God was done in only one day.
No wonder that St. Augustine had, amongst his various interpretations of Genesis 1, looked for a meaning different from the general view of a work of Creation lasting for a six day period: namely, that it was a revelation of God’s creation!
And no wonder that Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas had concluded that Augustine‘s revelation theory was the interpretation to be preferred, and the one least likely to suffer ridicule!
This ‘one day’, which Wiseman has correctly recognized as an ancient form of date, concluding a tablet series, is in actual fact a ticking ‘time bomb’ just waiting to explode the whole conventional theory of six days of Creation!
So widespread has the JEDP theory been, and so strong also has been the clamour of scientists and evolutionists against the notion that the ‘Six Days’ of Genesis could possibly be a scientific view of how the universe came to be, that churchmen are no longer willing to stand confidently behind the Genesis record.
Sydney’s former Cardinal, George Pell, Australia’s then most senior Catholic cleric, writing in The Sunday Telegraph (“The sin of pride and its deadly outcomes”), had commented feebly on the Fall in Genesis: “While we’re not obliged to understand this ancient story as the literal truth, the symbolism rings true …”.
Wiseman’s account of the ‘Six Days’, which is harmonious with the aforementioned interpretation of the Hexaëmeron by St. Augustine, that the ‘Six Days’ were a revelation of a creation already effected, serves at least to take the pressure off one’s having to show how the Genesis account can be reconciled with scientific theories of origins.
One scholar who has, in the words of the French correspondent, “tried to “answer” Wiseman’s arguments”, is Dr. Charles Taylor, a linguist formerly at the University of Sydney, who has written for “Answers in Genesis”. Taylor is in fact a non-JEDP favouring ‘Creationist’, who, like many ‘Creationists’ and conservative Christians has in fact accepted Wiseman’s toledôt theory. But he also, like most of these, has correspondingly rejected P. J. Wiseman’s explanation of the ‘Six Days’. Dr. Taylor’s critique of the revelation theory of Genesis 1, his “Days of Revelation or Creation?”, does, in part, reveal a complete misunderstanding by him of some key facets of Wiseman’s thesis.
(Taylor’s complete article may be read at https://answersingenesis.org/days-of-creation/days-of-revelation-or-creation/).
Both the Fundamentalists and the scientists commit the same fatal mistake of reading Genesis 1, etc., from a modern perspective, whereas it is (a) ancient and (b) Semitic. Of course there is a huge difference between the two.
Now Dr. Scott Hahn is one who has well appreciated that ancient Near Eastern thinking was by no means like our modern western thinking. Let us dwell for a moment on some of the very perceptive comments that Hahn has made in his classic, a Father Who Keeps his Promises (Charis, 1998); an easy-to-read book that is to be strongly recommended to those who would wish to grasp a unifying overview of the Old and New Testaments.
- 21: “Our problem in the West is that we tend to reduce history to a secular chronology of politics, economics, technology and war. As a result we are preoccupied with elections, depressions, inventions and military battles. Not that these things are unimportant, it’s just that the ancient Jews discerned deeper currents of divine purpose and action in history. And tracing such currents calls for faith in God’s providential governance of nature and the events of history”.
“The modern western approach to history is antithetical to the ancient Near Eastern perspective. If the modern view is linear, progressive, optimistic and secular, the ancient outlook tended to be cyclical, regressive, pessimistic and mythical.
Meanwhile, the biblical outlook falls somewhere between both extremes …”.
- 38-39: “Did you ever find yourself in a conversation with someone who – you could just tell – didn’t really care what you thought? Perhaps you got the signal from a glance or some snap reply, but the attitude was clear, “I want your support, not your thoughts”. Or worse: “If I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you”. In any case, you’re almost made to feel like the dummy.
I suspect that if the ancient writer [sic] of Genesis were alive today, he would feel that way about modern interpreters of his work, especially the Creation account”.
“To put it bluntly, many readers are more interested in figuring out whether or not Genesis can be squared with the theory of evolution than in discovering what the author really meant to say. Our modern preoccupation with science often gets in the way of a fair reading of Genesis.
In fact, the only time Scripture even raises the question of how the world was created is in the Book of Job, where God basically says forget it (see Jb 38-41). It’s
simply too hard for us even to imagine, much less figure out for ourselves. Instead, the Creation account seems to address some other – but no less important – questions, such as what and why God created …”.
As Wiseman has clearly shown, the order of Genesis 1 pertains to the typical parallelism of ancient scribal methods when writing upon tablets, not the presumed order of things as they came into being – often estimated by moderns against the fossil record. (Though Wiseman does occasionally and unnecessarily complicate his explanation by also trying to show how it may be compatible with modern scientific views – but this does not affect his basic theses). To give one celebrated example, Light on Day One is to be juxtaposed against Sun and Moon on Day Four, according to the parallelistic structure of Genesis 1. Moderns wrongly read this as Light inexplicably occurring and hanging around days before the sources of light (Sun, Moon) were created. Rather, they should have read it, as originally intended, in a parallel fashion, as Light connected with Sun and Moon.
Sincere ‘Creationists’ pitiably try to explain how Light could scientifically be available before the birth of the Sun. Scientists just laugh. For possible further consideration: One might argue that, from Adam’s own family history account, or toledôt (i.e., Genesis 2:5-5:1), the order of things appearing on the earth was quite different from that deduced by those who read the ‘Six Days’ as being successive stages of God‘s work of Creation. Thus God formed Adam from the earth, “when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up …” (2:5).
Moreover, yet another 11 verses must pass after we have read of man’s actual formation in v. 7, before God decides that the lone Adam needs company (v. 18). Firstly, He forms land animals and birds “out of the ground” (v. 19). Then, a few verses later still (beginning with v. 21), woman is formed. This does seem to differ from the Genesis 1 order of fish and birds (v. 20), then land animals (v. 24), then man and woman (v. 27).
 See e.g. S. Burstein’s “The Babyloniaca of Berossus” in Sources for the Ancient Near East, 1, 5 (Malibu, CA 1978).
 Amongst the literalists, we find e.g. the ‘Creation Scientists’. Whilst, on the other hand, the ‘Theistic Evolutionists’ would tend to favour the metaphorical approach.
 For example the structure of the Book of Genesis.
 Clues to Creation in Genesis (Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1977). See also his Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis (Thomas Nelson, 1985).
 Creation Revealed in Six Days (Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1948).
 Especially in his De Genesi ad Litteram, IV, 26-30, 43-7.
 Creation Revealed, p. 9.
 Professor Harrison, who wrote the Preface to Wiseman’s Ancient Records, made special reference to the latter’s writings in his Introduction to the Old Testament (1969), pp. 545-553.
 In his The Oldest Science Book in the World (Assembly Press, Queensland, 1984), Dr. Taylor applauds Wiseman’s account of the structure of Genesis. It should be noted, though, that he has not accepted Wiseman’s explanation of the “Six Days”.
 Theses for the Reconstruction of Ancient History. Egypt, Israel, and the Archaeological Record (2400 BCE – 330 BCE), Society for Historical Research, 1987. Sieff was one-time editor of the UK Society for Interdisciplinary Studies’ SIS Review.
Wiseman’s son, D.J. Wiseman, has gone on to become one of the foremost Assyriologists in the world. See Introduction to the posthumous Ancient Records. D.J. Wiseman wrote: “In response to a growing number of requests, the study written by my late father, P.J. Wiseman, is presented here in a single volume. It originally appeared as New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis in 1936. Despite publication in “war economy” format and in a limited edition, new printings were immediately required. These were followed by translations into German (Die Entstehung der Genesis, Wuppertal, 1958) and into Dutch (Ontdekkingen over Genesis, Groningen 1960)”.
An article I co-wrote on Wiseman’s basic thesis about Genesis was well received in the UK and America. Mackey, D, Calneggia, F. & Money, P, “A Critical Re-Appraisal of the Book of Genesis”, e.g. SIS Review’s C&C Workshop, #’s 1&2 (UK, 1987).
 Until the dates for the life of Socrates have been settled according to the testimony of hard (primary) data, rather than mere opinion or the dubious ‘testimony’ of late sources, we cannot attempt to fix the exact era of Socrates’ pupil, Plato. The famous “Socratic Question” of modern scholarship refers to the controversies surrounding the correct dating of the historical Socrates.
 In Stromata, I, 21.
 In City of God, Book VIII, ch.5, no.5.
 In De Ver. Rel., 7. Minucius Felix says much the same in Octavius, ch.21.
 City of God, ibid., ch,12, no.11.
 Ibid., with reference to Timæus, 31B and 32B; Republic, 2, 380D-381C; and Exodus 3:14.
 See W. Wallace’s St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theolgiæ, v. 10, “Cosmogony” (Blackfriars, 1967), 203.
 Clement of Alexandria, op. cit., VI, 16.
 In Peri Archon, IV, 16.
 In Oratio II Contra Arianos, 60.
 In Glaphyra in Genesim, I, 1.
 The Chronology of Ancient Nations, trans.by E. Sachau (London, 1879), 201.
 City of God, Book XI, 5 and 6.
 In De Genesis Contra Manichæos, I, 23.
 Wallace, op. cit., ibid.
 In II Sent., 12, 3, I.
 In S.T., Ia, qq. 65-74.
 Creation Revealed, p. 17.
 In Meeting Place of Geology and History.
 Ginzberg, as quoted by Wiseman in Creation Revealed, p. 22. Emphasis added.
 Wiseman, ibid.
 The Exodus Israelites are the MBI people of archaeology. The Exodus (and the events associated with it), coincided with – was indeed the cause of – the collapse of Egypt’s Old Kingdom (which was concurrent with the collapse of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom). I have argued this in various articles.
 The information in this section has been taken from Creation Revealed, pp. 32-34.
 The Brown, Driver and Briggs edn. of Gesenius.
 Clues to Creation, p. 130.
 Creation Revealed, p. 36.
 Bengel, as quoted by Wiseman, ibid.
 Ibid., pp. 39-40.
 J. Skinner, as quoted by Wiseman, ibid, p. 40.
 See e.g. Ancient Records, p. 62.
 See e.g. my “Tracing the hand of Moses in Genesis”, at: https://www.academia.edu/8175774/Tracing_the_Hand_of_Moses_in_Genesis
 Creation Revealed, p. 14.
 Ibid., p. 16.
 If the views of Sts. Clement and Augustine be admitted, that the Platonists (particularly Plato himself) had come under the influence of the Book of Genesis, then could it be that the doctrine of hylomorphism (matter and form, potency and act), as developed by Plato’s pupil Aristotle, had its origin from Genesis 1 – from the account of the formlessness taking form?
 Creation Revealed, p. 47.
 Ibid., p. 49.
 One cannot help noticing that St. John’s Gospel, like Genesis, commences with the phrase: “In the beginning”, and also uses the culminating word, [It is] finished”, to describe the death of Christ (19:30).
 Creation Revealed, p. 50.
 The reference in the title is to the French Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Since I do not have a complete copy of Smith’s book, only a photocopied summary, I cannot give the original page numbers.
 Smith’s interpretation of this text seems to be quite legitimate from a metaphysical point of view; but see what I have already explained in this article about “the day” (the one day), being a date, rather than a duration of creation. Moreover, following Wiseman’s thesis, I would disagree with Smith’s including Genesis 2:4 as part of a “second chapter” of Genesis. It is rather the colophon ending to Genesis 1.