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NOT THE REAL GENESIS 1
(Stanley L. Jaki, Genesis 1 Through the Ages)
Reviewed by John F. McCarthy
Stanley L. Jaki's Genesis 1 through the Ages (London: Thomas More Press, 1992; distributed in the U.S. by the Wethersfield Institute, 230 Park Avenue, Suite 1528, New York, NY 10169) purports to be a history of the exegesis of the first chapter of Genesis. While the book, from its title, seems to promise a review of the insights into this chapter that the great commentators have expressed over the ages, its actual theme is that they had no insight. The positive thrust of the book lies almost entirely in the new insight that the author claims for himself.
THE AUTHOR'S POSITION.
The author avers that concordism has been the "chief pitfall" in the exegesis of Genesis 1 "from almost the start to this very present" (xii). He has, therefore, undertaken in his book, by presenting a "detailed and carefully documented" survey of the great commentaries on Genesis 1, "to put Genesis 1, once and for all, at a safe remove from its greatest peril," namely, the "ever recurring temptation to make that magnificent chapter appear concordant with the science of the day in order to assure its cultural respectability" ([page] 31). St. Basil, for instance, thought and declared that Genesis 1 is a true explanation of the formation and structure of the universe, and for him true explanation meant "a concordance with a mixture of Stoic and Aristotelian systems of physics and cosmology, especially the doctrines of the four elements" (76). St. John Damascene followed Basil in accepting the literal truth of the firmament, a belief that the author finds to be "as confusing as smoke can be" (101), because, he says, the great truths of salvation, "which rest on the principal truth of creation out of nothing by a truly transcendental God," tend to be "greatly compromised by readiness to find all details in Genesis 1 to be concordant with the science of the day" (102). The "true source of the problem" has been "to let physics have anything to do with Genesis 1" (119). The explanation of Thomas Aquinas is "tainted by concordism" (129), a pitfall into which he "fell all too often," and which consisted in "the effort of co-ordinating in a detailed manner the cosmogony of Genesis with scientific theories." To avoid this trap, the author avers, "one must abandon any effort whatsoever to co-ordinate Genesis 1 with scientific theories, old, present, and future" (131). Concordism is a "virus" (243), "a now two-thousand-year-old plague" (299). The "lure of seeing a concordance between science and Genesis 1" has proved "irresistible time and again" (248). Genesis 1 is "not a cosmogony" (252), it is "something else than history" (8), in fact, it "is certainly not a history" (27).
Augustine "took Genesis 1 for a true history of the making of the physical world" (89). Since he was burdened by an already heavy theological tradition, "he was unable to see what any plain man would see in the expression in the beginning" (91). Augustine sought to explain how God made the universe (91), and by doing so he "turned Genesis 1 into a science textbook" (92). "The cause of science (and of biblical exegesis) could not profit from his patently unconvincing speculations about the nature of the firmament or about the nature of water that could find a natural place above it" (92). The author observes that the Mosaic account was never meant to be taken for science (207). There is, moreover, no evidence in Genesis 1 for the creation of each of the millions of different species, and a primitive use of Genesis 1 against evolution "sets up that chapter as a science textbook that notoriously failed to accommodate the firmament and the late appearance of the sun, to mention only some salient points" (301).
The author has discovered that the account of Genesis 1 is a "literary form" used for the purpose of teaching about "God's power that created all" (242). It "owes its persuasiveness to its being a short didactic text which in turn embodies a most basic literary device" (289). The teaching of Genesis 1 is "that all came out from the hands of a true Creator, absolutely distinct from, and infinitely superior to the world or universe" (198). The literary device of Genesis 1 is "the method of conveying the whole through a recital of its principal parts," just as the "two great creation Psalms, 103 and 135, especially the latter, thematically go through the main and secondary parts of the Hebrew world model as they portray the creation of all by God" (288-289). The author maintains that "the systematic listing of the main parts and afterwards of their chief particulars should seem all too obvious" (250). And yet, observes the author, it has been missed by all exegetes. "Although this very biblical idea that the all pertaining to God was far more than the all which man could see or conceive was certainly known to all Jewish and Christian exegetes, they made no use of it in explaining Genesis 1. No less bafflingly, they ignored the equally biblical method of indicating the whole by listing its constituent parts. This is why they had not stumbled on the true literary form of Genesis 1 long before it became the hallmark of exegetical learnedness to talk about literary genres and leave unspecified the genre of Genesis 1" (287).
The author identifies three themes in the discourse of Genesis 1: a) "a thematic emphasis (in two stages) on the totality of all things as wholly dependent on the Maker of all and on the consequent radical goodness of all things"; b) the presentation of God the worker as a pattern for all human labor; c) man's introduction as the purpose and steward of creation." The theme of man's introduction as the purpose and steward of creation "is the easiest to isolate, coming as it does towards the end." The other two themes are "intertwined through the entire discourse or narrative." Genesis 1 gave a "renewed emphasis" to an Old Testament injunction relating to the sacredness of the Sabbath, "a feature that goes far beyond a grouping of days into seven-day units, a facet already on hand in other ancient cultures" (290).
Unfortunately, however, the author's interpretation of the "most basic literary device" that illustrates in Genesis 1 "a thematic emphasis on the totality of all things as wholly dependent on the Maker of all" does not stand up under critical analysis, even though the fact that Genesis 1 presents a summary of the main steps in the creation of the world has been obvious to virtually all competent interpreters in every age of history. How did the author reproduce "the systematic listing of the main parts and afterwards of their chief particulars" (290)? In an illustration (291) he depicted what he understood to be the two main parts, namely, the firmament and the earth. The ancient Hebrews, he said, viewed the world as an enormous tent, whose roof was the firmament located on the second day, and affixed to this rather flat tent-roof were its chief particulars, the sun, the moon, and the stars, all located on the fourth day. The earth, which was the other main part of the world, is located on the third day, and its chief particulars, namely, the birds, the fish, and the land animals, are located on the fifth day. It is the author's thesis that the "days" of Genesis 1 are not intended as a succession of time, but as "something metaphysical" (295), and as logical rather than chronological units. This listing, he says, is "fully logical within that world model and clearly aims at conveying completeness or totality" (290).
Shortly after his book was published, a reader (John Finnis) pointed out to the author that, according to Genesis 1, the land animals came on the sixth day. The author, taken aback by this glaring mistake, hastened to have an insert printed with a new diagram, showing the land animals on the sixth day, together with man. He explains on the back of the insert that "the listing on the fifth day of the birds and fish still conveys the idea of totality in terms of the main particulars of the principal lower part." He adds: "The postponing of land animals to the sixth day should then be seen as a support of its message that man is created in the image of God. As such man has to be vastly superior to animals. This is demonstrated by his naming, at God's bidding, the animals as they are shown to him."
NO IDEA OF TOTALITY.
Unhappily, however, for the author, the listing of the birds and fishes without the land animals does not convey in any sense "the idea of totality." Nor does the omission of man as one of the particulars of the whole convey this idea. Nor does the omission of the creation of light on the first day (which also stands outside of "the whole and its parts" in the author's diagram). The sacred writer of Genesis 1 has clearly described the making of a whole in six separate parts (numbered from one to six), and to try to reduce that whole to four of its parts, while claiming against the plain wording of the text that the sacred writer of Genesis 1 intended these four parts to represent the whole, is nothing but the failed product of an unskilled exegetical exercise. When one adds to the missing elements in the author's diagram the angels, who are clearly part of the world of Genesis, however little they are attended to by modern physicists, the failure is complete.
The "postponing" of the creation of land animals to the sixth day does not in itself illustrate so much the superiority of man over the animals as it does his proximity to the animals, another species taken from the "slime of the earth" (Gen 2:7), as well as his inferiority to the eternal and omnipotent Creator. It is obvious that to have given man a day all his own, as the author visualized in his original sketch, might have suggested man's superiority, but that is not what the chapter says. The author is clutching for a straw where he tries to read a message of superiority of man in the animals/man combination of the sixth day from "his naming, at God's bidding, the animals as they are shown to him." What Genesis 1 actually conveys (v. 26) is that man is superior because God made man to His own image and likeness, and for this reason He gave man dominion, not only over the animals, but "over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moves upon the earth." And as for the "naming of the animals," "whatsoever Adam called any living creature, the same is its name" (Gen 2:19). The author's attempt to patch up a bad piece of reasoning only makes it worse.
The parallelism of the days of creation has been much better illustrated by other writers. The usual parallel is between the opus distinctionis of days one, two, and three, and the opus ornatus of days four, five, and six. Thus, for instance, Richard Clifford in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary (p. 10) and Bruce Vawter in A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (p. 173) align the separation of light from darkness on day one with the fixing of the lights in the firmament on day four, the separation of the waters above and below the firmament on day two with the creation of the birds of the air and the fishes of the sea on day five, and the separation of the dry land from the oceans on day three with the creation of the land animals (and man) on day six. (Clifford and Vawter also align the creation of plants on the third day with the creation of man who feeds on plant life on the sixth day, but this is arbitrary.) The author over and over again berates the opus distinctionis / opus ornatus schema, but he does not mention this standard alignment at all, nor does he, consequently, offer any arguments against it, even though it is by all means the most obvious one.
"IN THE BEGINNING."
The Hebrew word bereshith (berît) has traditionally been translated as "in the beginning." The author claims that "only by making strained comparisons" can one justify this translation "on the basis of grammar alone." By the rules of Hebrew grammar, he points out, "bereshith should be followed by a noun, or at least an infinitive, and convey thereby the beginning of something or of an action. But the next word, bara (created), is in the third personal case of the simple perfect tense." The author avers that bereshith could more convincingly be taken as governing a possessive case, "in the beginning of God's creating the heaven and the earth ...," which "would be equivalent to a simple temporal subclose [subordinate clause] `when God made the heaven and the earth....´" He draws the conclusion that "on the basis of grammar alone, Genesis 1:1 would suggest that God was a mere fashioner of things already existing rather than their Creator" (2). After a treatment of br', he opts for the New American Bible translation, whose correctness is upheld, he says, by "a blue-ribbon group of first-rate biblical scholars," and which reads: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth ...." (7). Then, in his later article (HPR, p. 32), without any explanation for the change, he abandons this translation of bereshith in favor of the traditional "In the beginning God made ...." Is this serious exegetical work or rather a mere caviling against a standard interpretation that he has thought all the while to be correct?
"On the basis of grammar alone," it is not true that the translation in the beginning can be justified "only by making strained comparisons." The plain meaning of bereshith is "in the beginning." In the standard reading of the text with the Masoretic points, the prepositional phrase bereshith does not show a definite article, since it does not read bareshith. Hence, we might say, it reads literally in beginning. However, the word beginning in this phrase is a noun, not a gerund, and it means in English "in the beginning," because in English as in many other languages, the definite article (the) must be inserted before the word beginning in order to express the noun grammatically. Also, Kittel's standard Hebrew text (Biblia Hebraica) indicates from the Masoretic points that bereshith does not introduce a construct state with the following verb, but is simply adverbial. There are several indications of this, one of which is the presence of the disjunctive accent Tiph under the word bereshith, which designates the absence of a construct state. This sign is ignored by those who propose the reading ber' instead of br', that is, the infinitive "to create" rather than the perfect "created." Other indications that the non-construct rendering, "in the beginning God created" is both normal and to be preferred are the parallels to Gen 1:1 in the Jewish Targums, which present the same opening word structure as Gen 1:1 without the Masoretic points and yet convey an absolute reading. It is pointed out with examples in Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar (second English edition - §130d) that the construct state, when it governs independent clauses in a kind of genitive relationship, can do so as a time-determination before a following perfect (or imperfect) tense. Gesenius does not give bereshith br' as an example of this, but, on a narrowly syntactic basis, if the disjunctive accent is ignored, the construct state is conceivable here as conveying a determination of time (cf. Job 29:2: "as in the days when ..."). This parallel is used in the New American Bible translation, "In the beginning when ... ." Richard Clifford affirms in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary (p. 10) that the words bereshith br', traditionally translated as In the beginning (God) created, "syntactically cannot be so translated," but he gives no evidence for this judgment. He, too, may simply have tripped over the gerund that is not really there. More lucidly, Bruce Vawter points out in the New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (pp. 173-174) that these two words "may be taken as an absolute, ... or as a construct introducing a temporal clause," such as in Moffat's version, "When God began to form the universe, ...." Vawter endorses (although not forcefully) the absolute interpretation, and he gives a powerful series of arguments against the construct hypothesis. He notes that the meaning of an expression depends, not merely on syntax, but "on usage, on association, and on context." Against the construct hypothesis he points out: a) the resulting long introductory adverbial clause, extending all the way to verse 3 "would be strangely out of harmony" with the short categorical sentences making up the rest of the passage; b) the opening statement of the chapter would be postponed to verse 3 (And God said: Be light made.), "a gross theological anticlimax," after an unexplained allusion to a coexistence of God and chaos; c) the nature of God "to be first outside the sphere of any other being," evident in such related passages as Isa 44:6 and 48:12-13, would be obscured.
To this reasoning I should like to add the following. Syntactic parallels for a prepositional phrase followed by a perfect or imperfect form do suggest the possibility of a construct state as a time determination. However, in the case of Gen 1:1, there is already a time determination in the prepositional phrase itself. Hence, the translation "In the beginning when" of the NAB is not only an awkward pleonasm, it is also a contradiction in terms, seeing that "when" implies a point on the line of temporal succession, while "in the beginning" initiates the line of temporal succession. This contextual fact seems to have been overlooked by Brown, Driver, and Briggs (A Hebrew and English Lexicon, p. 912) in their preferring the construct "in the beginning when" to the absolute "in the beginning" for Gen 1:1.
Let us now compare the author's espousal of the "blue ribbon" NAB translation, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth," with his position as a whole. The NAB translation reduces to a mere subordinate clause the great didactic teaching that "God alone created all," which, according to the author, as the only unity of Genesis 1, "has to be above all a unity of message" (238). Instead, the NAB reading locates the first act of God in the creation of light, which, according to the author, is part of a theme in Genesis 1 which is outside of the theme of total dependence of all on God (294). The adoption by the author of the construct-state interpretation of br' in Gen 1:1 ruins his literary genre of Genesis 1 by downgrading to a subordinate clause a declaration which is, in fact, one of the most majestic statements ever written, and it ruins also his idea of a non-chronological, "whole and its parts," interpretation of the following verses, because "when God began to create" implies the beginning of a chronological series of creative divine acts. It needs to be added that the author's off-handed use of the expression "the creation of light" (294), after his insistence earlier that "creation out of nothing" is a post-New-Testament idea (6) and that the English word "creation" means precisely "creation out of nothing" (4), is lacking in serious logical exposition.
The author goes on to say that "the representation of God as a worker turns the six-day creation story into a means of inculcating the sabbath-rest" (294), and that this "is the principal reason for assuming that the six-day creation story could, in spite of its apparent historical character, imply, from its very redaction on, something metaphysical, without compromising ever so slightly the historicity of verse 1 of Genesis 1" (295). Without compromising ever so slightly? The author seems blithely unaware that, with his adoption of the NAB translation, he has eliminated entirely the historicity of verse 1, reducing it to the status of an adverbial modification of the "creation" (read: "making with the greatest ease") of light, which act of "creation" is purely metaphysical, as we are now told. The historical character of the six-day creation account is certainly apparent to us; it is as obvious as it could be. But, by "apparent historical character," the author intends to say "apparently historical character," which is a different affirmation altogether. Let me state some relative principles of historical interpretation. a) In a chronologically organized account (the six serially numbered days of creation), a primarily metaphysical meaning cannot be assumed. b) In a non-historical account (the author's assumption), one of the parts cannot be understood to be historical unless it is set off by some clear literary indication as not being part of the non-historical account. c) In a chronologically organized account which turns out to be only apparently historical, if the history goes, the message goes with it. By violating these principles, the author has given the coup de grâce to whatever was left of his "literary genre of Genesis 1."
TO SPLIT OR TO CREATE?
The author's treatment of the opening verse of Genesis, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (RSV), is no less confused than is his "literary device of the whole and its parts." The author agrees with Petavius, who long ago "dismissed the view that bara means creation out of nothing" (179). The word br', he says, means basically "to split" and "to slash," or "an action which conveys that something is divided and that the action is done swiftly" (5). "Throughout its entire Old-Testament usage, a specific meaning accrues to bara only in terms of a broader message about God's exclusive sovereignty over all" (6). The author avers that br' is "a verb which exegetes love to raise to a quasi divine pedestal," whereas it has "a very human connotation" in Joshua 17:15 and 17:18, and in Ezekiel 23:47. He asks himself: "Was not some sort of pre-existing matter on hand, if God was performing his work by splitting? Was not this the very basic meaning of bara" (142)? In a subsequent article in the August-September 1993 issue of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, epitomizing the conclusions of his book, the author expresses this interpretation even more emphatically (HPR, p. 32):
Few words in the entire Bible have been more misunderstood. Etymologically, bara means to cut and to slash. By the time of the Exile the verb bara had been restricted (with three important exceptions) to acts performed by God. ... Unlike humans, who work and perform laboriously, God does everything with supreme ease. ... That touch of ease was eroded in subsequent rabbinical tradition and certainly in Christian theological tradition in which bara became equated with `created´ and with `created out of nothing.´ The basic meaning of creare was to grow, hardly a word to convey ease. Of course, when God creates, He creates out of nothing. But neither in Genesis 1 nor elsewhere in the Bible can bara be taken in that sense, however sound that sense may be dogmatically, though having no etymological connection with bara. ... In other words, one should read verse 1 in Genesis 1 as `In the beginning God made with the greatest ease, as if with a flourish, the heaven and earth, or the entire totality of things.´
The author gives us here a confused and contradictory interpretation of the verb br'. On the one hand, he tells us that br' means basically "to split" some pre-existing matter (142) and cannot be taken to mean "to create out of nothing" (HPR, p. 32); on the other hand, the whole meaning of Genesis 1, its "bottom line," is that "all came out of the hands of a true Creator" (198) and "when God creates, He creates out of nothing" (HPR, 32). This interpretation flatly contradicts itself: if Genesis 1 says that "all came out of the hands of a true Creator," then br' means that God created the heavens and the earth; if, on the contrary, "neither in Genesis 1 nor elsewhere in the Bible can bara be taken" to mean that God "creates out of nothing," then br' in Genesis 1 cannot mean that "all came out of the hands of a true Creator." This is a matter of simple logic.
There are other problems also with the reasoning of the author. Logically, on the basis of his etymological claim regarding br', he should suggest as the translation of verse 1: "In the beginning God split heaven and earth," or "In the beginning God slashed heaven and earth," but instead he begins to look at the context, the fact that it is the omnipotent God Who is acting, and he translates it as "made with the greatest ease." This, however, is no contribution to the meaning of the verse. What else is to create out of nothing than to create with the greatest of ease and even with a flourish? Has anyone ever supposed that to create out of nothing involves some kind of a struggle? Moreover, the great exegetes of the past never took the meaning "to create out of nothing" from the mere use of the verb br', but rather from a fuller understanding of its context in the verse. It is the phrase "in the beginning," signifying at the beginning of time, before which nothing in the universe existed, that causes br' to mean "created out of nothing." The Vulgate uses the word creavit (created) in the Latin translation of three verses of Genesis 1: in verse 1 for the creation of the world; in verse 21 for the creation of life in biological beings; and in verse 27 for the creation of man. To understand the context of these three uses of the word creavit, it is necessary to recognize two kinds of creation out of nothing. The first kind is creatio ex nihilo sui et subiecti (creation out of the nothingness of itself and of a subject). This is the first act of creation recorded in verse 1 - the only place where the Fathers and other traditional exegetes have understood creation out of nothing in the strict sense. The second kind of creation is creatio ex nihilo sui (creation out of the nothingness of itself) from a subject already existing. This applies to the creation of plants and animals from pre-existing matter and the creation of man "from the slime of the earth" in the narrative of Genesis 1. The assumption is that Moses used the special term br' for these three instances of creation out of nothing to emphasize also the fact that the living species of plants and animals and the rational species of man could not have come into existence from lower forms without the first production of these forms from the nothingness of themselves. In each case, the translation of br' as created stems from its fuller meaning in the respective sentence.
Etymologies can only be useful clues to the meaning of words in grammatical sentences, and sometimes they are not even that. The specific meaning of words is determined by the grammatical and literary context in which they are used. These two facts regarding etymologies and the specific meaning of words are not correctly handled by the author in his argument for the meaning of br' in Genesis 1:1. Having begun with the claim that br' has the original meaning of "to split" or "to slash," he goes on to note three places where this verb is used with human subjects and not as representing acts of God. In Joshua 17:15 and 17:18, br' connotes the hacking down of trees, and in Ezekiel 23:47 it means the hacking to pieces of people. Thus, he concludes, "In all these cases, the taking of bara for an exclusively divine action, let alone taking it for creation out of nothing, can only be done if one deliberately ignores those three uses of it that span more than half a millennium" (4-5).
The author does not say in his book how or from whom he has found out that br' means "to split," but Cornelius a Lapide, in his great commentary on the Pentateuch published in 1616, where he treats Gen 1:1, points out that this idea was already in circulation in the time of St. Jerome. A Lapide brings out that the three verses in Joshua and Ezekiel that were cited as evidence (and which the author also brings forward) do not establish his claim, because in these verses br' means, not "to split," but "to cut down and destroy." And it is obvious that the opening verse of Genesis 1 does not say, "In the beginning God cut down and destroyed heaven and earth."
The renowned biblical scholar Augustine Crampon, who is best known for his translation of the entire Bible from the original languages, also edited the Paris edition of the commentaries of Cornelius a Lapide (1857-1863). In a footnote to the comments of a Lapide quoted above, Crampon affirms with Patrizi that "to cut down," which is the meaning of br' in the Piel form occurring in the three verses cited above (Jos 17:15; 17:18 and Eze 23:47) does not necessarily carry the original meaning of the verb. In Gen 1:1, br' is in the Qal form, in which form it is used only with reference to God and for acts reserved to God, such as creation out of nothing, miracles, prophecies of future events, and sublime favors. br' in the Qal form never refers to the fashioning of things from pre-existing material - a mere moulding or shaping of things. Crampon quotes Gesenius (Thesaurus Philologicus-criticus: br') to the effect that modern writers err who persist in trying to trace the Qal meaning of br' from an Arabic parallel or from the Piel form, because the Qal meaning is "entirely different and was employed more for the new production of a thing than for the moulding and elaboration of material." According to Crampon, Gesenius mentions in the same place that some writers invoke the "etymological and proper meaning" of br' to claim that in Genesis 1 it means to fashion pre-existing eternal matter, and he draws the following distinction: In the first sentence of Genesis is set forth "the creation of the world from nothing," while in the rest of the passage the elaboration of the newly created mass is expounded. To Gesenius this relationship of things in the passage is "clear." Furthermore, the author himself ends up admitting that throughout the Old Testament, "when a mere act of dividing is meant, .... not bara but badal is used, tellingly enough" (295-296). Very tellingly, indeed!
The author displays an inadequate knowledge of Hebrew grammar in declaring it "unlikely that a verb, bara, can take on a very special meaning (divine action, different as it may be from creation out of nothing) only when it is used in two (Kal and Nifil) of its dozen tenses" (4). As Gesenius says in the quote given above, different forms in Hebrew denote different meanings. An ample presentation of this fact is laid out in the second English edition of Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar (GHG). "The 3rd sing. masc. of the Perfect in the form of the pure stem (i.e. in Qal) is generally regarded, lexicographically and grammatically, as the ground-form of the verb" (GHG, p. 114). "From the pure stem, or Qal, the derivative stems are formed according to an unvarying analogy, in which the idea of the stem assumes the most varied shades of meaning, according to the changes in its form. ... In other languages such formations are regarded as new or derivative verbs" (GHG, p. 115). "The simple form is called Qal (light, because it has no formative additions). ... The common conjugations (including Qal and the passives) are the seven following, but very few verbs exhibit them all: 1) Qal: to kill; 2) Niphal: to kill oneself; 3) Piel: to kill many, to massacre; 4) Pual (passive of Piel); 5) Hiphil: to cause to kill; 6) Hophal (passive of Hiphil); 7) Hithpael: to kill oneself" (GHG, p. 116). "While the Hebrew verb, owing to these derivative forms or conjugations, possesses a certain richness and copiousness, it is, on the other hand, poor in the matter of tenses and moods. The verb has only two tense-forms (Perfect and Imperfect), besides an Imperative (but only in the active), two Infinitives and a Participle" (GHG, p. 117).
One can easily ascertain from any standard concordance that br' is used in the protocanonical books of the Old Testament in only four conjugations (Qal, Niphal, Piel, and Hiphil). Thus, e.g., from Wigram's New Englishman's Hebrew Concordance, it can be seen that the 38 occurrences of br' in Qal mean in every case an act of God that can be translated (at least in the broad sense) by the word "create." Of the ten occurrences of br' in Niphal, all refer to acts of God, of which nine can be translated as "create," and the tenth as a marvel wrought by God. br' occurs only five times in the Piel form, of which three are the cutting down discussed above, while the text of the other two uses (Eze 21:19 and 21:24) is uncertain. Finally, the one use of br' in the Hiphil form (1 Sam 2:29) is also uncertain, but may mean "to make yourselves," another form of "to make" (RSV). Thus br' connotes a divine act in 48 of the 54 times that it occurs in the protocanonical books of the Old Testament, a human act of cutting down and destroying in three places, a making or causing to make in one, and an uncertain meaning in two.
The author arrives at his novel interpretation of br' in the following words: "The verb bara means basically `to split´ and `to slash´ or an action which conveys that something is divided and the action is done swiftly. ... In the overwhelming number of its Old-Testament uses bara conveys the notion that God did something with marvelous ease and speed. ... Throughout its entire Old-Testament usage, a specific meaning accrues to bara only in terms of a broader message about God's exclusive sovereignty over all" (5-6). What the author has done is to take the image of the swinging of an axe or a sword, which he has extracted from the three uses of br' in Piel that he has translated as "hacked down," and applied this to the act of God in Genesis 1:1, with the difference that God acts "with the greatest ease," so as to do the act "with a flourish" (295). This process of thought leads to where he wants to arrive, but it is not based in objectivity. Following the rules of Gesenius (cited above), we can make a better conjecture than that. Since the third person singular masculine of the perfect of the Qal form of a Hebrew verb is generally recognized as the ground form of the verb, we take the Qal form of br' to represent its origin. Thus, the original meaning becomes "to make," and "according to an unvarying analogy," the Piel form of br' comes to mean "to make into many," and thus "to make into pieces" or "to cut to pieces." By this reasoning, the swinging of the axe, whether with effort or without effort, has nothing to do with the originating idea of br', and, consequently, the author's novel interpretation of br' as an easy swinging action of God (made with a flourish) falls to the ground.
A SUPERIMPOSED MESSAGE?
When the author avers that "a specific meaning accrues to bara only in terms of a broader message about God's exclusive sovereignty over all" (6), he jumps completely over the examination of the context of the sentence, which the great exegetes of the past have studied so carefully. The notion of "created out of nothing" is, indeed, derived from the use of br' in the context of the sentence. The Qal form does not suggest pre-existing matter. If the Piel form of br' suggests a bringing into existence as divided and destroyed, the Qal form in Gen 1:1 in the context of the sentence suggests a bringing into first existence as divided from nothingness. The author, while awkwardly abandoning his etymology of br' in Qal as "split," settles on the notion of "with the greatest ease, as with a flourish." But to pop into existence from nothing is in itself a flourish in the finest sense of the word. God does not need to wield an axe or a sword. To create out of nothing involves no process, no labor, no effort for the only One who can do it. Is not this the sign of the greatest of ease, the most impressive flourish of all? The author's exclusion of creation out of nothing from the ease with which God acts is entirely arbitrary and lacking in any logical or linguistic foundation.
The author's idea that "the basic meaning of creare was "to grow" (HPR, p. 32) is certainly not correct. He explains: "In its basic etymological origin the word `creation´ meant the pure natural process of growing or of making something to grow. This should be obvious by a mere recall of the verb crescere. The crescent moon is not creating but merely growing" (3). Lewis and Short, in their authoritative Latin Dictionary, record that creatio is a "very rare" noun in classical Latin, but, where it occurs, it means "a creating, producing, begetting," or "an electing to an office." The verbal form creare (originally cereare) does not derive from crescere, but is kindred to the Sanskrit kar, kri, meaning "to make," and was used "very frequently and in every period and species of composition" of classical Latin in the meaning of "to bring forth, produce, make, create, beget" (Lewis and Short: "creo"). Crescere derives from creare, and not vice versa. Crescere began as the inchoative form of creare, and it originally meant of things not previously in existence: "to come forth, grow, to arise, spring, be born, become visible, appear." Only later did it come to mean by a figure of speech of things already in existence "to grow, increase" (Lewis and Short: "cresco"). Hence, "the basic meaning of creare" was not "to grow."
Since br' does not mean basically "to split," since creare has never meant "to grow," since bereshith does mean "in the beginning," as the author himself ends up admitting (HPR, p. 32), since bereshith br' Elohim, taken together, means "In the beginning God made," where in the beginning, as the author again admits, "conveys the absence of anything before" (179), it is supremely unwarranted of the author to declare that "neither in Genesis 1 nor elsewhere in the Bible can bara be taken to mean "created out of nothing" (HPR, p. 32). The only place in the Bible where exegetes have traditionally found br' to mean "created out of nothing" in the strict and absolute sense (creatio ex nihilo sui et subiecti) is in Gen 1:1 (and in passages referring to this verse). And it is utterly without logical consistency for the author to opine: "Of course, when God creates, He creates out of nothing. But neither in Genesis 1 nor elsewhere in the Bible can bara be taken in that sense, however sound that sense may be dogmatically, although having no etymological connection with bara" (HPR, p. 32). The Fourth Lateran Ecumenical Council was using good exegesis of Genesis 1:1, supported by sound hermeneutics and rigorous logic, when it declared in 1215 A.D. that "there is only one true God, ... Creator of all things, ... Who, by His almighty power, from the very beginning of time simultaneously created out of nothing both the spiritual and the corporeal creatures, that is, the angelic and the mundane" (DS, 800).
The meaning of br' in Gen 1:1 is to be taken, not specifically from its etymology, but from its use in the sentence. The meaning, "to create out of nothing," is correctly understood from the relationship of br' (to make or produce) with the action of God "in the beginning" and the object of the act, namely, the heavens and the earth. In the process of excluding this meaning, the author omits from his book (and from his following HPR article) any grammatical analysis of the sentence as a whole. Instead he leaps directly from an erroneous tracing of the etymology of br' and from an incomplete knowledge of Hebrew syntax to the invented notion of "made with the greatest ease," an interpretation which once again serves only to impoverish the meaning and dull the incisive thrust of this majestic sentence.
When the author avers that nowhere in the Bible can br' be taken to mean created out of nothing, "however sound that sense may be dogmatically," he raises a doubt regarding the reality of the object of faith. Is it possible that the "creation of the world out of nothing" can be at one and the same time not really asserted in the first verse of Genesis, but, nevertheless, soundly believed to be there on a dogmatic level? In other words, is it possible that this same verse can be both affirming and not affirming the creation of the world out of nothing: not affirming it on the level of solid linguistic analysis, but affirming it on the level of sound dogmatic teaching and theological understanding. This is not possible, because an affirmation cannot both be and not be at the same time. Either the dogmatic interpretation is not sound or the author's linguistic analysis is not correct.
Yet the author insists upon both contraries. Not only does he tell us that nowhere in the Bible can br' be taken to mean "created out of nothing" (see above), but he also affirms that creation out of nothing is a "fundamental Christian dogma." Here are his words: "While Bernardus (Silvester) professes the divinity of the Word born of the Virgin, he nowhere asserts the fundamental Christian dogma of creation out of nothing. In that too he let himself be ruled by physics. The latter can readily operate without that dogma, which is the very light whereby Genesis 1 ultimately reveals its message" (119). Here again we have the contradiction: Genesis 1 does not speak of creation out of nothing, but the dogma of creation out of nothing is "the very light whereby Genesis 1 ultimately reveals its message." To state the contradiction in other words: Gen 1:1 does not say, "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," but the dogma that "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is "the very light whereby Genesis 1 ultimately reveals its message."
The best that can be said about the author's message to his readers in these quotations is that it is confused and misleading. He does not seem to recognize the reality of the object of faith, seeing that the dogma of creation out of nothing is simply an authentic interpretation of the reality revealed in Sacred Scripture and stated in particular in the opening verse of Genesis. He does not seem to understand that there is a continuum of reality between the object of physics and the object of faith. And, as a result, what he seems to conclude is, not only that physics "can readily operate without that dogma," but also that the dogma can readily operate without any foundation in the reality that is the object of physics.
It is an error to imagine that this dogma is a proposition superimposed by faith upon a verse of Sacred Scripture that is in reality not saying that, or did not mean that originally. And this error leads logically to the false idea that creation out of nothing is a myth. According to Webster a "myth" is "a fable or legend embodying the convictions of a people as to their gods or other divine personages, their own origin and early history and the heroes connected with it, or the origin of the world." Hence, a myth is also a fable or legend embodying the convictions of a people as to the origin of the world. But the first verse of Genesis, and then the whole first chapter of Genesis, provides the framework for the whole Christian outlook on the world. By taking away the physical reality from the narrative of Genesis 1, the author turns the account into a myth. He tries to escape this conclusion by deprecating "the exegetes' diffidence for epistemology" (300) and by noting in opposition to the form-criticism originated by Gunkel that "it has always been a chief characteristic of myths and legends that there even the impossible is possible" (299). But the author, while acknowledging the dogma of creation out of nothing to be "sound dogmatically" and the "very light whereby Genesis 1 ultimately reveals its message," nevetheless, insists that Genesis 1, under grammatical analysis and apart from the superimposed dogma, doesn't really say that. To quote again the author: "More than ever Christian belief in life eternal stands and falls with the truth of the first article of the creed about the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. But the reliability of faith in the Creator depends on whether one can ascribe to Him a work which is demonstrably a universe, or rather the very universe itself. To speak of a Creator pre-supposes a discourse about the universe which is truly reliable" (101). To speak of a Creator certainly presupposes a discourse about the universe which is truly reliable, but the flaw in the author's thinking is that he is not able to make the discourse of Genesis 1 truly reliable inasmuch as he cannot bring the truths of physical science and of the Creed's first article and of Genesis 1 into the same universe of discourse regarding the unity of the different branches of science in the one continuum of reality.
AN INADEQUATE NOTION OF SCIENCE.
In fact, in his unsparing attack against concordism, perhaps the author's most fundamental methodological error is his failure to begin from an adequate notion of science. The author opines that "the main and only business of science" is "the study of quantities" (192). This definition appears to empty out and render futile any positive thrust that his interpretation of Genesis 1 might otherwise have had. The basic, the "only" message that he sees in the creation of the cosmos, namely, "that all came out from the hands of a true Creator" (198), while it seems to be outside of and invulnerable to any adverse criticism of "science," is also vacuous and inane, simply because by definition it "has nothing whatsoever to do, however indirectly, with science." The author does not succeed in giving any certified credibility to this "marvelous picture" that manages to survive his reductive process of interpretation. Why should anyone whose mind is informed by the certified knowledge of "science" take this message of Genesis 1 seriously? The author believes in the Creator, he believes that the "message" of Genesis 1 is true, but he also denies that it fits into the scientific picture of the cosmos. The Essai de cosmologie of Maupertius was "genuinely scientific," he tells us, even though it "contained no reference to Moses." And, concerning the rejoinder of Laplace regarding creation, "I have no need of that hypothesis" (211), the author finds "there was a very sound ring to his memorable claim" (212). The author simply admits that "the scientist in his technical work does not need that hypothesis or a recourse to God," and by this admission he makes a fatal error that leads to many other mistakes.
The fatal error has to do basically with the notion of science and the unity of reality. "The fool has said in his heart, `There is no God´ " (Ps 13:1). It seems from the author's definition of science that a man can be a great scientist and a fool at the same time (as is verified in the various renowned physicists of our day who profess themselves to be atheists), and, in the context of the author's book, Laplace, with his famous remark, is made to look more like a great thinker than like the fool that he was. Now, it is true that a person can wash pans or harvest wheat without formally incorporating the notion of creation by God into his work, and so can he do physics, but that he has no need to accept the fact of creation as an element of his science is hardly to be believed. The problem is that a definition of "science" limited to "the study of quantities" does not put science and the knowledge of creation into the same universe of discourse. How, then, is belief in creation anything more than an idea based merely upon feeling or fantasy? How can the non-scientific idea that "all came out from the hands of a true Creator" be preferred to the scientific thinking that has "no need of that hypothesis"? The author does not provide an answer to this problem where he says that the scientific method "does not tell (the scientist) why he has to trust his immediate perception of reality." And, he adds, "much less does the scientific method explain why there is a totality of things, all investigable by the scientific method and what factor or power could alone account for the very existence of the totality of things or the universe" (213). Yet, according to the author's definition of science, the scientist doesn't need any hypothesis regarding his trust in the immediate perception of reality in order to do his scientific work. And science is the privileged kind of knowledge. The author's appeal from the "perennial pitfall of Platonizing" to "man's direct, immediate contact with plain reality" (192) and to "that common realist fond, relied upon even by modern man as long as he remains untouched by the plague of Kantianism and Hegelianism" (269) is ineffective, not only because it is a mere appeal to common sense against the subjectivism of Kant and Hegel, but also because it does not fit the concept of reality into the scientific notion of the world.
Theory of knowledge and sacred theology have this in common with physics and chemistry that they are all branches of that general kind of conscious activity called science. Science, properly so called, is "the knowledge of the real as such," and it has as its special thought-medium the concept of reality. This concept is diversified in different ways in the different branches of science. Physics uses especially a highly developed framework of mathematics to arrive at its conclusions, while theory of knowledge uses a framework of the first principles of understanding, and sacred theology uses a complex framework containing both revealed truth and the principles of natural reason. To be a scientist means to think correctly in some area of reality and to do so with a certain technical precision that is not necessarily mathematical. By restricting the term "science" to "the study of quantities," the author creates a problem that goes far beyond a matter of words, since he is restricting the idea of science to the mathematical medium of thought and excluding from the idea of science the other technical fields that also use reality as their generic medium of thought while having a specific medium that is not mathematical. Webster's extension of the term "science" to include any systematized knowledge of the laws and facts of the physical and material world is a step in the right direction, but the fact still remains that there is no generic word in use among natural scientists to indicate their recognition of the authenticity shared by disciplines dealing with other areas of reality. Thus, also, the notion of certified knowledge, represented by the Latin word scientia, falls by the wayside into an obscurity that leaves much of its substance in a twilight zone somewhere between mere common sense and aesthetic fantasy.
Coincidentally for the present conversation, the Latin word scientia, from which is derived the English word "science," is in turn derived from a Greek word meaning "to split" or "to divide." According to Lewis and Short's Latin Dictionary ("scio"), the Latin noun scientia comes from the present participle of the verb scire ("to know"), which in turn is derived from the early Greek verb skei, meaning "to split." Skei later became kei, and kei is the root form of the classical Greek verb keádz, which also means "to split." "Science" thus implies etymologically the idea of dividing conceptually by the dichotomizing activity of human intelligence, analyzing and synthesizing the data of reality, rather than the measurement of material things. Hence, in the absence of another word representing all disciplined thought in the areas embraced by the one continuum of reality and governed by the one universal concept of reality, it is important that "the study of quantities" be called "mathematical science" or "statistical science," without appropriating to itself the entire or even the primary meaning of the word "science" itself. The author displays a too narrow idea of science where he says, "Science is not about purposes, and certainly not about that supreme existential purpose which rests with Creator and Creation" (252). The fact is that, while mathematical science is not about purposes, philosophical science is, and theological science is both about the creation of the real world in its entirety, angelic and physical, as declared in the opening verse of Genesis, and about the ultimate purpose of creation.
While it is true that the statistical scientist does not need to use the idea of creation in working his mathematical problems, as a scientist in the fuller sense of the term he must keep the fact of creation before him just the same. To use another example, if, to the belief that there is such a thing as a kangaroo, a physicist were to respond, "Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis," he would be right with regard to the mathematical work that he was doing, but he would still be taken as a fool, because other persons, working scientifically in other areas of the one continuum of reality which is the object of all science, have firmly ascertained that there is such a thing.
The author errs again when he tells us how "geology became truly a science." For James Hutton, who did the trick in 1795, "turning geology into a science meant that inferences about the earth's past be based exclusively on interpretation of processes and evidences actually observable" (223). The author gives his professional approval to the result of Hutton's physical inquiry into the history of the earth, which was "that we find no vestige of a beginning, - no prospect of an end." Those who denounced such a conclusion are put down by the author as "Bible-wavers" (224). From then on, "geologists were to leave Genesis 1 and theology aside when speaking as geologists," while biblical exegetes "railed in vain against the impact of a now genuinely scientific geology" (225).
The fundamental error in this assessment lies not in the according of a legitimate autonomy to every branch of science within its own formality, but in ignoring the relationship of the sciences to one another. Geology has progressed as a branch of science by developing the medium of its own approach, which does involve inferences based upon the interpretation of data presently observable. However, such inferences do not entitle the geologist to draw conclusions that contradict the results of other sciences that do not depend exclusively upon what is presently and perennially observable. Such sciences are in this case those of theology, philosophy, and history, and also the simple use of common sense. Regarding the last, it would be silly for a physicist to look up from his worktable at a policeman waving a warrant for his arrest and say, "Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis." Equally, even if not so obviously, silly is it for a geologist to look up from his worktable to declare that, in his study of the history of the earth, he finds "no vestige of a beginning, - no prospect of an end." The error does not concern the autonomy of his specific approach to reality. It consists rather in the fact that, as he raises his head from his worktable, he closes his eyes to the larger continuum of reality, and then denies with an appearance of knowledge what has been firmly established by correct scientific methods in other branches of science. The physicist and the geologist are obliged by the very nature of science, properly defined, to recognize the legitimate conclusions of the other branches of science, and they are, therefore, prohibited by scientific method itself from drawing contradictory conclusions that are outside of the formality of their own field. It remains to be added that it has been scientifically established by the science of sacred theology that the world began with an act of creation out of nothing and will be brought to an end by another intervention of its Creator.
VIOLATION OF HISTORICAL METHOD.
In a sweeping view of exegetical history, the author observes that "in the measure in which the Bible is taken for God's words to man, its propositions cannot fail to be overlaid by the crust of often unnecessary theologizing," and that is why he has set out "to recover Genesis 1 from under that heavy crust and restore it to its genuinely biblical character" (253). The problem is, as I have indicated above, that by failing to acquire the necessary theological equipment before setting out on his task, the author has missed the genuine meaning of Genesis 1. One can comprehend the "genuinely biblical character" of Genesis 1 only by the use of that mental structure which is properly called theological science. The author makes no progress in understanding by calling genuine conclusions of theological science a "crust." The interpretation given by the Fourth Lateran Council to the word bereshith in Genesis 1 as meaning "in the beginning of time" and of hashmáyim (the heavens) as including the angels is not an incrustation. To be concerned over whether bereshith really means "in the beginning" is not the unnecessary theologizing of concordism, as the author would have us believe (3). The framework of sacred theology enables the mind of its user to look up with awe at the majesty of Genesis 1 and to escape from that kind of reductive reasoning that leaves only a rickety adverbial clause as a so-called "majestic message" that may almost come up to the kind of solid information that physicists possess in abundance.
There is also an error of historical method in the author's declaration that, for geology to become a science, it was necessary "that inferences about the earth's past be based exclusively on interpretation of processes and evidences actually observable" (223). Inferences about the earth's past involve, not only the principles of statistical science, but also the principles of historical science, which is "the knowledge of past reality as such." The diversified concept of the past, which is the medium of historical science, functions in geological science along with "the study of quantities." Whether or not the earth had a beginning is not a question of quantities, but rather a question of history as the study of the past. Physicists are frequently deficient in the principles of historical science, and just such a deficiency is what seems to lead the author to declare that Genesis 1 "is neither a fable nor a history but a biblical proposition" (253), after having already allowed that "everything in Genesis 1 (is) a fiction" except "its majestic declaration that everything owed its existence to a creative act of God" (234). "For concordism presents its remorseless bill as long as one has to take Genesis 1 for a narrative to which one attributes, however indirectly, a modern historical sense" (299).
Before looking at the author's mislabelling of a valid scientific method as "concordism," let us briefly consider the bill that is inevitably presented to those who ignore the rules of historical interpretation. One of these rules is that an account that contains some or many fictional elements is to be considered entirely fictional except for those elements which are either identifiably marked by the writer as being in a reality-genre or can be established as real from outside evidence. The author reads Genesis 1 as being a "majestic declaration" set down in an otherwise fictional account, that is, an account presenting a series of elements that either have never existed or, at least, do not have credibility as historical events. The problem that arises from this interpretation is that the "majestic declaration" (234) itself loses its credibility. For what reason should informed persons of this scientific age and culture accept the word of an ignorant Hebrew that "everything owes its existence to a creative act of God"? Why should not that idea be considered just one more element of an obsolete picture of the world, as Rudolf Bultmann claims? "Not this one idea," some might reply, "because we can know its truth from our own cultivated reason." But then it is our own reason that we accept, and nothing more, because the "majestic declaration," in such a context, tells us nothing more nor anything better than what our own reason tells us to begin with. If an exegete is not bound by the wording of the text, he can read anything he wants into it and anything he wants out of it. But this violates historical method.
The principal aim of the author's book is to eliminate once and for all the "specter of concordism," which stems, he says, from the belief that Genesis 1 is "a cosmogenesis in a scientific sense, however indirectly" (cover advertisement and HPR, p. 64). He passes in review many great commentaries of the past to conclude that none of them can carry conviction. The "vast array of Christian exegetes," in trying to make it appear that Genesis 1 was in accord with the science of the day, "produced interpretations discordant with one another and, far more reprehensibly, with that majestic chapter itself" (64). It is "concordism to make any effort whatsoever to coordinate Genesis 1 with scientific theories" (131), or, "to let physics have anything to do with Genesis 1" (119), or to take Genesis 1 for "a true history of the making of the physical world" (89).
On the contrary, competent Christian exegetes are theological scientists who use various intellectual tools to penetrate the meanings of Sacred Scripture. It is an assumption of Christian exegetes that the text of Sacred Scripture, because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, is a literary creation of self-standing value that cannot be broken by any valid scientific analysis. This assumption cannot be proved by any purely natural argumentation, but neither can any purely natural argumentation refute it. Because reality is a continuum, the historical truth embodied in the historical accounts of Sacred Scripture represents realities that cannot be eliminated by any other branch of science. What the author rejects as "concordism" is merely a systematic attempt to perceive the reality of what is written in Sacred Scripture in continuity with all reality as it is known (or thought to be known) in other branches of science, such as physical science or historical science. The author has no good reason for trying to rule out this work.
The difficulties and errors encountered by the great exegetes of the past in seeking concord between Genesis 1 and natural science were due largely to the underdeveloped state of natural science in their day. For instance, the doctrine of the Four Elements was a doctrine of natural science. If it was wrong for exegetes to rely on false doctrines of the physicists and chemists of their time, it was equally wrong for the physicists and chemists of their time to be trying to understand physical nature by producing theories that turned out to be false. But, if failed attempts to understand physical nature had never been made, no progress would ever have occurred. Imagine a history of natural science which would only bring out the false ideas generated over the past centuries and pay no attention to the positive steps that were achieved in the process. Now, this is what the author has done to the history of the exegesis of Genesis 1. Starting with the fact that recent theories of physical and chemical science have ruled out older theories, he systematically attacks the exegetes for relying on the older theories, while giving almost no space to the positive insights that this reflection helped them to achieve. What results is a false history of the exegesis of the chapter. As an historiographer, he should first have sifted out the incompetent writings from the succession of contributions of the great exegetes, as one would do with the history of natural science. Then he could have presented the erroneous use of physical science in contrast with what is considered to be true today. But instead he has engaged in a mere debunking of all of the commentaries on the level of physical science and has ignored their contributions on the level of historical science.
According to the author, it is proceeding along concordist lines to affirm "that Genesis 1 begins with unformed chaotic matter, to the distinction of elements, from there to the formation of stars, plants, and animals and finds its completion in the making of man" (119). In other words, simply to try to repeat what the chapter says is already "concordism." The author claims that Philo Judaeus was the first notable concordist (43), but, in keeping with the author's own definition of concordism, it is the inspired writer of Genesis 1 who was the first concordist, because the inspired writer expressed the great message about the creation of the universe in terms of what the author sees as the mistaken cosmology of his own day and culture. By the author's definition of terms, Genesis 1 itself becomes the prototype of all concordism, although he nowhere recognizes this fact. To be even more exact, the Holy Spirit is the Founder of Concordism, because it is He who inspired the sacred writer of Genesis 1 and Who "so moved and impelled (him) to write, so assisted (him) when writing, that the things which He ordered, and those only, (the inspired writer) first rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth" (Providentissimus Deus, DS, 3293).
In his attack against the exegesis of Augustine, the author declares that "(Augustine's) Platonism carried him away as he claimed that `heaven´ meant the ideal world, `earth´ the unformed matter, and that light was the first concrete physical existent, although he later took light for spiritual creatures, such as angels" (91). The author depends here upon a superficial reading of Augustine's short treatment of the subject in book XI, chapter 9 and book XII, chapters 8-9 of his Confessions (the author's book and chapter references are incorrect). Actually, what Augustine means by "intellectual creation" is the angelic world, not the "ideal world." He explains this with much greater detail and clarity in his De Genesi ad litteram, as I have set forth in another place (Living Tradition, No. 47). The point to be gathered here is that Augustine sees the creation of heaven and earth in Gen 1:1 to mean the creation of the two chief parts of the world: the angelic world and the physical world. The author, who wants to read "heaven and earth" in Gen 1:1 to mean "the entire totality of things," illogically leaves out the angels. And to such an extent does he insist upon omitting this element, which is very much part of the biblical world (cf. Gen 16:7-13; 28:12; 32:1, etc.), that he rubs it out systematically as he goes over his "entire totality of things." For instance, in exhibiting the "creation Psalm" 148, to show "the predication of totality by enumerating its composing parts," he interprets verse two, "Praise him all his angels, praise him all his hosts" as meaning "everybody" (283). If there is one thing angels do not have, it is a body, and they are in no way represented by the category "everybody." Similarly, in the great creation hymn in Daniel 3, the angels are mentioned as the first "work of the Lord." The author's total omission of the angels is the final flaw in his diagram of "the whole and its parts," that is, of the sacred writer's description of "the entire totality of things," which, he says, is a literary device used in Genesis 1.
The author advances false reasons for excluding Genesis 1 from the genre of real history. It is the "completely systematic character of Genesis 1" that "suggests its being something else than history, which is never told in such a systematic fashion, partly because its chain of events hardly ever reveals a system" (8). So the chronological arrangement into a series of six "days" suggests that it is not history! And the fact that the creation of the world by God reveals a system indicates that it must be "something else than history"! This is not the reasoning of a trained historical researcher. Again, Genesis 1 "is certainly not a history," because "this chapter is not the story of a battle, of an encounter, of a plot" (27). Such a narrow idea of what history is! The author seems to have no inkling of the fact that any narrative of real past events as such is true history. Should the serious historian expect the true history of creation to be something like a battle, an encounter, or a plot? To put it bluntly, the author lacks the mental categories necessary to recognize an historical narrative for what it is. Never throughout his discourse does he distinguish the categories of historical science from those of statistical science, never does he undertake any historical examination of the content of Genesis 1.
Historical science, as contrasted with statistical science, can use reliable witnesses in the reconstruction of past reality. In the case of Genesis 1 there are reliable witnesses to the creation of the universe, first of all the Holy Spirit, Who afterwards inspired the writer of this chapter to record the revelation, and also, as Augustine has so brilliantly pointed out, a few hundred million angels. And the guarantee of the truth of this witness is the inerrancy of the narrative, which has never been impaired by any valid scientific or historical argument. However, it is necessary for the historian to recognize two levels of meaning in the literal sense of this text: a plain historical meaning which is true in a vague and imprecise way and a subtle historical meaning which is true in a clear and precise way. The plain historical meaning of Genesis 1 has been recognized and identified by all of the great exegetes of the past. The precise historical meaning has had to be searched for, and it is here that many exegetes have failed to find the correct answers to their questions. Interpreters always begin from the framework of their own understanding of the structure of the universe. Depending on how well they use historical science, they will at least see the plain historical truth of the text, as the great exegetes of the past have done, or they will fail to see the plain historical truth of the chapter, as the author has done.
As knowledge of the physical nature of the cosmos has increased over the centuries, so has the subtle historical meaning of Genesis 1 come to be better and better perceived. The author has missed the opportunity to trace the development of that understanding. For instance, as I have shown in another writing (Living Tradition, No. 48), Augustine's difficulties in concordizing the literal sense of the six days of creation with the structure of the cosmos as it was understood in his day led him to discover the anagogical sense of this account. And even his troubled speculations about the nature of the firmament and of the waters above it, as aberrant as they are seen to be today, actually laid the foundation for the understanding of the firmament that we can have today in keeping with the data of contemporary physics and astronomy (ibid.). Yet all that the author can tell us (falsely) is that "the cause of science (and of biblical exegesis) could not profit from his patently unconvincing speculations about the nature of the firmament or about the nature of water that could find a natural place above it" (92).
The author berates Thomas Aquinas for maintaining with Augustine that "while one could hold this or that opinion about the material quality of the firmament, its fact could not be doubted" (130), and he tells Aquinas that, in order to avoid the "trap of concordism," he would have had to "abandon any effort whatsoever to co-ordinate Genesis 1 with scientific theories, old, present, and future" (131). But the author is simply unable to grasp the distinction that Aquinas is making between scientific theories and historical fact. That God made a firmament is an historical fact that is prior to any scientific theory. Whoever would try to erase this fact, could do so only by valid historical method, which the author uses not at all.
The author avers that "by using the word `how´ Augustine turned Genesis 1 into a science textbook" (92). Again, as always, he misses the distinction between history and natural science. Augustine was talking directly about the historical succession by which the physical world took form and only indirectly about the physical processes themselves inasmuch as they are reflected in the historical succession. But the author misses an even greater distinction as well, where he denies that Genesis 1 is a "science textbook," meaning, of course, only natural science. Genesis 1 is a textbook of the early history of the world: it does present the facts of that history and the correct sequence of those facts. It also contains implicitly the picture that valid physical science can derive from looking at the historical facts in the framework of its own proper principles and conclusions, but it does not teach the technical conclusions of physics. Therefore, it is not a textbook of natural science. Having missed the distinction between natural science and historical science, the author is in no position to maintain that the Mosaic account should not be taken "for what it was never meant to be, science" (207). Nor can he with any authority conclude his book-length attack against the historical truth of the works of the six days with the outlandish claim that "a primitive use of Genesis 1 against evolution sets up that chapter as a science textbook that notoriously failed to accommodate the firmament and the late appearance of the sun, to mention only some salient points" (301). It is not primitive thinking to realize that Genesis 1 excludes atheistic evolution, which is the starting significance of the term. But over and above that, the author offers no argumentation in his book to exclude what Genesis 1 says either about the firmament or about the appearance of the sun. One of the greatest oversights of his method is that he nowhere examines what Genesis 1 textually says, nor does he offer any refutation of the numerous ideas and theories that he rejects. He seems to be convinced that for him merely to mention an idea in a context of rejection and to raise his eyebrows occasionally is already a sufficient refutation.
The author insists that Genesis 1 "is certainly not a history" (27), because it does not tell us how the cosmos came to be what it is (92). He means by this that Genesis 1 does not attempt to tell the real order in which the elements of the world actually came to be or their causal relationship to one another. It is rather, he says, "a systematic straightforward recount of the main parts (and of the particulars of each part) of the world as imagined by the Hebrews" (21). The principal parts of the world, as the Hebrews imagined it, were "the firmament, the earth, the upper and lower waters, the seas and the abyss" (23). They imagined the firmament as a rather flat roof, "closer to the contours of a tent's cover," than to a hemisphere (278). "For the ancient Hebrews it was enough to think of a tent in thinking about the world. Such a construct was hardly a scientific model, but an all-encompassing model it was and the author of Genesis 1 proclaimed in terms of that model the creation of all" (279).
Many ancient Hebrews could well have imagined the world to be constructed somewhat as the author imagines, but the crucial point is that his reconstruction does not do justice to the text of Genesis 1. Psalm 103 can with poetic imagery describe God as clothed with a "garment" of light and the heavens as "stretched out like a tent," but that does not deprive the sober account of Genesis 1 of scientific truth and validity. The Hebrew word rqîa, which we translate as firmament, seems etymologically to denote "something that hardened and flattened as it spread out" (Cornelius a Lapide). The author assumes that, on a scientific level, there neither is nor ever really was a "firmament," and it is against his principles even to look. But the fact is that the structure of the physical universe, as visualized by contemporary physical science, has the shape of vast ribbons of galaxies hardened into a certain contour by the forces of gravity, momentum, and inertia, and the galaxy of the Milky Way has flattened away from its nucleus. This contemporary picture fits very well under the notion of rqîa in Genesis 1 (see Living Tradition, No. 48).
THE FOURTH DAY AS HISTORY.
The author's strongest card against the explanations of Augustine, Aquinas, and virtually the entire Catholic exegetical tradition is "that perennial Achilles' heel of all literalist interpretations of Genesis 1, the creation of the sun on the fourth day" (94). "Augustine," he says, "does not for a moment consider the question of the obvious correlation of the sun with light; for him light has little to do with the sun" (95). This impression is taken from a misreading of Augustine's Confessions, whereas, it is clear from his De Genesi ad litteram that Augustine knows the correlation between light and the sun. The point of Augustine's reflection is the origin of light before the sun existed. What astronomer today maintains that light comes only from the sun? The author sees no grain of truth in the explanation of Honorius of Autun that "the tenuousness of light was condensed into the corporeity of the sun, and compacted into the globes of the moon and stars" (121) or in the theory of Petavius that "the sun, the moon, and the stars, were produced from the bright cloud and water vapor of the first and second days" (181). And yet, are not condensation and transformation viable notions in contemporary astronomical speculation regarding the formation of these bodies? With eyebrows on high, the author quotes Arno Penzias, Nobel-laureate and "co-discoverer of the 2.7° K cosmic background radiation which put the Big Bang on a very firm footing" to the effect that "the best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on, but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole" (251). He quotes from V.F. Weisskopf in Scientific American to the effect that "the Judeo-Christian tradition describes the beginning of the universe in a way that is surprisingly similar to the scientific model" (ibid.). And "last but not least," he quotes Benjamin Gal-or in Cosmology, Physics and Philosophy (New York: Springer Verlag, 1981: p. 5), in these words: "Most astrophysicists, cosmologists and astronomers agree that the biblical account of cosmic evolution, in stressing `a beginning´ and the initial roles of `void,´ `light´ and a `structureless´ state, may be uncannily close to the verified evidence with which modern science has already supplied us" (ibid.). These contemporary judgments are impressive quotations to which the author feels no need of a response at all, no serious argumentation to the contrary, but only the disparaging remark that "such exegesis has the glitter of fool's gold," so certain is he that no one can remove "the specter of science about the Fourth Day" (252).
But it seems that, in the midst of all his contempt for the treasury of past exegesis of Genesis 1, the author has made the elementary mistake of not reading carefully the text of the chapter before presuming to comment on it and taking the liberty to contradict all of the serious exegetes who have gone before him. As there was a misreading of the fifth and sixth days of creation, so is there a misreading of the fourth. For the author the "Achilles' heel" of all who understand Genesis 1 to say what it actually says is "the creation of the sun on the fourth day" (94). He asks triumphantly: "How could the earth, a planet, come before the sun? How could plants, which live on photosynthesis, thrive prior to the sun's appearance" (HPR, p. 29)? Now, in actual fact, Gen 1:16-17 doesn't say that God created the sun on the fourth day. What it says is that "God made two great lights: a greater (stronger) light to rule the day, and a lesser (weaker) light to rule the night, and the stars. And he set them in the firmament of heaven to shine upon the earth." What Genesis 1 is clearly talking about here (wayyittn: "and He placed") is not the creation of the substance of the sun and the moon, but the positioning of the sun and the moon as lights in the sky to shine upon the earth. And this meaning is confirmed by verse 14, which says that God made lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day and the night and to be "for signs and for seasons and for days and years."
Now, how was this accomplished? In keeping with mainstream contemporary astronomy, this work could easily have been accomplished by the fixing of the angular motion of the earth, that is, the speed of its revolution on its axis, the speed and arc of its tilting on its axis, and the speed of its revolution around the sun. Of course, this physical explanation is open to discussion, since it remains always ambiguous and limited to the insight that exegetes depending upon physical science may have. Still the plain historical fact is evident: plants appeared on earth before the sun, the moon, and the stars were finally positioned visually in the sky. This information we have from the inspired words of Sacred Scripture. Hence, Genesis 1 does not say that "the earth, a planet (came) before the sun;" nor does it say that plants throve "prior to the sun's appearance;" nor does it say that the firmament is a solid dome or like the roof of a tent. Contrary to the opinion of the author (HPR, p. 29), even the firmament and the "waters" above it can be an object of science, if looked at with an open mind, not obscured by the bias of anticoncordism. But why even attempt to look at the history of creation as an object of physical science, if "the possibility of errors built into scientific theories does not guarantee an error-free reading of Genesis 1" (253)? The reason is that every reader of Genesis 1 tends to look at the historical account of Genesis 1 in terms of his own idea of the universe, and a reader will tend falsely to exclude the historical truth of the account if he examines it without expert guidance, or even worse, from the unscientific perspective of anticoncordism, such as we find abundantly exemplified in Genesis 1 through the Ages. And on this general note I conclude, since a detailed analysis of the author's survey is beyond the scope of this review.
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