Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fiat lux

Nowadays, the interpretation of Gen 1 is often conducted with a view to modern science. Unbelievers attack Genesis as unscientific while believers defend Genesis.

Although it’s important for believers to defend Genesis, when the interpretation of Genesis is framed in terms of how Gen 1 relates to modern science, there’s a danger of shifting attention away from the primary interests of the narrator. Certainly the original audience wasn’t concerned with modern scientific questions. So at least some of the time we need to bracket the scientific controversy and try to approach the text from the historic vantagepoint of the original audience. What did this mean to them? What stood out for them?

For instance, Gen 1 lays great emphasis on the light/dark, day/night motif. For a reader who lived in preelectric times, what was the significance of light and dark, day and night?

i) Darkness evokes fear and apprehension. For one thing, there were dangerous nocturnal predators (e.g. Ps 104:20-22).

ii) Likewise, you could get lost in the dark. That might easily happen to those who had to travel on foot (e.g. Jn 12:35).

iii) Conversely, the major sources of light were sunlight and firelight. In that respect there’s probably an intertextual connection between sunlight and agriculture (Gen 1:14; 8:22). Sunlight was necessary for farming, and farming was necessary for food and wine. Keep in mind that wine was often substitute for water in a dry climate.

iv) The Pentateuch also describes certain types of sacred fire, light, or firelight. There’s the Shekinah, the burning bush, the pillar of fire, the perpetual flame (for burnt offerings), and divine lightning that consumes offerings. These reflect the presence of God or the revelation of God. The accent on light in Gen 1 sets the stage for these examples. 

v) In the ancient world, certain celestial phenomena were interpreted as omens (signs, portents, prodigies).

No comments:

Post a Comment