Monday, February 25, 2019

Images of creation

1. Scripture uses different imagery for God's creative modalities. In the ancient Near East, creative art included architecture, pottery, metallurgy, painting, woodwork, and sculpture. Sculpture and pottery overlap. However, sculpture also made use of ivory and stone. Likewise, sculpture and woodwork overlap. 

In pottery or cast bronze sculpture, you take something formless (soft or liquid), then form it into a shape.

In woodworking or stone/ivory sculpture, or relief, you take something solid (hard), then bring a form or shape out of it–as if it was there, on the inside, waiting to be released or brought to the surface. 

Two different creative processes: forming into or forming out of. In the former, the finished object corresponds to the potter/sculptor's visual idea. In the latter, the sculptor projects his idea into raw material. What he sees in it or finds there mirrors what was in his mind's eye.  

In Gen 1 it's speech. It might even be song, like the Psalms. God as a lyric poet or bard. Both speaking and chanting are utterances. 

It's an interesting question why a locutionary metaphor is used to depict the mode of creation. There may be several reasons:

i) Speech come from a speaker. That's different from, say, a potter who uses preexistent material.

ii) Speech is invisible, so it reinforces an aniconic piety. A God who can be heard but not be seen. 

iii) Speech is revelatory. So creation is a divine revelation.

iv) Speech is the outward expression of thought. Mind precedes matter. 

2. There appears to be a bit of architectural imagery in the "expanse" of Gen 1:6-8, like a ceiling or roof. If so, that's figurative. 

3. Then there's mediate creation, viz. Gen 1:11ff. God creates creatures that recreate. 

4. Gen 2:7 is often though to trade on connotations of a potter. That may be correct, although the statement is very terse. I don't know what it's so often translated "dust". Potters don't use dust. Dust is dry granular dirt, whereas clay or mud is moist earth. 

However, that may depend on how we visualize the larger setting. Earth can be mud, clay, hardpan, or stone. Soft or hard, loose or solid. The implicit image in Gen 2:7 is God as a sculptor, but there are different kinds of sculptural techniques, depending on the raw material (see above). 

There's also the pun, where the same word may mean "Adam/the man" or what he was made of/out of/from (dirt, soil, ground). So the raw material is flexible. 

Gen 2:7 is the language of analogy. Perhaps the process was analogous to a miraculous Bernini. 

5. Scripture is reticent to use procreative metaphors for creation–no doubt because pagan creation myths do that. It uses a procreative metaphor for regeneration, in a clearly figurative sense. The highly poetic personification of wisdom in Prov 8 is the most extensive example. 

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