The Creation Covenant

Historical Background

A first biblical creation account appears in Genesis 1 - 2/3. It was written by the Priestly tradition which inserted its own highly structured creation text couched in reiterative poetic language, probably designed for oral transmission. The final editing and the addition of this Priestly text material occurred during or soon after the Babylonian exile (597 and 587/586 BCE). At this time, the Judaic priests were probably desperate to retain their unique monotheistic beliefs in the face of overwhelming Babylonian influence, but they also faced the challenge of harmonizing their world view with that of the Babylonian tradition. Genesis was written by scholars who were aware of the need to produce something like the Mesopotamian myth of creation, Enuma Elish, for their compatriot exiles, something that articulated and preserved the values of the hebrews in a foreign land who were wrestling with the experiences of loss of sovereignty, deportation, displacement, and an uncertain future.

The Babylonians incorported the Enuma Elish into their beliefs adding their god Marduk. Comparing it allows insights into the Genesis 1 account which offers a counter-redaction of the babylonian version.  Chaos appears in the Enuma Elish as a deity and origin of all things; Genesis affirms that the sole creator is Elohim who created sense from previous chaos. He also created Light which in the babylonian version was a deity. There is a dualism in the Enuma Elish between the forces of good and evil in which neither deity vanquishes. The emphasis in the biblical narrative is Elohim as sole creator and his creation as 'good'. The babylonian myth refers to the natural cycle of creation and chaos, summer bloom and winter decline; the hebrew creation version moves in a straight line of 7 days and is linear in conception.

The significant similarities in both myths are the beginning of creation from a watery chaos and its end in a period of rest. The significant differences between Genesis and the Enuma Elish lie in the fact that the Hebrews never regarded nature as a divine element, but rather conceived of God and his creations as separate and distinct entities. The Divine Being is represented by various gods in the babylonian account; the monotheistic Hebrew text reflects a Supreme Being who has provided hope for man in his divine promises.

Humanity are slaves, servants of the gods in the Enuma; in Genesis they are created in the image of God. Understanding creation as an act of Elohim through the use of the hebrew verb בָּרָא (bara), reserved only for the divinity, and within a covenantal interpretation, it is the act of creating a relationship between Elohim and the universe. It is the act of giving the universe a meaning beyond the natural cycle.

The second story of the creation covenant appears in Genesis 2/4 - 25. This narrative was probably put together and written down first by the Yahwist tradition before the babylonian captivity (c.587 B.C.). Since it was edited by the P(riestly) tradition of Genesis 1 its historical background is thus partially influencd by babylonian mythology especially the Epic of Gilgamesh. The P redactors retained both narratives while placing their version first and this accounts for the double creation narrative.

Gilgamesh has themes and storylines similar to the Garden of Eden and Noah's flood narratives. Parallels with the Yahwist story of Adam and Eve are the creation of man from the soil and his position among animals. Temptation by a woman and the snake (who robs Gilgamesh of the plant of immortality) are present in both stories as well as recognition of nakedness and expulsion from the garden. Both stories reveal a farming background where the earth, plants and animals have an important place.

The Biblical text.

Genesis 1/ 1 - 2/4a (This is the P(riestly) story of creation.)

The P account refers to God as Elohim who is sovereign master and creates(בָּרָא (bara), in hebrew repeated 7 times) through his word. The text is poetic with rhythm and formulaic repetition. It is highly schematic and its 7 sections reflect the number of perfection and are placed symmetrically. This is a theological construction of creation, not its description. 

Genesis 2/4b - 2/25 (The J(ahvist) story of creation)

The J account calls God Yahweh and fashions(asa in hebrew) creation with his hands. The garden setting with trees and plants with water and a creative activity using soil reflects a farming background. (The Persian word for this walled garden was 'paradise' and it is reproduced in many Arab mosques. The Akkadian word 'eden' meant 'plain'.)


In the Y story God(YAWH) fashions man and woman from clay but in his own image. After the Fall YAWH reveals himself as the redeemer.
In the later, more evolved, P narrative God(Elohim) is understood as Creator and the universe as His creature. This is taken to an abstract level in Genesis 1 where God is shown to have a creative relationship with the universe. He is a covenant maker who offers a meaningful relationship to creation in covenantal form.

The Covenant

The Adamic Covenant in Genesis 2 established certain rules and promises:
- Humans were given meaning by being created in God’s image.
- They were set to rule over the animal kingdom.
- The prohibition was not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

Breaking the Covenant

The first humans reject the preferred relationship through their disobedience by breaking the terms of the covenant. Sin is human rejection of this relationship.
The sins of Cain (fratricide), Lamlech (poligamy) and Seth (apostasy) are cited as parts of human rebellion against YAWH.

The Curse

A curse is put upon them and they are expulsed from the garden of Eden. They will have to work and face their own death. The flood episode forms part of the curse

Promise of a New Covenant

However there us the promise of a new covenant when the seed of the woman will destroy the serpent. YAWH is revealed as the redeemer.

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