I’m not a textual scholar or trained in literary analysis (just to be clear), but it seems to me that the stories we tell are often, if not always, in conversation with the culture around them. We tell a story in response to something or to clarify something or to offer an alternative opinion or to tell each other we are not alone. Stories have to have some sort of context.
This is also true when we read the Bible. Really friends, the Bible didn’t drop out of the sky as fully formed timeless truths. The Bible is nearly all story and poetry. God and people figuring out what it means to be in covenant together. It is important, for example, to understand something about the status of women in the first century to grasp the implications of what Jesus is doing when he talks with women. The letters of Paul are written to particular churches and are written in response to particular situations. We don’t have the letters from the churches to Paul but to grasp what Paul is saying it helps to spend some time considering the difficulties of life in the very early church.
It helps to consider the context of Genesis also. Who or what is the author of Genesis- particularly the first 3 chapters- in conversation with? Some think it is science. But it might be worthwhile to think a bit more about that. Science, as we use the term, wasn’t around when Genesis was written. What sort of science would the original readers have had concerns about? Could Genesis be in conversation with something else?
I want to suggest so. Think about what civilizations and cultures were prominant when Genesis was written. Israel was unique because they claimed there was only one God. Most people in other nations were polytheists; they believed in multiple gods. In the Babylonian creation tales the gods battle each other and the earth is created out of the murdered body of a god. Humans are created from the blood of a god who is killed. It is a brutal view of the world and of humankind. The ancient gods were often violent, self centered and not too concerned about humanity. People sacrificed to the gods to keep them fed and happy.
Genesis is Israel’s alternate story.The one creator God creates order out of chaos. The one creator God creating a good world. The one creator God caring about the earth and particularly about humans.The one creator God speaks into existence the sun, moon and stars, which others believed to be gods. Genesis, especially chapter 1, is a strong statement of faith. Little, unimportant Israel talks back to larger, more powerful nations and cultures.
Today most people don’t claim to be polytheists. But that doesn’t mean we don’t worship a variety of gods. Only the names have changed. The dominant culture still glorifies violence. It still encourages self centered behavior. Our concern for humanity? Some days not so good. Actually, most days not so good.
We still, just like people living in the Ancient Near East, need to be reminded who the one good creator God is. The good creator God caring for creation. The good creator God interacting with the world in non violent, shalom producing ways. The good creator God caring for humankind enough to become one of us and move into the neighborhood.
Some conversations never change.