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Book and Video Review Guide

Moo-ving people toward compassionate living

The intent of this book and video review guide is to help us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

"Genesis" (Bereshith)
Chapter One of "The Animals’ Bible"
by Ian A. Stuart

Part One - Creation

Opening with the Hebrew word Br’shyt – "in the beginning" – Genesis presents us with truly ancient stories that cover the great span of pre-history between Creation and the appearance of the patriarch Avram (Abram) about 4,000 years ago. Around 300 BCE, when the Bible was translated from Hebrew into Greek, the book was given the new name "Genesis" - coming into being - because it starts by telling us how the world originated.

In some of the most magnificent prose ever written, the opening chapters of Genesis convey to all successive generations the ancient Hebrew1 concept of Creation in which everything – including animals and human beings - is brought into existence by the will of the one and only Divine Being.

During this process, and after creating the environment in which they would live, YHWH2 caused the pre-human species to come into being, apparently starting with the Cetaceans – the great whales – by speaking them into existence.

"Let the waters team with living creatures, and let the birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds3 and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (1:20-21)

He then blessed the creatures of the sea and the birds of the air and spoke directly to them.

"Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." (1:22)

This best known and most quoted book of the Bible infers that God did not initially create all life forms, nor did he create their global populations. Rather, he created a select few, endowing them with the ability to share in his creative power in a secondary, on-going way, giving them the capacity to pro-create themselves. By doing so he set in motion not only sexual reproduction for species with two sexes (the only type known to the Biblical authors) but asexual reproduction where each individual has the power to reproduce itself and species like Whip-tailed Lizards which are parthenogenic – made up only of female individuals.

The reason God chose to create anything at all is impossible to determine although the ancient Hebrews believed he had emotional reasons. Genesis doesn’t speculate on the divine motive, although the apocryphal book known as the Odes of Solomon records the idea that the world came into being not only by his words, but also by the thoughts of his heart.4

The way in which Yahweh created or manifested living beings is confusing. Hebrew uses the unique word bara to refer to God’s creative action, and while this is expressed in terms of a verbal command – the Divinity speaks and something appears out of nothing - subsequent species seem to be generated independently from pre-existent matter.

Genesis doesn’t tell us how many different types of animals and birds God initially created, although the extra-Biblical book of Jubilees5 claims that twenty-two species were created by the seventh day. This is an extremely low number since there are approximately twenty million species on the earth today. However, all subsequent species could have developed, over time, from the original, divinely created "kinds".

By merely observing the animals that exist, it is obvious that Yahweh created them with various levels of intelligence. By reading Genesis it is obvious that he also endowed them with awareness of his existence. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand how they were expected to hear and understand his instructions. The Bible makes it clear – time and time again – that God communicates with his non-human creation. This is not only clearly stated in Genesis, it is affirmed in Biblical books like Job and apocryphal writings in which he is described not only as their Creator, but their teacher, advisor, protector and counsellor.

Whether we hold the theory of evolution to be fact or nonsense, nothing in the Bible prevents us from believing that the original, divinely created species were equipped by God with the capacity to change in response to alterations to their environment. This ability to adapt allowed for the development of sub-species and entirely new, post-Creation species even if we hold that they owe their ancestry to life forms originally created by YHWH.

Genesis claims that Creation took place in six days and unless we are willing to totally reject the discoveries of physics, astronomy, geology, palaeontology and the other Natural Sciences, we are obliged to view the divine "day" as a substantially longer period of time than 24 hours.6

The Biblical story of creation does not start as Science does with elemental amino acids coming together in the primordial oceans to form the first proteins leading to the development of single-celled organisms some three billion years ago. It does, however, claim that life began in the ocean, which is identical to the scientific claim.

According to Genesis, mammals, reptiles and ultimately all forms of terrestrial life followed life in the oceans and the air. These additional living beings were created on the sixth "day", the same time period as human beings.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Genesis fails to date Creation. The inspired authors and editors who composed this book - almost surely the work of several sources since it encompasses different versions of the same stories - had no idea their entire world was only a tiny fraction of the surface of a planet. They were unaware that it circled a modest star in one of the remote arms of a spiral galaxy with over 100 billion galactic neighbours drifting in an unimaginably vast universe in which there are more stars than grains of sand on all the beaches of the world.

Similarly Genesis makes no attempt to describe the Universe. Its authors were pre-scientific and had no such concept. Astronomers estimate its age at some 12 billion years. By universal time, each "day" of God would be well over a billion years. However, to the authors of Bereshith, their world was the only world. It was the center of everything. It was flat. The sky above them was a canopy or dome resting on pillars, above which was the divine realm. The sun they saw every day was a "light" which was right up there in the sky. They didn’t realize they circled it, that this massive source of light and heat was a star 93 million miles (150 million km) away, and they were being carried along with it on its 250 million year orbit of the center of the galaxy. They had no idea this sun many people worshipped as a deity was only one of 400 billion in the Milky Way galaxy they could see in their night sky. The moon in that sky they took to be another "light" and could not grasp the fact that it was a lifeless, orbiting rock that merely reflected the light of the sun and had no luminescence of its own. Beyond the moon were tiny, twinkling "lesser lights". They had no way of knowing it was 4.5 light years to the nearest of those dots of light and 26 billion to the most remote quasar. They simply cannot be expected to have written about things it would take the human race thousands of years to comprehend.

When Jewish scholars tried to estimate the date of creation they came up with October 7th, 3761 BCE.7 Much later, in 1654, James Usher, the Anglican bishop of Armagh, Ireland calculated the date to be 4004 BCE and you can still see his dates in older editions of the King James Version of the Bible. John Lightfoot went even further and announced the exact moment was 9:00 AM on October the 23rd. Other "experts" disagreed, speculating that Creation took place as far back as 5509 BCE.  The only problem with these dates is that the earth is unlikely to be less than 8,000 years old in a solar system that has been around for at least 5 billion.

The Bible is written from a faith perspective and describes the Hebrew people, their 6,000-year history, their ancient worldview and their unique relationship with their Creator. It is not, should not be used as, and does not hold itself out to be, a scientific textbook. As a library of religious manuscripts written by historians, priests and scribes over a period of many centuries it contains stories a lot older than the scrolls on which it was originally written. Many had their origin with other peoples and cultures that made their mark on history long before the ancient Hebrews became a distinctive people.

In the passages that follow, it is essential to understand that except for tiny fragments, the Old Testament was composed in Hebrew - a variation of the Semitic language of Canaan - which first became a written language around the time of Joshua. It has no equivalent for our word "animal". The Hebrew words are hayya – a living creature – and behema, used in reference to large, four-footed, primarily domestic animals.8

"Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds; livestock, creatures that move along the ground and wild animals, each according to its kind." (1:24)

In committing this direct quote from God to writing, the authors of Genesis may have been far ahead of their times in understanding the creative process. "Evolve" may not be the correct word, but the concept that the life processes of the planet bring forth living creatures is supported by the scientific position that species develop over time, in an on-going process. People of faith may infer, with special reference to Genesis 1:24, that this occurred – in fact is continuing to occur – at God’s command according to a Plan conceived in the timeless Divine Mind.

This first book of the Tanakh – the Hebrew Bible - seems to suggest that Yahweh’s creatures sprang into existence already "wild" or "domestic". Another way of expressing this might be to say that while some species were intended to remain permanently free, others, like cattle, sheep and goats, were designed with a pre-disposition to domestication. The ancient Hebrews may have been ignorant of many things, but they undoubtedly knew their domestic breeds were developed over many generations from originally wild species by selective breeding.

God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock…and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. (1:25)

We can safely assume that the phrase "the creatures that move along the ground" was intended to include the rest of the terrestrial species, since the scribes who committed Bereshith to writing would not deliberately have excluded subterranean creatures that move in the ground, arboreal life forms which live above it in trees or amphibious species that live partly in water and partly on land. Then again, their purpose was not to list species. They could easily have overlooked such details at the time, edited them out of earlier versions of the manuscript or simply didn’t consider them important enough to include.

Genesis is absolute in its claim that there was a Divine Plan behind creation. The ancient Hebrews believed that YHWH went through a planning process before he acted, just as we do. He also planned everything he created to be good and, examining his handiwork, proclaimed it so. What is troublesome about an entirely good creation is the inclusion of creatures that cause suffering, pain, terror and death. The famous question, "What was God thinking about when he created fleas?" applies equally to intestinal worms, blood-sucking flies, deadly viruses and flesh-eating bacteria. It also includes the legion of parasitic, predatory and destructive life forms that haunt the lives and become nightmarish for other living beings or reproduce in such plague-like numbers they utterly devastate the environment. How such life forms could be deemed "good" is likely to remain one of the great, unanswerable, theological mysteries.

From the evidence of Creation, it is clear that God planned living creatures with independent brains and complex nervous systems that result in the early development of individuality. While the idea of a separation between body and soul was a Greek – not a Hebrew – concept, it is also clear that he endowed each of his creatures with a nephesh – a spirit, soul or vital essence. This is evident in the Biblical books and many apocryphal manuscripts, books that were written in the biblical era but did not make it into the Bible, support this hypothesis. Included in both these documents and those that make up the Bible is the idea that the Supreme Being created the spirits of his creatures – human beings included – before he created the creatures themselves, an important theological concept because it suggests the spirit is not only independent of the body, but pre-exists it.

With the creation of the non-human animals completed sometime during the sixth "day", Genesis tells us that YHWH turned his attention to the creation of human beings. The authors of this book knew nothing about pre-existing species of man like Homo erectus and Homo habilis so they jump directly to Homo sapiens – human beings just like themselves.

Biologically we are the same as the other mammals. Due to the genetic similarity between our species and the other primates, specifically the chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-utans and gibbons – the great apes - God had already created creatures which were extremely similar to us. The authors of Genesis couldn’t have known this since human beings wouldn’t understand the similarity for millennia. Only in the late twentieth century did we learn that human beings and chimpanzees are 98% genetically identical.

According to Genesis, the new species was given an advantage – a uniquely human benefit about which there has been endless speculation. Science concludes that our advanced brains and higher, specialized intelligence sets us apart from the animals and allows us to dominate all other species. The theological position of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is very different however, based on this statement in God’s own words.

"Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the seas and the birds of the air, over the live-stock, over all the earth9 and over all the creatures that move along the ground." (1:26)

Those familiar with Biblical translations that use the term "dominion" may find rulership or stewardship uncomfortable alternatives, but there is little doubt that a sense of over-riding responsibility is the meaning of the original Hebrew.

It is interesting to find this section of Genesis referring to the original human beings as "them" without reference to individuals, which suggests that Yahweh created a number of human beings just as he created a number of individuals in each of the other species that preceded us.

One of the key mysteries of this book is the use of "we" and "our" attributed to God who is called Elohim (El-o-heem). This is a plural word, and in the original, impersonal sense means "gods". However, when used in Hebrew as a title for God, it requires a singular verb, and is the closest Biblical word to the title "God". It contains "El", the name of the Supreme Being among many peoples in the Middle East during the time of the patriarchs and before the personal name YHWH was revealed to Moses from the burning bush.

Elohim might have been using what we today call "the royal we" in the sense that monarchs used to say to a subject, "We wish to speak to you," instead of "I wish to speak to you." The name may date back to the time when the Hebrews and their neighbours believed there were many gods of which El was the leading deity and therefore was imagined to be addressing those other, lesser deities. It could mean that God was speaking to previously created, spiritual beings (angels) who were taking some role in creation. Or, as some Christian theologians would claim centuries later, it infers a conversation between the Persons of the Godhead, although the men who composed Bereshith lived in a world in which God was composed of a single Person. Since we cannot ask the original writers what they intended, we are forced to speculate. The noted Jewish author, Rabbi Harold Kirshner claims it was the animals to which God was speaking, a logical conclusion since they were the only other living beings in the world and on the evidence of Genesis 1:22 which tells us he spoke to them.

What is meant by "in our image" or "in our likeness" is as much a mystery as to whom Elohim was speaking. Again we can only speculate about the intentions of the original authors. Genesis doesn’t explain. Throughout the Bible there are many – sceptics say too many – passages that compel us to guess at their meaning. The manuscripts themselves don’t provide the answers or sufficient details to be sure the answers we come up with are correct. Elohim may have meant something similar to "like me" (having some degree of divinity) "like us" (having qualities possessed by spiritual beings) or even "like us" in the sense of having independent existence and individual identity, although these suggestions are by no means exhaustive.

Whatever the unique difference God bestowed on our primeval ancestors, he gave them the same awareness of his existence that he bestowed on the animals. He blessed them, spoke directly to them and gave them the same share of the divine creative power as the other species – the ability to re-create. And, since human beings are biologically mammals, and could not have reproduced as a species without two sexes, there must have been a number of male and female humans just as there were a number of males and females of the other species.

"Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (1:28)

A great deal of grief has come to our companion species due to the interpretation of "ruling over". It certainly doesn’t mean "dominate" or "Do as you please with them." This is a vice-regal authority given by the Ultimate Ruler, and makes us accountable to him for the well being of his subject creatures. As we will discover, it also carries the requisite that human beings act towards the other living members of Creation according to strict rules of attitude and behaviour including justice, mercy, kindness and compassion.

The interpretation of "subdue" is more crucial. In Hebrew it has military connotations, but is unlikely to mean, "Make war on them." It is much more likely to mean, "Bring under your stewardship or authority" and not obliterate them which is what we currently doing – sometimes deliberately, sometimes out of ignorance – at such a frightening, and ultimately self-destructive rate it appears we are trying to commit mass racial suicide and take all other living things with us into oblivion.

No matter how you translate or interpret 1:28, it is extremely unlikely that God was giving his newest and uniquely equipped creatures the right to degrade, damage, diminish and destroy everything he had just brought into existence! Nowhere does the Bible allow, suggest or even contemplate the destruction of entire species. Such a blasphemy - equivalent to slapping their Creator in the face - was incomprehensible to the Biblical writers.

The last thing Yahweh did at the conclusion of the creative process was to set out a diet for all living beings – human and non-human alike – a diet that strictly excluded flesh. His creatures were not to live by eating each other.

"I will give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seeds in it. They will be yours for food." (1:29)

This makes a great deal of sense, since human beings have teeth designed to grind vegetable matter, not to tear and eat meat. The first humans were also the most restricted, since their fellow creatures were given a much wider choice.

"And to the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food." (1:30)

In the world God created there was no predation, no need to hunt, no need to use violence to obtain food. Living beings did not fear each other because, according to the Divine Plan, there was no reason to kill and eat their fellow creatures. Their God had decreed that all living things were to be vegetarian.

As we read on we find the story of Creation beginning again. Yahweh places a particular man in a garden in the east, almost surely located in the massive, lush, alluvial plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This was the birthplace of the first civilizations – Akkad and Sumer. The area, which came to be called Mesopotamia, is now Iraq and was dominated as far back as 3,400 BCE by the Sumerians who produced everything from writing, medicine, mathematics and religious mythology to love poetry, baked clay bricks, high-rise architecture, astronomy, botany and many of the other sciences.

The paradise in which the man was placed was "Delight" – the meaning of Eden – and there he and all the creatures with him were immortal, since death did not yet exist. However, the man was warned of a circumstance under which he could perish. YHWH told him that while he was free to eat from any tree in Eden, "…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." (2:16) The Hebrew here is a synonym for "everything". Literally this was the Tree of the Knowledge of Everything.  If the man ate its fruit he would be like God. He would have divine knowledge - including knowledge of good and evil.

No one knows the species of this tree. One Jewish tradition maintains that the fruit looked like a bunch of figs, although the Bible doesn’t claim it was a fig. It certainly wasn’t an apple tree. The extra-Biblical text known as the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch records a different tradition, claiming the deadly botanical specimen was a vine planted by the angel of death, Sammael, but whatever its species, and however it got there, its very existence raises one of the Bible’s great mysteries. Why would an all-knowing God, fully aware that the man would do precisely what he was warned not to do, place such a tree in front of him in the first place? Such an act would be self-defeating, unless you realize that the ancient Hebrews did not credit God with knowledge of the future.  They appear to have believed that God didn’t know whether the man would touch that fatal tree or not.

The story of an untouchable tree is very ancient – much older than the Hebrew Scriptures – and may have originally conveyed the idea of a benevolent deity warning human beings that certain botanical life forms contain toxins that cause death if eaten.  However, that is not what Genesis conveys in the form it has been passed down to us.

"…the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living being." (2:7)

At this point we might legitimately ask, If God has already created the human species male and female, why does Genesis suddenly start the story of creation all over again in terms of only one man? While the argument is commonly made that this second story is a flashback to the first, scholars tells us that there were originally at least two creation stories – the "J" or Yahwist version and the "P" or Priestly version. The Yahwist is the older of the two, written before 700 BCE during the dominance of the Tigris-Euphrates valley by Assyria. The Priestly document was composed during the time when the Hebrews were captive to the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE. These two versions were combined – not without an element of confusion – in the final edition of Genesis we have today. In the first version, human beings were apparently created in numbers, male and female. In the second, a single man and woman are created one after another – in fact one from the other – and become the progenitors of the human race.  In both versions human beings and animals are created in exactly the same fashion – from pre-existing matter - from the earth.

It is helpful to know that adam is the Hebrew word for "man" in the sense of an individual male as well as "Man" in the sense of the human species – mankind or humanity – inclusive of both male and female. Since the Hebrew adamah means earth or ground, the meaning is clear: adam was created from adamah and one of the men (or the first man) was called, or later came to be known as, Adam.

The language of the Bible can only be understood in the perspective of its time and cultural content – through the eyes of the scribes and historians of an ancient, nomadic, Semitic people.10 It does not fit neatly into a 21st century scientific understanding of our planet and its place in the Universe. Biblical literature is frequently allegorical, metaphorical, symbolic and poetic and within the context of their culture, its authors expected it to be understood in that fashion. Only an extremely committed literalist believes God acted as a divine potter and formed living beings from what we recognize today as dust, dirt or clay, or that a pure Spirit has the lungs, throat, tongue, vocal cords and mouth with which to "speak" things into existence or breathe into nostrils. It should come as no surprise - given the centuries in which the Hebrews lived in Egypt - that this concept has a startling similarity to the Egyptian idea that their creator god, Khnum, formed living beings out of the clay of the earth and breathed life into each creature.

What this ancient book tells us is that the Creator caused living beings to appear (instantly or over a long period of time) from pre-existing matter, the basic elements of the earth, and the "breath of life" – the state of being biologically and spiritually alive – was infused into them by God as an essential element of their existence.11


Footnotes

  1. Latin Hebraueus, Greek Hebreios, Aramaic ‘ibray, Hebrew ibri – from the other side of the river
  2. The name of God, usually written – by inserting vowels – Yahweh
  3. Species
  4. Instead of a muscle to pump blood, Biblical authors believed the organ was the source of the emotions
  5. An apocryphal book known as "Little Genesis" which parallels Genesis and parts of Exodus
  6. The Bible claims that a day of the Lord is 1,000 years, a numeral used by Biblical authors to indicate not a literal millennium but an unknown, very long, period of time
  7. Before The Common Era, equivalent to B.C.
  8. Behema also appears in various Biblical-era books in the name Behemoth, a legendary monster borrowed from pre-Hebrew mythology. (See "Fabulous Creatures, Beasts & Monsters")
  9. OR, all the wild animals
  10. From Shem, son of Noah, "Semitic" includes modern Jews and Arabs as well as ancient Assyrians and Phoenicians.
  11. Spirit in Hebrew is ruach, in Latin spiritus. Both mean "breath.

Copyright, 2001 Ian A. Stuart

| Go on to Chapter 1 - Genesis - Part 2 - The Naming to Seth |
| The Animals' Bible Table of Contents |
Anyone who wants an advance copy of The Animals' Bible should contact the author by e-mail at:
ianastuart@yahoo.ca (Canada).

| Table of Contents |

The calf photo on this pages is from Farm Sanctuary with our thanks.

All of the beliefs and ideas presented by the writers of the reviewed publications may not necessarily represent all those held by The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation, but since they do seek to make this a kinder and more compassionate world, they have been included.


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