I was very impressed with the Teaching Company's lectures on the Book of Genesis. These were way beyond expectation and certainly helped with my writing of Forever Jack.
Gary Rendsburg gives 24 lectures on the book, and he brought up several points I had not considered, or didn't know about -- which is a treat for me. I don't know how many times I have read Genesis as a complete book, and certainly couldn't estimate how many times I referenced the book for various interests, or how many bible studies, classes, and courses I have taken in the last 25+ years, but to have basic areas presented which shed new perspectives and understanding to my experience is worth a great deal to me.
This should not be taken as a claim of expertise in biblical study and knowledge. Certainly not, but seriously, after 25 years, having some one give you a foundation shaking insight into the first chapter of the first book of the Bible? That is something.
In fact, let's give a spoiler here, because much of the novel Forever Jack was conceived during the tremors of some of these first insights, and I don't believe it will detract from the value of getting his lectures at all, because there are plenty more where this came from.
As he puts it, the first area we have to look at is the area of translation. Hebrew, is not a dead language. That should be understood right away. Ancient Hebrew, is not a dead language either. There are plenty of people around who read, write and speak fluently in Ancient Hebrew.
Most translations are not obscured by the lack of understanding Hebrew, they are obscured by a Roman Catholic, Christian bias which is the belief that God created everything, from nothing. This is called the belief in creation ex nihilo, meaning literally 'from nothing'. Prior to these lectures -- because of my own education coming from Methodist and the Catholic College -- my understanding of creation was based on this idea as well, and this idea is rather deeply defended by the Roman Catholic church, whose specific explanationcan be found on the new advent web site.
However, apparently this is not what Genesis says, and in fact is says the complete opposite. Which blew me away.
Hearing the actual translation and then spending the time to make sure of what I was being presented (because after all, we are bucking against 25+ years of my own experience and over a 1000 years of church teaching), I find no way of arguing against the translation he presents.
The actual translation of the first few chapters of Genesis is not "creation ex nihilo".
When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God's breath hovering over the water, God said, "Let there be light." And there was light. And God saw the light, that is was good, and God divided the light from the darkness...
What an amazing difference! You can scan through part of a very good translation in Google books, looking up The Five Books of Moses by Robert Alter , but the translation we are suggested to use in the lectures is The Jewish Study Bible, and if we are looking for the most literal translation of the Torah currently available, he suggests Everett Fox's translation (a professor at Clark University, Worcester, MA).
This simple change, ... changes thousands of perspectives, once you get going. First, there was not "Nothing", according to the authors of Genesis. We have in this first passage clear reference, that, before God began to create heaven and earth... there is waste, welter, darkness and the deep. This is not nothing. This is, to any understanding of the time, (and even today) the clear description of evil and chaos.
The Hebrews, no matter what we might think or believe about their religion, came up with a completely original belief system. It is an absolutely original view of God and spiritual life. There is nothing, during their time, or even any time since, which is remotely like the conception of God the Hebrews had when writing Genesis... and the author of this book is absolute in his writing. There is nothing "primitive" about this story.
The author of Genesis is putting down on paper, the concept of a Monotheistic belief system, and he wants to be very clear on this matter. He doesn't want there to be any misunderstanding later -- that there are Two forces -- which is how most of the spiritual beliefs begin. There is Good, and there is Evil. But the Hebrews do not have this duality. In their writings, there is God. That's it, and all life comes from God, and all of creation which supports that life, is created by God.
This is really the first hurdle a monotheistic belief system has, because, clearly there is evil in the world, or what we see as evil. Kings coming along and slaughtering hundreds of people, raiders burning villages, raping women... there is clearly evil in the world ... so if there is only one God, and he created everything, then he created Evil.. right? Any prior monotheistic belief system splits right there, coming up with a god of Evil, and then most of the time, coming up with several more gods as well.
Anyone at the time of this writing of Genesis, would absolutely understand that the references to welter, waste, darkness and the deep, are references to Evil. Evil already exists. God doesn't create Evil ... evil and chaos are already pre-existing. What God does is to set order and light, where there is no order or light. He creates, from this universe of chaos, a universe which allows life to exist. He calls this... Good. At each step of his separating, and forming, he calls these separations, formations and the resulting order, Good.
The writer of this chapter is very exact in his wording. For example, he says, after God creates light, God then divides the light from the darkness... something we might believe is self evident, but to the author it is not. God isn't doing something which doesn't need to be done. God is not "simple minded", right? I don't' believe anyone could possibly argue the point that God is simple minded. So God is not doing something which doesn't need to be done here, and the author is pointing this out. God is Dividing.
God then divides water from water. He is not separating water from itself, he is Dividing again. He is putting things in Order. Since, what he creates by this Dividing is a vault between the waters, which he calls Heaven, he could be dividing the Deep, pushing it back, and away, so that he can create life. Either way, God is creating a universe in which he can bring something into being which can not be brought into being with the Deep there.
Third day, God is gathering, and again separating. Apparently, there is land. We know this because God gathers the water so that dry land can appear. So, God doesn't create "earth" or dirt, or land. Again, the author is making a statement, and in fact, is making a supporting statement to what he said before -- making it clear to the reader that he meant what he said before. It wasn't a mistake or a misunderstanding.
Let's look too at the words our author is using, because his vocabulary is exact as well. There are words in the Hebrew language for the Sun and the Moon, which we get to later, but the words our author uses are: "And God made two great lights, the great light for the dominion of the day and the small light for the dominion of the night, and the stars."
We know exactly what the author is referring to here; the sun and the moon. There are specific words in Hebrew for Sun and Moon. Common words, which would be used every day to say things like "Get up, the Sun has risen.", so why isn't he using these words? The answer shows a clear intent -- The words Sun and Moon, used by the Hebrews, commonly at the time, in everyday language, are also the names of Babylonian gods.
Our writer clearly doesn't want it to be mistaken that God, created these other gods. He doesn't want it to be understood that he is simply adding a bigger, stronger, mightier god to an existing pantheon. Our author is talking about God creating lights in the heaven, and stars. That's it.. just lights.
Yes, you know what those lights are, and you can call them what you want to, but they are just big lights in the sky, they are not gods -- Our author is telling us.
Our writer is a very specific man (or men, we aren't quite sure about that part), but it is very clear that these are not primitive minds who simply wrote down things as they "saw them" or "understood them" haphazardly without making sure they were being very clear.
Okay, it is obvious that I'm harping on this very clear stuff and specific stuff, which is true, and I have reasons of my own as well... my own agendas.
My own agendas, are to counter the Roman Catholic and modern Christian arguments for their mistranslations, and misdealing of this first book of the bible, which has not been "lost" or "mistranslated" or written in a dead language, and is very clear in what it is saying. Yet, we are taught creation ex nihilo.
And it kinda pisses me off, because we have people out there warring against science and discovery, based on the assumption that creation ex nihilo is what the Bible says, and the Bible says no such thing, and the Roman Catholic church knows it... so, why the ruse, because we can't call it anything else except for a ruse.
Why does the church of God promote an idea which causes conflict, contention, persecution, and, on the church's will, execution, on the grounds of creation ex nihilo, which they know is false?
That appears to be because --
"The early Christian writers, learning from Revelation that the world was produced from nothing, and seeing the necessity of having a term to designate such an act chose the word creare, which theretofore had been used to express any form of production, e.g. creare consulem (Cicero). The theological usage afterwards passed into modern language. Probably the idea of creation never entered the human mind apart from Revelation."
Wow...That is an absolutely astounding piece of botched reasoning. Let's walk through this...
Because Revelation says the world was produced from nothing...
Revelation is an Apocalypse literature, which is not written by John, the disciple of Jesus (which was clearly known to the "early Christian writers", because it was heavily contested in the beginning to even have it in the book Revelation in the New Testament -- because of that exact reason).
Also we know it wasn't John the disciple of Jesus, because Acts clearly says John was illiterate. The author of Revelation in the New Testament is called John of Patomos. Since John the disciple of Jesus was illiterate, and the author of Revelation is clearly educated (highly educated, and in fact uses words which didn't exist for many years) we are very sure that this John was not a disciple.
Revelation is a work of Apocalypse literature (says so in the title), which is not meant to be specific in word, only in message, and which we have no clear history or authority to, -- which the Roman Catholic church uses the logic of -- uses the word creare, "which thertofore had been used to express any form of production".
Then we are going to say -- "Probably the idea of creation never entered the human mind apart from Revelation."
Are you kidding me? Clearly, the author of Genesis not only thought about creation, he thought about it in very specific and clear terms (unlike the church's argument for their purposeful mistranslation).
This is the reasoning for centuries of hate and persecution based on an idea you clearly knew was wrong from the start? Because you needed Revelation to be right, where it conflicted with Genesis.
Well... I have a strong faith in God, and very little in men, and the church is simply a group of men trying to get by in life, just like I am. I'm just as much to blame for my astounded state (and far more responsible), because, as I've clearly stated, I've been studying these books for years, and I never bothered to look this stuff up or question its accuracy.
Let's get off all of that, because the revelation of this actual translation and meaning of Genesis is way to exciting to be brought down by hate and ignorance.
What we have now, with this understanding, is ... no primary source of evil. We also have no reason that the Big Bang theory, and Creationism, can not both be correct. We also have no reason Darwin and Creationism can not both be correct, and to top all of this off, we have a very interesting new perspective regarding the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
This last is the catalyst for huge sections of Forever Jack. Searching for the answers of what really happened to us when we ate the fruit; what it meant to the generations to come, and what it meant to Paul. More than all of these, the question most of us have had since childhood, which we have all pushed to the back of our minds, because we were given stern looks if we pressed the issue past the inane and silly logic given to us in answer : Why was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden, in the first place. Why did God put it there, if he knew it was dangerous?
I'm not going to get into the silly argument that "God Knew We Would Eat.." because that is another, well known misunderstanding of the church which I don't care to get into, but God clearly knew it was dangerous to us, because he says so. And I'm not willing to argue against what God says. The church? oh yeah.. in a heartbeat if they are using faulty reasoning to kill people, but God? no.
Not in this life time.