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Cosmology, Jewish


Jewish cosmology, generally known as the Old Testament account of creation, may be viewed as the Hebrew version of the beginning of the world, or universe, but particularly the earth including all things in it. The essential focus of this version is that God is the creative force, or power, and created everything himself; the God being the Jewish god Yahweh (see Judaism). Thus, God created all things through a series of acts, or methodology, described in the Bible:

According to Genesis 1, in the beginning God created the heaven and earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. In the first day God said let there be light, created light, and there was light; God saw the light, and it was good. God moved the light from darkness; calling the light Day and the darkness Night; so was the evening and the morning of the first day.

In the second day God said let there be a firmament in the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. God made the firmament, and divided the waters that were under the firmament from those which were above it; and it was so. The firmament God called Heaven. And there was the evening and the morning of the second day.

In the third day God said let the waters under heaven be gathered together in one place, and let the dry land appear, and it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters Seas; and he saw that it was good. And God said let earth bring forth vegetation, the herb yielding seed and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth; and it was so. And this all happened as God had said; and he saw it was good. And there was the evening and the morning of the third day.

In the fourth day God said let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night, and let them be for the signs, and for seasons, and for days and years. And let them be lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth; and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. God set these lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth; to rule over the day and the night, to separate light from darkness; and God saw that it was good. And there was the evening and the morning of the fourth day.

In the fifth day God said let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that has life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of the heaven. And God created great sea monsters, and every living creature that moves, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after its kind; and God saw it was good. God then blessed them, telling them to be faithful and multiply; filling the waters in the seas, and the fowl multiply in the earth. And there was the evening and the morning of the fifth day.

 

In the sixth day God said let the earth bring forth the living creature after its kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after its kind, and it was so. And God made everything after its kind: the beast of the earth, cattle, and every creeping thing, and God saw that it was good.

And then God said let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, the cattle, the earth, and every creeping thing that crawls upon the earth. So God made man in his own image, both male and female. And God blessed them, male and female, and instructed them as to how he wanted them to live upon the earth; they were to be faithful and multiply; having dominion over everything. And then God looked at all which he had created and saw that it was very good. And there was the evening and the morning of the sixth day.

On the seventh day, in Genesis 2, God rested. The heavens and earth and all things within them, which God had created, were finished. God sanctified the seventh day upon which he rested from the work he had finished.

The next three verses (Genesis 2:4-6) should be noted, though not often quoted, they are of extreme importance. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew; for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

Within the above paragraph containing the three noted verses in Genesis 2 is a description of a very long process. The word generations denote the extreme length of the process; and the generations are included in the day the Lord God created the earth and the heavens. From this one can assume that the author, presumably Moses, is denoting a considerable length of time when he uses the term day. In the next verse one comprehends that during this period, or day, the plants and herbs were not in the fields, because the Lord God had not made it rain upon the earth and there was not yet man to till or care for them. The last verse tells further why plants and herbs were not yet in the earth, because the earth was still too hot, and then a mist went up from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. This is the biblical description of the cooling of the earth, which Moses knew, and therefore was even known in this early biblical time. As to the reason for Moses' use of the term day, one can only surmise, that day meant a measurement or length of time to him.

Even though the verses (Genesis 2:4-6) do not offer a scientific explanation of the complete process which occurred during the cooling and formation of the earth, they indicate that there were those who acknowledged that such an process must have occurred even in biblical times; and furthermore, current scientific thought concerning the formation of the earth is not completely foreign to the Bible, as once held. With this in mind, one can come to the opinion that theology and science can share a common ground, and proceed onward not in complete antagonism.

The main emphasis in the Judaic creation concept, which was eventually adopted by Christianity, was that everything was created by God; everything came from his creative force and planned by him; he is the source of everything that exists. This is the basis of the Judaic cosmology: Theologians have had to figure out the grammatical anomaly at the beginning of Genesis. "In the beginning" was the origin form; however, in the beginning of what was not stated. The word offering the anomaly was hereshith. It was only after giving attention to Proverbs 8:22 and discovering that Wisdom was reshith that Genesis 1:1 could be accurately translated "by the means of Wisdom God created…" thereby locating a Wisdom cosmogony in Genesis.

This Hebrew concept of creation was challenged by other creation stories which were in the Mesopotamian region at the time that included the Babylonian Emuna Elish and the Gilgamesh epics; however the Judaic concept differed from them in that it described the Hebrew God as a single omnipotent creator. There were no descriptions of primeval battles between deities (though there are traces those cosmogonies found in Psalms and Job). The world was created solely in accordance with the Divine will. Later the rabbis of the talmudic period eagerly disputed the Gnostic suggestions that the world was created by angelic intermediaries. Other cosmic concepts such as a succession of experimental worlds, the ideas of Philo influenced by Plato's Timaeus, Neoplatonism, and more have further challenged the original Judaic cosmogony, but the rabbis have steadfastly defended it throughout the centuries.

It is still maintained today: The Jewish prayer book liturgy states, "He (God) renews his work of creation everyday…Creation happens to us, burns itself in us, recasts us in burning…We take part in creation, meet the Creator, reach out to him, helpers and companions." A.G.H.


Sources:

Holy Bible, New Scofield Reference Edition, New York, Oxford Yniversity Press, 1969
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 238-239