In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Such a statement would not have been made callously. It was deliberately provocative. It flew in the face of everything the ancient Mesopotamians believed. As the first sentence to a creation story, the origin of God is glaringly omitted, implying that in fact, God has no origin. In contrast to the Mesopotamian text Enuma Elish which speaks of the male god Apsu and the female god Tiamat locked in an embrace in some form of matter, producing little gods Marduk, Bel and Nebo, Genesis leaves no room for any form of theogony. God’s existence is a given. God simply is.
Then we come across another omission that may appear puzzling to us living in the 21st century. Why did the author refer to the two ‘great lights’, instead of just saying ‘the Sun’ and ‘the Moon’? Well that’s because in the ancient Semitic language, the words for Sun and Moon were also the names of gods. All the additional exposition associated with the creation of these two celestial bodies, were a direct affront to those who worshipped them. The Sun and moon a were created by Elohim; they are not gods. Instead, they were made to serve us. I am no advocate of anthropocentricism, nor the idea that the whole universe was created solely for the benefit of human beings. But the message of Genesis 1 to its original hearers is clear – the heavenly bodies are not to be worshipped, but rather made use of for our benefit. As Melvin Tinker points out: this forms the basis of astronomy and the debunking of astrology!
Another interesting insight can be found in the author’s use of the word ‘bara’ or ‘create’, referring to God’s creative activity. It is only used 3 times; once when God ‘bara’ the heavens and the earth; then when God ‘bara’ the creatures of the sea; lastly when God ‘bara’ man. In the first and third instance, its use is understandable. What is so special of the sea creatures? Well, it turns out that in Enuma Elish, the world is created as a consequence of a battle between the god Marduk and his mother Tiamat, who also happens to be a sea monster (Leviathan). Marduk killed Tiamat and cut her into half, each half forming the earth and the sky. No, says Genesis, even sea monsters were created by Elohim.
It is clear that the first chapter of Genesis was never intended as a scientific account of the origins of the earth, of life or of human beings. It was written as a critique of the dominant narrative of the surrounding cultures.