Chapter 1

According to verses 8 and 9 of chapter 1, the Hebrew words for “heavens” (the dual form shamáyim) and “earth” (’érets) designate what appears to a human observer as a celestial dome and a land area (literally, the “dry”). Therefore, it appears preferable to consider verse 1 as introducing the coming into existence of the apparent celestial dome and the dry land that rises above the sea. Verse 1 does not need to be understood as referring to the creation of the universe, with its billions of galaxies as by a “big bang” that God originated. The focus in Genesis is on the progressive steps that came about through the expression of God’s will to shape a watery void without form and shrouded in darkness (verse 2) into a place where plant, animal, and human life could exist. A number of modern translations interpretively render verse 1 to be explicit as an introduction to the words that follow. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth —” (NAB) “When God began to create heaven and earth —” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition])

In Genesis 1:5-2:4, the Hebrew word yohm appears with four different meanings — the period of daylight (1:5, 14, 16, 18), the six creative days followed by the day of rest (1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; 2:2, 3), the day consisting of a period of daylight and of night as people would reckon it on the basis of the appearance of the sun and the moon (1:14), and the entire period of the seven creative days (2:4) The various meanings for the Hebrew word yohm, as indicated by the context, provide good reason for avoiding arguments about the length of each of the six creative days.

Verse 2 mentions the activity of the rúach. The Hebrew word rúach can either mean “spirit” or “wind.” This explains why translations differ in their renderings (“a mighty wind sweeping over the waters” [NAB], “a wind from God sweeping over the water” [Tanakh (JPS, 1985 edition)], “the spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water” [REB]). The attribution of creation to what God says (not to his spirit) suggests that “wind” here may be the preferable meaning of rúach. Targum Jonathan on Genesis (thought to date probably from the second century CE), however, refers to the “spirit of mercy from before YY [Yeya (YHWH)].”

In the Hebrew language, the state of the earth at the beginning is described as tohú va-vohú, and the Septuagint renders this expression as “unseen and unformed.” No land and no seas teeming with life existed at that time. What would become land and seas was a “deep,” an “abyss” (LXX), a watery void enshrouded in the blackness of gloom. “Day one” witnessed the coming into existence of “light” or the removal of the darkness. Just how this state of darkness ended through the “light” is not revealed nor is the manner in which developments occurred explained in relation to other days. With the total darkness having vanished, “day one” was marked by a period of daylight (“light”) and a period of darkness (“night”). Like the 24-hour day that began for the Israelites at sundown, “day one” (as also the other “days” that followed) began in the evening. (1:2-5)

God’s word or the expression of his purpose on “day two” is represented as causing a division between the “waters,” with “waters” coming to be above the “expanse” or the celestial dome (“heaven” or the “sky”) and beneath it. Whereas God is portrayed as acknowledging as good the creative work accomplished on days one, three, four, five, and six, the extant Hebrew text does not include “good” for “day two.” This may be because the work involving the expanse above the “waters” was not completed until “day four.” The Septuagint, however, does contain the phrase, “and God saw that [it was] good.” (1:6-8) In the case of the ancient Israelites, they apparently would have understood “waters” as being above the expanse because rain descended from the sky or the celestial dome that towered above them.

In expression of God’s will on “day three,” the dry region of land (literally, the “dry”) appeared as an area for greenery and trees to flourish. God is represented as calling the dry region “earth” or “land,” and as designating the “waters” that had been collected into one place as “seas.” Once land came into being, it began to produce a great variety of plants and trees. (1:9-13)

Seemingly, from the standpoint of a human observer, “day four” was marked by the appearance of two “lights” and also of “stars” in the sky or on the celestial dome. The “greater light” (the sun) served to provide daylight, and the “lesser light” (the moon) provided illumination during the night. At a time when the people of other nations worshiped the sun and moon as deities, the Genesis account proved to be truly revelatory. The sun and moon were not deities, just “lights” that functioned as “signs” or as means for establishing seasons, days, and years. They were mere creations that came into existence through the expression of the purpose of the one true God. (1:14-19)

There being an ample provision of food in the form of plants and fruit growing on the land and apparently also sufficient means of nourishment in the seas to support marine life, the time had come, on “day five” for the coming into existence of both marine and flying creatures. This included huge ones in the seas. With God’s blessing, the great variety of creatures (literally, “living souls”) could reproduce their own kind. (1:20-23)

On “day six,” quadrupeds, reptiles and other creeping things began to live on the land. All of these creatures had the capacity to reproduce their own kind. (1:24, 25) Also, on “day six,” God is quoted as saying, “Let us make man in our image after our likeness.” According to Targum Jonathan (considered to date probably from the second century CE), God spoke to the “angels who ministered before him” and says that they had been “created in the second day of the creation of the world.” Angels are mentioned in the book of Genesis, and so it is understandable that the people of ancient Israel would have concluded that God spoke to them. The view expressed in the Targum about the creation of the angels on the second day probably was based on associating the realm of the angels as being above the expanse or celestial dome that came into existence on “day two.” For “man” to be in the “image” of God would not mean that humans were made to look like God but that they would be in possession of noble qualities such as love and wisdom, of the capacity for thought and creativity, and of an appreciation for order and beauty. (1:26)

God is represented as giving man “dominion” over all marine and terrestrial life forms. This was not a grant to destroy or to exploit living creatures, but a stewardship or a responsibility toward them, for they were God’s creation and did not belong to man. Throughout the centuries, humans have failed greatly in the exercise of proper dominion, having made themselves responsible for the senseless extinction and abuse of many living creatures. (1:26)

According to Targum Jonathan, God created man “with 248 members, with 365 nerves,” overlaying them with “skin” and filling it “with flesh and blood.”

After creating “man” in his image, creating male and female, God blessed them. They were to have offspring, “subdue” or cultivate the land, and exercise dominion over all living creatures. Plants and trees would provide them and also animals with abundant food. Targum Jonathan indicates that trees that did not bear fruit suitable for food were to be used “for building” and as material “for burning.” Everything that had come into existence on “day six” was “very good.” (1:27-31)