The Creation of Heaven and Earth: Re-Interpretation of Genesis I in the Context of Judaism, Ancient Philosophy, Christianity, and Modern Physics

By George H. Van Kooten | Go to book overview

READING CREATION: EARLY MEDIEVAL
VIEWS OF GENESIS AND PLATO'S TIMAEUS

WILLEMIEN OTTEN


1. The Book of Genesis: opera aperta or Christian classic

Creation is generally considered a distinguishing feature of Christianity. When unpacking this concept, however, one soon notices how it displays an intrinsically loaded character. Ranging from medieval cosmological debates to modern discussions on intelligent design, creation is more than a foundational tenet of the Christian religion. Centuries of reading Genesis have produced endless subtexts, suggesting on the one hand ever new possibilities of 'reading creation', while on the other hand critically assessing their plausibility. The sheer diversity of these subtexts makes clear to us that creation somehow both anchors and confirms the uniqueness of the Christian world view. Creation accounts can be of an exegetical nature, for example, as shown by the various attempts to discriminate between the literary depiction of biblical creation and the epic strife of the gods in the Gilgamesh.1 Or they may have a cosmological purpose, as when biblical creation is used to criticize contemporary science, with modern creationist accounts enforcing the former correspondence between the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture.2 In contemporary neo-orthodox theology, finally, a

1 Cf. A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels: A Translation and
Interpretation of the Gilgamesh Epic and Related Babylonian and Assyrian documents
, Chicago
19492.

2 On the medieval use of this trope and its demise, see W. Otten, 'Nature and
Scripture: Demise of a Medieval Analogy', Harvard Theological Review 88 (1995) 257–
284. The twelfth century was in many ways the high point of this trope, but while its
importance declined, the way the Bible was read philologically in tandem with nature
clearly stimulated scientific scholarship, see P. Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism and the
Rise of Natural Science
, Cambridge 1998. On present day creation debates, see K. Doyle
Smout (ed.), The Creation/Evolution Controversy: A Battle for Cultural Power, Westport, CT
1998; J. A. Moore, From Genesis to Genetics: The Case of Evolution and Creationism, Berkeley
2002; Robert T. Pennock (ed.), Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical,
Theological, and Scientific Perspectives, Cambridge, MA 2002.

-225-

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