As you know, the Bible was not written as one whole document. Even the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, was not written as one whole. In the late 19th century, scholars identified four distinct strands of writers and editors involved in creating these books in their canonical form. Each one had its own distinctive language, rhetorical goals, and purpose. In other words, each one had its own agenda. I don’t mean that in a negative way, just to say that each strand (or group of writers and editors) had particular reasons for telling the stories that they told, in the way that they told them.
With this theory in hand, scholars were able to go through the first five books of the Bible and figure out which passages were written or edited by which strand. This is really fascinating in the flood story, because scholars have been able to pull out individual verses and put them together separately to create two similar but different stories. When you look at them that way, you can actually see how they were woven together. The four sources are the Yahwist (because they use the name Yahweh for God), the Elohist (because they use the name Elohim for God), the Deuteronomist (who is largely limited to the book of Deuteronomy) and the Priestly source.
Now, I should point out here that in the 100-plus years since this theory was originated, it has undergone many revisions and some out-right rejections. Scholars now claim it is not nearly this simple or clear-cut. “For example, the assumption that [these four strands] existed as four discrete, parallel written source documents, such as one might use in writing a research paper, has been abandoned. In its place is the idea that there were living clusters of traditions, originally oral, which developed in parallel streams and in a close relationship with the religious life of the communities they represented.” But in spite of its limitations, the theory still provides an important framework, a lens through which to view this story.
It is important to us today because Genesis 1 comes to us from the Priestly source. The priestly tradition “is marked by the unmistakable interests of the priesthood and ceremonial sanctity, and by the kind of precise attention to detail that is associated with a priestly way of thinking and acting.” Remember that the priests oversaw the sacrifices and all the details of the temple. If you have ever read any of Leviticus, with its rules and regulations about purity and cleanliness and sacrifices, you can see how this would affect their worldview. They had a strict, systematic way of viewing the world. So of course Genesis 1 is very methodical. God said it and it was so and that was Day 1. God said it and it was so and that was Day 2. It is organized and orderly and prescribed. In a few weeks we’ll look at how different this is from the creation story in Genesis 2.
Now, with that background, let’s look at this world God is creating. Today’s portion of the story makes several references to the dome—“Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters,” etc. Here is the best model I have to represent the ancient Israelites’ cosmology: a pedestal cake plate. The flat portion, where the cake were to sit, is the earth. The sky is the lid, the dome. Imagine it: if you are out in the desert, or simply a really flat area of land, you can see the arch of the sky going from horizon to horizon. Thus it was perfectly logical to believe that the sky was a dome that rested on the flat earth. This dome, the sky, is like a bowl that holds back the waters of the firmament, but there are holes in it—windows, really—that let in the water occasionally, as rain, snow, or sleet. Way above the dome are the heavens, the dwelling place of God. Just below the dome are the stars, the sun, and the moon. (Yes, they are below the source of the rain. If they were above the dome, you wouldn’t see them.) This plate or disc that is the earth also has holes in it that let up the waters from below through wells, rivers, and even floods. The earth is held up, not by one pedestal like my cake plate, but by pillars that are sunk deep into the water, like the pilings of a pier. Now I hope our scripture makes a little more sense. “God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.”
The third day is when we get dry land, called earth, and when the waters are gathered, the seas. And then God creates every form of vegetation: “plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it.” It’s not until Day 6 that we learn that God has given every plant and tree for food. Every plant and tree is given to everything that has the breath of life. So this very orderly creation story gives us an orderly world—an orderly and peaceful world. There is no violence, not even among the animals.
The story does not say “To the beasts of the earth I have given smaller beasts for food.” The story does not say “And the greater shall consume the smaller and the smaller shall thus contribute to the circle of life.” No. This orderly world is a peaceful world, a world where there is no cat-eat-mouse, and certainly no dog-eat-dog. Doesn’t that sound like paradise? OK, for me personally, the vegetarian part doesn’t sound like paradise! But to live in a world without competition, without winning and losing, without violence—No wonder God saw it and said it was very good.
Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in.
Back in March an author started a bit of a storm in the twitter universe by jokingly saying that almost any story could be improved if the first line of the story was followed by a second line that said “And then the murders began.” People from around the country started offering examples: “Once upon a time there were four little rabbits; and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. And then the murders began.” Another person offered the first line from the first Harry Potter book: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of Number Four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. And then the murders began.” But one of the most popular listings was this: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And then the murders began.”
It was a bit of harmless fun, never meant to be taken seriously. But isn’t this how we view the world sometimes? Isn’t this how our own story is interpreted? Cain and Abel aren’t that many chapters away, after all! But that is not how the story was told, which is miraculous considering when it was told.
As I said last week, the creation accounts undoubtedly lived for eons in the oral tradition, but when these stories were written down, the people were exiles in Babylon. They were living proof of a violent, winner-take-all world. And yet this was their origin story, their idea of where they came from. This was their vision: a world of peaceful creation. It was a beautiful story, an incredible image to hold within them in times of trouble—and it is an incredible image to hold within us as well. We may be at war, but we were created in peace. We may be victims of violence, but we were created in peace. We may be in turmoil, but we were created in peace. And God saw it, and it was good.
The other important message of this passage is the creation of food, the creation of what we needed to survive. God provides that which nourishes us. In the simple world of creation that meant food, but metaphorically, symbolically, we’re talking about God creating nourishment. And of course, that which nourishes us is far more than food. So I want to ask you this morning: What feeds you?
Is it silence? Silence can be deafening for those who long for presence, but silence can be healing, too. In silence I can return to a peaceful state. In silence I can return to my rightful state. We can be fed by silence.
What else feeds you? Is it music? Music, we are told, has charms to soothe a savage breast. Many of us are fed by music.
Is it family? Friends? A sense of community and belonging? Is that where you find nourishment? Or maybe books?
Or is it the creation itself? For many of us, nature is nourishment. That’s one reason summer attendance is so low! We have lots of people who find God in nature during the summer! I understand it. When I’m on the lake in Canada, in the front of the boat, casting my line, smelling the pine trees, listening to the call of the loons, and watching the eagle catch food for the babies in her nest . . . When I’m sitting in silence, watching the sky transform from blue to orange to indigo, reflecting a sun I can no longer see . . . When I’m walking along the beach as a storm moves in across the water, turning the sky so dark that I can’t see where water ends and sky begins . . . These are the times I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am in God’s presence. And God is in mine. I don’t know how I know. There is no booming voice of God or writing on the wall. There is only the call of the loons, and the doodling of clouds on the sky’s canvas. And yet I know it is God in the loons and God in the clouds and God in me, uniting me with the rest of God’s creation. And I am fed.
The wonderful poet Mary Oliver knows this as well. One of my favorites is called the Summer Day.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
It’s a really good question. God created you to live in peace. God gave you what you need for nourishment. God gave you life itself. Now . . . what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
 Frick, Frank. A Journey Through the Hebrew Scriptures. Page 95.
 Frick, p. 101.