A Phenomenological Analysis of the Elements in Biblical 'Genesis': Chaos. Formal Creation, Law, and the resurgence of the 'dimension of religious depth' in the Gospel of Jesus.

Author:Roemischer, John
Position:Critical essay

Synoptic Preface: God's creation of formally organized chaos.

Historically, perhaps the most controversial statements in Biblical 'Genesis' are the first three propositions:

  1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

  2. And the earth was without form, and void; darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. [A common translation, especially using Greek terminology, was that this initial creation was a state of 'chaos'.]

  3. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light ... Etc.

    And the end of our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And to know the place for the first time. (T.S. Eliot) Some scholars have asked "Have we Misunderstood Genesis 1:1?" Was this an absolute beginning of the universe (ex nihilo)? And in his comparative reflection on historical "creation myths," Roger Shattuck (Forbidden Knowledge, 50) noted that "Out of thousands of creation myths imagined by peoples everywhere, this [Biblical] "just so" story produced long ago by an obscure Semitic people has won out over all others in the three principal monotheistic religions on Earth: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We come back to it again and again, less because it is ours than because it affords endlessly renewed meanings.. Despite its familiarity, the creation story from Genesis is as invisible to many of us as air, or as our own personality. It surrounds us too closely. We cannot stand back in order to see it better." (Italics added.)

    Chaos and Creation:

    'Chaos', the subject of the first three propositions in Genesis, is the critical issue in this paper. The term 'Chaos' (from the Greek [phrase omitted]--a formless primordial space) seems an appropriate rendering of the phrase: the earth was "without form, and void." It needs to be stressed here that this terminology is not meant to be merely metaphorical; rather, it should be read as genuinely "catachetical" ([phrase omitted]--the Greek word for "instruction" and the Catholic word for "catechism"). In Janet Martin Soskice's formulation, in her Metaphor and Religious Language (90, 96) "the question is not simply whether we have a metaphor here or not, but what, if anything, the metaphor refers to or signifies." As Soskice further notes: "the skeptic's problem is not a problem with metaphor as such when employed in religious language, but with the possibility of language about God at all. His difficulty is not with the way in which religious metaphors are significant or intelligible, but with the problem of how, even granted the existence of a transcendent God, we can possibly claim to talk about him in finite language" (italics added). But is there any other language than the one in Genesis that will suffice? Furthermore, as Roger McCabe will point out (below), the human need to understand might then result in "framework views" that are literary deviations from the Genesis text.

    There is no skepticism in the present paper; it is simply a hypothetical attempt precisely to "stand back in order to see it [Genesis] better," that is, to elaborate on the events that already exist in Biblical Genesis in order to mitigate the charge that these Genesis propositions are paradoxical. Thus, notwithstanding the claim that the statements in Genesis are more than metaphorical, that they are catachetical propositions concerning God's creation, then these famous Biblical propositions 1-2:3, noted above, have got to be cleansed of the charge of paradoxicalness.

  4. An "earth ... without form" raises the question of the initial nature of the chaotic substratum to which God gives 'form'. Why can't this powerful God create a universe without going through a chaotic stage--a 'Paradise' without potential (chaotic) instabilities?

  5. In Greek philosophy, 'form' is ideal or ideational and therefore existentially transcends creation. In the Gospel of John, the creation mystery is compounded: [phrase omitted].

    ["In the beginning was the Word.... and God was the Word."]

    In Genesis, God 'speaks' creation--"and God said let there be light." If God's 'speech' creates forms out of chaos, then was John's notion that "God was the Word" on a new metaphysical track? In the 18th century A.D. this question is pursued in the work of Immanuel Kant; here the formalization of reality becomes a constitutive (a priori) contribution buried in the metaphysics of human experience. As the concept ofform[ing] in modernity becomes an embedded human capacity, does the 'determinate' God of Genesis become more and more 'indeterminate'? In the 19th Century, as 'form' becomes more and more definitive of human art and technology, the stage is set for Nietzsche's declaration that "God is dead." Also, with the demythologization of Sisyphus' plight, the endless effort at 'laborious forming ' is replaced by the concept of 'form as work'--that is, modernism can be defined as the celebration of the formal production of a work (of Art or of Technological Science). And in the 20th century, "absolute art" attempts to bypass the God-related representational creations. Ironically, in the 17th century, Galileo's principle of...

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