Those who use the creation narrative as a way of trashing religion have clearly never read past the first chapter of the book of Genesis.
Although initially Torah sets out the beginning of the world by seven days of creation, as soon as that narrative ends, the Eden narrative begins as its own beginning of time, which could equally effectively start the Torah as its own creation story.
The Eden narrative returns to a barren nothingness and the creation of human beings again. This isn’t a case of a bad redactor, a need for editing or a case of a continuity oversight.
Generations of commentators have found ways to resolve this, reading the creation of Eden as a next step, happening after the initial creation and building upon it.
However I think there is a hidden and much more significant message lost when read in that simplistic way.
We are a people who have two equally well-known and well-regarded creation myths. Why would our central texts and our sacred works create this duality of narratives?
The Torah is settings its agenda from the outset, encouraging us to be a people who ask difficult questions and to struggle with the hardest concepts despite knowing we will never have certainty or fact.
Before we even get to Abraham and the challenges of monotheism and having faith in God, we are encouraged to ask not just from where we came, but how did the world begin.
The Torah sets itself up not to be a science book with answers, but a manual for life that encourages questioning, discussion and debate.
It encourages a plurality of views by preserving from its opening chapters two oral traditions, two ancient stories, no “right answers”, but many opportunities to ask questions.
- Rabbi Miriam Berger serves Finchley Reform Synagogue
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