“The Notion of God as the Creator is Wrong,”

Says Old Testament Scholar

(Remnant News Watch November 15, 2009)

Mark Alessio

(Posted 11/18/09 www.RemnantNewspaper.com)
The notion of “God as the Creator is wrong, claims a top academic, who believes the Bible has been wrongly translated for thousands of years,” reports Richard Alleyne of the Telegraph, UK (Oct. 8, 2009):

Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis "in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth" is not a true translation of the Hebrew. She claims she has carried out fresh textual analysis that suggests the writers of the great book never intended to suggest that God created the world – and in fact the Earth was already there when he created humans and animals.

Prof. Van Wolde, 54, claims to have re-analyzed the original Hebrew text of Genesis “and placed it in the context of the Bible as a whole, and in the context of other creation stories from ancient Mesopotamia.” She has concluded that the Hebrew verb "bara," used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean "to create" but to "spatially separate." Van Wolde believes that the Book of Genesis was never intended to teach that God created the world, but that the world was already in existence when He created humans and animals. She says a correct reading of the opening of Genesis should be, “In the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth.”

Although Van Wolde agrees “technically bara does mean create,” she believes that, “something was wrong with the verb …. God was the subject (God created), followed by two or more objects. Why did God not create just one thing or animal, but always more?":

She concluded that God did not create, he separated: the Earth from the Heaven, the land from the sea, the sea monsters from the birds and the swarming at the ground.

"There was already water," she said. "There were sea monsters. God did create some things, but not the Heaven and Earth. The usual idea of creating-out-of-nothing, creatio ex nihilo, is a big misunderstanding."

Prof. Van Wolde said, "The traditional view of God the Creator is untenable now," while a spokesman for the Radboud University (where Van Wolde will present her thesis on the subject) has stated, "The new interpretation is a complete shake up of the story of the Creation as we know it."

Comment: The new interpretation is a complete shake up of the story of the Creation as we know it!!! Run for the hills, Bible-believers, there’s another storm a-brewin’!

It is useful to chronicle non-stories such as the above for the purpose of cataloguing trends. Once again, we are treated to an “earth-shattering discovery” that is supposed to result in Catholics and Protestants, their beliefs crushed (again!) by academia, racing to their nearest Tiki bar to drown their sorrows and existential disillusionment in Mai Tais and Fog Cutters. Wasn’t that what we were supposed to do back in 2002 after the cataclysmic announcement was made concerning the discovery of the bogus “Ossuary of St. James?” That was supposed to “shake things up,” too.

According to Prof. Van Wolde, the greatest scholars of the last 3,400 or so years have failed to translate the opening sentence of Genesis correctly. This includes every great rabbinical scholar who ever lived, every Church Father, every linguist who has studied Scripture. No one – not one person – could get that pesky verb right. Heck, even the scholars who worked on the Septuagint – the most ancient translation of the Old Testament, used by Alexandrian Jews, rabbis during the time of Christ, and the Apostles themselves – couldn’t pin that one down correctly.

Dr. Christopher Heard, Associate Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University, has addressed Van Wolde’s claims in his Oct. 9, 2009 article, “Separating Sense from Nonsense: On Ellen van Wolde on Genesis 1:1.” Among his points are:

- “Traditional believers” have always been able to handle the idea of the divine creative activity in Genesis 1 as a sequence of separations. First, God separates the light from the darkness. Then God separates the “waters above the sky” from the “waters below the sky” by means of the “sky.” Then God separates the dry land from the “waters below the sky.” From this perspective—which has never troubled “traditional believers”—Van Wolde’s proposed “retranslation” is not much more than tweaking one verb in Genesis 1:1 to more closely resemble the verbs in the subsequent verses. “Traditional believers” have always accepted “create” in Genesis 1:1 as an “umbrella” term that includes acts of separation. To a “literalist,” translating Genesis 1:1 as “In the beginning, God separated the heavens/sky from the earth/land” shouldn’t look like anything more than a compressed version of Genesis 1:6–10. That hardly seems like a dramatic shakeup to me. Indeed, to this extent, the rewrite seems rather trivial.

- If we attempt to apply Van Wolde’s proposal elsewhere, and treat [bara] as meaning “to spatially separate” rather than “to create” in texts other than Genesis 1:1, we again get nonsense. Consider these test cases excerpted from the 48 biblical appearances of [bara]:

And God spatially separated the great sea monsters, and every kind of living creature that moves through the water, and every kind of flying bird. (Gen 1:21)

God said, “Look, I am making a covenant. In full view of your people I will do marvels that have not been spatially separated in any land or in any nation. (Exodus 34:10)

Ask about the earliest times, before you existed, from the day when God spatially separated humanity upon the earth … (Deuteronomy 4:32)

I made the earth, and spatially separated humankind upon it; it was my hand that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. (Isaiah 45:12)

While noting that the word “bara” can represent three different verbs in Hebrew, and expressing a prudent reservation upon judging Van Wolde’s work prior to reading her actual thesis, Dr. Heard states, “The pattern of usage I see for [bara] among the biblical writers just speaks too strongly against her proposal, on the face of it.”

Commenting upon Radboud University’s pompous declaration, "The new interpretation is a complete shake up of the story of the Creation as we know it," Dr. Heard remarked: “The hype boggles the mind, and can serve no useful function other than to stir up controversy.

And therein lies the lesson of this story. It appears that Prof. Van Wolde set out with an agenda, namely, to place the opening line of Genesis in “the context of other creation stories from ancient Mesopotamia.” The pursuit of “comparative religion” is by nature, a process of demystification. For the comparative religionist, Genesis is merely a “Hebrew” creation myth, to be placed alongside “Mesopotamian,” “Egyptian,” “Indian” or “Greek” creation myths, just as the figure of Jesus Christ is accorded no more prestige than other “resurrected” figures like Osiris or Attis.

To be sure, the field of comparative religion can be insightful and informative. Not only is it fascinating in its own right, but, from the Catholic viewpoint, it allows us to see echoes of Divine Truth throughout the ages. The Protestant C.S. Lewis astutely observed that, if the Death and Resurrection of Christ were in fact the pivotal point of history, then it would have been strange, indeed, if that primal event had not been alluded to, mythologically, since the beginning of time, as a fallen world succumbed to distortions of the Primal Truth. In his book, Surprised by Joy, Lewis wrote:

If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. And nothing else in literature was just like this. Myths were like it in one way. Histories were like it in another. But nothing was simply like it. And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time, as Plato’s Socrates or Boswell’s Johnson (ten times more so than Eckermann’s Goethe or Lockhart’s Scott), yet also numinous, lit by a light from beyond the world, a god. But if a god—we are no longer polytheists—then not a god, but God. Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not ‘a religion,’ nor ‘a philosophy.’ It is the summing up and actuality of them all.

The same reasoning applies to “creation myths.” Academia and the media view Catholics and Protestants as numb, uncritical zombies, trapped unthinkingly inside archaic belief systems. One of their weapons of choice is “comparative religion,” a legitimate scholarly discipline in its own right, but co-opted as a club with which to bash Bible-believers over the head. Somehow, the fact that Osiris was resurrected in Egyptian mythology is supposed to send Catholics scrambling in confusion, as though we were simply too stupid to put our own beliefs into any kind of historical context. Yes, the Epic of Gilgamesh contains a “Flood Narrative,” like the Book of Genesis. So what? If the Great Flood was indeed an historical occurrence, how could it NOT?

And, yes, every few years, certain sensationalist academics announce that they will “shake us up” via some new discovery that will rattle the very foundations of our faith. However, in the end, most of their schemes to do so come to resemble little more than elaborate practical jokes. “God the Separator” vs. “God the Creator?” Does anyone seriously want to bet on the outcome of that one?


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