Author Archives: Steven DiMattei

Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate:
Being Honest to the Text, Its Author, and His Beliefs

Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate“DiMattei’s book is a refreshing call both for biblical literacy and for intellectual honesty in dealing with the Bible.”
—John J. Collins, Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation, Yale Divinity School

“In an important contribution to the discussion between mainstream biblical studies and creation ‘science,’ DiMattei does a wonderful job of explicating the first two chapters of Genesis. He shows convincingly that although creationists claim to read this story literally, they are not reading it carefully at all.”
—Marc Brettler, Bernice & Morton Lerner Professor of Judaic Studies, Duke University

“Steven DiMattei presents an important challenge to creationists by showing that they fundamentally misunderstand the very chapter of Genesis on which much of their anti-scientific views are based. Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate is an accessible and useful book for those who seek to understand why creationism is flawed on biblical grounds.”
—Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Read more

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Did Moses Lie to Us? A Textual Journey (Part III)

A Different Edom?

Everyone knows that when the Israelites asked for food and water from the Edomites, the Israelites’ brothers from the line of Esau, and permission to pass through their country that they were denied those things and forced to pass around Edom. So I was startled yet again to learn that apparently Moses had forgotten these things too! Here is what Moses says about the whole affair:

    And we turned and traveled into the wilderness by way of the Red Sea as Yahweh spoke to me, and we skirted Mount Seir for many days.
Then Yahweh said to me: “You have skirted this mountain long enough. Turn north, and command the people saying, ‘You are to pass through the territory of your brothers, the children of Esau, who live in Seir. And they will be afraid of you, so be very watchful. Do not agitate them, for I … Read more

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Did Moses Lie to Us? A Textual Journey (Part II)

Scouting the Land

Moses then proceeds to renarrate how the Israelites scouted out the promised land early on in the wilderness period and how on account of their rebellious nature and lack of faith in Yahweh they were denied entry and forced to wander the wilderness for 40 years. Ok, I thought. Everyone knows this story. Surely Moses can’t slip one in on us here.

     And I said to you: “You have come to the Amorite hill country that Yahweh our God is giving us. See, Yahweh our God has put the land in front of you. Go up and take possession, as Yahweh your fathers’ God spoke to you. Fear not and be not dismayed!”

     And you came to me, all of you, and said: “Let us send men ahead to scout out the land for us and to bring us back word. . .”

    And the thing was Read more

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Did Moses Lie to Us? A Textual Journey (Part 1)

My journey through the text of the Bible and an understanding of that text as it was revealed to me by and through that very text starts with the book of Deuteronomy. This one book might even best illustrate what the Bible is as a whole and how its texts—its once individual scrolls and codices—relate to one another. But enough already. Since this is a textual journey, a journey through a text, then our starting point should be with the text itself.

Deuteronomy 1-11 presents Moses renarrating events from the wilderness period as a sort of summation to what came before this book’s narrative setting, where the Israelites are now assembled on the plains of Moab some 40 years after the wilderness period began. It is here that Moses addresses the people:

    Yahweh our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying: “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn

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Genesis 1:1-2:3 on Its Own Terms and in Its Own Historical and Literary Context

Genesis 1:1-2:3’s depiction of the creation of the world was shaped by ancient Near Eastern cosmological perspectives and beliefs about the nature of the world and its origins. This fact the text itself bears witness to regardless of the opinions and beliefs of readers living millennia after this text was written. In other words, a thorough, honest, and objective analysis of the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3 on its own terms and as a product of its own cultural and literary world reveals rather convincingly that its creation narrative was shaped by cultural and subjective perspectives, biases, and beliefs about the nature of the world that were unique to the cultures and peoples of the ancient Near East.

It is not, in other words, a description of creation from the perspective of a supernatural deity residing outside of the cosmos, nor is it inspired by such a deity or point of … Read more

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Genesis 1:1-2 — not a Creation ex nihilo

Despite strong traditional and often authoritative interpretative claims that were formed centuries after this ancient text was written and devoid of knowledge about its historical and literary context, the opening of Genesis 1 does not depict a creatio ex nihilo, that is a creation out of nothing. The Hebrew text is clear on this point and recognized by all biblical scholars. Rather, what the text of Genesis 1:2 informs us is that when God began to create, earth—that is the material substance earth; the Hebrew ’eretz (earth) never means the planet Earth (see below)—already existed as a desolate, formless, inhabitable waste—a tohû wabohû in Hebrew—in the midst of a dark surging watery abyss (tehôm). This is the initial primordial state of creation that the creator deity inherits so to speak, and it is a prominent cultural feature in other ancient Near Eastern creation myths, from Egypt to … Read more

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Genesis 1:3-5 — Day is Light

Modern readers often express their perplexity at the fact that Genesis 1:3 presents the creation of light before the creation of the luminary that produces light, the sun, whose creation does not happen until day 4 (1:16). How can light be created or exist, it is often asked, before the sun was created?

The problem with this and similar questions is that they impose our knowledge about the cosmos, indeed an objective knowledge about the workings of our solar system, onto this ancient text whose culture did not possess this type of knowledge. We know that the sun is the source of light for our solar system. But the ancient cultures and peoples that produced this creation account did not possess this knowledge and apparently held different ideas about the nature of their world. This fact the text itself bears witness to.

In other words, Genesis’ portrait of the creation … Read more

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Genesis 1:6-8 — Life Inside a Water Bubble

When ancient man looked up at the sky, what he perceived was akin to what he observed when looking out over the seas—an expanse of crystal-clear blue water. This observation was confirmed of course by the very fact that it rained. For where else did rain come from if not from the waters above the sky?

Similarly, when ancient Mediterranean peoples looked toward the horizon, what they saw was that the waters above eventually came into contact with the waters of the seas, that both the blue waters above and the blue waters below touched each other at the horizons. Thus, it was observed that the waters above, that is the sky, had its starting point at the horizon where it came into contact with the waters below, and then arched far above like a dome and descended again to meet the waters below on the opposite horizon. According to … Read more

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Genesis 1:9-10 — The Creation of the Material Substance Earth, Not the Planet!

We are so habituated by what the English word “earth” means to us in our scientific post-modern world that we seldom stop to ask if that’s the same meaning intended in the Hebrew word eretz.

When we read Genesis 1:1, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” we picture the origin of the atmosphere, space, solar systems, and galaxies. We think of the creation of the planet in our solar system named “Earth,” whose shape is an oblate spheroid or a rotationally symmetric ellipsoid. This mental picture is natural, because the English term “Earth” is the name of the planet in this solar system on which humans reside. But in Genesis 1 “earth” does not mean the planet Earth. Genesis reports the origin of the “heavens and earth” as such terms meant in the author’s time and within his worldview, which did not include a twenty-first

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Genesis 1:14-19 — The Creation of the Luminaries to Keep Yahweh’s Festivals

“Let there be lights in the domed barrier of the skies to separate between the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for fixed times, and for days, and for years.”

The domed vault or raqî‘a that was made in verses 6-8 to separate and hold back the waters above is now populated with the luminaries: sun, moon, and the stars—with no awareness of the individual distances of each luminary from the earth nor their actual places in the solar system. Here they are presented as two-dimensional buttons on an arched vault behind which are the primordial waters above.

Unlike modern man, ancient man constructed their calendars and measured the progression of time according to the celestial luminaries: predominantly the sun and the moon. The author of Genesis’ first creation account depicts this idea by having the creator deity specify that these luminaries were created for … Read more

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